The purpose of this article is to provide several tools for the Christian who is struggling under a bad boss, and these are given at the end of this presentation.
The Bible does not directly address the subject of bosses and employees; therefore, much of what is set forth in this article is an extrapolation of truths related to good and bad leaders, whether kings, princes, governors, or any who are in positions of authority. And, some points are drawn from the practical wisdom of everyday life.
I write this article as a Christian who has spent the vast majority of my life in the secular workforce (since 1983), which is primarily governed by worldly philosophies and values rather than according to God’s Word. The challenge for me as a Christian, whether as an employee, or supervisor, has been the daily application of Scripture with my coworkers. Where Scripture is silent on a work related issue, I seek the Lord in prayer, as well as the counsel of godly persons who can help me work through a matter. Before I provide some biblical coping mechanisms, I’d like to take a moment to briefly describe some of the differences between a good and bad boss.
Characteristics of a Good Boss
The good boss has integrity (Ps. 78:72). This means he is not artificial, but is genuine in character, honest in speech and faithful to his promises. David writes of the man with integrity, and describes him as one who “works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:2). Furthermore, he is one who “does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend” (Ps. 15:3; cf. Prov. 11:3; Tit. 2:7-8). He studies God’s Word (Ps. 1:2; 119:1), does not associate with people of low moral character (Ps. 1:1; 26:4), prays often (Ps. 4:1; 17:6), seeks to govern wisely (Prov. 8:15-16), listens to wise counsel (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6), and brings stability to those under his care (Prov. 29:4). He associates with honest and gracious persons (Pro. 22:11), searches to find the facts of a matter (Pro. 25:2; cf. 18:13), preserves the rights of others by clear thinking (Pro. 31:4-5), and educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons (read Ex. 18:13-26). He is selfless, humble, gentle, patient, compassionate, kind, and truly appreciates others (Eph. 4:1-2; Phi. 2:3-4; Col. 3:12). He encourages and builds others up (Eph. 4:29; 1 Thess. 5:11), and pursues peace rather than strife (Rom. 14:19). He recognizes his authority and uses it to serve others, not to tear them down (Matt. 20:25-28; John 13:1-17). He may, at times, criticize bad behavior (1 Thess. 5:14), but this is done to make the other person better, because he sincerely desires their success (Prov. 9:8; Isa. 1:17). He is slow to anger (Prov. 15:18; 16:32; 17:27; 19:11; 29:11), uses wise and gracious words (Ps. 37:30; Prov. 16:21; Eccl. 10:12; Col. 4:6), is not argumentative (2 Tim. 2:24-26), cares about justice (Lev. 19:15; Mic. 6:8), and the needs of the poor, orphans, and widows in the community (Isa. 1:17; cf. Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; 15:11; 24:17-22; Prov. 14:21).
On a day to day basis, he is one who will listen to you, stand up for you, trust you and not micromanage every aspect of your work. He communicates clearly, constantly, and in a collaborative manner. He seeks your advice, listens to your concerns, and consults you on the best solutions for success. He sets high expectations and encourages you to be the best you can be, operating according to agency standards, and striving for new heights of excellence. He also cares about your life outside of work and wants you to have good physical, social, and mental health. Lastly, the good boss can be tough when needed. He lives in reality and knows there are some who will not respond to his leadership, and, he may be required to use his authority to reprimand and/or terminate staff; however, this is always his last recourse if all other positive strategies have failed.
Characteristics of a Bad Boss
The bad boss refuses to listen to God and His Word (Ex. 5:2), is concerned about himself rather than others (1 Ki. 12:1-15), oppresses his staff (Prov. 28:15-16), listens to lies (Prov. 29:12), abuses his authority (Mark 10:42), does not follow the guidance he gives (Matt. 23:2-3), places heavy burdens on others but doesn’t offer to help (Ex. 5:6-19; Matt. 23:4; cf. Prov. 29:2), oppresses the helpless for personal gain (Prov. 14:31; 22:16), likes to be noticed by others and to sit in places of honor (Matt. 23:5-7), and may outwardly appear righteous, but is dishonest (Matt. 23:28).
The bad boss can be threatening, unpredictable, hostile, and irrational. He generally feels insecure and does not like the thought of being out of control. This leads to a totalitarian style of leadership, which hinders optimal performance, while making staff feel undervalued. The bad boss is arrogant, and arrogant people rarely see their own faults, they only see the faults of others. He generally lacks the ability to introspect and does not care that others are damaged by his leadership. Once the bad boss does not like you, almost anything you say or do, no matter how great, will be viewed critically and devalued. He seeks to tear you down, only to defeat and destroy you. He cares little about you or your growth or success. He communicates very little, or provides misleading information, is hostile, and will criticize you on a personal level rather than discuss your work. Sometimes the bad boss won’t fire you; rather, he’ll work to make your environment so toxic that you’ll get frustrated and leave.
The advantage of suffering under a bad boss is that you’ll have a clear picture of how NOT to behave if/when you ever become a boss to others. It can also teach you coping skills you’d otherwise never develop. Just like going to the gym builds muscle, so enduring difficult people can develop our character, if we learn the right coping skills and consistently employ them.
Twelve Tools to Help the Christian Who is Working under a Bad Boss
Suffering under a bad boss can be a real challenge, especially when I feel trapped with no way out. Often I pray about my difficult situation, but I realize what God does not remove (as I desire), He intends for me to deal with. Below are some biblical coping mechanisms that help me deal with a bad boss and still be successful on the job. These are as follows:
- Live by faith. The Christian life starts and ends with faith, which provides stability for the soul during difficult times. “My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:38), and “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1), and “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8), and “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (Ps. 119:50).
- Know that God is for you. God desires our best, and He works all circumstances for our good, to teach us and to develop our character. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), and “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
- Make sure your character and work is excellent. As Christians, we are to live an excellent life and work hard. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10a), and “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23; cf. 1 Thess. 4:10-11).
- Don’t give yourself over to complaining. It’s easy to start complaining when under attack, especially if we feel it’s unjust. But we must be careful, for if we start down this road, it becomes more and more difficult to turn back, and complaining does not solve problems. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phi. 2:14), and “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Pet. 4:9). The solution for this is found in the first point.
- Pray for those in leadership. We should always be praying for leaders in positions of authority. “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
- Submit to authority. We should be willing to submit to those in authority and follow orders. “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Tit. 3:1-2). An exception to this is when that authority seeks to lead us outside God’s will, and then we must resist (Acts 5:27-29).
- Respect leadership, even when the leadership is unreasonable. This can be challenging, especially if we realize those in positions of leadership may not operate according to the same ethical standards that direct us. It helps to understand that respect does not mean approval. “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly” (1 Pet. 2:18-19).
- Realize that God may be using difficult circumstances—and people—to develop our character. “…We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5), and “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam. 1:2-4).
- Avoid trouble when possible. “A shrewd person sees danger and hides himself, but the naive keep right on going and suffer for it” (Pro 22:3). It is valid, when possible, to avoid the attacks of abusive leaders. David twice fled when Saul tried to kill him with a spear (1 Sam. 18:11; 19:10), and refused to retaliate, even when he had opportunity (1 Sam. 24:4-6). Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord from the hostile attacks of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Ki. 18:1-4). Jehosheba hid Joash from the attacks of Athaliah, “So he was hidden with her in the house of the LORD six years, while Athaliah was reigning over the land” (2 Ki. 11:3). Twice it is recorded that Jesus “hid Himself” from some of the hostile Jewish leadership who wanted to kill Him (John 8:59; 12:36).
- Defend yourself against wrongful attacks when necessary. Some leaders are very abusive, and there may be times when legal action is required as a means of self-protection. The apostle Paul used legal force against his attackers by exercising his rights as Roman citizen to protect him from a flogging that might have killed him (Acts 22:25-29), and on another occasion appealed to Caesar, the highest court in the land, because he felt he was not getting a fair trial (Acts 25:7-12).
- Let God deal out retribution. Do not seek revenge if you feel you’ve been wronged. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (Rom. 12:17-20).
- Take time to rest and pray. “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (Eccl. 4:6). Taking time to care for yourself is very important, as it’s easy to let the pressures of work and life overwhelm you. Even Jesus, during His time of earthly ministry, found time to get away by Himself to rest and to pray. “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone” (Matt. 14:23), and “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Luke 5:16), and “He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
Steven R. Cook, D.Min.
 This list is by no means exhaustive, but representative of the qualities of good leadership as found in Scripture.