Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bullying age 12 and the defended leader

Written by: on March 12, 2024

How Being a Bully Affects Future Development

When I was 12, I started High School in Australia. My Father was the pastor of the local Pentecostal Church, and the opening of the magnificent new church premises[1] coincided with my first weeks in a new school. The new church was the talk of the small town. It was front-page news and seemingly the gossip on all the street corners in our city of 60,000 people. Little did I know the effect the opening of that new building was going to have on my life.

Simon Walker states, “The emotion of fear makes us instinctively defend ourselves.”[2] He says, “as long as we feel for our job, as long as we fear for our salary, as long as we fear for our reputation, as long as we fear for our popularity, as long as we fear for our credibility, as long as we fear for our wealth, as long as we fear for our control, we cannot be truly free.” [3] I might also add as long as we fear for our life in that last statement.

The church building opened, I went to school, and imagine my surprise when the school bullies chose me, the son of THAT pastor from THAT church, for their “fun” game called “Crucify the Christian!” Whether it was books being knocked out of my hands, being pursued during lunch break, or the horrors of being hung by my feet off the second-story balcony, three years of bullying had an effect. Fortunately, the nurturing environment of a loving family (unaware of the bullying) and the vibrant community of my church youth group provided a counterbalance to the distress of being bullied. Nevertheless, this experience shaped me into a guarded individual, naturally evolving into a “defended leader” as a consequence.

Walker’s clever articulation of the four egos—shaping, defining, adapting, and defending—gave me pause for thought. I found myself resonating with the characteristics of each ego, which initially caused some concern. I was encouraged, however, when he wrote, “No single pattern will define us.” [4] I was then reminded of the wonders of marriage. According to Walker’s book, being subjected to teenage bullying and becoming a defended leader are unavoidable consequences. Walker discusses the crash associated when the frontstage has been given a lot of attention, but the backstage has been neglected.[5] I have seen that all too often in ministry with colleagues from Bible school and pastors in churches over the past 28 years. I can honestly say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Marriage saved me. My wife is from a Latin American family, but she was born and raised in Australia. She is fierce. She believes in “Cosa Nostra,”[6] and she is true. My wife will not allow my backstage[7]  to be neglected. Two years into our marriage, after returning home late on Friday nights from leading youth ministry, I found myself in a weekly routine. I would wake up early on Saturdays, open the curtains downstairs, and then return to bed. This pattern persisted until my wife confronted me one morning. She wanted to know why I went downstairs early every Saturday morning. I explained that I did it to avoid neighbours assuming I was sleeping in on a Saturday. Her response was explosive yet poignant. She refused to let our lives revolve around appearances. I was faced with a choice: adapt or face consequences. Thankfully, that pivotal moment 26 years ago set me on a journey of ensuring that the backstage of our lives receives the attention it deserves so as not to jeopardise the frontstage.

Walker’s analysis highlights a prevalent dilemma in Church leadership, which I’ve personally experienced: leaders tend to fall into either the category of “very safe or very unsafe” [8] as defined by him. About types of leaders, he writes, “It is very safe if you are on his side – protection is yours. However, for those on the backstage, in the shadows, life is very unsafe.”[9] What a sad indictment on any organisation, let alone the church. Regrettably, given Walker’s insightful examination of the tensions between backstage and frontstage dynamics, as well as the detrimental effects of the Messiah Syndrome attributed to both pastors and congregations, it’s likely that we’ll witness more instances of leadership breakdowns.

In highlighting moral authority[10] in the opening chapter of the book, the author sets out the ideal model for us to emulate. In the same way David killed a Lion and Bear (1 Samuel 17), which gave him the private moral authority during the public moment of opportunity against Goliath, our aim must always be the integrity of the unseen world (backstage) supporting the visible world (frontstage) in leadership. Perhaps the bullying, which created a defended leader mindset within me, and marriage which exposed it for what it was, was my Lion and Bear moment. The vulnerability of backstage is met with the truth that “we are secured not by our skills and resources but by attachment to another one who is big enough not to be overwhelmed by our failures and weaknesses.”[11] Selah.


[1] Toowoomba Assembly Of God, 1983. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDHEvFRSPko.

[2] Walker, Simon P. Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership: No. 1. Piquant Editions, 2007. 141.

[3] Ibid, 103.

[4] Ibid, 96.

[5] Ibid, 75.

[6] Ibid, 67.

[7] Ibid, 26.

[8] Ibid, 67.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid, 7.

[11] Ibid, 103.

About the Author


Glyn Barrett

I am the founding, Lead Pastor of !Audacious Church in Manchester, England. I was born in Manchester, but moved to Australia at the age of two. My wife and I were married in Australia and began married and ministry life in England 28 years ago. After serving as youth pastors for 12 years, we moved to Manchester to pioneer !Audacious Church. As a church we now have 7 locations. 3 in Manchester, Chester, Cardiff (Wales), Sheffield, and Geneva (Switzerland). In 2019 I became the National Leader of Assemblies of God in Great Britain. We have over 600 churches in our movement and have planted 50 new churches since May 2022 with a goal of planting 400 new churches between May 2022 and May 2028. I am the European Lead for MM33, which is the church planting ministry for Assemblies of God Global and also chair Empowered21 Western Europe. I'm happily married to Sophia, with two children, one dog and two motorbikes. I love Golf, coffee and spending time with friends. Looking forward to meeting you all, and creating new friendships.

12 responses to “Bullying age 12 and the defended leader”

  1. Diane Tuttle says:

    HI Glyn, thanks for your thoughtful post. Sorry you had to live through the bullying but glad you made it out of it. How do or would you encourage other leaders in the many congregations that are a part of your church to be undefended leaders?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Diane. Thank you, Yes I’m glad I survived also 🙂
      The best way is through life-giving relationships. The type that has open access, to ask any questions and to feedback at any time. Life-giving relationships is better known as discipleship really, but it is about ensuring that every leader also has a pastor/mentor/coach/discipler who is walking with them in the journey.
      I have found that having the space to talk to someone and have someone talk to me has been incredibly beneficial in enabling me to maintain a status of being defended.

  2. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Glyn,

    Thank you for your post. I am so sorry for the experience you had as a young boy.
    How does Walker’s concept of the four egos—shaping, defining, adapting, and defending—relate to the backstage and frontstage dynamics in leadership, especially considering your personal pastoral position?

  3. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Thank you Shela.
    As a pastor, the interplay between the four egos and stage position is very important.
    Shaping and Defining Egos (Front stage): These aspects of leadership are predominantly front stage activities. Leaders/Pastors shape vision and define values in a very public way, setting the tone for how they wish their leadership to be perceived. This is similar to an actor performing on stage, following a script that aligns with the audience’s expectations.

    Adapting and Defending Egos (Backstage): These activities often take place backstage, where Leaders/Pastors should be more reflective, adaptive, and protective. As leaders we must consider the broader implications of our actions, prepare for unforeseen challenges, and devise strategies away from the public eye. This preparation and adaptability are crucial for the effectiveness in front stage performance.

    The interplay between these egos and the frontstage/backstage dynamics highlight the complexity of leadership. The goal for leaders should be to navigate these aspects fluidly, understanding when to take certain discussions or decisions backstage for refinement before presenting them frontstage as part of the broader vision or directive. This approach acknowledges the performative nature of leadership while also recognising the genuine work and preparation that occurs behind the scenes.

  4. mm Ryan Thorson says:

    Thanks for the way you’ve integrating Walker’s concepts into your own life and ministry. As you explore you NPO, how will Walker’s categories help?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      There’s definitely an opportunity to make use of it in my NPO. I am looking at Leadership Styles in the church and how they aid or inhibit church growth. The specificity of how is the million dollar question at this stage as I continue to shape the NPO.

  5. Jeff Styer says:

    I appreciated your post including the youtube video of your childhood church opening. Thank God for our wives. I love the stories in the Bible because we get to see the front stage and back stage of our “cloud of witnesses.” How does a pastor encourage their congregation to not live in fear of what other’s think about them, so that they can be free to be who they are, struggles and all?

    • Adam Cheney says:

      Jeff and Glyn,
      I did not even realize there was a video. That was awesome! Good thing they mentioned the upholstered chairs in the news, otherwise people might have revolted! And that hair! What was going on in Australia?
      I appreciated your post and vulnerability. I like that you mentioned the lion and bear moment. Can you expand on that a bit? Do you have any other example?

      • mm Glyn Barrett says:

        Hahahaha, it was the 80’s mate. To be honest, I’m sitting in your home state right now, in an airport, and it seems the 80s are still in full swing here 🙂
        The Lion and the Bear are the private victories that give confidence to the leader to win public battles. For example, in Great Britain, generosity in the church has never been great. My wife and I chose early on in marriage not only to tithe but also to create a generous allowance, which means we are able to bless people when we see the need or have the opportunity. The private decision to win in this area created the confidence for me to inspire our church to be generous. It’s impossible for a leader to encourage others to do something they are not doing themself.
        Also, note that the word Generous has a U. You’re welcome.

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Thanks Jeff. To be honest, I was really emotional watching the video on YouTube. Typically, my Dad was only briefly shot during the duration of the filming. He was the leader, who led, behind the scenes with great humility and with an amazing Pastor’s heart.
      In answer to your question, modelling by leadership and repetition of the truth that identity is found in Christ and not earthly status or fame is the only way that seems to make sense. Inevitably we can’t stop people going through and hopefully growing through the pain of the challenge, but by setting an example and preaching truth, the dots will be connected by our people.

  6. Elysse Burns says:

    Glyn, thank you for allowing the cohort onto your back stage. In another post, Ryan spoke about Walker’s ideas on the suffering that shapes us. I believe the suffering you experienced as a young person, formed who you are today. It’s incredible to see where God has brought you. Because of the bullying, did you ever feel a desire to separate from the church? How did you reconcile the bullying and church in your mind at such a young age?

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