Slaying Dragons

How do we handle problem people within our congregations?  This is not an issue I deal with very often as an evangelist, however I am very concerned for Pastors as I work with many on a regular basis.  How do we create a culture in our churches of unity so God's vision can advance?

Pastors, I highly recommend Well Intentioned Dragons by Marshall Shelley, the editor of Christianity Today.  Here are a few of his thoughts from chapter 5 (I'd recommend at least just reading chapter 5) on dealing with people in our church that are sapping the energy and vision that God has put in our heart through their open criticism or subtle undermining of our influence.

1. Encourage a Positive Atmosphere

Be an encourager yourself.  Look for and publicly praise the congregation's strengths from the pulpit.  Encourage and promote diversity among church members - different gifts and understandings of God's Word being healthy as the Body works together.  Be slow to step into other people's problems.  Don't dwell on problems or announce them from the pulpit.  Do not share uncomplimentary things about church members.

2. Employ people in Ministries

Those fully employed in significant ministry are far less likely to become troublesome.  "'If the work of the church is what is done in the institution, very few, relatively speaking, will ever have an opportunity to do the work of the church.'  Smaller churches may have a higher percentage of people involved in maintaining the church program, but they still can't give everyone a job ... Problems seldom arise from those active in significant people ministries.  Attacks are rare from those concerned with ministering to others ... Like an army, those on the front lines don't have time to complain.  Griping is the luxury of those with small jobs ... A ministering laity, not just a busy laity, is a key to suppressing the dragon population." (p. 86-87).  

3. Reinforce Productive Members

"Pastors who develop strong lay leaders have learned to honor those who minister, not those who demand it.  Church members notice who the pastor chooses to spend time with .. Even if the solid, ministering lay people are not taken for granted, often they aren't given the time they deserve .. the healthy, productive people never [make] appointments because they [feel we are] too busy.  This pastor has since let the church know he no longer does extended counseling.  'I'm available to see anyone for counseling once,' he says.  'After that I refer them to a professional or one of our trained lay counselors.  This still keeps me available to everyone and keeps me in touch with individual hurts, but it's freed me to spend those hours with ministry-minded people strategizing how to start a new ministry or do an old one better.' ... Newcomers to the church soon learn that the church's attitude toward new lay ministries is: Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all" (p. 87-88).

4. Know Congregational Values

Take time to build trust and healthy relationships before initiating changes.  Church analyst and former pastor Roy Oswald observes that the task of the first twelve months is to be 'a lover and a history - to full understand what has taken place here and to learn to love these people before making changes.' ... Pastors of healthy churches have learned to .. discover what the Holy Spirit has been doing prior to their arrival  ... Real authority [in a church] comes from proven credibility and caring ... Often the pastor gains more influence by being a gentle friend than grabbing for control" (p. 88-89).

5. Sharing Outside Interests

Build pressure relief valves with your congregation by sharing more of your life than just business.  It can be incredibly beneficial to share hobbies and interests.  "These interests make pastors more human, more accesible, which often helps in finding common ground with a dragon" (p. 90).