Marshall Shelley wrote the incredible book (that should adorn the shelf of every pastor and church leader), “Well-intentioned dragons: ministering to problem people in the Church.”   Marshall draws from the Book of Job, chapter 41, verse 1 and 21: “Can you catch Leviathan with a hook or put a noose around its jaw? Its breath would kindle coals, for flames shoot from its mouth.” Job 41:1,21

This is such a great book, that I want to share the introduction with you and encourage you to order this book and make it part of your library.  Marshall writes, “Dragons, of course, are fictional beasts—monstrous reptiles with lion’s claws, a serpent’s tail, bat wings, and scaly skin. They exist only in the imagination.

But there are dragons of a different sort, decidedly real. In most cases, though not always, they do not intend to be sinister; in fact, they’re usually quite friendly. But their charm belies their power to destroy.

Within the church, they are often sincere, well-meaning saints, but they leave ulcers, strained relationships, and hard well-intentioned-dragonsfeelings in their wake. They don’t consider themselves difficult people. They don’t sit up nights thinking of ways to be nasty. Often they are pillars of the community—talented, strong personalities, deservingly respected—but for some reason, they undermine the ministry of the church. They are not naturally rebellious or pathological; they are loyal church members, convinced they’re serving God, but they wind up doing more harm than good.

They can drive pastors crazy … or out of the church.

Some dragons are openly critical. They are the ones who accuse you of being (pick one) too spiritual, not spiritual enough, too dominant, too laid back, too narrow, too loose, too structured, too disorganized, or ulterior in your motives.
These criticisms are painful because they are largely unanswerable. How can you defend yourself and maintain a spirit of peace? How can you possibly prove the purity of your motives? Dragons make it hard to disagree without being disagreeable.

Relationships are both the professional and personal priority for pastors—getting along with people is an essential element of any ministry—and when relationships are vandalized by critical dragons, many pastors feel like failures. Politicians are satisfied with 51 percent of the constituency behind them; pastors, however, feel the pain when one vocal member becomes an opponent.

Sightings of these dragons are all too common. As one veteran pastor says, “Anyone who’s been in ministry more than an hour and a half knows the wrath of a dragon.” Or, as Harry Ironside described it, “Wherever there’s light, there’s bugs.”
Research by LEADERSHIP journal, a professional quarterly for church leaders, indicates 80 percent of the pastors who read the publication need help with difficult people in the congregation. And yet, many pastors enter the ministry totally unprepared for these attacks.

One pastor of a rural church considered an older deacon his closest friend in the congregation. The deacon, a farmer, generously shared produce from his garden and insisted on keeping the young pastor’s battered Ford filled with gas from the tank behind the barn. The deacon also happened to be the church’s biggest giver, providing more than 30 percent of the total budget.

One day the pastor, moonlighting as a school bus driver, had to discipline an unruly student. “I went strictly by the book,” he recalls. He dropped off the boy at home and told him to tell his parents the bus would not be stopping for him the next day. He reported the incident to the school superintendent and thought the matter was closed.

But the next day, the deacon, a friend of the boy’s father, told the pastor he had overstepped his authority and completely mishandled the situation. “I think it’s time you looked for another church,” he said. “Your ministry here is over.” Even though the school board backed the pastor, within six months the pastor was forced to resign because of the influence of that deacon.

“I was shocked,” the pastor says. “I felt betrayed and isolated. I was innocent, and yet this incident cost me my job. I wondered why I had been singled out for such abuse. I was totally unprepared for this.

“In seminary I learned how to discuss infra- and supralapsarianism, and yet in thirty years of ministry, I’ve never had to use that knowledge. But I’ve encountered lots of unreasonably angry people, and I was never even warned they’d be out there.”
By now he has learned that in ministry, criticism “comes with the territory”—some of it deserved, some of it unfair, all of it devastating for an individual who loves people and wants to minister to them.

This is a book about ministering while under attack. It was prepared after interviews with dozens of pastors who candidly described the difficult people they have faced. It is not a psychological study of problem people nor is it an exhaustive catalog of the difficult individuals pastors will encounter. Instead it is a book based on the accounts of veterans of the dragon wars. The lessons offered are lessons of experience. They may or may not apply in other situations, but they at least provide a glimpse of the potential conflicts. Perhaps the wisdom of battle-tested veterans will prevent others from walking unaware into an ambush.

Though winged, fire-breathing dragons may be fictional, the stories you are about to read are not. Only the names, locations, and identifying details have been changed to protect present ministries. These are real-life stories of pastors who have succeeded, some who have failed, and all of whom have learned valuable lessons about continuing to minister amid the church’s well-intentioned dragons.”

Feature: Marshall Shelley, “Well-intentioned Dragons!”

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