Recently, as a birthday gift I received a book titled Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church [Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1994] by Marshall Shelley.
Shelley describes the “dragons” as follows:
Within the church, they are often sincere, well-meaning saints, but they leave ulcers, strained relationships, and hard feelings 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 (p. 11).
One of the positive aspects of this book is that it reads like private journals of what many pastors have witnessed, experienced, and felt over the years, including myself. For instance, Shelley writes:
The worst dragons may be, in the beginning, the pastor’s strongest supporters. Often the opposition seems to develop from among those responsible for calling the pastor… They’re not always members of the pastoral search committee, but dragons often seem to emerge from among the people influential in calling the pastor. Why? Perhaps their expectations are greater. Perhaps they are more emotionally tied to the church and feel more of an ownership. Perhaps they feel their leadership threatened by the pastor. Perhaps they’re simply the stronger personalities (p. 42).
Dragons often work overhard initially at befriending you. If you list the people who make an appointment to see you in the first month of a new pastorate and another list of those unhappy with your ministry a year later, you’ll be amazed at the overlap. Often when they first come, they want to “share a personal concern” or let you know “the real situation in the church” (p. 43).
Dragons usually compare you to their former pastor. Dragons have invariably had previous church experience, either at another church or in the present church with the previous pastor. Dragons are virtually nonexistent among those for whom you are the first pastor… The prior experience of a congregation affects churches of every size and denomination. Unless the congregation has been without a minister for a long time, the spirit of the former pastor is very much present. Whether the former pastor was loved deeply or intensely disliked, the congregation’s priorities certainly have been shaped by the predecessor. Some will want a clone; others will want a sharp contrast (pp. 43-44).
Dragons are best known for what comes out of their mouths… Like the serpent in Genesis 3, the strategy is one of the planting questions in people’s minds, at first seemingly innocent questions, but with the result of raising doubts about the pastor’s competence, credibility, ministry, or motives (p. 51).
Stay tune for Part 2.