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Location: Charles City, Virginia, United States

Monday, March 16, 2009

This Post (probably) Isn't About You

On a whim last week I started re-reading a book I'd had for a while, but had never finished. Marshall Shelley's Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church is a helpful little book for anyone who's involved in church work. Primarily it consists of case studies, some hair-raising stories from ministries around the nation, and assessments of what could have been done better when working with the "well-intentioned dragons" of the title.
A few varieties of dragons from his menagerie:
--the Wet Blanket: this person's constant refrain is "it's no use trying that," or "we tried it ten years ago and it didn't work," etc.
--the Bird Dog: this person is very eager to point out problems or needs in the church, but has no interest in helping to fix those problems or meet those needs himself (like a bird-dog, who is good at spotting the prey but of course cannot shoot it)
--the Fickle Financier: stops contributing money to the church if he/she disapproves of any decision, large or small...uses money as a weapon, especially if he or she is a major contributor to the church
--the Sniper: picks off pastors in private conversations with others ("Be sure and pray for our pastor...he has some problems, you know....")

The list goes on...Shelley realizes that we're tempted to think solely of OTHER PEOPLE in this, so he points out that we ourselves may be these "dragons" at the same time as we think we're guarding the congregation against dragons.
Shelley has lots of practical wisdom for working with people like these. But he includes, early on, a very useful reminder for when one is in the heat of conflict, or when one is tempted to "win" by "defeating" problem people:
"The rest of this book deals with various kinds of dragons, their tactics, and the ways to handle them. But from the beginning a premise stands clear: the goal in handling dragons is not to destroy them, not merely to disassociate, but to make them disciples. Even when that seems an unlikely prospect" (p. 34).
As I hinted in the post's title, I'm not "aiming" this post at anyone specifically, nor am I reading this book because I'm currently surrounded by "troublemakers." I'm reading it, rather, as preventative medicine.
I think Amazon Used has the book for 4 or 5 dollars; if you work in a church or ministry setting, you might want to pick up a copy.

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