Effective leadership demands time, creativity, patience, and a lot of effort. Working with people can be a joy, but it can also drain you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Even Jesus had to take time away from people in order to refocus on what’s truly important. I’ve come to the conclusion that there will always be people among the church who really “get it” and others who never will. The ones who get it are a joy and the ones who don’t are difficult.
Those who never seem to get it are often well-meaning people, but they also become major distractions to pastors and in many cases sap the vitality out of the church. These people aren’t intentionally destructive. To the contrary, often they’re zealous Christians and lifelong members, they’re simply stuck in a place of spiritual immaturity and lack self-awareness. However, if we’re honest, we often wish these pillars had joined the church down the street.
Marshall Shelley refers to people who regularly stand opposed to leadership as “Well-Intentioned Dragons.” Again they are often sincere, well-meaning saints, yet they leave ulcers, strained relationships, and hard feelings in their wake. They don’t consider themselves difficult people. They don’t sit up at night thinking of new ways to be disagreeable, nonetheless they are constantly undermining the ministry of the church. They’re not naturally rebellious or pathological. They’re loyal church members, convinced that they are serving God. Yet, most of the time they end up doing more harm than good.
Dragons drive pastors up the wall, and many times they push them out of ministry altogether. Some dragons are openly critical. They constantly accuse others of being too spiritual, not spiritual enough, too controlling, too laid back, too close-minded, too liberal, too structured, too disorganized, or ulterior in their motives. I’ve been accused of every one of these at some point over the course of my ministry. These criticisms are painful, because they are largely unanswerable. When dealing with the accusations of dragons, it becomes almost impossible to maintain a spirit of peace. They make it difficult to disagree without being disagreeable.
I realize that criticism is part of life and that it comes with the territory. However, my heart is to unify people. As children of light, we should endeavor to be the very best at what we do. We are called to make positive investments in the lives of people. Yet in my estimation, dragons do not want light, they do not want instruction, and they do not want help. What they want is power, control, and influence. They have issues that are deep-rooted and stem from a place of profound insecurity. They are not happy with themselves, so how could they possibly be happy with anyone else?
The following is a message received from a devoted church member to their pastor after a council meeting where one person did not get their way and lashed out at the pastor and others in the meeting:
“Good morning Pastor, I hope that your week has been a pleasant one and last night’s meeting was the exception. I recognize that some decisions are based on what is best for the church, not for a specific group. In every organization it is the responsibility of leadership to make organizational and structural decisions for the entire group… And in every organization there seems to be individuals who would strip leadership of that responsibility and take every decision with which they don’t agree personally.
Over the years, regardless of what church I’ve served in, I’ve discovered that: (1) Christian maturity certainly isn’t based on age or years within the church; (2) Every decision made by the pastor or the leaders is going to be challenged by someone, most often by people who try to win others over to their way of thinking (they never take into consideration that they could possibly be wrong); (3) Regardless of mouthing “this is God’s house and ministry,” a lot of people have a problem realizing it isn’t about them; (4) A lot of people who are in one position for a long time take ownership of it in the worst way, neglecting prayerfully seeking God and conveniently failing to consider that His direction may not be theirs; (5) Everyone has an opinion, but some of us forget that God doesn’t need our input to move His agenda forward; (6) There are people who will, with disguised glee, sit back and relish seeing something fall apart because it didn’t go their way.
The list goes on and on and the pastoral team has to deal with attitudes and pettiness on a recurring basis. I’ve always thanked God that He calls pastors because if we look at the job description from a natural, rather than a spiritual perspective, there would be few takers. Thank God that your strength and satisfaction isn’t based on parishioners’ opinions but on doing His will. I want you to know that there are some of us who get it, really get it. There are souls out there who need Him and we need to put ourselves aside if we are to be used by Him to reach them. I will be there to support the new team as it continues to expand into an inclusive service-based ministry rather than an exclusive club. Thank you for being a strong, committed, spirit-filled man of God. You have my ongoing prayers and my appreciation!”
Wow! Let me repeat, some people really get it and some people never will. Regardless, I still feel that we are called to minister to the dragons among us. They are people who are usually wounded, have a low self-image, and need love more than anyone realizes. I hope to always be faithful in going the extra mile to reach out to those who are wounded and need healing. At the same time we must never allow these dragons to control and potentially highjack the will of God for the ministry of the church.
Think of it this way, where there is light, there will always be bugs. We are in the light business because the gospel is the light of Jesus Christ in a dark world. Let’s continue to spread the light of Jesus Christ and minister to those in need without being distracted by scaly-winged, sharp-clawed, fire-breathing people who wreak discord without even realizing it. Pray for them. Try your best to be a dragon-tamer, not a dragon-slayer. May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you every day as you encounter people with the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Sources: Marshall Shelley; Louis McBurney; Harry Ironside)