In his phenomenal book titled, Well-Intentioned Dragons, Marshall Shelley addressed the challenges of problem-people in the church saying,
“Wherever there’s light, there’s bugs.”
And boy, is he right.
It seems that, without question, problem people tend to pop up most where the light burns brightest. Not in every case, but quite often, they end up draining the pastor(s) of energy that should be going towards genuine needs – not nagging tares.
Hide of a Rhino; Heart of a Child
Now before you take this post to be the “default” position on problem-causing church members, understand that no pastor should ever be callously eager for church members to head out the door. Still, he must protect the flock from divisive members who prove to be more inclined to subterfuge than support. A pastor must be tough and tender. He needs the hide of a rhino, and the heart of a child.
The Bible provides hard evidence for church discipline with the goal of restoration (Matt. 18:15-20) and pastoral patience with the goal of saving people from errors (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Conversely, the Bible gives instruction for how to deal with wickedness and factious persons doing harm to the church (Romans 16:17-8; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; Titus 3:10-11). The subject of dealing with dangerous church members is certainly a “both/and” in that we ought to be patient, while still protecting the precious bride of Christ.
When Enough is Enough
I’ve known pastors who have literally spent countless hours trying to appease and please church members who seem to be more interest in shooting the dust and making them dance than receiving actual ministry from the shepherd. Once they’ve wreaked enough havoc or been shown the door, the church member leaves for another church and repeat the process. As much as pastors have a day of reckoning with the Master coming (rightfully so), so will church members who fail to humbly fulfill their duty in the body. Equal to the the high standard of excellence we place on our pastors (and we should), a high standard of excellence must apply to church members. Church hopping trouble-makers beware, a resume of harassing the bride will not go over well with the Bridegroom.
Sure, there will be plenty of seasons when difficult church members need thick-skinned pastors who will offer counsel, exhibit gentleness and patience, and be longsuffering. That is the job.
But are there times when a pastor needs to brush the dust off his feet and let church members huff and puff out the door? Absolutely.
As a compliment to a recent article on FTG entitled, 5 Signs of a Dangerous Pastor, here are 5 signs of a dangerous church member.
- The Money Manipulator
This church member uses money in two ways. One, they give lots of it and use that to manipulate their agenda. Two, they have money but give none of it because they don’t get their way. This kind of church member completely ignores imperatives for generous giving without strings attached (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Sometimes, they know a lot about church because they grew up in it, served on a deacon board, or perhaps even hold a seminary degree. Unfortunately, all of their experience and knowledge doesn’t translate into supporting or submitting to the church.
- The Sideline Spectator
When it comes to church members serving, some people have just never been taught what it means to biblically employ their gifts to serve one another (1 Peter 4:7-11). If they were told that the Bible commands serving, they’d joyfully obey. These are well-intentioned spectators waiting to be challenged and put in the game! But the dangerous type of spectator is the one who knows what to do but has an attitude problem about doing it. Their own pride keeps them from serving others and exemplifying the kind of love that Christ expects of His people. When VBS needs volunteers, the food pantry needs a cook, the campus team needs ushers, or the children’s ministry needs a teacher, they shrug it off with sentiments like, “Let the paid guys worry about that. That’s why we put food on their table.”
- The Extortionist
I witnessed this one first hand when I was a newly appointed associate pastor. A church member approached me and said, “If the pastor doesn’t stop preaching that way, we’re outta here.” Said church member didn’t like the hard truths coming from the pulpit or the teaching pastor’s refusal to tone down his doctrinal preaching. Fortunately, in this case, the member left and our church filled with people starving for truth. But not all of these shakedown standoffs end in joyful victory for faithful pastors. Many good pastors suffer greatly at the hands of dangerous church members. Horror stories abound of elder boards and influential families putting a pastor in the position of, “do what we say or end up homeless.” This heart-breaking reality is actually one of the reasons why denominations and church associations are so beneficial. They can usually help find the pastor a new church to serve.
- The Bitter Busy Body
This type usually steers clear of the pastors as long as they can; seeking to lurk in the shadows. They spend a lot of time making their rounds, gossiping and creating factions, questioning the leadership of the church, and adding, “promise you won’t tell?” to their secrets. They are a time thief who distracts the church from staying on mission. You’ll often notice a repeated pattern of strife, gossip, bitterness, and discord at multiple churches from these individuals. Usually they don’t deal with their heart issues at one church so they continually leave churches because of their own pride; ignoring the very thing church members are supposed to: work out their sin and be restored! Have you ever wondered why there are so many “one another” statements in the New Testament? We are to love one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and bear with one another because we are human and we’re going to hurt one another. Dangerous church members refuse to face their sin, confess their need to help, and resolve conflict. God help their next church.
- The Blame Gamer
This is a toned down quote from a real story: “Pastor Larry didn’t meet with me because it was his day off. I really needed him. Now my marriage failed and I lost my job. If he was there for us when we needed him this wouldn’t have happened.” How many times does this occur in our own lives? We are the issue, but we need someone to blame to cope with our guilt. Dangerous church members are those who refuse to love their wives, won’t put down the porn, cuss at the boss, and roll their eyes at the pastor’s sermon series on marriage only to blame the pastor for what they caused. What’s at the center of this blame game? Self-centered sin and a focus on self. If a pastor refuses to cancel his date night or a family day to meet with a member, good for him. Unless it’s life or death, chances are it can wait 24 hours or someone else in the church can handle the situation and offer prayerful encouragement in the interim. Disobedient church members demanding the pastor save them from their sins have it twisted. They don’t need a pastor. They need Christ.
Be encouraged, faithful shepherd. There are some people that you can let go. Focus on loyal labor for the Master and serve those whom God has entrusted to your care. He will reward you (Rev. 22:12).