Skip to main content

[Review] Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do With Well-Intentioned Dragons by Marshall Shelley

Title: Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do With Well-Intentioned Dragons
Author: Marshall Shelley
Publisher: Bethany House November 19, 2013
Genre: Non-fiction
Theme: Dealing with problem people in church.
Format: Paperback
Age: Adult
Pages: 208
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Bethany House for the purpose of review.
"Qualifications of a pastor: the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, the hide of a rhinoceros." Stuart Briscoe. page 41.
Marshall Shelley has written a practical and constructive book of response for pastors dealing with "dragons".  "Dragon" is the metaphoric description of a problem person in a church. Shelley shares examples of situations where problem people created havoc and how the situation played out, including responses from both sides. There is a chapter explaining what to do if the "dragon" is correct, and what the reaction should be. Shelley addresses the reasons why the dragon acts and reacts as they do. A lengthy list of descriptions of problem people are given, as well as named, for example: The Drill Instructor, The Busybody, The Legalist.
"The distinguishing characteristic of a dragon is not what is said but how it's said." page 47.
I felt the examples of situations and what to do when encountering certain types of "dragons", is the strongest point in the book. This gave application that I can take away from the book after reading it and put in to practice. It is not a matter of if I will encounter a problem person at church, but when.
Shelley expressed his concern pastors are not better prepared in seminary on how to deal with problem people. Young pastors are especially vulnerable.
A chapter is devoted to dealing with church members who have a mental disorder.
Creating a healthy church through "a positive atmosphere" is a proactive stance. I feel this is another strong point, knowing how a church can create "a positive atmosphere" among its members so hopefully problems can be averted.
Shelley expressed: "The goal in handling dragons is not to destroy them, not merely to disassociate from them, but to make them disciples even when that seems an unlikely prospect." page 39. 
Although the books audience is pastors, I feel anyone in a leadership position in church will benefit. I'm hoping the author will continue to write books on this theme. A book on what to do afterwards (after a horrible incident, for example a church split) would be beneficial.

After dealing with my own "dragons" in a leadership position in church, I understand why Christians who've gone through tough situations leave church. It was difficult to continue going to the same church with people who'd been hateful, cruel, threatening, abusive. No apologies or resolve happened, life went on as if nothing had occurred; however, hurtful things had been said and things were not the same.
I learned important lessons through my experience with "dragons".
  1. Obeying God is most important. I should have obeyed God the first time and not been persuaded to wait, or back off. 
  2. Obeying God when the only person who will be effected is me is one thing, obeying God when you know others will debate, squirm, threaten, become hostile, is a whole other matter; it requires a large amount of courage and faith in the Lord. 
  3. Dealing with "dragons" forced me to search my motives, discernment, and humility.
  4. Make sure the "me" factor does not get in the way.
  5. Later, after the emotions diminished, after forgiveness had been given (this required letting "it" go). I realized not only was I stronger and less afraid of future "dragons", but I know that when I encounter another "dragon" the Lord is with me and will equip me.
  6. There is always a lesson to be learned, for both sides.

Marshall Shelley is vice president of Christianity Today International. He's written several books. Ministering to Problem People in Your Church, was originally published in 1994 under the title, Well-Intentioned Dragons.