How to Have A Healthy Church that Can Fight Dragons (Marshall Shelley)

I’ve finished the book “Well-Intentioned Dragons” and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A book review will be coming soon. But before it comes out, I wanted to highlight a couple more chapters from it.

In a previous post, we looked at how to spot certain “dragons” within the church. Marshall Shelley gives two solutions on how to minister to such dragons: (1) Build a healthy church, (2) Build a healthy leadership.

Some of these statements are directed towards elders and shepherds, but there are principles that can roll over to all peoples in the church. So as you deal with problem people, Shelley suggests these methods on how to approach them and how to cultivate a healthy church:

1. Encouraging a Positive Atmosphere

“The best defense is to create an atmosphere that breeds mutual advocates, not adversaries…. More often, the best way to build an atmosphere of cooperation is to model a positive tone personally.” (pg. 84). He says this is by “praising publicly the congregation’s strengths,” “enjoying.. diversity among members,” “thanking critics… for their candor and concern,” “trusting few people with your private criticisms and suspicions,” and “being slow to step into other people’s problems.” (pp. 84-85).

“We began focusing on the joys of life rather than bemoaning our discouragements….[Christians] who personify a non-defensive spirit of joy and generosity tend not to attract as many dragons.” (pg. 85)

2. Full Employment in People Ministries

“Unemployment will breed discontentment….Those fully employed in significant ministry are less likely to be come troublesome.” (pg. 85). However, we must be careful where to place people since “underemployment can be just as bad as unemployment. Maybe worse. Petty jobs lead to petty conflicts.” (pg. 86)

3. Reinforcing Productive Members

It is important to develop strong lay leaders who “have learned to honor those who minister, not those who demand it.” Solid lay people and ministers should not be taken for granted. They should be encouraged and given attention and care (pg. 87).

4. Knowing Congregational Values

“Pastors, especially those in their first year with a church, need to take time to build trust and healthy relationships before initiating changes…. Most churches have plenty of strong personalities but a shortage of gentleness. Often the pastor gains more influence by being a gentle friend than by grabbing for control.” (pp. 88-89)

5. Sharing Outside Interests

If people are “all business with their congregations, they lose opportunities to build pressure release valves when dragons cause things to heat up.” (pg. 89) “Other pastors let their passion for softball, poetry, or country music be known. Far from isolating them, these interests make pastors more human, more accessible, which often helps in finding common ground with a dragon” (pg. 90).

6. Underselling Beats Overselling

“There’s a temptation, especially in smaller churches, to be so eager for growth that prospective members are told what they want to hear. After all, if you’ve got only ten families, you’re desperate for more, and you unwittingly present the church as a perfect fit for their needs….A small, cohesive family is better than a house divided, even a large house” (pg. 90).

“Prospects have a right to now what a church is and isn’t. Presenting a fuzzy picture of the church’s stand and style is a sure way to produce confusion and dissension” (pg. 92).

“Healthy churches are confident in their own identity. They know their direction and limits. And they’re less likely to be tossed about by disillusioned dragons” (pg. 92).


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