One of the best, most practical books I’ve read on pastoral ministry is Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church. I know what you’re thinking: problem people in the church? How could it be? But it’s true, they are there.
Every church has them – sincere, well-meaning Christians who leave ulcers, strained relationships, and hard feelings in their wake. They don’t intend to be difficult; they don’t consciously plot destruction or breed discontent among the members. But they often do undermine the ministry of the church and make pastors question their calling.
I read this book before I ever became a pastor. I’m glad I did. I don’t think I could have survived very long as a pastor without some of what this book says. There are well-intentioned dragons in the blogging world too. This is not to doubt their intentions at all. In fact, sometimes they are even right on issues. Doesn’t that drive you crazy? But hang around long enough, and you see sarcasm, biting comments, barbed questions, and personal attacks. I’m not talking about one individual here: I wish it was only one person. Marshall Shelley gives some good advice on how to identify a dragon. He writes about how to withstand personal attacks and power plays, and how to create a healthy church where dragons don’t thrive. He talks about how to process criticism, how to confront, and how to keep perspective. I’m amazed as I skim through the book how much of this applies to those of us who blog. Most people who engage us over things we have written are positive contributors to the discussion. But there are dragons, and these dragons, as well-intentioned as they may be, can cause serious damage. So here, borrowed from the book, are some ideas on how a blogger can handle a dragon: 1. Learn to recognize dragons – Learn what a dragon looks like and try to understand why they are acting the way they are. “Most dragons see themselves as godly people, adequately gracious and kind, who hold another viewpoint they honestly believe is right.” 2. Don’t become a dragon yourself – The worst thing you can do in responding to a dragon is to become a dragon yourself. Don’t reciprocate by fighting dirty. “The essential attitude must be spelled out: When attacked by a dragon, do not become one. No encounter with a dragon is a complete failure unless one fights venom with venom.” 3. Don’t spiritualize the battle – “Nothing is bloodier than a religious war. Issues aren’t just human squabbles; everything is elevated to eternal importance…How devilish to believe that disagreeing with me is disagreeing with God.” 4. Build a healthy culture – Set boundaries in advance for how to deal with dragons. “The best way to build an atmosphere of cooperation is to model a positive tone personally.” 5. Learn to take criticism – “Even dragons can sometimes be right.” 6. Confront – Confront with the right attitude, without becoming defensive. Be gentle but firm. Don’t just pray about the dragons; pray for them. Don’t create a showdown. Don’t take the conflict public if you can help it. “Never get in a spittin’ match with a skunk…Even if you win, you come out smelling bad.” 7. Keep perspective – Things probably aren’t as bad as they seem in the moment. Take a higher view. “Our job is to remain faithful to the two greatest commandments: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love even dragons as ourselves.” Stu Briscoe has said: “Qualifications of a pastor [and, I would say, a blogger]: the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros.” I’ve talked to a few bloggers who’ve pulled back because of well-intentioned dragons. It’s hard to write honestly (and what is good writing if it’s not honest?) knowing that dragons are lurking, and that your motivations may be questioned, and that you may be personally attacked. It’s worth taking the risk anyway. Don’t let the dragons distract you from what you’re doing. Tell your story with honesty, compassion and a pureness of voice. Put yourself out there anyway. And when the dragons come, deal with them, but never, never become a dragon yourself. Don’t let the dragons stop you from being who you are.