Author – Marshall Shelly
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Reviewed by Heath Henwood
In every church there are people who either intentionally or unintentionally make the lives of pastors and leaders difficult. These people create problems in all sorts of ways, and this book goes along way to identifying the problems, the people, and methods pastors can use to manage these issues.
The book was previously published under the title “Well-intended Dragons”, and has been revised and updated to deal with modern issues and trends, particularly concerning social media.
It identifies these "problem people" or dragons as the book refers to them, as people having the best intentions, but they often leave behind the most negative impressions of people and church life.
Dragons unintentionally, but with the best intentions, undermine the ministry of the church and make pastors question their calling.
Based on real-life stories of battle-scarred veterans, Marshall Shelley presents a clear picture of God's love for those on both sides of the problem.
The issue of dragons in the church is not an isolated one. One American leadership journal has found d that 80% of churches have dragons, and pastors devote significant time and energy to dealing with difficult people.
Shelly begins with several stories of complex issues that affect the church, illustrating the issues, pastors that have handled the situation well, as well as those who have handled it poorly, costing them jobs, careers, and caused church splits.
The book identifies a dozen different types of dragons: From the ‘Bird Dog’, who identifies items that need the pastor’s attention or action; the ‘Wet Blanket’ who attempt to stop any new activity or
action, spreading discontent and minimising any enthusiasm for any
There is the ‘Entrepreneur’ who aims to further his business interest by networking throughout the church, particularly with new people; as well as the ‘Drill Instructor’ who takes on the role of commander and steamrollers everyone into their way of thinking.
The ‘Anonymous Blogger’ raises suspicion and dissatisfaction through posting comments in the name of trying to save the church; The ‘Financial Fickler’ uses money to influence church decisions, by giving or withholding funds.
The ‘busybody’ who tells others how to do their job; the ‘Sniper’ who influences others from afar; the ‘Bookkeeper’who records the
incorrect actions and words of the pastor; the ‘Mercant of Muck’ who draws others in with stories of problems in the church; and the ‘Legalist’who lists the absolute do and don’ts for the church and
Further Shelly explores what it is that makes up dragons. Dragons are those with strong emotions and passions about something,
and they cannot overcome their human nature. Once the descent begins, personal attacks come fast and furious.
Most importantly, Shelly provides strategies to deal with a range of conflicts and dragons in the church. He elaborates in detail on strategies including building of a positive atmosphere; maximizing serving opportunities for members to reduce armchair critics; promote the values of the church; ensuring the pastor has outside
interests and sharing these with the church, creating trust, and building a healthy board.
The book deals with electronic media, social media, and the dreaded email criticism, and how to respond in each circumstance.
Mental illness is covered, which is rarely discussed in the church community, and ideas on how to deal with an outburst during a
Power plays by influential church members are dealt with, with examples illustrating what pastors have done badly, and ideas that
have worked well. Power plays and manipulation often occurs from long standing members, or major financial contributors, which creates conflict in itself.
Shelly goes beyond identifying the issues, to providing ideas of improving church health prior to issues, so that when dragons appear, they have difficulty gaining power.
Shelly deals with what to do when criticisms appear valid, how we can test their validity and humbly learn from them. He reinforces the view that it is not surrendering, but serving. The book explores the options of open confrontation, forgiveness, restoring relationships, and facing the possibility that in some situations there may be an impasse that can not be resolved at all. Shelly provides strategies for taming dragons, through changing your view of them. By changing your perspective from lions to wounded lambs, you change the way you deal with the person and the situation.
As a leader, I was encouraged by the real stories and
direct recounts from others in ministry. To discover that they are not the only
ones feeling under attack, and dealing with people who are hurting badly, while
being hurt themselves. It reminds us that ministry is not for the faint-hearted.
The stories provide us signs that we can learn from in our own
This is a book that I have purchased for myself, and reflect
over when I see the beginnings of dragons
emerge. I recommend it for anyone
in leadership or some form of ministry. This
may be the book that saves you
from the brink of quitting.