Who is the most dangerous guy at your church?

Erik Raymond —  September 20, 2011

In addition to leading and teaching, pastors are called to protect or guard the flock (Titus 1.5, 9; 2.15; John 21.15-19). Therefore, it logically follows that it is important for pastors to know who is in attendance and membership within the congregation. There are obviously many practical reasons for this, but one is certainly to protect the flock from potential harm.

So I ask you, “Who is the most dangerous guy at your church?”

Here I am not so much aiming at an individual as I am looking at a type of person.

Sure, we all can spot the unbeliever who doesn’t fluently speak the language of Zion, we can identify the person from doctrinally anemic backgrounds because they keep cutting themselves with the sharp knives in the theology drawer, and of course any Calvinist can sniff out an Arminian within 20 seconds.

But I submit that these types of people are not the most dangerous people that attend your church. At least, they are not in my experience.

Instead, the most dangerous person at your church is the apparently smart guy who is unteachable.

When I say ‘unteachable’ I mean that he has it all figured out. He is the classic, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I know what I believe” guy.

This is the guy who seems to have a lot of biblical knowledge. He can drop the 30 lb. words and effectively argue his point. Very often he is quite involved and appears to have things together. However, he is dangerous because of the reason you would not think, he is unteachable.

Let me give you some reasons why and how he is dangerous:

(1) He is Gospel-Eclipsing: The great commission has learning embedded in it (Matthew 28.18-20). This means that being a disciple is one who is always learning. Therefore, to have it all figured out is to deny who you are. As Christians we have to be people who are learning, this includes everyone from pastors to children.

(2) He is Critical: If this guy is not being moved by the ministry of the word he is likely gathering bullets to shoot at leaders. He sits quietly during the sermons and teachings only to pick apart everything like a Monday morning quarterback. His unteachability looks the exact opposite of what James 1 teaches:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1.20-21)

(Please note this is not a repudiation of constructive criticism. This is desperately needed. There is a difference between constructive and destructive criticism however.)

(3) He is Divisive: This is dangerous for the church in that it invariably brings division (Titus 3.10). This type of boiling pot eventually spills over and when he does he hurts unity and people.

In my experience, division in the church usually is a result of somebody being unteachable. This type of thing has a long legacy. Consider how Diotrephes liked to put himself first and stir up division. How did he do this? He did not submit to the teaching of the apostles (3 John vv. 9-10).  He was unteachable.

This is obviously dangerous for his own soul but also the church. Just like Diotrephes had influence in that congregation so too the unteachable guy no doubt has influence in your local assembly. The influence of an unteachable guy is a vehicle for division.

(4) He is Joy-Robbing: A church that is teachable brings its leaders joy. A church or church member who is not robs them of joy. It’s that simple (Hebrews 13.7, 10). I can attest to the fact that this is very true.

(5) He is a Time-Waster: Let me be careful how I say this. I don’t mean that labor in the ministry is a waste of time. But what I do mean is that unteachable guy is one who continues to take up pastoral leadership’s time with arguments. He just keeps resetting the same issue over and over again. He can find anything to nitpick and be critical about. So in this sense he is a waste of time. Or, as Paul might say, the labor is in vain (Philippians 2.16; 2 Thessalonians 3.5).

So, what do you do with him?

Pray for him: Forbid it that pastors become callous and unmoved themselves! The desire is for growth in the gospel. Therefore, pray (Colossians 1.9-14; 2 Peter 3.18).

Minimize his influence: Pastors should always be careful about who is appointed unto leadership. In this case it would obviously make sense not to just put the Bible trivia champ in charge of teaching and leadership items. This is because the Bible trivia champ could also be a spiritual MMA champ on the side.

Watch him and the sheep: If this guy is a Christian then he must be cared for too. The pastor must do this while guarding and caring for the flock. This is the type of thing that keeps pastors up at night (see #4 above).

Lovingly aim to teach him: Keep on keeping on (Titus 2.15)

Confront where necessary: When there is sin involved Jesus is clear (Matthew 18.15-18).

This type of thing weighs heavy upon pastors and church members alike. Therefore, even the consideration of such things should cause us to pause, evaluate our own hearts, and pray for receptivity of the word of Christ (James 1.20ff; Colossians 3.15).

 

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

90 responses to Who is the most dangerous guy at your church?

  1. Hey, I know that guy. Just kidding. Great thoughts. Very much appreciated.

    #4 He is Joy Robbing. That’s a great insight.

  2. True. He is joy robbing. On the other hand, it is the unteachable pastor who will find him most intolerable.

    • I hope I didn’t come across here so as to say that pastors should not be teachable. I believe that all Christians, whether or not in full-time vocational ministry, must be teachable (Matthew 28.19-20)

    • Jason, I agree. Having lived through 4 years under a pastor who “had it all figured out, and you just need to listen to me” and the works-based sanctification doctrine that seems to be associated with this type of “pastoral care” on the crazy side of Fundamentalism (I would not consider these people to actually be Fundamentalists as they’ve distorted The Gospel, but that’s another matter for another day), I couldn’t agree more.

      Sitting under his “preaching” was a stumbling block to me in that I became that guy picking his sermons apart every service and using my opportunities to preach and teach as “damage control.” Thankfully, a man in the church confronted me about the fact that he could tell whenever I preached I had “an agenda.” Though I was giving good, quality exposition, he could tell I was on a mission that was more than just to preach the Scriptures.

      Sadly, what he was telling me was that I had become the very thing that I despised in my pastor. At that point, I knew it was time to leave, but not before I made some changes. The last two opportunities I had to preach at the church, I simply preached about areas that God was working on in my life and shared those things, along with the sound exegesis, with the congregation. I confronted the pastor and shared my concerns for him before I left, but of course, he wasn’t willing to listen and didn’t see or understand what I was talking about. Even now that a 90-year old retired missionary is telling him the same things, he refuses to listen. This man has forced 2/3 of the congregation out, but thankfully, those people have banded together to form a new church where Christ is the head of the church (and not the teachings and opinions of a man), once again.

      • @gbfluteman. I was in a similar situation in my former church. I was not in a teaching/preaching capacity, but the Pastor wanted me to teach a small group. I realized that if I did step into that position, I would have an “agenda” as well. So, I ended up leaving that church and am now involved in a much better church situation.
        @Erik I agree with what you that the unteachable church member is extremely dangerous, but the Shepherd that is unteachable is even more so as he leads the entire flock astray.

    • @Erik. Thanks for your response. No, you didn’t come across that way. I just felt it was an important counterpoint.

      I’ve wrestled in recent years with a phenomenon… perhaps you can consider writing on it. Pastors are the members of the body that God has entrusted the bulk of the teaching to, and yet that means pastors themselves will rarely tend to get targeted confrontation in preaching. Even at pastor’s conferences, the teaching will invariably be done by an eminent pastor who is inclined to give pastors a break because he understands their struggles intimately.

      My dilemma is this… who understands the church members daily lives intimately and can “give them a break”? Or, assuming that this is deemed not to be a worthwhile goal, who confronts the pastors and does so without “giving them a break”?
      @gbfluteman. Yeah, I think my counterpoint is most applicable to the “Young Fundamentalists” who are trying to both extricate themselves from the old paradigms of leadership, but are also trying to extricate the old paradigms of leadership from themselves (if you know what I mean).

      Grace to you.

      • Jason,
        I think, ideally, that would be the role of the elders specifically and the congregation generally. A healthy church should have a group of men who are there in part to know the pastor well and encourage, edify, rebuke, and correct him in love. Practically, I think few churches do this well (I’m writing this as a pastor). I think in large measure it’s the pastor’s responsibility to model joyful, repentant, gospel-centered humility that encourages (and gives permission to) others to lovingly confront him when needed.

      • @Jason,
        If you have a good pastor he will be wrestling with the text that he has to teach to the people. There is always the risk that the pastors heart (like any others) can and will move back and forth in closeness to the Lord. The sober reminder comes from James 3:1 about being judged stricter. This is why it is good to pray regularly for those God has placed over you. This will help soften your criticisms and bless the pastor. It’s a win win. Someone told me “if you want a better pastor, pray for the one you have”.

  3. Erik,
    Great post. I had the unfortunate experience of having such a guy in our church that fits this description almost to a “T.” Fortunately, most of the damage he did was to me personally and not to the congregation. The elders made every effort to help him grow, but it was not happening. He has since hopped from one church to another. Very sad.

    • that sounds pretty painful. One of my mentors always says about this type of thing, “We can take comfort in the fact that God promises to sanctify his own. This includes us and him.”

  4. Unfortunately, I have been that guy. It’s never too late to repent.

    • Wow Jack, it’s so refreshing to hear someone acknowledge the sad truth about who they’ve been! Well done. Your bold step makes it easier for the rest of us to admit what, in our pride, we’d probably rather hide.

    • I appreciate your transparency Jack. And you are correct brother, repentance is the answer.

  5. And then there’s the guy who genuinely knows a lot, is genuinely Teachable, and still gets labelled as described in the article.

    • That’s fair. I’m sure it happens. I obviously cannot cover everything here but am trying to generally take a swipe at the issue.

  6. Good word. We had a good sermon this past Sunday about John the Baptist, and how humble this man was. Although he was a son of a priest, and was called by God to be as great as any prophet, he said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by You.” And he said, “I must decrease, and He must increase.” He then in his early 30’s was beheaded. This man had the humility we all need. May even be the most needed fruit in the life of a believer.

    Have a good week in our Savior’s grace.

  7. Great post! I think its a great set of thoughts for us all to examine. I think just about every Christian, let alone every YMRC (Young Male Reformed Christian) either falls into some of these or at least is tempted to!

    • Reformed guys are certainly prone to it as are any who see the importance of doctrinal learning.

    • I am a young reformed male who, up until recently, sat under the preaching of an Arminian pastor who insisted on defending Arminian theology in virtually every sermon, regardless of whether or not the text spoke of this issue. Needless to say, he woudl definitely have viewed me as unteachable. My question is this: Is there a difference between being unteachable categorically and exercising discretion in the source of your learning? I now sit under a strong reformed pastor and find that I have much to learn under him. Is this reformed snobbery or biblical discretion? Tough call for me.

  8. The dangerous part of this also is when the leadership of a church becomes unteachable, which I am very afraid may be found more often then not.

  9. I respect your writing this but I disagree. (Yes, I realize that makes me #1, #2, #3, #5 and possibly #4.)

    I’m a person who knows more than nearly everybody in my small church due to my upbringing and how I spend my time. My pastor is a consecrated man of God and has legitimate pastoral authority over me, and I love him as a brother, but he is quite ignorant sometimes (much of the time we agree, thankfully!) I try to find new things to learn always, but often it comes from my connecting something unintentional someone has said with prior knowledge rather than what they actually meant to say. (I am not bragging, just admitting the facts since you chose to dwell on people like me. And I sometimes do learn something new when it’s stated plainly to me.)

    My wife has confronted me about my passiveness of all things, as I sometimes people explain something to me I understand perfectly because I think they enjoy that, sometimes resulting in their embarrassment when it comes out later that I understood the matter they were explaining. She and my pastor challenge me to teach and help others, and, I have noticed, work to put me in situations where I am challenged quite a bit. I think that has taught me humility and helped me be assertive, two things that are not contradictory as you know from studying Paul.

    As for being divisive, rude and a time-waster: I think those are social problems that only correlate with knowing a lot, though divisiveness can certainly come from pride or envy too. I certainly have experienced these problems, especially as a teenager, and am thankful to some people who did not lump it into one problem along with my interests and knowledge. I realize a pastor is not a psychiatrist or life coach and that a pastor is often too busy on any particular day to deal with one parishioner’s personal problem. However, over the long term, through a few well-timed words and intimate congregational life that teach intimacy with God and neighbor, God will wear off those rough edges and leave behind a rather useful member of the congregation whether the problem is sin or poor habits. I think a pastor’s duty over the course of his tenure is to find time to help each member of his church flourish both spiritually and socially as a neighbor in the church.

    • “I respect your writing this but I disagree. (Yes, I realize that makes me #1, #2, #3, #5 and possibly #4.)”

      I don’t think that disagreeing = not being teachable.

      Further, I believe there are guys in the church where I serve who know more than me and are not disruptive, divisive, or otherwise dangerous.

  10. Many years ago, I learned lessons about the need to protect the Church from dangerous people. Unfortunately, the book “Well intentioned Dragons” was assigned in a number of seminaries as a model for dealing with these people. The book should be titled, “Well intentioned and misguided pastors.” A better guide is “Antagonists in the Church” by Kenneth Haughk. I summarize his teaching here: Warning: Dangerous people
    http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/03/06/warning-dangerous-people-in-the-church/

  11. I find this line of thinking very dangerous.

    First, it categorically demonizes this individual in the most extreme sense imaginable: It labels them the “Most Dangerous Person in the Church”. So any time you approach a topic like this that has that underlying bias, the game is rigged.

    Second, I see a danger in labeling someone as “unteachable” who may in fact possess a large number of these characteristics (very knowledgeable, argues well, criticizes sermons, etc.) and yet remain teachable can easily be categorized as “unteachable” and thus lumped into the demographic this blog post targets.

    This is very dangerous in my opinion, because the western church has a LOT that’s wrong with it, and if someone tries to address these problems, he is automatically viewed with suspicion and quarantined from having any influence on the church as if he were a virus. That’s essentially what the author of this post does; he labels this type of individual as the “Most Dangerous” and then basically suggests quarantining their influence. Well, that’s fine, if the person is genuinely unteachable and a legitimate mis-handler of the Gospel; but attaching such language (“Most Dangerous”) to this type of individual can have negative impacts on those who do NOT qualify for this stigma.

    Also, there is an apparent contradiction in the author’s thought. The author says this individual is the type that says, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I know what I believe”. He then goes on to say 2 sentences later “He can drop the 30 lb. words and effectively argue his point.” Well, you can’t have it both ways. Someone cannot effectively argue a point without having “facts” and legitimate, well thought out “reasons” as to why he thinks his interpretation of the facts are the correct ones. This contradiction flies in my face as I read this article.

    Thanks for letting me share and God bless.
    Justin

    • I don’t think ‘the game is rigged.’ I am making an observation based on Scripture and experience. I don’t think that is rigging anything.

      In your second paragraph you leave out divisiveness and gospel eclipsing. It is hardly a CHristian virtue to go to war on every peripheral issue. The impact of the unteachable guy is that he promotes a very hostile and gospel minimizing environment.

      I also don’t think it is a contradiction as you note in your final paragraph. I know several people who are not open to teaching and who can argue. They are not mutually exclusive as you suggest.

      People who have knowledge and convictions should be the most humble and hungry people on the planet. Sadly, this is not always the case.

      • Hi Erik,

        Good point in the first paragraph. The game may not be “rigged”, but it is borderline when you stigmatize (either intentionally or unintentionally) effective argumentation, criticism, questioning things, and Scripture knowledge, etc., by describing a person who is all these things, as well as unteachable, and then labeling him the “Most Dangerous Person”. If a person is all of those qualities except unteachable, people will still look upon him with suspicion if they possess qualities that are 90% similar to someone who is unteachable. That person is put in an unfair disadvantage and thus my “rigged” comment.

        Regarding the divisiveness/gospel eclipsing, we must be aware that the way we live are lives has a direct impact on how the non-believing world sees the gospel, and how well the gospel is advanced. Just look at Titus 2:5 and 1 Timothy 5:14 for examples. When we fail to adorn the gospel with what you seem to be calling “peripheral issues”, then the gospel itself suffers and is spoken ill of by the world. This is why we must go to war in order to protect the gospel; Paul himself went to war on these very issues. Therefore our efforts to “reform” the church should be to maximize the gospel, not minimize it. You can call yourself a “gospel-centered” church all you want, but if you are not adorning that gospel with lives that conform to Scripture, you’re just giving the gospel lip service.

        Regarding your third paragraph, I still see it as a contradiction. You now state that you know “several people who are not open to teaching” and “who can argue”. But the contradiction I pointed out is this: You call out a specific attribute of those who you identify “unteachable”, that is, they don’t like to be bothered with “the facts”. This would be in direct contradiction to someone who can argue well. The very definition of a sound argument is one that presents an honest and educated view of the facts and is open to correction if better reasons/facts can be presented. Therefore, I am concerned that people who can actually argue well will again be viewed with suspicion based on the content of this blog post, and that unnecessarily.

        I agree 100% with your last paragraph.

        Justin

      • I share Justin’s concerns; picture the young man who is bright and capable, he has his theology degree from Oxford, is undertaking a PhD at Cambridge, he knows his his Westminster Standards backwards, has read all of John Frame’s volumes, is articulate, understands logic (he knows a bad argument if he hears one), and has read most of the key systematic theologians and has a good grasp on church history. Then, during an adult Bible class he attends the minister teaches something which this young man finds to be faulty. They have a discussion but the young man doesn’t change his mind…and so he becomes labeled as ‘unteachable’.

    • I agree with Justin. And when I read this post Justin said several of the things I was planning to say.

      Often times I have seen the qualities of this “Most Dangerous” character demonized as an exercise in belief preservation. In other words, you have Christian 1 who has a legitimate criticism (whether it be about the other person’s doctrine, moral beliefs, or theology of politics) and he is very knowledgeable, argues well, criticizes sermons, etc. and Christian 2 is the guy who can’t justify himself in light of these criticisms by Christian 2 and yet says “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I know what I believe.”

      What does Christian 2 latch onto as an excuse to ignore all the reasoning and points of Christian 1? “You’re being divisive, you’re robbing my joy, you’re wasting my time, and that’s not the gospel so who cares what I say about this anyway!”

      I’ve seen it a thousand times. In the end, it’s easy to say that anyone who disagrees with us or has a criticism that we find hard to hear is just a time-waster and divisive and robbing me of my joy… and oh, after all, it’s not like it’s the gospel… so who cares what that person is saying I have my beliefs!”

      People can and do (I have experienced it first hand) use this as an excuse to insulate their heretical beliefs about the trinity, the non-existence of hell, the health-wealth-prosperity gospel, etc. etc.

      IF the most dangerous person is the person you describe, Erik, then the second most dangerous person is the person who uses the subjective criterion of “robbing me of my joy, wasting my time, being divisive, it’s not *what I consider to be* the gospel” as an excuse to preserve their beliefs against all the evidence to the contrary.

      P.S. While I wouldn’t say it is a contradiction to be what you describe as the most dangerous person and to be the guy who says “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I know what I believe,” these are definitely two different people on opposing ends 90% of the time.

  12. Great discussion. I would agree that person can be very dangerous. I guess it depends on the “source” of his “unteachableness.” For the word of God does divide. So if the reason is because it was a long, searched out study of God’s Word, I could understand saying, “I don’t want to go there, I know what His Word has says.” Then perhaps he has been mislabled. However if the response is “We’ve always done it this way, and I like doing it this way, because It benefits me ________,” Well then yes THAT is very dangerous.

  13. One concern that I think separates a pastor from say a bible teacher or preacher is that the pastor should be genuinely interested in the underlying reasons for a person’s unteachableness.

    I myself have been this person, to some extent I am still this person. I have a graduate degree from a well known Christian college, I am active in Christian ministry, and I am very assertive. I have butted heads with more than one pastor over the years–not always intentionally.

    But until very recently, I never had anyone actually sit down and try to untangle the mess of my self-understanding with me. There have been plenty of pastors who have diagnosed me as one thing or another, but very few that actually exercised any kind of pastoral ministry towards me.

    Despite all their good intentions, I haven’t actually encountered many people with the title of pastor that have had pastoral gifts. Instead, I’ve met many other men like myself with teaching gifts, stumbling through trying to pastor people they don’t understand.

    It wasn’t until I started paying for professional Christian counseling that I actually started to unpack some of those underlying issues that lead to me being confrontational with other Christian leaders.

    Otherwise, I agree very strongly with the above article–with the exception that it should be broadened to say that unteachableness, which is a result of pride, is dangerous.

  14. Truly smart people are teachable and at the same time are not blown here and there by every wind of doctrine.

    I’ve seen many of these apparently smart ones also be super spiritual acting people of whom the opposite is true.

    All too often, they like to transfer from one church to another. I call them Trojan Horse Transfers. http://bachdevelopment.com/bach15b.html

  15. I also must express some concerns over what has been written.

    I just wonder if the thoughts brought up in this article could be used wrongly.

    Do you not think that the Roman Catholic Church could use these same words against Luther?

    “Martin Luther, you are being unteachable. You are overly critical. All you do is pick apart everything our Priests and indulgence preachers say. Your criticism is destructive! It’s causing division in the Church. You are destroying the unity of the Church. You’re robing the joy and time of the Bishops and preists that you constantly critique.”

    How many of us start listening to a sermon, with no intention to critique it, but ready to learn, and then the preacher slaps us upside the head with blatant Semi-pelagianism, Arminianism, or the prosperity Gospel? “But you’re being Crititcal”.

    Seeker-sensitive and Word-of-Faith false teachers are using this style of argumentation to supress biblical criticism against them.

    Those are the big, the obvious errors that many will see. However, what about the more subtle errors, like the confusion of the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel?

    Also, is there a difference between someone who is “unteachable” and someone who is firm in their biblical convictions?

    Paul tells us to test all things and hold fast to what is good. We must be like the Bareans who double checked everything Paul said with the Scripture. We are to test the spirits. We compare what people say in the name of God to the Word of God. In some ways, the PASTOR can be the most dangerous man in the Church. Why? Because He is in a position of authority to teach the Word. Many people will just accept what their Pastor says and adopt the reasons and arguments he uses. If he is in error, many in the congregation will be lead astray. Dissention and disagreement will be crushed.

    So what do we do when we disagree with the Pastor? What do we do when our disagreement is a vital issue? What do you do when there are others who also agree with your concerns? Is it not appropriate to bring these issues up for civilized Christian debate and discussion? Is it possible to have a serious disagreement with your Pastor and to agree to disagree while still be “teachable”? I think the answer is “Yes”.

  16. He’s probably the most needy guy, too. The one being divorced…

  17. Straw.

    Man.

  18. Equally if not more dangerous is the unteachable pastor.

  19. “Is it possible to have a serious disagreement with your Pastor and to agree to disagree while still be “teachable”? I think the answer is “Yes”.”-Matt

    Yep. And then there are those in the church who are unteachable and dangerous who disagree and think they know it all, and may even be thankful that they are humble and full of understanding.

  20. Been there. Repented of that. So thankful for God’s grace in justification and sanctification.

    It can be easy to “have it all figured out” and forget the gospel of grace.

    Even if you’re convinced you’re right about an issue and others are wrong (for example, I know we’ll have points of disagreement) there is a way to handle those disagreements if the need arises and a way to view the other person; as an equal in Christ.

    Thanks my friend.

  21. I want to state up front that I have been blessed by your blog, although I have only commented one other time. Having mentioned that…………..along with a few others, I find this line of thinking fallacious and disturbing. It has been my experience that proud and hyper-authoritarian leadership is the most dangerous threat in what would be considered, at least on the surface, otherwise Gospel-centered churches.

    This only provides ammunition for those types of men and their supporters; enabling them to eliminate serious questioning of dead tradition, pragmatic methods, and doctrinal heresy. As soon as a brother disagrees with the leadership at all, he is, all too often, cast in such a light as this article portrays. Sola Scriptura should settle any dispute for genuine Christians, but people tend to function based on emotions, and any dissension is considered sinful………….or it could be stated like this….. most “church-goers” do not know the Bible and anyone that argues for sound doctrine is automatically labeled. So it is with “churchianity” in America.

    • This was a great post Erik! Thank you for sharing this. My husband and I lead a Sunday school class in our church and you are so right about folks who think they have everything nailed down. We have been Christians for 40 years, and we still are learning. We will still be learning until the Lord calls us home for He has not yet perfected us. I am forwarding this on to our pastors as I know they could use this encouragement. Many blessings dear Brother in Christ.

  22. This person is not only, a joy robber, divisive, etc.. They are decieved and don’t know it. Great article and reminder to remain teachable.

  23. Frederick Harrison September 20, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Before you share this article in order to claim “insight” into the behavior of anyone in your local church ask the Lord to search your heart or send a Nathan into your life to tell you that “You are the man!”.

  24. Once again Erik, you pack a solid punch in your post.

    You are spot on and have a real knack for communicating the difficult things with such incredible clarity.

    Well said Erik. Well said.

  25. I know a fellar like this and man can he be a bulldozer in a china shop. I love him deeply but find it rather frustrating to listen to his sometimes hyper-criticism of our church and the leadership. I’d like to change him but God will not grant me that gift ;). I pray and love him.

    Love the spiritual MMA comment…hilarious!

  26. I am concerned because most of your descriptors are really “heart related” matters, or matters of sincerity, which according to scripture are not to be fully known. As one who has consistently been shunned by Pastors whenever an elevated interest in serving, or my frequent compliments take the turn of constructive questioning, I find most, if not all Pastors, are so paranoid about their “touches” with their congregation, that if anything, “problem guy”, is just an excuse to stay disengaged.

    Let’s take a step back, and honestly ask ourselves, is the problem with Today’s US Christian Church that pastors are spending too much time with their flock? Isn’t the opposite true…overwhelmingly, I say with great sadness and wounding, not with bitter vengeance. So let’s find out why Pastors only want to preach, instead of giving them more excuses to stay disengaged.

    • I’m a very engaged pastor, and so are most of the godly shepherds I know. It is difficult to say this based solely on brief comment you made, but if you are consistently being “shunned” and are always demonstrating “elevated interests in serving” and giving “frequent compliments,” you may need to research Borderline Personality Disorder. I don’t say this to insult you, I really want to be helpful, but most of us reading this recognize your self-described characteristics pretty quickly.

  27. This is so true, Jeff, which puts the more Spiritually mature member in a real dilemma. Particularly if the member is involved in ministering to the people, and is thus not a member there “just because of the pastor”.

  28. Is it always a “he”? Or have you seen women in this role as well?

  29. Boy, do I know this guy.

  30. I have a friend that is a professor of biblical languages. He has learned never to really talk to pastors about issues of the bible because it is very rare that a pastor is secure enough in their own education and skin to hear where they may be mishandling scripture.

    I did my MDiv internship in a church of about 60 on a university campus. Of those 60, 11 had an advanced degree in theology or biblical languages, mostly PhDs. It takes a special type of pastor to pastor people that are experts in their field, especially when they are experts in a field that the pastor is supposed to be the expert.

    I agree attitude is the issue here. But as someone that is well educated in church world, but not serving as a pastor, one of the good ways to engage someone that may be unteachable is to learn from them. Probably not in an open session Sunday School or some forum like that. But go out to coffee and talk, and make sure you are trying to learn, not convince.

  31. There are probably a few too many strands here to corral in one comment but let me just clarify a couple of things:

    1) This post does not discount that some pastors are unteachable. Regrettably, some are; however, it is a different post.

    2) I am not saying that people should not ask questions, offer feedback or otherwise disagree. I think that being a Berean (Acts 17.11) is a good thing. Christians are called to be discerning (1 Thessalonians 5.21).

    3) I am highlighting the sinful pattern of being unteachable. This is much different than simply having knowledge. One is not unteachable smart because he is smart and unteachable people aren’t always smart.

    4) I’m kind of surprised that people are so taken back by highlighting what the NT identifies as a problem for local churches. Sure, I can be more clear but at some point I have to ask if people are actually listening or just rolling up their blog sleeves to scrap.

    • I wonder how many of your detractors here are pastors. Being a pastor gives one a unique perspective on the problem you have highlighted that often others are unable to see.

    • Erik,

      I think the keyword is “pattern”. Am I a glutton because I over eat once in a while or because it is a pattern of my life. I’m not unteachable because every now an then I have legitimate questions as to what my pastor has taught. That is a far cry from dissecting every sermon to find fault.

      Great post that caused me to reflect because I can see myself becoming “that” guy if I’m not careful.

      SDG!

      chris

    • Hi Erik,

      In my opinion, there is a difference between the NT identifying something “as a problem for local churches,” vs. calling them the “most dangerous person.” I agree the NT clearly condemns being unteachable, but I wouldn’t go so far to label someone who is unteachable as the “most dangerous” person in the church.

      When I read the NT, I see false teachers being illustrated as the most dangerous. Not the guy who is orthodox but unteachable. So my main criticism of the article was the strict demonizing of the “unteachable guy”. This demonizing doesn’t serve the church well when it casts suspicion upon people who ARE teachable, but desire to reform the church using non-sinful methods such as constructing good arguments, being critical of sermons where needed, challenging the status-quo, etc..

      Justin

  32. Erik,

    Thank you for this article. It has caused me to examine myself in light of the points you have made regarding who the most dangerous person in the church may be. I agree that an unteachable person is quite dangerous. I have been that person in the past, and I pray that, Lord willing, I will always be teachable and useful for the kingdom.

    SDG,
    Brian

  33. Thank you for this article. As I expressed to one of my people the other day, I have always categorized the argumentation as a mark of my “Mosesness” – not being able to speak well. I’ve thought these disruptive types simply and truly did not understand and that I needed to do more for them even though during the discussions (SS especially) everyone else gets it. I simply must confront these things more readily. Not that I am opposed to confrontation but I simply look at it as first my problem, then theirs.

  34. Erik,

    Excellent post. I’m honestly shocked at how much disagreement there is. Let’s all read a little more charitably: Erik’s post is clearly assuming godliness in the pastor. Of course, if that isn’t there, then this post doesn’t work. Duh. But that’s just not the point of this particular post.

    Anyway, maybe we could expand your point: I’d say the danger is not necessarily in unteachableness with regard to Scripture as unteachableness in general. For some, that will mean never being able to see outside his Scriptural knowledge base. But for many others, that unteachableness will have more to do with a tight grip on past church practices and traditions.

    Each is equally dangerous, especially when the person is vocal and involved.

    I think your comment to keep those people out of leadership is on the money. The more influence they get, the bigger the problem they are. And by the way, the person could have great motives, but that doesn’t change the significance of the problem.

    Andrew Faris
    Someone Tell me the Story

  35. My wife is married to this guy.

    But she’s not afraid to tell him so and slowly he’s learning.

  36. Wow. Quite a lot of comments for this subject. That’s good.

    “…that unteachableness will have more to do with a tight grip on past church practices and traditions.”

    I know some who struggle with tradition, but they try to give in. That would be different, and yet it’s still chains about one’s heart, in my way of thinking. And thsame can be said for a contemporary mind-set as well, that has no room for tradition.

    Tradition has its place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRdfX7ut8gw

  37. I have been that guy. Though I think now it may have been largely due to my youth. I have had to be taught. I had to be guided out, and I had to be reminded ( and continue to be reminded ) that service is the goal. To use my talents and knowledge in humility with an attitude of service to the church. To recognize my weakness, and keep in front of me my own frailty as opposed to God’s power.

    It’s hard to be overcritical of others when you are constantly reminded of how weak you are before God.

  38. Erik I thought this was a solid post. The brashness of those who are disagreeing is fascinating as most of them perfectly fit the description of the character you are confronting.

    As I read the comments, I was just waiting for a Martin Luther quote, waiting, waiting, then Bingo! Matt, 6:12 pm. This is textbook arrogant young man thinking, not distinguishing Luther’s “hier stehe ich” while on trial and asked for a confession in a room full of antichrists, versus “hier stehe ich” in a room full of Godly evangelical reformed pastors. I was BLESSED to have a pastor, probably like you, confront me on this in my early twenties.

    A good book along these lines is Watchman Nee’s Spiritual Authority. Here’s a gem I wrote down in front flap “How few there are who realize how much difficulty these minds of ours give God.” Another one all your detractors need to read is Ryle’s Thoughts for Young Men. I noticed Erik commented above in agreement to you. Erik runs the excellent JCRYLEQUOTES website and would know this book well, thus it’s no surprise to me that he agrees with you!

  39. “This is the guy who seems to have a lot of biblical knowledge.”

    In some instances this may be true, but in just as many if not more it can be the person who does not possess biblical knowledge who is unteachable. They look upon learning doctrine as not practical and even “divisive” among the church. They are comfortable in their tradition and have no desire to learn more of the Bible.

    So the issue is not the cause of biblical knowledge (or lack thereof) but a combination of pride and self-centeredness.

  40. Hi, thanks for the thought-provoking post! Just read Eugene Peterson’s “5 Smooth Stone”, was reminded to be grateful and to be praying for such.

  41. From my observations, this is basically how the reformed wing comes across – especially on the internet. It also tends to show up mostly when reformed centric folk are confronted with Arminians, or that most dastardly of foes – the emergents.

    • Unteachableness spans all theological perspectives, Dov. As Eugene points out, this is so since we all have within us that pride and self-centeredness that holds tightly to our views (particularly our non-essential or disputable doctrines) and refuses to let go or die on any hill. Our identity, in those instances, moves off of Christ and centers on us. I have Arminian friends who are just as stubborn in their views as Reformed folk and Emergents are no different despite their supposed tolerance. Having said that, I agree that us Reformed folk have a reputation (and it is probably well-deserved in a lot of instances) of being “unteachable”. I also think there is a movement among Reformed folk to clean up this image and be better listeners of opposing views.

      For me it looks like this. When a friend or someone challenges me on some doctrinal view, I have noticed on occasion that I stop listening to them and become busy preparing my answers (read: attacks). What I realized is that I stop listening (or reading) because I am afraid that what I hear will actually cause me consider and rethink or bring in a nuance against what I hold dear. That can frighten me! Why? Because I have misplaced my identity and have moved in from Christ to my need to be right all of the time (i.e., myself!). That is how I can be unteachable. And it is really hard for me because I am proud and self-centered. However, I am thankful that God doesn’t leave me where I am. What I am learning is that I need to trust God in these moments, that I don’t have all the answers (and I am still accepted by Him in Christ in spite of this!) and that He is at work in those who disagree with me just like He is in me and He is doing a good work in them as well. It’s not my job to do that work. I can charitably and humbly listen and try to persuade, but in the end it is God who will do a work *where necessary* not me! I am grateful for God’s patience with me and for the patience of my friends. Really far more than I deserve.

  42. I formerly served as Associate Pastor at a church that had a disproportionally high percentage of these folk. They had a history of firing pastors, but the Senior Pastor, under whose leadership I came to serve, managed to “manage” them for 19 years. They did ultimately fired him, then told me that if I did what they said I could stay. (I resigned.) They have since fired the next pastor in succession, and their attendance is a little less than a third of what it was 10 years ago during my tenure. The church where I currently serve has one such person. It takes both the Senior Pastor and I to keep an eye on him, but we do love him and believe he loves Jesus. It is, though, a perpetual use of energy to keep him in check so that he doesn’t injure the sheep–and to make sure his tribe of like-minded saints does not increase in our midst.

  43. Great post Erik. I agree. The most dangerous person in the church is the unteachable person.

    That is not necessarily the most knowledgeable or opininated person. Knowledge is a list of facts. Opinionated is the tendency to express what you think. That’s different to “unteachable”; an attitude of pride and self-righteousness towards knowledge and communication.

    To detect the most dangerous person, I think we need to look at attitudes, not abilities or personality traits like knowledge or opinionatedness.

    The idea that the pastor can be this most unteachable person is a really good point. I think the article, while it doesn’t address this directly, does leave room for that statement. After all, people can be unteachable, the pastor is a person, the pastor can be unteachable. The most dangerous person in a church is the unteachable person, regardless of position, though I guess access to a pulpit and opportunities to shepherd the flock probably gives you more opportunities for damage.

    Josh

  44. I think this quote from Andrew Fuller is along the same lines and quite helpful:

    “If a little knowledge happen to unite with a litigious temper, it is a dangerous thing. Such characters are the bane of churches. If they might be believed, they are the faithful few who contend for the ‘faith once delivered to the saints ;’ but they know not what manner of spirit they are of, nor consider that there is a species of ‘contention’ that ‘cometh only by pride.’ There were men of this stamp in the times of the apostle Paul, and whose character he described, with the effects produced by their wrangling.”

    http://www.allthingsexpounded.com/2011/09/one-thousand-thoughts-about-church%e2%80%a6880/

  45. Presupposition is that what’s being taught in the american “evangelical” church is solid. That’s absolutely laughable. I’m sure Joel O is dealing with a lot of these guys.

  46. I’m that guy when the preaching continues to confuse law and gospel. Although, I’ve never really said anything. But, hey our music rocks! Been taught law all my life and quite frankly I’m sick of it. I’ve never lived up to it. And we are all lying to ourselves to think we can WWJD and accomplish. I need a saviour. So I’ll continue to get my gospel messages from podcasts such as Matt Chandler.

  47. “Been taught law all my life and quite frankly I’m sick of it.”

    Sorry to hear that. Your heart should actually love God’s law. Although it condemns us, and is impossible to keep, our hearts love His law, because it is our Savior’s truth.
    But God……
    He removed this law from us having to keep it. Jesus kept it for us to every last jot and iota. And He poured out His blood as the Lamb of God for all our sins.

    So we are 100% completely forgiven, and 100% righteous in His death and ressurection! Hallelujah! And because of this great mercy and love, we do love Him, through His Grace and Spirit, and yet it is our heart’s affection as well.

    This is the Gospel, the good news for all sinners. Paul said, “I will not boast except in the Cross. The world is crucified to me, and I to the world through the Cross of my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (paraphrased)

    Have a great week in our Savior’s love and truth Jimbo.

  48. All first year theology students are the “most dangerous” people in your church. ;)
    This post makes some good points. I do agree with some who have commented that to label those unteachable people as the most dangerous might be overstating things.
    I tend to think that divisive people, and/or heretics in the church are more dangerous (yet are still unteachable for the most part) (Titus 3:10; Ga1. 1:6-7)
    The unteachable person lacks spiritual maturity, which includes humility and discernment, and can be cultivated in the church community.
    As for criticizing sermons, I think that there is room for positive, constructive criticism. Those who do this need to be careful not to undermine the pastors teaching and authority concerning the rest of the flock. I have the privilege of having close fellowship with my pastor and his openess to positive criticism has humbled and encouraged me. Until recently we were a part of a larger church with a senior pastor (and he was a minister on staff). We have since planted and he is now the main teaching-pastor. When we were at the larger church I witnessed his public support of the pastor and his exercise of gracious speech and discernment when speaking of his leadership (when I knew that he disagreed with him at some points). He modeled for me what it meant to be submissive to church leadership while still disagreeing with issues of pastoral leadership. This is hard to do with biblical convictions and of course we are planted now.
    Thanks for the post Erik. It reminds me that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, rhe does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, she is known by God.” (1 Cor. 8:1-3)

  49. I have been accused of being that guy. We do need to examine ourselves or at least be honest if someone is accusing us of being “that guy.” We all need to have a humble attitude & know we are always growing in sanctification & are not there yet. We should also not follow our Church leaders blindly. I’m sure the author would not want that as well…don’t be that guy…

  50. Mr. Raymond,

    On one hand, I agree that people being unteachable is one of the biggest problems which plague fellowship among believers in Mashiyach Yehoshua, Christian and Messianic, today.

    But, on the other hand, I believe that many people are objecting to your article because its emphasis ignores the fact that the term “unteachable” is often misdefined and abused for manipulative purposes.

    For example, consider the issue of unity. Quite often, many Christians operate under the unspoken assumption that preserving unity among Christians entails establishing and enforcing a groupthink of some sort. But, when other Christians object to this and continue to act out their belief in individualism’s importance, the Christians who operate under the former assumption often label the latter Christians as “rebellious,” “unteachable,” and the like and treat the latter Christians as such.

    Because of this, we see tugs of war between groupthinkers and individualists of all shapes and sizes throughout Christian churches today. And, instead of resolving this tug of war, Christians are allowing this tug of war to produce extremists such as the authoritarian Pastor and the lone wolf.

    So, when you speak about being “unteachable,” you really need to put this term into a clear and unequivocal context and be prepared to address how it is used by different people before using it. Otherwise, your point will be lost to many people, as it is here on this comment thread.

    Thanks for reading in advance.

    Have a good day, sir. :-)

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Who is the most dangerous guy at your church? | Ordinary Pastor « trinityspeaks - September 20, 2011

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