Six Traits of a Church Disrupter

He is almost in every church.

In fact, the “he” may be a “she,” but I’ll use the masculine pronoun for simplicity.

He is the church disrupter. Unlike church bullies, the disrupter rarely attacks leaders directly. He is good about stirring up dissension, but he seems to always feel like “God led me to do it.” He can have a gregarious and pleasant personality (unlike the typical church bully), and can thus attract a following for a season.

The disrupter is just that. He disrupts the unity of the church. He disrupts the outward focus of the church. And he disrupts the plans of church leadership. So what are some key traits to watch in church disrupters? Here are six:

  1. He often seeks positions in the church so he can get attention. So be wary if he asks to lead the student group or the praise team or become chairman of the finance committee. He loves to exert his negative influence through key and visible positions.
  2. He often votes “no” in business meetings. Again, this tactic is yet another attempt to get attention.
  3. He loves to say, “People are saying . . .” He wants you to think his issue is more widespread than it really is. Another approach is “If we had a secret ballot vote, there would be a lot more dissenters.”
  4. He tries to get followers at the church for his cause of the moment. That is another reason he seeks positions of influence in the church.
  5. He often assures the pastor and other church leaders how much he loves them and supports them. And then he goes and stabs them in the back.
  6. He loves to use “facts’ loosely for his case or cause. Accuracy is neither required nor expected.

So how should pastors and other church leaders address the problem of church disrupters? Allow me to suggest a few ideas.

  • Determine you will love them as Christ loves you and them. It’s tough, but it can be done in Christ’s strength.
  • Pray for them. Seriously.
  • Be on the watch for them. They can be manipulative and deceptive; they can cause chaos before you see it coming.
  • Get other leaders to help you address the disrupters and their disruption. But, be aware, they will be shocked you perceive them that way.
  • As soon as possible, get them out of key leadership positions. They are a problem now, but they can become toxic later.

I have my theories on why church disrupters act the way they do, but that is a topic for another post. In the meantime, be wary of church disrupters. But love them and pray for them anyway.

That is the way Christ would respond.

Posted on August 28, 2017

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Great post, I think the disruptor is more common than outright opposition. Without a name or genuine process I tend to remind people that ‘passing on’ this sort of information is gossip and is sin.

  • For which of the Pharisees was Jesus “meek and mild.” For which of the Judaisers, Gnostics and Docetists were Paul, James, John and Jude kind and prayerful? When there are dissenters who propagate anything other than the gospel, they should be summarily removed. They they might be led to Christ.

    • Define Pharisee. Define gospel.

      If you research who the pharisees were and what most fundamental churches believe today, you will find a great commonality. How are leaders today different from the Pharisees?

      I hear “gospel” thrown about quite a bit as if it is self-defining, but there are different gospels in Scripture, which gospel? The gospel preached by Jesus in Mark 1 is not the gospel preached by Paul.

  • There is an implicit assumption in many of these blogs that pastors are somehow above reproach and should be treated as popes. Why is it wrong to question the presuppositions of positions that have been held for such a long time no one knows why they do what they do?

    • jonathon says on

      The role of the Black Guard is to vote no, regardless of personal feelings. Furthermore, they must back up the “No” vote with evidence, reason, and logic. The use of specifics is mandatory, with pretty pictures being ignored, on the grounds that the picture is intentionally deceptive. Most people appointed to such positions are abject failures, because it literally goes against the grain of a psychologically healthy human. (Proverbs explains who Christians are spectacular failures for this role.)

      The point of the role of Black Guard is to challenge everything, with the objective of a “better” outcome, where “better” is a measurement of the aims, and goals ofbthe organisation. As such a number of organisations have experimented with this function, at levels ranging from the C Suite, to the peon at the absolute bottom of the line. (The people that are successful in this role usually write a report of their personal feelings, then a party line report, and finally the opposition report.)

      The Black Guard is willing and able to have thoughtful discourse on the issue.

      The disrupter challenges, without either providing alternatives, nor looking at history. Furthermore, the dusrupternis rither unable, or unwilling to articulate specifics, for either the ptoblem, ir the solution.

  • Roger Schweikert says on

    Regarding the forth trait of trying to get people in the church to embrace “the cause of the moment”, how would you evaluate a multi-church effort to attempt to recover the traditional definition of marriage, particularly in light of recent judicial activism and the fact that if marriage is an “inalienable right”, by definition it cannot be changed or altered? Wouldn’t any other form accepted in the church or society be a counterfeit then or represent yet another post-modern apostasy?

    • It says, “his cause of the moment”, not “the cause of the moment”. The implication is that this person adopts causes from time to time as a means of gaining traction and attention within the body, rather than consistently pursuing a cause with integrity.

  • Gary Thomas says on

    Disrupters, or, “Antagonists,” as I have referred to them during my near 50 years of ministry, are all to prevelant in too many churches, and have had way too much power and influence for way too many years. Kenneth Haugk has written an excellent book with an accompanying study guide entitled, “Antagonists In The Church.” But, be aware, he doesn’t sugar coat the damaging issue, which is a good thing. Recognizing the traits of an “Antagonist” and having a workable plan to deal with the issue is far better than trying to negate their disruptive actions by giving in to their demands. Disrupters, or, Antagonists, are those who seem to live with the sole purpose of disrupting the church’s ministry. Recognize such actions for what they are–the distructive work of the devil! And deal with it accordingly.

  • Many years ago, my mentor told me of a couple that he knew were visiting our church. He knew of their pattern, described above, and the damage they had done to a couple of other churches. He went to them, explained his concerns about them, and asked them to not become part of our church. They never came back. A good lesson for me.

  • I think the first thing which must be clarified is the health of the church. Every change is a disruption of the current flow. Sometimes disruptions are biblical and needed to promote unity and maturity of the local body. If a church is healthy a disrupter is removing the focus from Christ’s mission and placing it on themselves, it is a power play or an ego stroke.

    HOWEVER if the church is unhealthy a “disrupter” may be actually a God sent agent of change, someone seeking to get the church on a healthy new course. The problem is in unhealthy churches the power groups love to identify someone promoting change as a problem because they are upsetting the way things have always been done.

    This is why actual mature leaders are necessary in the church. It takes humility and wisdom to discern what disruptions are actually biblical course corrections. Unhealthy churches stay unhealthy because their leaders see anyone proposing change as someone sowing a disruption so they run them off.

    • This is a personally painful issue for me. For instance I was a co-leader of our youth group. I organized a soccer game with another church’s youth group. I was reprimanded by our pastor for sowing disunity. I was told I was confusing the youth by allowing them to interact with kids from a different denomination. I was asked, “What if they like the other church’s youth group better and leave our church?” and “How will the kids know which church is the right church to attend if they have fun outside our church?” This is only one of a dozen instances where I was scolded for being a disrupter. Soon I was receiving emails from our denomination about my problematic behavior.

      Perhaps another article which helps church leaders differentiate between negative disrupters and positive agents of change could offer some clarification.

      • Oh no, the fear of losing sheep. No wonders everyone around you was up in arms. The youth can never be allowed to see what another church does. Wait till one kid gets a bar mitzvah invitation and attends. I what you are talking about.

  • Tanya Tate says on

    How common is it for a bully and a disrupter to team up?

  • Great advice. I enjoy reading these articles. Keep ’em coming. Thanks!

  • One problem is, the church is the body of Christ. Church services are for the instruction and edification of the saints. The current trend is to turn church services into “evangelism.” As a result, too many churches are dropping everything for the saints and catering everything for the “guests.” 15 minute sermonettes, get rid of deep worship, start “top 40” singing, “5 ways to a better you” sermonettes, etc.

    I love guests. I love evangelism. I also love worship and praising God. I love meaty sermons. It can be frustrating.

  • FMJohnson says on

    Hi — It’s funny, I come from the business world where “disruption” and “disruptors” are often considered to be good things. So when I saw the headline, I thought this was going to be an article about people who shake up the hidebound thinking and “we’ve always done it that way” mentalities that often hold churches back from growing into new missions and ministries.

    • jonathon says on

      The disrupter in the business has a vision of wanting to do something different, and showing the board what and how to change to get there. Furthermore, when questioned, the business disruptor will sit down, and cite specifcs, using reason and logic to support their evidence. Typically, they have several scenarios leading to their vision.

      Typically, the disruptor in the church lacks an over-arching vision. When pressed, fails to give specifics, and changes are either to go back to how things were always done, or what the latest fad is. Typically, they have no scenario for reaching the next step, much less future steps.

  • At the risk of sounding legalistic, how many of these traits must a member have to be “diagnosed ” aa a Church Disrupter?