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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Clive Middleton says on

    This is a very silly, small minded, restrictive, destructive, fear-laden view. Disruptors are gold. Creative innovators for the 21st century church. Learn about them. Study them. Find out how to do team with them. e.g.

  • Michael Gray says on

    Our church has recently suffered from a disruptor and all six traits mentioned in this article describes the individual precisely. Now that this person has done their damage they have moved on but we continue to feel the effects. Pray for us!

  • I read each comment and thought it was a good discussion, great points made by a myriad of thoughts and points of view.

    I was born again in 1968, and from the outset of my walk, hungered for a church, leader, or experience that would be soundly instrumental in my/familys’ spiritual development. Right! Needless to say, true inspired seekers of God will experience a number of situations before entering into the true rest that has been provided by our precious Savior. Ah, the joy of transformation!

    First I prayed for a church to attend when expecting a larger number of folks to have experienced a liberating situation similar to mine. When there, almost all of the 300-400 souls were standing praying, singing, or expounding in “unknown tongues”. I didn’t want to be weird or different than what was presented as spiritual, so I sought what I thought was God’s divine order for worship. Only when meditating and studying the Word, the Holy Spirit revealed His order to be different than what had been manifested at this church, full of seemingly kind hearted Christian souls. I was identified as a ‘disrupter’…..but only by the pastor, whom we loved as a very gifted teacher. Confusing!

    Then we landed in a denominational church in norther OR where after a few months of consistent attendance, some of the new believers were asking me to baptize them. I suggested they ask the pastor. They replied they had done that in the past but he said baptism was not considered by their annual convention to be required. So I baptized them in the Columbia river, and later walked into an afternoon meeting where a district overseer what suggesting to other men in attendance, “to mark those in your midst”. For a moment, closer to a couple of days, I felt uncertain about my intentions. Was I an agent of disorder? My heart, although I really did understand my spiritual youthfulness at the time, was set to encourage, exhort, and comfort for the glory of God. I later read the rest of the scripture mentioned above, about marking those in your midst, and it was to identify those who do not walk according to the teaching of the Apostle/Holy Spirit’s instruction.

    My wife and I have always, although not perfectly, endeavored to build the body, encourage the believer, and maintain the unity of the Body of Christ. Over our 43 years of marriage it seems that too many times we’d been directed into “disorder in the Body” only to think that we could contribute to healing and restoration, only to be considered in most of our efforts, to be something else, again by mainly the threatened leadership. This was NEVER our intention and our motive was first to serve our King and His Body by strengthening those things we had witnessed to be needing support. Disorder propagates disorder! Conforming to worldly and disordered regimes produces little better than disorder, but for the Grace of God in bringing in a prophetic challenge. Never appears to have been too warmly received by the spiritual elites-types.

    So much more could be shared, but time doesn’t allow at the moment. Yep, being kicked out of the synagogue/church building by folks thinking they are doing God a favor can be impactful to say the least. It will cause you to do some deep soul searching, a good thing.

    Let me conclude this ‘remark’ to your article. Believers living today with a calling to labor in assembling, assisting, and compiling the ‘living stones’ in hope of establishing a really noble place of worship, should always allow the Holy Spirit to search the thoughts and intents of our hearts. As we are all simply ‘works in progress’ and mostly knowing in part until we really get it together, let’s work to maintain unity in the essentials of Christian faith, allow freedom in those aspects of Church life that might be less so, and in every situation…..promote the unfeigned Love of the Brethren and sisteren (LOL, let’s lighten up too).

  • Chris Hutchins says on

    Honestly, I think these traits can be easily made into a game called, “Church Disrupter or Senior Pastor?”.

    I hate to throw cold water on this quality list, but all of these traits are so often indicative of the methods employed by Senior Pastors, too.


    Sadly, traits #3 and #6 are often used against members of their staff as manipulative statements and tools. This is truly tragic because if this were done in reverse there is little doubt how the Senior Pastor would react to this behavior.

    Trait #4 occurs by rebranding the trait as “getting leaders on my team,” etc., then using Trait #5 by flattering leaders who have money and influence to adopt the pastor’s cause. This type of manipulation tactic is no different than the article’s hypothetical church disruptor.

    Trait #1 occurs, but is difficult to nail down, but you know when you see it. You often see it in the over gregarious pastor who has know everything about everything all the time and won’t allow people to breathe. This is, of course, done under the guise of being an “engaged and caring” pastor, but if the truth were told, it may just be Trait #1 on display.

    Trait #2 occurs long before the business meeting by using Traits #4, #5, and #6 in a politicking manner in order to sway church members to whatever direction the senior pastor wishes.

    I was really shocked when I read this list because the article’s intention is helpful in showing the traits of church disruptors; however, in reality, it also highlights and exposes many Senior Pastor’s methods, as well.

    Senior Pastors know their intentions and motivations when they employ these tactics and, ironically, it’s probably why it wounds them so deeply when these traits used against them by church members.

  • One wise pastor once told me that the person who is saying “all these people…” usually means that he or she is the one with the problem. Since talking with one person to resolve an offense that others have doesn’t line up with Matthew 18:15-17, getting snarled up in trying to defend your actions with an unknown majority really goes nowhere and can leave you feeling paranoid. Such a lack of honest constructive communication fuels divisive behavior in the form of gossip or slander rather than reconciliation (Proverbs 10:18 and Colossians 3:8 and 9).

    1. Point out that real reconciliation takes place in the context prescribed by our Lord in Matthew 18:15-17. Help this person (especially deacons) see that they should not even entertain such an offense unless the person has first spoken to the one they have the problem with. Even more, notice that Matt. 18:16 does not say go tell one or two more all about the problem. It says go take with thee one or two more. The fact that this person is a part of private gripe sessions makes them the part of the problem, a good thing to point out.

    2. Since they can’t tell you who all these people you will assume the problem really lies with them and then seek to reconcile the issue with the person directly, but don’t give into the silent majority form of manipulation.

    Thanks Tom. This is an important topic that is close to my heart having been through these fires. It is sad when people use such ploys.

  • Great reflections and responses. The “people are saying” one is far too common. I try to force myself to pray for them because it is so easy to become bitter.

  • Very well put!! This I’ve seen personally and it seems to be going on in many churches. Thank you for sharing!!

1 2 3