By 'dangerous', I am talking about people who can hurt you, other people or the cause you are trying to champion. It may not sound very compassionate or pastoral to put this on the table and openly talk about it, but I assure you these people are all around, I've worked with scores of them, and I have learned a few things the hard way.
Who is NOT automatically a dangerous person?
Wounded people. Just because someone is hurting doesn't mean that they're dangerous.
Unchurched people. In fact, often people who are not weighed down with years of church history give a fresh, unencumbered perspective.
Young or Less-experienced people. Like Unchurched folks, young people often bring fresh eyes and a new way of looking at things. I try to ensure that 20-somethings are always on our Board (we call it the Steering Team).
Who are at high-risk of being a dangerous person?
Wounded but unaware. I've seen wounded people who knew they were damaged, but sometimes didn't know exactly why or where. That's ok. I've seen some who were wounded and didn't know it, but were open to the exploration and discovery and healing. That's ok, too. But the person who is wounded or damaged and is closed the the reality of their condition - now that's a dangerous person. These people often deflect their issues, throwing emotional shrapnel around and hurting other people as collateral damage. Inside, they're broken. On the outside, their made of steel.
I know everything. People like this come in as experts. I've met a bunch of these people. Often on their very first visit to the church, they are giving you advice on how you could do this better or that more effectively. People like this are usually closed to the idea that they might not have everything figured out yet. They are more than willing to give advice, but the danger comes because they are unwilling to listen, seek to understand, and be shaped by what they hear and experience.
Uncoachable. The 'I know everything' person is an expert on something. But the uncoachable person is different. This person knows they don't have it all figured out, but they're still unwilling to learn and be molded. Sometimes it's a personality clash with the coach. Other times, it's embarrassment because they think they should know how to do this, and they push the coach back so that they can hide their deficiency. Sometimes, it's just plain ol' ego. 'Coachability' is a critical requirement for someone who serves on a team I lead. If they're uncoachable, I don't care how good they are or how proficient their expertise, they're too dangerous.
What do you do with dangerous people?
In short, you love them. That's what the Bible commands us to do. We love people. And love is not a word or a feeling, it is an action. You get there with 5 things:
1) Pastor them. You earn the right to tell people the truth about themselves when you show them you care. Good pastors listen, show up, care for them in times of need. In this way, you don't treat a dangerous person any differently than anyone else.
2) Tell the the truth. There are moments, after you've earned the right, where the conversation is ripe for truth-telling. Many dangerous people are unaware. You owe it to them to tell them the truth. But you MUST do it in love. That means what you say, the words you choose, the way you say them, the setting, the timing - all of it matters. All of it.
3) Limit their exposure. Don't fall into the trap of putting a dangerous person on a team so that you can 'change them'. I know a little yeast works its way through the whole batch - but it works both ways. Usually, it's not worth the risk. And I've seen piles of these people damage a lot of teams like this. If they're already in a place of influence, you have to navigate that carefully. But if you're not in the mess yet, don't go there.
4) Pray for them. Praying for people matters. It matters to God, but it also matters to you. The more you pray for them, the softer your heart will be for that person. Remember, dangerous people often aren't all that lovable, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't love them. Praying will help you do that.
5) Let them go. This doesn't always happen, but sometimes (often) these folks don't want to face the reality of themselves. They'd rather leave your church than look in the mirror and actually do the hard work of self-reflection. They're often not open to the truth that they are the problem. Love them, pray for them, but let them go. You can send them touches, call and check on them, etc. That's ok. But don't beg them to stay. That only feeds they're belief that you 'need' them.
We are called to love and serve dangerous people. But we are not called to let them wreck others or the church. As a leader, you have a responsibility to deal with these folks in a way that gives them good options for care and to become healthy. But the ultimate choice is theirs.