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Calming Troubled Waters

The Role of Threat Assessment

Rainbow over calm waters

Based on the Sheepdog Church Security training course, "Deescalating Disruptive Persons."[1]

In the Bible

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).

When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7).

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention (Proverbs 15:18).

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back (Proverbs 29:11).

The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools (Ecclesiastes 9:17).

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18).

In the News

Fontana, California, November 27, 2019 - A police officer responding to a report of a person with a gun found a man wearing a hoodie with his hands in his pockets. The right pocket made a bulge. When the officer, gun drawn, commanded him to take his hands out of his pocket, the man refused. Then the man said, "Please shoot me." This was repeated several times as the officer slowly moved closer.

When backup arrived, the second officer took hold of the man. It turned out that he had only his cell phone and keys in his pockets. He was the one who had made the call.

The officers took the man in, and he was sent to the hospital for a psychological evaluation. He was mentally ill and depressed. This had been an attempt at suicide-by-cop.[2]

East Tennessee, 2019 - A sheriff's office in East Tennessee sent a notice to members of a church task force that a certain person was visiting churches in the area. There he would initiate debates with members and pastors of the congregations during services and classes. He recorded the encounters and posted them on social media. The notice was to let church leaders prepare to deal with him without incurring any violence.[3]

Colorado Springs, Colorado, January 2012 - Pastor Boyd of New Life Church tells how a distraught man came to a Sunday morning service. During the greeting time, a church member in front of the man turned around and gave him a warm greeting. After the service, the member talked with the man, listening to him. He found out the man had been planning on suicide. The member continued to talk with him and introduced him to one of the associate pastors, who took him into an office to talk and pray with him. This changed his life. He resumed his therapies for depression.[4]

Twin Falls, Idaho, March 5, 2020 - The Twin Falls Police Department began training members of local congregations in verbal de-escalation skills.[5]

Special Resource for Verbal De-escalation

The training course "Deescalating Disruptive Persons" divides the topic into four sections, corresponding to the articles in this series. The subject of this article is the De-escalation Process. The four goals of de-escalation are:

  1. Keep lines of communication open
  2. Get the person talking
  3. Actively listen
  4. Maintain control

First, we have a special free downloadable resource for you. To get it, click here: <*>[6]

The Four Goals of Verbal De-escalation

The four goals of verbal de-escalation correspond to the de-escalation process. Keeping these four items in mind helps clarify and instill the techniques. However, these are more than techniques, because we need the heart to do it. Our motivation goes beyond defusing a dangerous situation to helping the persons involved.

Keep lines of communication open

Verbal de-escalation begins with how we approach the person or persons involved. Since they need to trust us, we do not spook them or otherwise alarm them. Let them see you coming. Keep a "safe" distance - don't enter their personal space. Stand where you can be seen and hear without appearing as a threat.

Get the person talking

As long as a potentially disruptive person is talking, they can be kept from active violence. Also, talking is an outlet for them, helps relieve their tensions. Begin the conversation on a friendly, caring tone by introducing yourself. An example in the training course is, "Hi, I'm Kris. I see that you're both very upset. Is there any way I can help?"[1] Ask for the person(s) name(s) if you do not already know them. Use their names throughout the conversation. This makes it personal and invites them to open up.

If you can, move them away from the main traffic, especially if they're in the foyer or a corridor. Leave space for them to move out if they choose. Don't bottle them up or corner them. Being away from the crowd allows them more privacy, letting them feel free to talk.

Since disruptive persons are in a heightened emotional state, their reasoning power is lessened. It's more difficult for them to think logically, to process information, and to remember details. If they seem a bit confused or do not get their facts straight, don't correct them

Actively listen

Listening actively keeps them talking. Nod your head, say things like, "I see," or, "I hear you." Respond to some statements by repeating them back in different words or asking a related question. For instance, if he says, "I wasn't feeling well," you can say, "So you were sick." Or if she says, "It was kinda long," you might say, "Was it more than an hour?" Keep your attention on them - don't look away. Don't fidget or otherwise look bored or impatient. This does not mean you agree with them, but it does mean you are listening.

Maintain control

In verbal de-escalation, we are trying to control a situation to keep it from getting out of hand, then to bring the tension down to a safe level. Control is on two sides: Self-Control and Situation Control.


To stay in control we must first be under control - controlling ourselves. People in a high emotional state respond more to non-verbal language than to words. Non-verbal language includes body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These are things we have to practice controlling on a regular basis to be able to control in a tense situation. Before this, we must control our attitudes and thoughts.

Attitudes and Thoughts - How you treat a person largely depends on your attitudes, how you think about them. Jesus mentioned this when He said that what we say comes from what is in our hearts (Matt. 12:34; 15:18-19). In 1 Corinthians 2: 16, Paul says, "But we have the mindofChrist." Then in Philippians 2:4-5, he urges us to have the same attitude Christ had when He came to help us. This is thinking of others before ourselves.

If we have a dismissive attitude, it will affect how we talk to the person unless we are perfect actors. If we see the man or woman in front of us as a real person who needs help, needs someone to talk to, this will help us to calm them down, defusing a dangerous situation.

In line with this, we have to guard our own emotions. We need to be the reasonable ones.

Body Language - Your body posture indicates attitude - just think of what you think when looking at someone's picture. This begins with your position. Use an interview stance, standing at an angle to the subject. It is less threatening or aggressive than standing toe-to-toe. If you stand at an angle turning your head to face them, it implies cordiality and understanding.

Make few movements. Let them be slow and deliberate. Moving quickly or erratically can look like an attack. Avoid threatening gestures, such pointing, clenching a fist, etc. Don't raise your hand above your head. Keep your hands at or above waist level.

Facial Expressions - Unless we are blind or in the dark, or the other person is wearing a mask, we all read faces. When you are trying to de-escalate a disruptive person, your facial expressions may make or break your efforts. Look like you're listening without staring or grimacing. Keep a relaxed-yet-serious face. If you try to see how he or she feels, this will come across.

Tone of Voice - People are not dogs, but both respond to the tone of voice. Dogs are non-verbal. Unless specifically trained to respond to certain commands, a dog primarily responds to your tone of voice. Your choice of words affects your tone of voice. Try it sometime. Say something negative, then something positive, watching the dog's reaction.

It works with people, too. Since people are verbal, they can understand the actual words. However, if you say the right words in the wrong tone, what they feel is the tone. This is even more true when the person is emotional.

Situation Control

The purpose of verbal de-escalation is to control a situation, to keep it from escalating, then to bring the tensions down. It is more than words.


When tensions are escalating, we want to keep them from exploding into violence. We can use verbal de-escalation to bring the situation back from the brink without using physical force.

There is More

This series on Verbal De-escalation has three other articles: "Indications" (Identifying Potentially Disruptive Persons), "Assessing Threats" (The Role of Threat Assessment), and "Peaceable Assembly" (Keeping a Protest Peaceable).


  1. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security, Training Courses, "Deescalating Disruptive Persons" -
    1. Training Materials (Classroom Training) [];
    2. Individual Training (Online) [].
  2. Snejana Farberov, "'I do not want to shoot you!' Heart-stopping moment police officer talks down a distraught suspect as he tearfully begs him for a suicide-by-cop," Daily Mail, December 10, 2019 [].
  3. WZTV Staff, "Police in East Tennessee warn churches of man who engages in debate, disrupts services," Fox17 Nashville, October 23, 2019 [].
  4. Brady Boyd, "How a Church Greeting Saved One Man's Life," Church Leaders, February 7, 2012 [].
  5. Sherley Boursiquot, "Twin Falls Police offering de-escalation training for places of worship," KMVT 11, March 2, 2020, Updated: Mar 03, 2020 [].
  6. Kris Moloney, "Behavioral Emergencies - Dealing with people in crisis," Sheepdog Church Security, Resources [].