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Seeds of Disruption

Why People Become Disruptive

Couple talking seriously outdoors in a park with a green background
An article based on the Sheepdog Church Security training course Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4[1]

From the Bible

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15).

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them (Romans 16:17).

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds (Proverbs 27:23).

For [Pilate] perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up (Mark 15:10).

Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. (Psalm 69:20)

The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out (Proverbs 17:14).

It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling (Proverbs 20:3)


After many disruptive incidents, someone says, "We never saw it coming." This is especially sad when the disruption may have been averted if the disrupter had been cooled down by using verbal de-escalation. Besides the Sheepdog Church Security training course, many organizations, agencies, and insurance companies offer advice and/or training on how to recognize the warning signs of disruption, both immediate indications and underlying causes.

In the News

Frankly, it is hard to find news stories about someone in a church who noticed indications that an individual was likely to become disruptive, or that a conversation was turning argumentative and may have become violent. However, if the warning signs went unnoticed and violence ensued, then that would be news with "Church brawl"[2] or similar phrases in the headline.

On the other hand, there are a few stories of police or shop owners seeing that a person is disturbed or distressed and coming alongside to quiet the spirit and avoid violence. For instance, in St. Albans, Vermont on February 26, 2021, a police officer responded to a call about a drunk and disorderly person. The officer got the drunk to go home without an arrest and no violence.[3]

The previous November in Portland, Oregon, two police officers encountered a man with a blanket calling for help. As the officers approached, the man displayed two knives, one in each hand. One officer drew his gun, but the other officer said, "Don't shoot. I'll calm him down." That officer recognized that the man was distressed, and talked to him. The man eventually dropped the knives. He was mentally ill - bipolar and schizophrenic - and was suicidal.[4]

On Easter Sunday 2016 in Memphis, Tennessee, 3500 people had gathered at Bellevue Baptist Church for the 11 AM service. A greeter noticed a pistol protruding from the pocket of a man coming in. Since most conceal-carry weapons are concealed, this aroused concern, so she radioed the Security Team leader.

When Security Team members conversed with the man, he claimed to have a CCW permit, but it was in his backpack. A team member opened the pack, saw a rifle inside, and told the man to remain in place. The subject tried to run away but was stopped and held for responding police. An expectation of peaceful compliance had become a citizen's arrest because an imminent threat was discovered.[5]

Special Resource

April's special free downloadable resource is Behavioral Emergencies: Dealing with people in crisis.[6] Drawing upon professional sources, it covers Causes of a behavioral emergency, Symptoms of a potential behavioral emergency, The potential for violence, and Verbal de-escalation. To get it, click *HERE* If not already subscribed, you'll be signed up for The Church Guardian (our monthly newsletter) and the weekly email update.

More information on Verbal De-escalation is available on the Church Security Guide[7] and in the SDCS training course Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4.[1]

Featured Product

This month's featured product is Reflex Protect.

What if verbal de-escalation is not working and the situation turns violent, but not with a deadly threat? Can you defend yourself and others safely and without inflicting injuries? That is the role of Reflex Protect. This defensive spray contains Presidia Gel, based on a variety of the active ingredient in tear gas. With the uniquely designed Reflex Protect spray head, it is shot in a pinpoint stream, which will not hit bystanders and not fog the room, but will stick to the target. The Reflex Protect company also provides training in their product's use and a decontaminant which works on both Presidia Gel and pepper oil.[8]

Why Do People Become Disruptive?

Before we look at the signs of warning of disruptive behavior, let's consider the causes, the seeds of disruption. There is any number of reasons why a person may become disruptive. A few of these are either named or alluded to in the Bible verses above.

Hebrews 12:5 names the "root of bitterness." Many disruptions arise from unresolved resentments, including grudges, inability to tolerate the presence of certain persons, and a desire to get even. Some may even want to strike out at society in general. Often, a particular church, churches in general, or Christianity are the real targets of the disrupter's hatred.

One bitter root is envy, which was not only a motive for the religious hierarchy bringing Jesus to Pilate (Mark 15:10), but is an undercurrent in many relational problems among church members.

There are those who are argumentative or have a "contrary spirit." Paul warned the Christians in Rome about these people (Romans 16:17). They may seem well-behaved until they try to press their favorite topic. Chronic complainers have their pet peeves.

Then there are normal disagreements which add heat to otherwise calm conversations. Proverbs 17:14 and 20:3 advise us to avoid quarrels. Sometimes we need to come in as a buffer to keep things cool.

In Proverbs 27:23, Solomon advised us to be aware of the well-being of our flocks and herds. The application of this extends to those under our supervision or in our care. For us in church safety and security, this means knowing how well members of the flock (the congregation) are doing. Threat assessment by a select group of church leaders takes these things into consideration. Not only does the committee guard against threats, but also seeks to help at-risk persons.

People have problems, and often these problems (personal crises) lead to despair and depression, even desperation. In Psalm 69:20, David admitted to being in despair. There was no one to comfort [or counsel] him in that situation. A depressed, despairing, or desperate person is more likely to become disruptive.

Some of the common personal crises that people face which may cause them to be disruptive are family problems, financial problems, substance abuse, medical conditions, and mental illness.

"Violence Ahead"

Some people are more prone to violent behavior than others. The Division of Student Affairs at Wright State University named background and circumstances as well as personality traits which make violence in persons more likely:[9]

Background and Circumstances -
Traits -

Other factors contributing to violence are identified on several professional websites.

The Pacific Solstice Integrative Psychiatric Clinic identifies Adult Oppositional Defiant Disorder as contributing to some cases of violence by adults. Some of the symptoms are listed in a sidebar.[10]

The Mayo Clinic describes Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which may or may not contribute to violence, depending on the role of other factors.[11]

Warning Signs of Disruptive Behavior

"If you see trouble coming, meet it at the gate." This old advice implies that you are watching and aware when trouble threatens so you can keep it from coming in. Proverbs 22:3 says, "The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it." This was so important that Solomon repeated it in verse 12.

In other places Solomon speaks of bringing calm to tense situations. These can be summed up in Prov. 25:11, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." When we see signs of trouble, a Safety Team member can "meet trouble at the gate" and turn the trouble into peace through verbal de-escalation. First we need to recognize the signs of trouble.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) updated its document Violence and Harassment in the Workplace - Warning Signs in 2021.[12] The changes are few, leaving it essentially the same as the 2014 edition used in SDCS training materials. These are the signs found in the workplace and are published to help employers prevent workplace violence. We should be aware of those that are not workplace-specific in church and at church-related events. Some signs are physical, some background, and others behavioral. We'll cover only a few of each here, adding some from other sources. More signs are in the training course and in referenced sources.

Physical Signs

When you look at someone, what do you see?


If you are familiar with the person, what do you know that may indicate a risk of disruptive behavior?

Behavioral Signs

"Actions speak louder than words." Does their current behavior indicate risk?

Other Sources

More online advice on recognizing and addressing warning signs of violence are How to Assess the Safety and Security of Your Place of Worship by Tina Lewis Rowe[13], Houses of Worship Security Practices Guide by the Department of Homeland Security[14], and 5 ways the church can help someone facing mental illness by Brad Hambrick[15]. Another police rescue story is in the New York Daily News.[16]


When we know the root causes of disruptive behavior and recognize the warning signs, we can proactively address the distress of disturbed persons and try to calm the situation through verbal de-escalation.

There Is More

This is one of two April 2021 "Back from the Brink" articles on Verbal De-escalation. The other one is "Cooling Heated Tempers" (Using Verbal De-escalation). The first article of the month features the defensive spray Reflex Protect: "Finding a Non-Violent Defense" (The Background of Reflex Protect). The month ends with a Lessons Learned from Church Shootings article, "The 2003 Turner Monumental AME Shooting."


  1. Kris Moloney, "Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4," Sheepdog Church Security, Training Courses, © Copyright 2019: Training Materials (Classroom) []; Individual Training (Online) [].
  2. Laura Corley, ‘Church brawl breaks out as members discuss the pastor's future, video shows," The Olympian, May 2, 2017 [].
  3. Bridget Higdon, "Milton Police Log: Feb. 26 to March 4," Milton Independent, March 10, 2021 [].
  4. Maxine Bernstein, "‘He just was crying for help' -- How a Portland officer helped distraught man who was killed a month later by police," The Oregonian (OregonLive), Feb 04, 2020 [].
  5. David Roach, "Bellevue security subdues ‘heavily armed' man," Baptist Press, March 28, 2016 [].
  6. Kris P. Moloney, "Behavioral Emergencies: Dealing with people in crisis," Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2019 [].
  7. Kris Moloney, "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation," Sheepdog Church Security, Security Guide [].
  8. "Reflex Protect with Presidia Gel" and "Reflex Remove," ReflexProtect, Shop [].
  9. Staff, "Warning Signs of Violence," Division of Student Affairs, Wright State University, October 2, 2014 [].
  10. Staff, "Adult Oppositional Defiant Disorder," Pacific Solstice Integrative Psychiatric Clinic, no date [].
  11. Mayo Clinic Staff, "Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)," Mayo Clinic, no date [].
  12. Staff, "Violence and Harassment in the Workplace - Warning Signs," Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Date modified: March 22, 2021 [].
  13. Tina Lewis Rowe, How to Assess the Safety and Security of Your Place of Worship, Self Published, © 2009; accessed at Montgomery County, MD on 3/07/2020 [].
  14. Staff, "Houses of Worship Security Practices Guide," Department of Homeland Security, May 2013 [].
  15. Brad Hambrick, "5 ways the church can help someone facing mental illness," The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC), June 8, 2015 [].
  16. Rocco Parascandola, "‘I'm going to throw myself in front of the train': NYPD cop overhears distraught man's whisper on subway platform, prevents suicide attempt," New York Daily News, May 1, 2020 [].