Church can be both a place for worship and celebration, but there are many emotionally charged moments which can happen at a local church as well.  Unfortunately, sometimes the pastor becomes the focal point of violence because he predominantly represents the church body.

On Tuesday, 28 year old Ivan Zaytzev interrupted the service at the Slavic Christian Center by becoming loud, cursing, and demanding to meet with the pastor.  In addition to cursing, Zaytev talked loudly about his wife.

The pastor reportedly led Ivan to his office while he continued his rant, disorderly behavior, and violent verbal outbursts.  The pastor, Peter Sayenko (in his 60’s) reported he was very concerned for his safety and began to dial 911, when Zaytev punched him in the face and stabbed him in the shoulder with a piece of sheet metal.

Zaytev fled the church and was located the next day by police.  He was charged this past Monday with first degree assault and is being held on $500,000 bail.  According to the police reported, Zaytev felt disrespected by the pastor when he picked up the phone, and attacked him because he thought he was calling people who could be a threat to him.

Further, reports state Zaytev brought the sheet metal as protection. Zaytsev reportedly admitted to striking Sayenko in the right shoulder with the sheet metal but didn’t think he broke the skin “because the sheet metal bent in his hand when he struck the victim.”

The pastor’s family stood watch to protect him overnight while the suspect remained loose.

Lessons Learned

Often in the church setting, especially in smaller local churches, there may be a tendency for a high level of trust among the body.  While this is a good thing most times, it can sometimes lead to bad results.

Human behavior is sometimes very difficult to predict, and the pastor, who having performed the marriage ceremony, most likely thought he knew the suspect and that a heated discussion would never become physical.  As mentioned earlier, anyone who has attended a local church at one time or another has experienced heated discussions.

However, all reports stated Zaytev was displaying aggression prior to the incident through loud speech.  While everyone in the room probably felt some level of danger through intuition, the pastor may have ignored the danger cues and escorted the enraged man to an area of privacy where he was alone with someone who had bad intentions.

In my view there are a couple lessons from this incident.  First, if someone appears angry take them at face value.  In my experience, a man or woman who allows their emotions to take control of their speech is someone who may act in a rash manner, and should be considered somewhat unpredictable, especially when it concerns family issues.  According to news reports, the suspect was struggling with mental illness issues.  While I can appreciate the pastor’s sensitivity to this man’s privacy, his sensitivity left him very vulnerable.

Secondly, having a plan in place if there is a disruption is always good.  Since starting this website, I can report we have received many questions of what to do if someone interrupts a worship service.  While there are many options available, I suggest the last option be the pastor meets privately with an angry parishioner.

If there is a safety or security team in place, the team can move to the location of the disturbance and form a quick protective perimeter around him, while the leader attempts to verbally de-escalate the situation.  Always be wary of someone’s hands.  While guiding him to a private but public place, stay to the side and behind the emotional person.  Avoid turning your back to him, and be at the ready for him to potentially attack.

Unless there is a police officer in your security team, there really isn’t any reason to lay hands on a disruptive person.  I am all for limiting liability and only responding to the suspect’s actions, but personal safety for you, the pastor and the congregation are paramount.  It is important your actions cannot be interpreted as aggressive or that the disruptive person felt like he was being attacked.  Surrounding in place is an option – the biggest key is knowing ahead of time what your response will be and everyone on the team knows exactly what to do.

Knowing, understanding and practicing basic takedowns like an arm bar or buddy take down can be invaluable if an attempted assault occurs against you or a member of your team.  However, if an edged weapon is involved, you must be prepared and know a lot of destruction can quickly take place, and going empty hands with anyone trying to cut you will result in serious injury.

This is a scenario that can easily be practiced at slow speed, and educating the pastor(s) with the plan is a must. Don’t worry that it is ruining the service, and don’t be pressured to do something because you have a crowd of witnesses.  Communication before, during and after the event can help your church and security team resolve the disruption safety and little damage to anyone involved.

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