In my last post, I wrote about three characteristics of narcissistic pastors that lead to conflict in churches:
First, narcissistic pastors are obsessed with their image, not their character.
Second, narcissistic pastors delight in putting down their rivals.
Third, narcissistic pastors cannot empathize with the pain of others.
Here are two more qualities of the narcissistic pastor:
Fourth, narcissistic pastors become wounded when people don’t constantly admire them.
Congregational consultant Peter Steinke writes: “The narcissist functions to maintain a projected, inflated image of self. By coercing, charming, or controlling others, the narcissist ensures that the need for supplies will be satisfied. Functioning to mirror his grandiosity, others guarantee him a sense of specialness, exaggerated importance, and superiority.”
Tell the NP, “That’s a great suit,” and he feels admired. Tell him, “That was a great sermon, ” and he feels special.
There’s nothing wrong with making either statement.
But if you stop doing it, the NP will eventually turn on you and despise you. They keep mental scoreboards in their heads. Steinke says they become “vindictive, vengeful, devaluing, and abrasive.”
It’s hard to hang around someone who constantly needs to be told, “You’re great. You’re fantastic. You’re larger than life!” But the NP needs to hear those words just to feel normal.
And when those around the NP … his wife … his staff … and his board … stop saying, “There’s nobody like you!” … the NP will humiliate them, even in public. The NP then becomes ruthless toward those who don’t see him as special.
And in a church situation, that attitude leads to conflict.
Finally, narcissistic pastors need groupies to supply them constantly with admiration.
Wherever you find a NP, you will find an inner circle of devoted fans.
How does the NP acquire these fans?
He chooses them from among those in the congregation who make him look good.
The NP scans his congregation and discovers the most prestigious individuals … especially those who have money.
He also listens for accolades that indicate who holds him in high esteem.
When he finds them, he focuses on them like a laser beam and basically ignores the rest of the congregation.
These two groups – the prestigious and the praisers – make up the NP’s Fan Club. This is who he socializes with … listens to … and confides in.
As long as the NP’s fans worship him, the NP will continue to tell them that they’re great as well.
But if any of the NP’s fans fail to adore him, he’ll drop them from the club … so they have to keep telling him, “You look great! You’re so talented! You’re the best!”
But … the NP’s fans don’t realize that he is controlling them … for his own purposes.
And this is how NPs foster division in a church. They control a group of followers … mutually reinforce each other’s specialness … and when the NP begins to attack others … especially other pastors and leaders … they march in lockstep.
“The narcissist functions like a magnet, possessing the power of attraction. People caught in the spell surrender obediently. Under the spell of enchantment, they become dedicated followers as impervious to reason and truth as infatuated lovers.”
“In the circle of charm, there are no checks and balances. Groupthink develops. Not surprisingly, many narcissistic leaders shield their swooning constituency from outside influences. They demonize outsiders who might potentially uncover the truth of things or expose the charismatic figure.”
“Those who are most vulnerable to charm are those people or groups who need stimulation outside themselves. Often they are depressed or demoralized. Many are looking for a high, some brightness or good feeling in their lives, to make them special…. By associating with the special person, they get dusted with the same magic and importance.”
Let me conclude this post by sharing 5 ways to deal with NPs:
First, it’s okay to identify narcissistic symptoms … but resist the urge to label someone a narcissist.
I can meet a pastor … or hear a pastor preach … and say to myself, “He certainly seems to have some narcissistic tendencies.”
But I can’t say definitively that he’s a narcissist. Only a qualified psychologist can do that.
So don’t go up to a pastor and say, “I think you’re a narcissist.” And don’t tell others, “I think our pastor is a narcissist.”
The most you can say is, “I believe he has narcissistic traits.”
Second, realize that narcissistic pastors know much more about church than they do about God.
Why do I say that?
Because NPs are consumed with outward signs of success (like church attendance and their salary) rather than inward signs of success (like the fruit of the Spirit).
For this reason, a NP may impress you with his dress and humor and stories, but he’ll rarely help you to know God better.
Third, narcissistic pastors are fun in the short-term and obnoxious in the long-term.
When you first meet a NP, they’re fun to be around. They make you feel good. They seem larger-than-life.
But the more you get to know them, the more you realize that they only love themselves … and that ultimately makes them hard to like.
Fourth, you can’t get close to a narcissistic pastor.
Because the narcissist is always mindful of his image, he’s not going to tell you anything that might ruin the way you view him.
You might spill your guts to a NP, but he’s only going to reveal so much of himself.
So if you suspect that your pastor is a narcissist, stop hoping that you’re going to become best friends.
He’s probably not even close to his wife or children.
Finally, narcissistic pastors just don’t change.
In Johnson and Johnson’s book The Pastor’s Guide to Psychological Disorders and Treatments, the authors write about narcissists:
“Referrals for therapy are generally not likely to be helpful. Not only do narcissistic persons rarely follow through with treatment, there is no significant evidence that they benefit from any form of intervention.”
If you’re on a church staff … or on a church board … or regularly attend a church … and you suspect your minister is a NP… please realize that he will probably stay that way until Jesus returns.
God has the power to change him … it’s just that he doesn’t think he needs to be changed.
Many of us have been deeply wounded by narcissistic pastors. When we play their games, they’ll accept us into their fan club, but when we stop playing their games, we find ourselves permanently ostracized.
I’ve observed that narcissists carry around two lists: the good list and the bad list.
If you tell them you’re great, you’re on their good list. If you tell them they’re ordinary … or you stop telling them they’re great … then you’re transferred to their bad list.
And once you’re on their bad list, you’ll never get back on their good list.
What are your experiences with (presumably) narcissistic pastors?
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