Posts Tagged ‘pastors who are narcissists’

One December evening 30 years ago, I broke my left elbow playing church basketball.

It was an awkward time.  My left arm was immobilized, so I did almost everything with one arm.

My wife helped me get dressed.  I drove using just my right hand.  When I preached, I could only gesture right-handed.

Several days later, I attended a luncheon of area pastors at a megachurch where the pastor (I’ll call him Pastor Billy) was on television.  My grandmother, who lived in another state, watched him all the time.

Pastor Billy welcomed everyone, then minutes later, said something that caused a pastoral colleague to interrupt Billy and point out that I had a broken elbow.

Pastor Billy just stared at me without saying a word.  He seemed upset that someone else had deprived him of the limelight for just a moment.

Welcome to the world of narcissistic pastors!

Approximately one percent of the population in our country has narcissistic personality disorder.  We’re familiar with narcissists in the entertainment industry … the world of sports … and politics.  But somehow, it doesn’t seem proper for there to be any narcissists inside the church of Jesus.

But they’re there all the same … especially among the ranks of pastors.  Although I haven’t met that many (less than 10), I’ll never forget the ones I have met.

We all have narcissistic tendencies.  Given the right circumstances, each of us can behave in a self-centered, vain and childish manner.

But the true narcissist behaves this way all the time.

At first, narcissistic pastors are a kick to be around.  They’re charming … entertaining …  clever … and interesting.  They tend to develop a following … at least for a while.

But narcissistic pastors can also become the source of much conflict in a local church, and the sad thing is, they remain oblivious to their own part in creating and sustaining conflict.

Let me share with you five ways in which narcissistic pastors create conflict (three today, two next time):

First, narcissistic pastors are obsessed with their image, not their character.

Narcissists believe that they’re perfect or nearly perfect already.  They lack the ability to engage in self-examination because they’re vacant at their core.

So because they don’t focus on their inner selves, they focus on their outer selves instead.

They’ll brag that they wear the best clothes … live in the best house … drive the best car …  attended the best school … and visit the best doctors.  If someone or something is associated with them, then that person or thing automatically becomes the best.

The problem, though, is that their secular value system clashes with the values of Scripture, which emphasize virtues like love, faith, worship, and obedience.

When the pastor’s values and biblical values clash at church, there’s going to be conflict … guaranteed.

Second, narcissistic pastors delight in putting down their rivals.

The narcissistic pastor engages in a silent competition with other pastors.  He’s constantly comparing his achievements to theirs, especially the Big Three: bodies, bucks, and buildings.

The NP becomes inwardly joyful when he hears that a fellow pastor’s church is shrinking … or that the church down the road isn’t meeting its budget.

In fact, the NP is always dishing dirt on Christian leaders, but because he does it in a humorous way, most people just accept it.

I once invited a NP to be a guest speaker.  During the course of his message, he harshly criticized several other pastors, to the point that I was embarrassed.  Most people were unaware of what he was doing, but sadly, I knew.

More than most people, the narcissist believes that when others are descending, that means that he’s ascending …. and he’s often willing to help that process along.

A NP that I know was having trouble with his church board.  After he announced his resignation, he preached a final sermon, and severely criticized the board before the entire congregation … leaving a bigger mess for the congregation to clean up after his departure.  (Years later, I visited that church’s website, and his name and ministry were conspicuously absent.)

Third, narcissistic pastors cannot empathize with the pain of others.

So when someone shares a struggle, they reply with stock phrases: “That’s terrible” or “That’s horrible” … but they don’t feel terrible or horrible for the other person because they feel nothing.

The NP isn’t vulnerable or transparent.  He rarely admits that he does anything wrong because imperfection ruins his image.

So it’s difficult … if not impossible … to get close to a NP because you can only truly befriend someone who is authentic.

It’s hard to like someone who conceals who they really are.  Consequently, NPs have few close friends.

Because they don’t understand how their words and actions can cause pain for others, they never admit the wrongs they commit, choosing to blame anyone and everyone for conflict except themselves.

And when the leader of a church … or a business … or a country … refuses to take personal responsibility for his decisions and actions, that creates resentment, and conflict grows.


Peter Steinke, a congregational consultant, wrote the book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times 8 years ago, and his 11-page postscript is titled, “People of the Charm” and describes narcissism in Christ’s church.  The book is fantastic, but for anyone who has struggled to serve with narcissists in the church, that postscript is worth the price of the book.

Next time, I’ll add two more ways that NPs create conflict in churches, and then suggest some ways to limit narcissism in the church.  See you next time!




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