In recent weeks, months and years we have seen strong leaders fall, we’ve seen sin come to the surface and people have been hurt. It is not my place to speak about those topics, to speak about the circumstances or to pretend that I have the answer. However, one thing is certain in all of this; all of these ‘fallings from grace’ are a result of the sin that indwells the hearts of mankind.
Narcissism is a big problem, but what exactly is it? Chuck DeGroat, in his book When Narcissism Comes to Church, draws on someone else’s definition of narcissism as “longing to be freed from longing” he clarifies that with “the narcissist cannot tolerate the limitations of his humanity… it is the refusal to live within God-ordained limitations of creaturely existence.”
We maybe talk about narcissism when it comes to politicians or the rich and famous, but it can be found just as much in the hearts of pastors, church planters, husbands and wives and so on. Every human being is susceptible to narcissism because every human being has been corrupted and is naturally sinful due to the Fall. The effects of narcissism can be devastating on relationships but also, as this book highlights, it can be devastating when allowed into the Church! But why? DeGroat writes…
“Ministry leaders and churches today are obsessively preoccupied with their reputation, influence, success, richness, progressiveness, relevance, platform, affirmation and power”
DeGroat has years of experience working with pastors and church leaders with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), this book has been 20+ years in the making and it is full of real-life stories or the narcissistic and the victims of narcissistic behaviour. But Narcissism isn’t only restricted to the church leadership or pastor, it can be alive and well, living in the pew too. But why is it such a problem for church leaders? That is after all the focus of this book…
“Ministry is a magnet for a narcissistic personality – who else would want to speak on behalf of God every week? While the vast majority of people struggle with public speaking, not only do pastors do it regularly, but they do it with ‘Divine authority’… The narcissistic mask is an armor of self-protection which both defends the fragile self within, but offends, oppresses, and alienates the other. Narcissist pastors are anxious and insecure shepherd who do not lead the sheep to still waters but into hurricane winds.”
But this problem goes beyond the individual, its goes beyond an isolated case in one church, it can be found in the very foundations of denominations and in the culture of many churches. But this book does not point the finger at people and mock or laugh. This book talks about the devastating effects of a narcissistic culture in a church. DeGroat explains what narcissism is, what it looks like, where is comes from and he helps you see the difference between narcissism (which we will all have in our hearts, to varying degrees) and narcissistic personality disorder.
When Narcissism Comes to Church doesn’t just state facts or give examples, but it helps you see how to identify and work towards change for the person or culture we would describe as narcissistic.
I did like the book because it is speaking about a very relevant topic, but I did find it a bit basic at points, I would have liked for a bit more clarification on how to help a narcissist, and how to help a church think through recovery from such a leader. The book is obviously written in the American context, but there are many lessons to be learned from it. One of the things I struggled with, as I do with many modern books that do this, is that it weighed heavily on the Enneagram. This may or may not be helpful for some, but I think that it can give people a way out of some series refection that might be needed because ‘I don’t fit into that as I’m not that Enneagram number’.
Chuck DeGroat (LPC, PhD) is professor of pastoral care and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and senior fellow at Newbigin House of Studies in San Francisco. He served as a pastor at churches in Orlando and San Francisco and founded two church-based counseling centers. He is a licensed therapist, spiritual director, and the author of Toughest People to Love and Wholeheartedness.