Pastor Narcissist

It’s Narcissist Friday!


I want to relate a story I have been hearing lately and I won’t be able to give many details because the story is both true and current.

Sometimes the narcissist is a pastor.

Pastors, company CEO’s, coaches, politicians, community leaders—these are all positions that draw narcissists because of the power and the attention.  For most of these positions a certain amount of autonomy is allowed; the leader gets to choose his projects and activities.  A narcissist will believe that these positions will show everyone his superiority and allow him to keep the attention on his image.

The following is a current, but classic, story.

First Church needed a pastor.  Pastor X left after many years of building up a strong and influential congregation.  His staff stayed with the church and things were running well.  The leaders of the church believed that the congregation could become something special.  They visualized a church that made a difference in the community, the denomination, and in the world.  They looked for a man who could lead them into that future.

When Pastor A met with the leaders of the church, they were impressed.  He was full of ideas and enthusiasm and he presented himself very well, both professionally and personally.  It was easy to look past the struggles he had in his last church because that church didn’t have either the potential or the staff of First Church.  The denomination had to come to the former church to help work things out after Pastor A left, but that only proved that the problems were not connected to Pastor A.

When First Church hired Pastor A, he was seen as God’s leader for the future of the church.  He was so personable in the pulpit.  He looked people in the eye and spoke to them as a leader should.  When he met people, he shook their hands, patted them on the back, and made them feel like he really cared.  At the same time, he had a vision for the future and plans to get there.

For the first year, Pastor A used sermons he had preached at his former church.  That was understandable because he had so much to do to get to know the people and the community, and to fix a variety of problems at First Church.  There were more problems, “bottle-necks” and “roadblocks,” than anyone realized.  The leadership was sorry to see some of the older programs go, but it was necessary for progress.  Yes, Pastor X visited people in the hospital, but now that was the job of the elders.  Yes, Pastor X attended a variety of leadership meetings, but now those meetings were handled by the staff.  Pastor A was a busy man.

It was more troubling to see faithful staff members exposed as incompetent or standing in the way of growth.  When Betty was let go after fifteen years as the church secretary, most of the people understood.  She did talk with people on the phone and she did move more slowly than she used to.  Betty was replaced by a very professional (and attractive) younger lady whose primary job seemed to be to keep people away from Pastor A.  The new secretary had the authority to handle almost any question people brought for the pastor.

The youth pastor left abruptly, but that made sense.  The youth group wasn’t growing.  Pastor A felt that the reason some families had left the church was because the youth program had stagnated.  Other staff members left, most without saying anything about their reasons or even saying goodbye to the congregation.  Several of the new staff members were people who had worked with Pastor A before.

But First Church was an exciting place to be.  Denominational officials filled the pulpit and inspired the congregation.  Other pastors from large churches around the country were invited to speak.  Even community leaders, people  Pastor A met as he connected more and more with community leadership, came to share with the congregation.  Pastor A was always on the podium with these leaders, always treated with respect by them.  First Church was moving up.

The budget problems were a little troubling.  The surplus that had been garnered from the time between pastors was dwindling.  Pastor A deserved a larger salary than Pastor X, of course, but the staff would have to bear some of the burden.  After all, Pastor A was doing a lot of their work for them.  It was always a struggle for a growing church to find staff capable of leading on their own.  Even the long-term associate pastor was causing trouble.  He and Pastor A seemed to be on different sides.  It became obvious to the leaders that a serious change would have to be made soon.

But it was hard for the leaders to get together with Pastor A to discuss the situation, or anything for that matter.  He was always out of his office and the new secretary covered for him.  He attended a lot of out of town meetings, spoke at conferences, spent time at community events, and had special times for reflection and devotion by himself.  Pastor A was a busy man.  Everyone could see that.  First Church was blessed to have him as their pastor.


Now, I am going to stop there.  This story goes on, of course.  But what are the clues here that Pastor A is a narcissist?

I invite your comments and thoughts.


Filed under Church, Narcissism

18 responses to “Pastor Narcissist

  1. The assumption that everything is everyone else’s fault. Also, it would be interesting to take a looke at the problems his last church was having and see if a pattern could be distinguished.

    • Apparently I didn’t save my earlier reply to this comment. 😦

      I think you are right on with this. Narcissists are quick to point blame at others. They have to. Otherwise you might think they are inferior. It is hard for any of us to admit mistakes, especially in a job interview, but a wise committee should listen when everything is someone else’s fault. It certainly would have been good to get more info from the former church.

      But the narcissist is good at dividing people, particularly through pride. First Church leaders already considered their church to be superior. Pastor A used that to give them a negative perspective on his former church situation.

  2. A congregation is its people. Pastor A seems to be alienating his people by replacing some, forcing others to leave, and not meeting with them on a personal level. It’s as if one-on-one attention is “below” him and not as valuable as his reputation, his materialistic self. He is a controlling fake who mistakes leadership for power. He doesn’t care about the church. He only cares about himself and how comfortable and powerful he can be.

    • But the narcissist doesn’t see people as people. He sees them as tools, toys, or obstacles. In this case, the congregation members were simply tools for Pastor A to get the admiration he wanted. One-on-one attention would be used only when necessary and then for the primary goal of making him look good. And, right, he only cares about himself.

      Not much of a pastor.

  3. laraine

    I was let go from a church I was employed at a few months ago for standing up for a fellow employee. That one episode was basically my death sentence as far as my being an employee at that church.

    About 10 yrs ago, a young associate pastor & his wife joined the church. For several yrs. they were very non-descript and behind the scenes. They seemed to be very nice & humble-at the time at least.

    About 3 yrs ago, most of the church staff, including the senior pastor made a mass exodus under mysterious circumstances. Some of them were forced out. After that, the assoc. pastor & his wife, who were the only staff members left, began to gradually show an arrogance I never would of thought they would be capable of. It seems they have morphed into something very sinister & have taken an unnatural hold on that church. If you quesitoned them in any way or spoke out, you were immediately blacklisted or ousted-no discussion period!

    My question is how could they fly under the radar for so long? It took several yrs. for this side of them to emerge. I can usually spot narcissists early on, but I swear these people seemed like the nicest, most humble people you would ever meet for YEARS! The sad thing is, I think that they probably think, in their own minds at least, that they are really doing wonderful things in God’s name. I don’t think they see in themselves what others see in them.

    I recently found out that they were the main ones behind the staff leaving 2 yrs ago. They would systematically turn their focus on the ones they didn’t like & nit-pick them to death until they left. When one target was forced out, they would turn their focus on someone else. It was so eerie & insiduous the kind of people they morphed into over time.

    • Laraine,

      I am so sorry to hear of your struggle. Encounters with people like this can hurt, even scar us. I pray that you are able to move past their problems, even though their problems affected you.

      I know that people sometimes change dramatically when the weight of leadership is put on them. I have seen gentle people become harsh, caring people become mean, and competent people become inept when they get into a position for which they are not suited. Part of me hopes that this is what happened to your associate pastor. It seems better somehow than thinking he is narcissistic.

      However, he certainly sounds narcissistic! Narcissists are extremely able to manipulate what others think about them. This seems to be their “super power.” To go for a few years with everyone thinking that he is kind and loving is certainly not beyond reason. Especially when you add later that he and his wife “would systematically turn their focus on the ones they didn’t like,” in the years prior to taking over the church. This is often true in the business world, where position is everything.

      Narcissists routinely steal the accomplishments and attention from others. They see people as toys, tools, or obstacles. You can bet that the senior pastor was first a tool, then an obstacle, in your situation. Think of it as climbing the ladder with others above you. The narcissist will use others until they get in his way, and then do whatever he can to pull them off the ladder. He believes that he deserves to be at the top.

      I think that churches are prime opportunities for narcissists because people let their guards down. After all, shouldn’t the church be a safe place? Yes, it should; but no, it often isn’t. We should never let our guard down where people are concerned. We can love and be kind and move forward with our lives, but we trust only the Lord.

      Very sad that this is happening in churches! I continue to hear more and more stories like this.

      • laraine

        Sorry for replying so late. I knew several yrs ago, when most of the staff left that they were being forced out somehow. I had just started working there about a year before this happened, so at the time, I wasn’t quite sure who was behind the nit-picking since I had such a good relationship with the assoc. pastor and his wife up until around May of last year. That was when their 2nd secretary left. She had taken the place of the 1st secretary who was forced out. After she began working on staff, I noticed she went from being a happy person to someone who appeared very dejected and depressed before she resigned. I knew somehow it had something to do with the assoc. pastor and his wife but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

        After the 2nd secretary resigned, another employee & I gradually became the targets of their extreme micromanaging and nitpicking. I was shocked to see them starting to treat us this way. The assoc. pastors wife began to subtly bully my co-worker which I suspect was related to his being a minority. One day, I stood up to her & assertatively took up for my co-worker. This was not a personal attack against her-just an assertive stance on my part that I felt I had to do or I would be morally in the wrong for not standing up for him. That was bold for me because I am a people-pleaser type and had always been respectful and subserviant to them. This occurred on a Friday & I was terminated the following Monday morning. I was in shock.

        In a normal, healthy church, it seems like people should be able to sit down and talk out their differences. They refused to do so and took this “if you go against us your out” type of stance. I do think that his wife played a huge role in all of this. She was over the children’s ministry and she struck me as being very, very insecure especially towards the end when I left. I noticed over the 3 yrs I was there, that a good majority of the church members who had left or been forced out were usually assertive, outspoken women who were popular with the other church members. If you were a woman and you spoke your mind, then you would be gone in no time.

        I still have a lot of anger over this and I can’t even drive by that church without it triggering a rage response in me. I was glad to leave and get away from all the nit-picking and I found a better employment opportunity. I just didn’t expect to deal with so much anger this long after leaving!

    • Hi Laraine! Good to hear from you again! Don’t worry about the time lag. I understand.

      It is hard to present a story like yours in such a short space, but you have certainly shown the surprise and sense of betrayal many have felt. As I said before, these folks are very good at separating people. We see the cruelty happening to others, but somehow never believe it could happen to us. We even find excuses when we see it. “Personality conflicts,” we say. “There must be some things under the surface,” we say. But then we find out personally that there was something far more sinister.

      You said, “I just didn’t expect to deal with so much anger this long after leaving!” No kidding! I hear this all the time and I have experienced it myself. Years afterward, the feelings are still close to the surface. Why?

      I have two suggestions. First, the narcissist is able to get under our skin. They show enough interest and kindness at first for us to open up and give them ammunition to use again us. When they do, we feel like fools for trusting them and we are hurt in some pretty sensitive areas

      Second, the reason this hurts so much in connection with church relationships is because we know in our heart that this isn’t supposed to happen. It is wrong on so many levels. It is sin and it is against us and it is coming from “Christian” brothers and sisters. Where do we go when the people of the church betray us? Something is taken away from us at that point that should be a source of strength and security. Much like the betrayal of incest or abuse by a person in authority, the place that should be safety has become the place of pain and fear.

      And, years later, those questions of “how could they do that?” are still unanswered. We cannot and don’t want to think like them. We have to empathasize somewhat to understand another person and we really don’t want to empathize with them. So, even though life changes and new relationships are formed and new churches are found, the sense of violation and betrayal remains – because that’s what it was. Every part of us wants to avoid that in the future.

      Keep going. Embrace the pain as part of what has formed you into what you are today. You don’t have to let it go in order to forgive. You just have to move forward.

      • dayglo

        This is late, but thank u so much for teaching about narcissism! I am learning all I can about this. I have been angry at a “spiritual” person for over 15 years! I am getting relief through therapy, and learning about narcissism. I could not figure out who was the “sick” one…..them or me (for being angry, confused, unforgiving, unable to see what the masses saw in them…was I jealous? Envious? Were they fake as I believed, or was I missing something that others saw? They did help a lot of people…) what a MIND GAME! My psychologist informed me about narcissism, and finally the weight of the world is starting to fall from my shoulders! Just knowing it is THEM instead of ME is HUGE!! I am finally getting clarity! I have needed to stay away from them and their following for several years now to heal. It is amazing how much damage I suffered, when I wasn’t even close to them…I never even liked them, cuz I saw it in the beginning! But, I felt alone because so many others fell for the fake charm. Now, all these years later, I am hearing others are sick of it too, but no where near the point of them being knocked off of their pedestal yet. I am grateful, because I have learned so much about life, others, and myself. I am finally starting to be secure in myself and my experience, which is VALID (the narcissistist would repeatedly try to invalidate me and experiences any time we were in the same room!) I am stronger now, and I have a stronger internal base than they do….WITHOUT a following….actually I do have cheerleaders… spouse, my kids, my friends, my relatives, and even some from the same spiritual community, and of course my psychologist, and also my own wise spiritual teacher, who has never been taken in by all that nonsense. She has been secure in herself. Now I am getting that way myself, too! It has been a long, hard road, but now I have so much valuable experience to help others……just like you are!! I believe God will use me this way 🙂

  4. Pingback: Pastor Narcissist pt2 | Grace for my Heart

  5. Cecilia K

    I’m just curious, as I have not witnessed narcissism in the leadership of any churches that I have attended, is it mostly prevalent in mega-churches? It seems more likely to grow and breed in that environment, but that may be a wrong assumption. I have never attended a real mega-church, but the church I grew up in was the largest of any that I have attended regularly for a significant length of time, probably having around 1,000 members/regular attenders. There could have been some narcissism present in that church leadership, and I was too young to realize it at the time, I don’t know.

    Since leaving there, I have attended much smaller churches and have not experienced that, although my most recent church home did smack of the legalistic dress that you referred to in another post (the one where the “fictitious” lady says there’s no dress code, but the women wear long skirts “to honor our Lord and our men”). And grant it, I did meet my narcissistic ex-boyfriend in church, but he was not in a leadership position; he was just a member.

  6. Roger

    Wow how strange. This sounds like a church I was an elder in right down to the lady, Betty the secretary. If it is the church, please don’t say it because I have no desire to hurt anyone in the church that remains there. I was an elder and worked with a pastor “A” like this. Believe me when I say that God had shown me the pastor “A” for what he was a long time ago and I confronted pastor “A” about his issues two times to try and help him get help for someone higher then himself. I contacted the outside elders that he had “bribed” with offerings of support and was made to look as the bad person that was used by Satan. It was not a good year for me because God had created a struggle inside my heart over the good that had been done however in the end, was only for the pastor “A” and not for God. I submitted a 3 page letter to the pastor about 6 months before God told me to run not walk out. I outlined all the narcissist things he had done and challenged him to take this letter before the outside elders. He refused and said it was all a “misunderstanding on my part” and with that comment I knew God had shown me he was a complete Narcissist. I had been reading articles about what a Narcissist was after the pastor “A” had a showdown with the music leader (that was the music leaders last day). The music leader called the pastor “A” an Narcissist and pastor “A” became enraged! God opened my eyes that day however I was also a bit upset over the music leader because he accused my wife of cooking the book for the church and that was a bald faced lie. My wife was the “professional (and attractive) younger lady whose primary job seemed to be to keep people away from Pastor A” as in your story. I could tell you some stories about pastor “A” that would make your hair stand on end from anger and the shame he put others too. Pastor “A” is keeping a low profile now but he has rallied a lot of new believers around him that don’t know any better so he thinks he has it made. God has the last word, so his days are numbered.

  7. MizSandra

    I was is member of a huge church over 5,000’members . This new Pastor came in the same as describe above this recent and current also except he pastor over 20 yrs was married. But like most narcissism he had constant on going affairs got a woman pregnant during a couseling session after the lady lost her husband in a car incident said she was raped. Divide and conquer members against each other. Nothing never his fault it got to the point he had lewd and lacvious assault against to minors over 800 obscene text messages this pastor served 3 yrs in prison. Was released lots of hate and dislike from the community all over including other states he is a devious man. Any way thought he changed after prison did not . Preaching in a small run down church that was closed down ceiling still not fix that includes carpet just run down. Anyway this pastor cried said he changed begged for forgiveness . Anyway we forgive gave him another chances. Later to find out this man has not changed he is forever a registered sex offender. No longer married but starting the same cycle again women dividing family’s against each other has another woman pregnant she should be having the baby this is the ninth month. Seeking narcissist supply like a crack addict this man does not belong in a pulpit he is sick and has the Jezebel spirit. Just type in Darrell L Gilyard. He has not changed prison taught this man to be a clever devil. Look up the name and read all about it God help his soul.

  8. Cecilia K

    This isn’t exactly related to this post, but this article seems the most closely-related, as it’s about pastors. This is a survey-type question, based on something one of my exes said many years ago. I still don’t think he is really a narcissist, but he did have a few of those tendencies. I would just like to see if what he said is typical of most pastors (even non-narcissistic ones), or is it more indicative of narcissism on his part. I’m curious what you think, Pastor Dave, as well as anyone else who has had close dealings with pastors (and/or maybe is a pastor yourself).

    Anyway, this ex-bf had been a pastor several years prior to our dating, and a few years after we broke up, he gained another pastorship (to my dismay, as I don’t think he has any business leading a church). So one day, he and I were talking with another pastor, I think, and my then-bf asked this man who his favorite preacher was to listen to. I don’t recall what the man’s answer was, but my ex said his favorite sermons to listen to were his own—not because he thought he was that great, he claimed, but to help him improve his sermons.

    Despite his altruistic (self-proclaimed) motive, I still thought this sounded odd and egotistical, but I chose to believe the best, that he truly did listen to his own sermons in order to improve his work. After getting to know him, though, I have to wonder if he just said that, because it was more socially acceptable. There is obvious value in wanting to improve, but to say that they are his Favorite sermons to listen to (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what he said…it has been several years ago, but still, that memory seems to have stuck with me), seems strange. Maybe he just worded the question poorly, and really didn’t mean that he gets the most enjoyment from his own sermons, but rather, is just very committed to seeing where he can improve?

    So I’m just curious if this is common among pastors (even those who aren’t narcissists), or does this sound like a narcissistic attitude to you all?

    • I have been a pastor for just about 40 years and have known many pastors very well over that time. I will suggest three things here. First, this was a set-up for the other pastor. Since your ex had planned the question, he also planned his answer before the other man answered. By saying that he listened mostly to his own sermons, for the spiritually superior purpose of wanting to improve, he made himself look both humble and superior.
      Second, I think narcissists have a certain parental love for what they produce. They want others to admire their work, and they admire it themselves. At the same time, like most parents, they are worried that there might be some flaw others will discover. So reviewing may not have been as much for improvement as for some odd combination of admiration and inspection.
      Third, he may also have revealed his narcissism in the statement by acknowledging that it is difficult for him to listen to others. Narcissists never listen except to gain information they can use against the person. If he had to listen to sermons for critiquing students or associates, for example, he would love it. He could be critical and demeaning and laugh at their stumbles. He will say that he hates it and it is beneath him, but he would love the opportunity to put others down. But to listen to a preacher with a large ministry, who is probably a better speaker and teacher than he is, would be a negative all the way. He would be jealous of the other’s success and resist any idea that he could learn from the other preachers.
      In answer to your last question, no I don’t think this is common among pastors. I know the normal conversation in pastor’s groups I have been in has often revolved around the latest things the pastors have heard or read. I do know that many don’t have the time to listen as much as they would like. I also think most pastors I have known would be uncomfortable listening to their own messages regularly. Hearing yourself stumble and stutter is not particularly pleasant. Instead, most just move on to getting the next message ready.
      Yep, sounds narcissistic to me!

      • Cecilia K

        Thank you, Pastor Dave. I thought so, too, but not being a pastor, I didn’t think I had a good perspective from which to judge. And of course, only God knows his heart. And it doesn’t have an effect on my life now, anyway (thank goodness), but something brought that memory to mind yesterday, and now that I have information (about narcissism) that I didn’t have back then, I was curious to see what others thought. Thank you for responding, and for your thoughts!

  9. Annette

    Besides Pastor A, his congregation seems to be narcissistic as well. This is the type of people that most easily fall for narcissistic leaders. They share the same values.

    It seems Pastor A likes to make a lot of money without working while, of course, pretending to be very busy. This may be narcissistic but tends to be more of an antisocial characteristic.

    I was in a similar church a long time ago. A conflict with their “Pastor A” that showed me his true nature caused me to leave. Of course, nobody in the church understood.

  10. Evangeline

    My husband is a Pastor, whom I have been married to for 22 years. We had cycles of abuse that would happen. His primary emotion was anger and he would blame me for all or most of our problems. He compared me to other women and told me other women were more deserving than me. I suspected him of being a narcissist recently because I could not make sense of how he was. I was gas-lighted and ignored all the time. He would mock me and ignore me for days on end. There were even serious traumatic, abusive events that happened then he would say that it didn’t happen that way and it is the way I look at things. My children all witnessed the abuse and knew what happened. We are separated now and he is in denial of everything. I never told people in the church or other pastors. He has so much support and enablers around him. It was hard to cope with the hatred, blame etc. When he left I mourned or grieved the lost of our relationship and the lost of hope. I had put so much energy into helping him and covering him that I neglected myself. I was always helping not only him but many people. He would counsel people and he would need advice on what to say to them and I was always helping. Many church members have no idea that I was behind a lot of positive things happening at church. He would use me all the time. When he left our marriage of 22 years he did not shed a single tear. The only emotion he had was anger, coldness and blame. He let me know how much better off he was with out me.
    In terms of how he runs the church I have lost confidence in him. I believe you lead by example, but he leads but delegating everything and he does blame everyone else but himself when something goes wrong even to our children. Which is displayed in this above story. Delegating is effective but when it is done so that you do not have to do anything, that is a problem. My husband always broke appointments or forgot appointments which annoyed church members. He always portrayed the image that he is too busy. But most of the time it was lack of organisation and prioritization. What church members did not realize. I witnessed my husband not doing his job at all, Waking up a 12 pm most days, playing the video game fornite all night without sleeping for months on end, spending hours on social media, playing golf all day. He had terrible road rage where he would follow people for ages and scream at teenagers at the drive thru. I would tell him to do his job and that is not right what he is doing but he would get angry and resent me. I did not like being in that position. He never helped me and if I asked for help he would growl at me to get the kids to do it. My husband never prayed with us as a family, yet he would pray and do bible studies with others. He would spend hours talking to church members. If a church member rang he would disappear to help them but behind the scenes he was neglecting his own family. In the entire 22 years of marriage with daughters he never hardly shared emotions other than anger. I have a lot of empathy and compassion so I tried to understand him because I know the amount of abuse he went through as a kid. Sometimes I get angry at the people who had done abusive things to him as a child because I feel that he may of had a better chance at having a happier life. I know not to make excuses for abusive people but I do feel the abuse he suffered as a young person which involved physical, sexual and verbal throughout his entire childhood has hurt him that I feel he has shut out vulnerability. He never got help and it was never acknowledged by family. Of course not every one who goes through traumatic childhood experiences ends up being a narcissist but there are many who are serverly effected. I love my husband with a deep passion but I had to let go because I tried and he did not want to. He did not want to see a counselor, he thought he could fix everything himself. Even though he has this behavior I pray that God will heal his heart. I wish him peace. People with strong narcissistic tendencies are often stereotyped as evil etc but many are people who have been serverly hurt and don’t know how to connect. It is no excuse there are some people who are just not good but we can’t judge every one. What my husband did was bad but I do forgive him because I see him as someone who is not coping well with life. He does not want to take responsibility for anything and is in denial about everything. It is a terrible way to deal with life and impacts others. I suffered with low self-esteem, doubting myself, anxiety and depression as a result of being in this relationship but I just do not know why but I forgive him and at middle age with all these problems I have to start my life again. It is hard but I just take it one step at a time.

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