Back to ministry

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Ted Haggard, a name you might remember, is serving again as a pastor in Colorado Springs. Jim Bakker has a television show and ministry. Bill Gothard is back with a new ministry and new books. Mark Driscoll just announced the opening of his new church in Phoenix.

Each of these men were disgraced in their former ministries and brought shame on the name of the Lord. But, like so many others, they just waited a while and then went back to work. How and why does this happen?

For several years I served my branch of the church in disciplining pastors. That involved investigation of accusations, organizing groups to judge the truth of these accusations, and suggesting limitations or disqualification of future ministry. This was a challenging and unpleasant job. Part of what made it so difficult was the rapid way these men could and would return to ministry. Most denominations today have a “restoration” process that begins almost as soon as the accusations are proved true.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether the pastor cheated on his wife or stole funds from the church or was cruel to his staff and domineering in the church. The goal seemed to be getting these guys back into the pulpit. The assumption was that they would learn their lesson, repent, and we would all forgive them. Just like that.

Sometimes Romans 11:29 was brought to the table:

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 

Besides the fact that their interpretation of that verse is in error (it is a reference to God’s choice of Israel), the Bible itself shows that those who misuse their calling can be set aside. Narcissistic pastors who abuse their people and position should not be allowed back into ministry.

Of course, not all pastors are narcissists, nor are all who fail morally. But it has been my observation that those who were the most abusive of their people and their ministry were the ones who found a way to return. We might wonder why they would want to risk all the trouble again, and why the people or the system would encourage them.

Returning to ministry is rarely a financial decision. There are many jobs that would pay more. Some of these folks still had income from investments and books, and skills that would transfer to other work situations. No, the need is different. Rehabilitation of narcissists is very difficult, certainly not a process that can be adequately handled with a few counseling sessions. The addictions to attention, worship, and power are not overcome easily.

Returning to ministry validates the narcissist. Yes, he may have messed up, but it was the result of outside things. Too much church pressure, too much interference from others, too much temptation, too much work, too many expectations. Getting back to work allows the narcissist to prove that he is not a pervert, not a crook, not as bad as some have said.

Returning to ministry reopens the feeding grounds. Being alone, even with just family, is almost a death sentence for a narcissist. There must be a source of supply. The addiction that had been fed by the adoration of loyal minions cannot be replaced by selling insurance or working construction. Ministry provides so much more than other occupations for narcissists.

Returning to ministry proves the need of the people for what the narcissist offers. As long as there are followers, the narcissist is needed. A new book of lessons learned through the trials. New lessons that can be taught to the masses. The narcissist is so important that ending his ministry is a disservice to the church. He (or she, of course) is convinced that the people need him.

Okay, so we see why the narcissist would want to get back, but why would people allow it? Why would they want to associate themselves with a new ministry by one of these guys?

The leader’s return offers validation for those who stood by him. His charm and control carried their support through all the troubles, now they feel that his return to ministry is a way to prove to their critics that they were right all along. He was just a good man who slipped up, or was misunderstood. They know him better than his accusers.

The leader’s return validates the system that credentialed him in the beginning. How could the system have allowed such a person into ministry in the first place? What about all those leaders who stood with him in the pulpit, who appeared to approve of his ministry? They want this person to prove his real worth so they don’t look bad. The system that sent him into ministry wants him to show that he can handle things and do well.

The leader’s return offers a closer relationship with greatness. Just like there are always people wanting to connect with famous people who are in prison for murder or other gross crimes, there are those who will run to the pews when they hear that a famous person is in the pulpit, no matter what he has done. Maybe he will shake their hands after the service, or teach a Bible study they can attend in his living room. He will know their names, and they will be closer to him than they ever could have been before the trouble.

After a drug overdose, the only way to assure safety and avoid recurrence is abstinence. Small amounts of the drug will begin the addiction process again. The failure of a narcissistic pastor or leader is much like a drug overdose. The accumulation of power and adoration escalates and causes compromise and failure. To allow, or worse, to bring, the leader back to ministry may simply be the beginning of another addictive process. People will be used and abused until failure happens again.

But what if it doesn’t happen again? What if the new ministry is both successful and not abusive? Well, then maybe the pastor was not a narcissist, but just someone who got caught up in the opportunities ministry can give for self-service. Or maybe the narcissist has learned how to operate better within the system. Or maybe it just hasn’t happened yet.

18 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

18 responses to “Back to ministry

  1. Kathy

    What amazes me about the preachers that have fallen is how easily they are broadcast on “Christian” TV!! Jim Bakker is selling dehydrated foods on “Christian” TV and is considered an “expert” on the Book of Revelation!
    Peter Popoff is still selling odd items such as miracle water and miracle manna.
    Don’t even start me on Todd Coontz and his “seed” ministry — or How to Get Rich sermons — of course, he’s made a fortune from people sowing “seed” (seed which is really green paper with portraits of dead presidents).
    How shameful are the networks that carry such garbage!

  2. Lisa

    I agree wholeheartedly Pastor. In the case of other predatory behavior, such as child molestation, we can rest assured that protective measures would be sustained and enforced by the criminal justice system to limit opportunities and access. So while confirmed predatory behavior of all types may certainly be forgiven, it ought never to be enabled. The church as a whole, but especially those in leadership, needs to mature in their development so as to discern circumstances which facilitate codependency and Ungodly soul ties.
    Love your blog!

  3. Greater Glory

    Just plain “WOW!”

  4. Thanks David. I don’t know just how much you do know about the overall picture regarding this long-term, ongoing phenomenon, but you have certainly hit the nail on the head once again with this post. The greatest travesty of this entire sinister process is that certain people are perceived as “God’s anointed” no matter what they do or how often they violate the clear teachings of the Lord Jesus regarding not only their personal discipleship but also His community format.

    It reveals a behind the scenes good old boys club in which the members thereof always take care of one another regardless of how far some of them stray. It always reveals the whole worship of mammon principle which overrides everything else within said ministries since money is perceived as the driving and empowering force of their success.

    I have written about this extensively, in part with regard to why the members at large of these minister clubs refuse to not only properly police their members but also promote so many elements of their “religion” which defy and oppose the clear teachings of the Lord.

    For example, though there are many honest television preachers, NONE of them ever point out the clear excesses of the guilty ones in that medium, which allows the guilty to carry on as usual. This would be akin to the Lord Jesus never rebuking the Pharisees.

    The big losers of the overall scheme are the honest Christians under their control who do not understand. They have been deceived. Yet, deception has a definite expiration date for those who love truth and continue seeking it out. Their eyes eventually open up to all the chicanery, excess, and rejection of the Lord’s full curriculum. Therefore, for those who do not “see,” who continue to support the compromised ministers who have no business being in their positions of power and influence, and who never desire to listen to or understand the Lord’s teachings on the matter, it is their problem. They have chosen their fate. They are chickens primed for perpetual plucking.

    Yet, many need to be enlightened and rescued. Many sincere Christians need to be healed and set free. Thanks to you, David, many are. Be blessed.

  5. So insightful and goes for narcissist members of the church as well. It’s almost celebrated to welcome the unrepentant manipulative abuser with open arms in the name of mercy and grace while turning their backs on those deeply wounded accusing them of being unloving, unmerciful, unforgiving. problem is you almost bleed to death and then finally leave because you can’t watch them being supported in what they do while your abandoned. It’s so true time goes by and they just carry on while leaders and mutual friends in the church are lied to and manipulated and it’s all just brushed under the rug in the name of grace.
    I think of the power they must feel repeatedly doing this and repeatedly getting these results and watching theit victims just go away while they carry on like nothing ever happened.
    Oh God please help everyone experiencing this by the hands of a leader or a member in the church. In Jesus Name I plead.

    • Janet Siegel

      I was thinking the same thing, this post applies also to narcissistic church members as well. It reads identically. These are the most difficult people to deal with.

  6. Kay

    I remember Jimmy Swaggert. Twice publically repentitant. I remember the utter destruction of his family, the church in Baton Rouge, his son picking up the pieces, twice. In Christ, all are forgiven Eternally. Do you reinstall a wolf as guard to watch over the chickens? As in pastors or priests, does the congregation pat someone on the head and turn a blind eye? This is weakness in the flesh that endangers the ‘sheep’, their walks, their families. The Body of Christ should be stronger than their flesh, protective of the sheep, The Gospel, the appearance of evil. The Church has with little doubt become the hated ‘politically correct’ not hating evil, but opening Itself willingly to the ‘shearing of the sheep’.

  7. Louy

    Could add cj mahaney to the list for sure.

  8. dianablackwood

    Why does this smell like anti-Christ to me? Because people are so thoroughly deceived. My narcisisst is gaining momentum and I’m losing support, ever so gradually. Part of it is because I was once again fooled by his incredible powers of deception and brought him into the new church we’re now attending. It’s humbling to be among the ones who have been taken in time and again by the craftiness of an invisible enemy. So I can surely understand their hopes, no matter how misplaced! It’s discouraging to read about the little victories of darkness within our religious culture, but as I take the big step back I’m reminded of God’s ultimate victory. He’s using these wolves as instruments to refine His children’s senses and as opposition that would help us press into His Spirit. I laugh a lot at the brazen lies of Satan that fly around all the time. But people are actually buying this?! I remember when I did. God has shown me mercy by opening my eyes and setting me free. My hatred for lies keeps getting stronger. I long to tear down the facades and bring darkness to light! Creation and I will wait and groan until finally all is seen for what it is. In the meantime I’ll pray for those who are deceived and ask God’s mercy on my narcisisst. May his sins against me not be held against him in judgement. But oh, Lord, use them to humble Your chosen and to show us we are helpless without You.

  9. Kitkat

    Pastor Dave was wondering what your thoughts are about these people being, not ministers of the faith, but entertainers. Because we live in a world where instant gratification replaces the hard work of the Gospel of Christ. So, could it be, that the reason some of these characters still manage to gain an audience is because they are easier to listen to than someone who challenges you to be the “hands on” servant of Christ in the local church? These people say all the right things that make people feel good or validate long held feelings about themselves plying the ego just enough to squeeze more money out of them. If you watch from a distance, doesn’t it for some, insulate them from having to take on responsibility at a local level. I’m not trying to blame the victim here but at the same time there is some culpability on the part of those who follow these people blindly. We are increasingly becoming people who don’t look too closely below the surface. And even when we find that there are problems instead of saying “no more” we celebrate the comeback. I fear that we all too often want to believe in the happy ending even though it goes against our better judgement. Perhaps, we think if they can comeback, it is a possibility that when we fail we can comeback too??? I don’t know, nor do I understand it. Is it something like victims of physical abuse that go back to their abuser? It used to be when a minister was disgraced, they were disgraced for life. Has the pendulum swung too far the other way?

    • Mark

      I comment a lot on Recovering Grace, which is a website devoted to those who were trapped by the teaching of Bill Gothard. These guys are definitely NOT entertainers. When you listen to people like this, you feel like you are worthless and they have it all together. They subtly shift your worth from Christ to their teaching and they encourage you to isolate yourself from outsiders who disagree with them.

      I know people on both sides of the Gothard issue. There are those who think that the lawsuit is a conspiracy designed to destroy the reputation of this godly man. And it’s sad – the people who were the most abused by Gothard were the people that most needed grace. Many were sexually abused by their parents and then sent to a safe environment, which was even more abusive. If you look at Gothard’s theology, it’s designed to trap people into shifting their focus from Christ to a false authority – their parents, their church, the government. He even teaches that those who are abused should appeal to their abusers to stop, and then submit until somehow God changes their hearts. Apparently going to the police to report an abusive father is sinfully disrespecting his authority.

      If you follow this sort of teaching to its conclusion, it’s no surprise that his doctrine was extremely attractive to narcissists.

  10. Savedbygrace

    I agree about us being easily deceived.. Jesus called out the religious leaders in John 8:44 and said the devil was their father and homed in on deception as their core way of operating.. if Jesus could use such strong language/judgement I think the church should follow his example and get rid of false teachers/leaders.
    I think the n leader returns because he thinks the rules don’t apply to him- in fact he likely feels entitled to make the rules!
    It would be interesting to get them to do a polygraph test… perhaps they would even pass because they believe their own lies and deceive themselves, perhaps this is why they can sound so convincing. Plus I think most of us don’t expect such depth of lieing in another person, let alone in a minister, so we have an expectation that truth telling is the norm but I believe sadly deception is the norm for the n.
    And if we ‘educate’ these n leaders? what then?are they fit for leadership then? CS Lewis puts it well…
    “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil”.
    lets expose them rather than continue to be duped by them!
    On a personal note I cannot believe how timely this is Pastor Dave as my separated n announced to me this week a church was ‘considering him to be their pastor’ …are you kidding? I told him he was an unsuitable person for ministry and under no circumstances was I returning to ministry with him so I hope they were happy to have just him! your post has been very validating!

  11. Janet Siegel

    Excellent post! The Lord revealed recently how the spirit of deception is controls these narcissists. Thats the power demon in their lives. The stronghold is controlled by deception. Deception is the main description of Satan in Revelation 12:9. Scary…!!!

  12. Mark

    I think you hit on some great points. First, being in the pulpit is the energy source of narcissists in the pastorate. Every eye is on them, every ear is listening to their wisdom. People are going to redefine themselves based on their insight.

    Second, and more importantly, their victims blame themselves. I saw a post on the narcissist and the codependent. They feed off of each other. Just as the narcissist gains energy from doting fans, the codependent fans feel their failings are responsible for the behavior of the narcissist. Thus returning that leader to their position of power becomes the redemption of both the narcissist and the victims.

    A quote that has really resounded with me the past few years is… why is it that the people who have no rights in the first place are the ones commanded to give them up, and why are those who would normally have rights so adamant that they retain them? Much of Christianity is about flipping the economy. Those who want to lead must do so by washing feet. The church must make sure to bestow the most honor on those who seem the most unworthy. We continue to turn this on its head in modern Evangelicalism. We talk about servant leadership, but we redefine “service” as “lording it over”, so that those who are the best servants are those who are best at manipulation and intimidation. When the “least” of the kingdom mess up, we impose huge sanctions, including excommunication to show that we are serious about discipline, but when the leaders mess up, we first intimidate the victims and accusers, and then when we can’t deny it any more we give them a slap on the wrist so that we can show “the Grace of God”. Any who think otherwise must be shunned.

    Reminds me of an “encounter” I had with a church judicial committee. In demonstrating how diligent they had been, the spokesman said, among other things, “we rebuked an elder.” I asked, “Doesn’t the Bible say to rebuke the elder in the presence of all?” The response, “do you want us to drag this person’s name in the mud!?” In other words, the committee was afraid that dealing with this public sin publicly would lessen the position of this person in the eyes of the congregation. Instead, we should just trust these leaders that they did the right thing and that everything was now taken care of. The congregation split within weeks.

  13. Penny

    When I read things like this it makes me want to cuss. Seriously.
    It makes me want to break dinner plates and smash jelly jars.
    It makes me angry….righteously angry.
    It’s crazy making nonsense.
    Thanks Pastor Dave for exposing the nonsense.
    Now pardon me while I make a whip and join Jesus in the temple….

  14. Cindylouwho

    Wow! This was my ex-narcissist pastor and his adulterous missionary son. 30 people were church disciplined because of the pastor “making a judgment call” to leave his son on the mission field – after the church found out that he (the son) had committed adultery with a prostitute. The preacher hid it from the church for 10+ years. The son stayed on the field, collected mission funds, took nice holidays in Europe, all on the church’s dime.
    Fast-forward 5 years – the above preacher (who hid his families’ sin – there’s more) has recently died of cancer. I believe it is because he stepped on sheep and didn’t discipline his son. Doesn’t the bible give at least one example of this – i.e. Hopni & Phineas?
    How sad.

  15. Reblogged this on When Church Hurts and commented:
    The pastor who told us we were not to return to the church had “left the ministry” for a few years and worked construction until the senior pastor – his older brother – hired him. His own wife had told him that life was better at their house when he was not around. In his case, nepotism played a role in his returning to a pastoral position. His abuses are known but kept quiet. No one wants to acknowledge the damage he has done and ruin their own chance for status or position.

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