Category Archives: Church

Sides

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

When you disagree with a narcissist, you might be surprised at the level of conflict that comes. You may experience the rage of the narcissist as he/she proceeds to disparage your intelligence or destroy your reputation. You may experience the cold disdain of the narcissist as you are pushed away. Or you may find that you are suddenly on the “other side.”

Narcissists create “sides.” You are either for them or against them. But it won’t be quite so overt in most cases. Most of the time, you won’t see the narcissist as the center. Instead, you will see the conflict. People who used to be friends find themselves pitted against each other. Family members gang up on siblings or others. Church members disagree on how things should be done and find that lines are drawn between opinions.

Sometimes, too often, as a marriage breaks up so do friendships. Are you for him or for her? You aren’t supposed to love both of them. You have to choose. And, if you don’t choose, both sides might reject you. And, if the marriage doesn’t break up, the friends still feel separated.

I have seen this in churches. Something that seems like a minor disagreement becomes a church-splitting fight. A marriage might be in trouble and sides have to be chosen. A pastor is struggling: who is with him and who is against him? New leadership is being chosen, and the decision whether to accept the new leader depends on which side he associates with.

And, in the background, feeding the struggle, is the narcissist. Like a high-pitched irritating whine, the narcissist whispers, comments, lies, and divides. He/she may not be seen, but the influence will be felt. Little nudges here and there, to both sides, and the narcissist keeps everyone off kilter and easy to control.

Firefighters, cancer doctors, engineers, sociologists, therapists,and many more professionals have an underlying purpose: to search out the source of the problem. If you smell gas, someone has to find the leak. If your water is polluted, someone has to find the corruption. If you are ill, someone has to seek the infection. If your church or family is in conflict, there may well be someone who is stirring the anger.

Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease. Proverbs 22:10

I have known churches that split because a narcissist subtly pushed everyone to take a side. People who didn’t want to take sides often just left. By the time the dust settled, not many remained. I have known families whose gossip and conspiracies cut so deep. Businesses can be destroyed, organizations can crumble, even good marriages can be split when narcissists work to create sides.

And here’s the most bizarre thing: you might think that the narcissist always wants his side to win, but the narcissist might not even have a side. He just wants the upheaval, the turmoil. In the midst of all the fighting, he will position himself to win—apart from either side. He will come in to be the savior, to pick up the pieces, to solve the problem. However he does it, he will gain from the division.

I have long suspected that the rising political strife in our nation is the result of constant pushing from the media. Who profits when we are divided? Those who control the information. Where did you hear the latest political thing that made you angry? Like the arms dealers who sell to both sides, there are businesses that prosper when others are hurting. When we remember that there are people and groups in this world who benefit from our division, maybe we can stop a little of our fighting.

In your family, in your group, in your church—is there division? Is it hard to pin down the specific disagreement? You may want to look for a cause, someone who is whispering.

Scripture warns against those who “cause strife between brothers.” In fact, Proverbs says that is one of the things the Lord hates. But churches, business, families, and marriages have been split because of someone who began to spread words of division and hate.

So, what do we do? Stop listening to the grumbling and nibbling. Be very aware of those who stand to benefit from strife and anger. Never underestimate the effect of a few words of comparison or criticism. Try not to play that game.

I have learned that no one wins in these battles, except those who like them and want them to happen. Instead, a lot of people get hurt. And the narcissist goes merrily on his way.

4 Comments

Filed under Church, Narcissism

Environment

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

Like all predators, narcissists use their environment to increase their success with victims and to protect themselves against challenges. One of the key factors in predation is environment. Predators are more successful in some environments and not as successful in others. Most hawks don’t do well in the brush of the forest, for example, so they seek their prey in the fields. Lions rarely take prey from the center of herds, but wait for stragglers. The environment plays an important role for the predator.

Abusers, narcissists included, are almost always at the center of a system or environment. They surround themselves with support and keep themselves away from threats. This is why we so often hear people say that the serial murderer next door was “such a nice man.” Even when the behavior of the abuser negates the image, the system supports it. Church, friends, co-workers, choice of neighborhoods—all become part of the environment.

Some predators simply use the environment that best suits their needs. Like the hawk over the open field, the narcissist knows which churches will support him and his desires. The service organization is carefully chosen as the place where she can “use her talents.” These environments already exist and are already useful.

Other predators build their environments for their purposes. Like a spider builds a web, abusers sometimes create the environment within which they operate. Narcissistic parents manipulate and mold their children to serve as supply. Bosses can create work environments in which subordinates are pitted against each other and all serve the boss.

But most narcissists have neither the need nor the inclination to create their system out of nothing. Instead, they adapt existing environmental factors. They find weakened prey: people longing for recognition or appreciation, people who have already been softened by other narcissists, or people who are alone and apart from support. They work in churches, organizations, and businesses already lacking accountability and supportive leadership. Narcissists are pragmatists, finding and manipulating useful objects in their lives. Those useful objects include people, organizations, and ideologies.

Legalistic church systems provide rich environments for the narcissist. Double standards for men and women, lack of accountability for leaders, demanding expectations for those under authority, and high appreciation for those who perform according to nebulous measures of spirituality—these all serve the narcissist well. Narcissists use the ideologies of these churches without owning or obeying the standards.

Some churches, to continue the example, simply pass from the hands of a covert narcissist pastor to an overt narcissist. Much of the environment was already in place. Or vice-versa. The covert narcissist looked so good after the overt that no one asked the right questions. And the weakened leadership is happy to turn everything over to the one who promises to fix everything.

The narcissist begins to adapt the church or organization or even neighborhood to become a supportive environment for his/her purposes. With a carefully chosen word or intimidating look, certain obstacles are pushed over to one side. Minor criticisms open the way for greater ones when needed. Casting suspicions and manipulating perceptions minimize the effectiveness of challenges. Doubts planted in the hearts of victims, perhaps over a period of years, help to keep the victims docile and submissive. Doubts planted in the hearts of others toward the victims, again perhaps over a period of years, prepare for any challenge from the victims.

Because the narcissist, through predatory instinct, prepares his/her supportive environment so well, anyone who challenges will find themselves enmeshed in a much larger battle than expected. Quickly, the battle turns against the challenger. The support the victim expected dissipates. The support around the narcissist seems impenetrable. No matter what accusations are brought out, they are filtered through the support environment.

“Oh, but he has always been such a good leader.” “Well, we understand that you feel hurt, but don’t you think his motives were good?” “She has been so faithful. What would we do without her?” “He has been a good neighbor; keeps to himself mostly, but quiet and friendly.” “You just don’t understand the way he does things.” These are all walls put in place by the narcissist or abuser, prepared long in advance against your attack.

Predators are creatures dedicated to competition. Their survival depends on their success. Their provision and protection come from their attention to detail and their careful preparation. When you challenge the narcissist, you will almost certainly find that his environment is already an active part of his support structure.

37 Comments

Filed under Church, Narcissism

What must I do?

Sometimes we learn a great deal from what isn’t said in Scripture.

When Paul and Silas were in prison in Philppi, there was a great earthquake and the chains of the prisoners fell open. The jailer, who was responsible for the prisoners, had been sleeping and woke to see that the prisoners were free. He prepared to kill himself for his neglect, but Paul told him that all the prisoners were still there. Apparently, he had been listening to the message of the gospel before he fell asleep and he asked Paul a simple, but profound, question: “What must I do to be saved?”

So there it is. The question. It almost seems incredible that we would still be asking it when it is answered so simply.

In some churches today you have to become members to be saved. Or be baptized. Or obey some list of rules. Or live a good life. Or give time or money. Or pray a certain prayer. In some you have to be good enough before you can be saved. In some you have to become good enough after you are saved in order to stay saved. In some you can never be sure. And in some, you have to be among the “elect,” the chosen ones.

But the jailer didn’t hear any of that in answer to his question. He just heard:

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

That’s it! Nothing about obedience or personal righteousness. Nothing about joining anything. The man wasn’t even a Jew!

Just believe. Just trust Jesus. That’s it.

Of course, some have a vested interest in complicating the simple gospel message. They can control those who come to them if they set up the right requirements and structure. And others just think it seems right to expect certain lifestyle changes and behaviors when giving such an important privilege. But anything more than “believe” is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, I have to add that Paul also did not tell the man he was already saved, like some would say today. He did not tell the man that all people were saved but they just don’t know it and that nothing is required. Paul had the opportunity to do that, if he believed it. No, he said that the man simply had to open his mind and heart and believe.

You see, the gift of salvation is already paid for and available to anyone who is willing to receive it. Jesus doesn’t force anyone to be saved. He offers the gift. If you believe Him enough to receive it, it’s yours. He wants you to have it.

Yes, everything changes from that point, but the changes are good. The jailer “rejoiced” because he had believed. No doubt the Spirit led him to a much different life, but that was after he believed and was saved.

The gospel is really that simple. Beware of those who add to the simple message. The lies are everywhere. The truth is found in Jesus.

2 Comments

Filed under Church, grace, Relationship, Theology and mystery

Pastors and reporting

Some have expressed puzzlement and even a certain outrage about pastors who fail to report abuse, particularly of children.  I may be able to give some insights into that hesitation.  I have been a pastor for many years now and have had to handle a couple cases of child abuse in my congregations.  I will try to be transparent about my own thinking during those times.

First, please understand that I am not writing about those pastors who simply must control everything that happens in the lives of their people.  There are such pastors, men who believe they know better than the counselors or authorities.  They have the answers all figured out and they don’t want input from outsiders.  They are often quick to put obstacles between the victims and the people who can really help.

Nor am I talking about pastors who don’t care.  There are some who don’t want to get involved.  They think they can cover their ears and eyes and problems will go away.  Some of them think that acknowledging a problem, even in a church family, will somehow reflect poorly on the church.  They neglect to educate their people about ways to deal with these problems and try to ignore them when they come up.

I am writing about pastors who truly care.  Good people who want to help and want to do the right thing.

Let me tell you about my first case.  A girl of nine or ten came to our Vacation Bible School limping and crying.  She was from a new family in the church.  When asked why she was crying, she said that her mom had hit her on the foot with a board that morning.  So, should I call the mom for an explanation?  Should I examine the foot to see what the problem was?  Well, the truth is that I was almost as incompetent to discern the facts about what happened as I was to determine whether anything was broken in her foot.  I am a pastor, not a physician nor an abuse counselor.

So, I called the police.  I knew they would intrude into the home and be very unwelcome.  I knew I would be the bad guy for calling them.  Everything I feared (as far as my connection with the case) happened.  The girl was placed into foster care, the family went to court, and they never came to church again.  Eventually, the girl returned home, but I had no further contact with the family.

Did I do the right thing?  Yes.  But it cost the family a great deal and it cost the church.  I consider the church’s cost to be beside the point, even if sad.  I hope that the family got the help they needed.

Here are some of the thoughts that went through my mind at the time:

  1. Was this abuse or an accident?
  2. Is there a pattern in this family or was this an isolated incident?
  3. Did the girl do something to push the mom to anger?
  4. Will the fix (calling in the authorities) be stronger than necessary?
  5. How will this hurt the family in their new relationship with the Lord?
  6. What additional trauma will the girl and the family experience?

Now, before you jump into angry accusations of my thinking, let me share the answer to all of these questions.  NOT MY CALL!  It was not my place to determine the extent or frequency or cause of the abuse.  The small amount of counseling training I received did not cover abuse situations, and even if it had I would still not have the objectivity or the hardness to make the decision.

I was genuinely concerned for the family and believed that I was placed in a position to help, not hurt.  But I had to see that the help I could give did not include shielding them from the authorities.  No matter what I feared for the family and their relationship with the church and the Lord, I feared more for the girl who received such treatment from an angry mom.  I hated making that call, but I did it and I was right.

There’s a reason civil authorities come in with a set of rules and what seem like hard hearts.  They have a tough job to do.  They cannot be swayed by explanations or lies or tears or even threats.  We need them to remain absolutely objective in these cases.  I have heard the things that come out of people’s mouths when they are accused.  Even the most respected Christians can lie and twist their stories.  Someone needs to be able to look past church membership and family unity and potential pain to do what is right.

So this is why I believe mandatory reporting is the right thing.  It takes the choice away from the pastor.  By law, in most states, the pastor or counselor must report suspected abuse.  He or she does not have the responsibility or the right to seek the truth or determine cause or extent.  He must turn the situation over to the authorities, which we believe God has put in place, to do their job.  It is very difficult to turn someone you care about over to authorities for examination and discipline.  Too many pastors hesitate—because they care—and the abuser is allowed to continue.

For years I have told people that government has one tool, a hammer, and when they come into your home they use their hammer.  It is not a gentle tool.  It breaks things.  But sometimes a hammer is just what is needed.  Abusers get by with their sin because they are able to avoid consequences.  When the authorities come, it is hard to avoid the hammer.  It doesn’t always work, of course, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong to try.  When the pastor calls the authorities, he is not bringing down the hammer on the family.  He is getting out of the way so God can lead the authorities to use whatever means are necessary.

Abuse cannot be tolerated or excused in the church.  Pastors must work on the front lines to stop the suffering they see.  If it takes mandatory reporting to make that happen, then it is the right thing.

But there are things pastors can do to help mitigate the damage of the government’s hammer.  When I was faced with another case, which involved sibling sexual assault, I handled it differently.  I knew and cared about the family and I knew the disruption of the authorities would be very hard for them.  So I told the father that I would be calling the police in one hour.  I encouraged him to call them first.  The father was not the cause of the assault and I believed it would be very helpful if he showed his willingness to cooperate from the beginning.  When I called the police, just one hour later, the father had already called in and the police were already involved.  Then I could stand alongside the family to encourage them as they experienced the hammer (which, of course, they did—and rightly so).

In our day, when suicide destroys the lives of so many young people and dangerous drugs are so available to deaden the pain, we must take abuse seriously.  Few pastors I know would hesitate to call authorities if they suspected a counselee had committed murder.  Many would call if they had evidence of financial fraud.  It is time for pastors to make the call when they hear about abuse.  Even if they find it hard to trust the authorities, they can trust the One who is over those authorities.

Pastors must do what is right.  And, if they won’t do what is right, we need laws to motivate them.

17 Comments

Filed under Church

When not to debate

A friend of mine was recently challenged to a debate. He is fully capable of defending his position and I have no doubt that he would impress his audience with his knowledge and wisdom. However, I thought the particular debate would be unwise for several reasons and I wrote them in the following article.

After I wrote it, I realized that it had applications beyond the particular theological argument I was addressing. In fact, many within the church community would do well to understand the risks of a debate structure in answering challenges.  Politics, work situations, community organizations, even families suffer certain risks from debate-structured discussions.  Even those who come here to learn about narcissism will find these points to be familiar.

So I offer the article here and welcome your comments.

 

WHEN NOT TO DEBATE

 As Americans, we believe in debate. We have been taught that reasonable discussion on various sides of a topic will lead to a reasonable conclusion that all can accept. If every voice is given equal opportunity and status, truth will prevail.

In fact, that rarely happens.

There are several reasons to avoid debating, particularly when the challenger wishes to debate the status quo. Here are just a few:

 

  1. Audience – There are four audiences in these debates: those who already support the current speaker; those who already disagree with the current speaker; those who have not yet made up their minds on the issue; and those who are outside the issue but enjoy the entertainment. That means three out of four are unnecessary. Those who already support one side over the other will very rarely be changed by a debate. Even if their side obviously loses, they will find excuses for the loss and carry on. Within the fourth audience, the ones who haven’t made up their minds, there will probably be many who will never come to a conclusion and the debate will not affect that. Thus, for many debates, the purpose of convincing the audience is insignificant.
  2. The primary reason most challengers wish to debate is for legitimacy. The debate forum, in our culture, appears to give each side equal footing and equal validity. One side may be wrong, but they are considered “worth listening to.” One recent book lists differing perspectives on various theological issues without judgment. By doing so, the author ignores the fact that many of these perspectives have been soundly and widely rejected among evangelicals. The reader is led to assume that these are equally valid perspectives simply because they are listed together. Two sides or more represented in a debate are assumed to be equal. Even though the status quo (SQ) may have superior scholarship and longer tradition, the challenger appears to have the same strength.
  3. The challenger has the most to win, because he has the weakest definition of winning. While the SQ appears to be burdened with everything included in traditional perspectives, the challenger simply has to create doubts or make the SQ look foolish. Many times the challenger doesn’t care about points or convincing the audience; he simply enjoys the opportunity to state his case and make the traditional look less appealing.
  4. Playing rules are different between the debaters. While the challenger is easily forgiven for overstating his case and attacking his opponent personally, the SQ is rarely afforded the same privilege. Our culture somehow expects that the underdog must stretch the rules and be more aggressive to make up for the weight of the authority of the tradition. In a Christian culture there is a burden on the SQ to be “nice.”
  5. The vocabulary is not equivalent. Challengers often redefine words. The audience believes that it understands the words as defined by the tradition, but the challenger uses the same words to mean something else. This deception is rarely explained and, if the SQ points out the discrepancy, the challenger finds a way to sidestep. By changing the definition, challengers give themselves opportunity to deny or affirm with little accountability.
  6. All statements are presented as truth in a debate, whether or not they are true. The expectation is that the opponent will be able to point out the error or deception in his time allotment. The challenger will use this to put the SQ on the defensive. When a statement is made and support is given, the opponent is not able to make clear to the audience the point of error without sacrificing his own opportunity to make a point. Once the challenger sets the tone of the debate so that the SQ is on the defensive, he no longer cares about the truth of his statements. When pressed, he can simply move to other statements to make himself look strong and his opponent look weak.
  7. The burden of proof is on the SQ. While tradition expects that the challenger should provide proof in order to support his challenge, the audience is usually less affected by a lack of proof from the challenger. The audience expects the challenger to appear weaker. However, they are greatly affected by the apparent weakness of the SQ. Since the two sides are debating, when one appears weak, the other appears strong. The challenger will seek to attack the SQ in ways that force the SQ to support the tradition. Any inability to do this will affect the audience far more than a lack of proof from the challenger.
  8. There is no common authority. When the debate lacks common authority, the opportunity for progress is stifled. We witness this often in debates concerning creation and evolution. One side appeals to the Bible as ultimate authority, while the other appeals to science. These debates usually frustrate both sides and the audiences. Even when the authority, like the Bible, is accepted by both sides, the interpretations may be sufficiently different to negate the commonality.
  9. The pull to the middle. One must always ask about the overall goal of the debate. If the debate is seen as a dialectic, the pull to the middle will be the goal. Dialectics are effective in “both/and” discussions, but not in “either/or” discussions. For example, if the abortion debate is framed as “the rights of the unborn” vs “the rights of the mother,” a dialectic approach may help to form laws or policies that address both concerns—because we want both concerns addressed. If it is framed as “the rights of the unborn” vs “the lack of rights of the unborn,” a dialectic approach will only lead to confusion. How could both be true? When the culture sees both sides as equal in the debate, the expectation will be that some middle ground represents truth.
  10. The appeal to the mind. Ultimately a debate is an attempt to convince by reason. Christian concepts are usually not learned or understood by reason, particularly reason alone. An appeal to reason in the Garden was what got us into this mess in the first place. The serpent simply questioned details of the truth until Eve’s reason took over and made a decision. When faced with the details or logistics of miraculous events, for example, reason struggles. And we tend to reject that which causes our reason to struggle. We may debate the reality of a world-wide flood in the days of Noah, but when the audience is confronted with the details of feeding the animals or cleaning the ark, they become troubled. The mind wants to be able to understand these simple things, rather than release them to the miracle. Debates give the impression that truth can be rationally discerned, when Scripture tells us the opposite.

(Notice that I could not find a better word for the defender than the “SQ.” Almost any word for the one who seeks to maintain the traditional good or right has negative connotations. We are a culture that admires the challenger and the underdog. I think that means they have an advantage in debates.)

 

So those are ten of my reasons. Anyone have any to add?

8 Comments

Filed under Church, Theology and mystery

New Teachers, Same Old Lie

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

 

I have tried to avoid speaking about specific teachers or ministry groups on my website because I really want people to think about the whole concept of performance spirituality and I know that some become very closed when anything negative about their favorite teacher or group is presented.  There are many of these, of course, and there have been since the time of the Pharisees.  It’s the way of thinking that’s wrong and hurts people.  When they focus on “standards” or performance, they blind people to the truth and the joy of God’s love.

It was that “focus on standards” which blinded the Pharisees when Jesus came.  He was the God they claimed to worship with all of their standards, but they missed Him because their focus was wrong.

I could certainly begin a list of these teachers and organizations.  Some of them are churches.  Some are parachurch ministries.  Some are homeschooling support groups.  By preaching “standards” and teaching the people to feel superior to others but never quite acceptable to God, I think they do serious damage in many lives.  But I can’t really blame the teachers, for the most part.  They are usually just as deceived as those they teach.  The problem is the lie, the same old lie told in the Garden.  Satan promised Eve that she would be “like God” and could make decisions for herself instead of just walking with the Lord and trusting Him.  In the same way, these teachers and groups tell folks that high standards and right living will somehow make them good.  They don’t promise salvation, but they insinuate that those who are “really saved” will do these things.  Those who don’t live this way, by these standards, are inferior in some way.  And, as they focus on the standards, they don’t really seem to need the Lord.

This kind of thinking is not only wrong according to Scripture, but is damaging to individuals, families, and churches.  I have heard from so many people about how their church split because of some leader’s teachings.  One young man tells how his family is broken up because some accept a certain group’s leader and others don’t.  A young wife wrote me and told me that she “lost Jesus at church” because of all the competition, criticism and judgment.

On the other hand, I get email after email telling me how people have found peace in just trusting Jesus.  I even get notes from pastors.  One recently wrote to tell me that he believes he can go on in ministry because what he found on our website brought him back to trusting in Jesus rather than in the performance standards of ministry.  That’s good stuff to me!

 

1 Comment

Filed under Church, grace, Legalism

Our Legalism

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

Let’s be honest. We do it too.  While challenging others we have a tendency to
overlook legalism in ourselves. I was complaining one day about a family
who seemed to have many excuses for not attending church. My wife
challenged me by asking if church attendance was one of the “standards” I
wanted to keep and use in my ministry. Ouch! The truth was that I was
teaching people to seek the leading of Jesus and then follow Him. Could
Jesus allow this family to miss church occasionally? Of course! But I
didn’t like it and I judged them for it. I was still applying law the way I
wanted to apply it – just like any other legalist teacher.

So let God deal with your own judgmentalism and legalism. In fact, ask Him
to challenge you. You can’t expect the people around you to enjoy the
acceptance of Jesus if you are a source of condemnation. I don’t say this
lightly and I know it isn’t easy.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Church, Freedom, grace, Legalism