Tag Archives: church problems

Responsibility Overload

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

What an interesting political situation we have in the US these days! Choosing between what many consider to be two evils is certainly nothing new. What seems new is the level of support for each candidate. In fact, we seem to have passed from crowds of supporters to crowds of fans. Far too many of these fans care little about what their candidate says or does or even believes. They just care about the idea the candidate represents.

And this is prime environment for narcissists. When people are willing to overlook character issues, conflicting statements, and blatant illegal acts, watch for the narcissists to rise to power. Don’t ask questions, just trust me—that’s the election motto of the narcissist. Just worship me, and everything will be fine.

There are many reasons our culture has moved into this fanaticism, of course. But one of the more serious ones is the “responsibility overload” we seem to carry. Somehow we have all become culpable for crime and suffering, no matter where it happens. If you don’t care, you are not a good person. We are all supposed to try to stop this, even when it happens far away. Racism, financial inequality, bullying, health problems and care—these things are on our shoulders. Or at least we are made to feel that they are. But who can handle all that responsibility?

Add to that the expectations of our family and our work, and every organization to which we belong, and we feel constantly increasing pressure. Besides, we want to be faithful to ourselves, not be lost in the requirements of others. Time and energy resources drain away.

When we become responsible for everything, we find success and peace to be impossible. Responsibility overload makes us feel incapable of almost all responsibility. All we want is for someone to take care of us. All we want is for someone to fix things.

And along comes the narcissist with promises. Our desire to have those promises come true makes us unwilling to ask how they are possible. The narcissist doesn’t care if the promises are possible. The narcissist doesn’t want to be held accountable to keep a promise. Once the promise is made and the desired loyalty is attained, the promise can be forgotten. Promises, like almost everything in the life of the narcissist, are just tools to get what is desired.

Now, I suspect that few of us can remember a presidential candidate who wasn’t some level of a narcissist. I know there were some who had right motives and ideas that sounded good to me. But, over the years, the people have stopped listening to what the candidates say. They allow the media to transform the candidates into icons, symbols that represent certain ideas or hopes. Then the people just follow, because following is easier than thinking.

By the way, this isn’t true only in presidential races. In churches, people just want a pastor who will preach and manage in a way that makes the church feel better. In business, the people want a figurehead to represent the goals and methods of the company—and bring financial success. Even in personal relationships, we look for someone to make our lives better.

The committee that is charged with finding a new pastor doesn’t want to meet week after week. The members have families and jobs and life. So they find someone who sounds good and looks good.

The company board of directors doesn’t want to spend a lot of time and instability on searching for a new CEO, so they are ready to accept the person who sounds and looks good. After all, the accomplishments of the candidate sound impressive. The company needs to move forward.

Searching for love takes a lot out of a person. Being alone isn’t much fun. Someone who sounds good and looks good is very tempting. You don’t want to ask questions and don’t want to hear the warnings of others. You just want someone.

So the narcissist comes with promises and accolades and soothing words and we fall for his/her charms. It doesn’t matter that he/she doesn’t have anything else to offer or that we wouldn’t like what else comes with the package. We don’t ask questions. We don’t want to look under the rug. We don’t want to hear about the lie. We just want the stress to stop.

Someone to fix things. The new CEO, the new preacher, the new boyfriend, the new president. Life is too much for us. If the right person comes along, we will just turn things over to him. Don’t tell us about the dangers. Don’t tell us we are wrong. Just leave us alone and let us place our trust in this savior. We are tired of thinking.

Who knows? Maybe things will work out better than last time.


Filed under Narcissism

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.


Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Remember the Covert

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

I have been reading some of the more popular writing on narcissism these days, just to see what’s out there. One of the things I notice is that most of the writing is done to expose the overt narcissist. They like to talk about the overbearing boss, the critical mother, the abusive husband; but they usually share characteristics almost anyone would reject. What people often miss are the characteristics of the covert narcissist.

Covert narcissists would rarely be called abusers, but they can push people to suicide. Covert narcissists are not loud and arrogant, but tend to be much more manipulative and subtly cruel. They don’t call people stupid or lazy, at least not to their faces; but covert narcissists will make you feel stupid or lazy and leave you wondering why. Covert narcissists are the real crazy-makers.

Four years ago, shortly after I started Narcissist Fridays, I wrote this about covert narcissists:

The covert narcissist still wants to be in control but does so by “helping.” Sometimes these folks offer to help with projects. The only problem is that they end up taking over. They work, or at least they motivate you to work harder, and they get things done. But you feel stupid in the process. When the project is done, it cost more than you had planned, and it doesn’t look quite the way you had wanted it to. But your “helper” assures you that this will be much better. Your way just wasn’t good enough.
This is the mother-in-law who comes to visit with her rubber gloves and cleaning supplies. You find yourself angry and wishing she hadn’t come at all, when you are supposed to be grateful. In the church, these people serve on committees and take jobs no one else will take. It will be very clear that they are making a sacrifice to help you, and you will be expected to praise them and honor them. Never mind that they can’t seem to stay in budget or they alienate everyone else on the committee. Never mind that the Missions Committee is now somehow responsible for setting the pastor’s salary and deciding what color to paint the outside of the church.

These are the narcissists who don’t seem to fit the mold. They are “nice” people, people who seem to be cooperative and helpful. Their criticisms are just helpful advice. Their manipulations are just trying to encourage you. Their generosity is just trying to make things better for everyone.

You probably won’t find many covert narcissists in jail. Nor will your friends understand the problem you have with them until they experience it for themselves. They will hold leadership positions in any organization—not the top, you understand—and they will mold the organization to their own liking. Very few will notice or be hurt or offended.

The covert narcissists make the overt narcissists look like bumbling clods. Very little can be traced back to them. Whereas the overt will lie and cheat blatantly, the covert will get others to lie and cheat for her. Whereas the overt will call someone names, the covert will just make you feel like the names he is calling you in his heart. The covert will apologize to you, praise you, speak words of encouragement to you, and put herself down—all to get you to do what she wants. Covert narcissists have learned to be subtle and patient.

I suspect covert narcissism and legalism are two sides of the same coin in the church. Some legalists are confrontational and argumentative. Some accuse others to their faces and speak loud words of condemnation. Others, who are far more dangerous, just sigh sadly and say they will continue to pray. They ask questions like: “Do you think that’s wise?” They remember sad stories of people who did the same things you are doing, and they hope you don’t end up the same way. This is not covert legalism as much as it is covert narcissism, manipulation at its best.

Coverts are the experts at gaslighting and projection. They twist your words, remember things differently, and accuse—all while smiling and pretending to be your biggest supporters. And those words of apology you wish you could hear from the overt narcissist? The covert says them with a sad and believable face. You probably won’t even realize that you have been duped.

Now, someone is thinking that this describes the “other side” of the narcissist they know. This is what others see as you see the overt narcissist. You experience the cruelty, while they see someone who is kind and helpful and thoughtful. Or you have seen the change, the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon. The person who was kind and helpful and thoughtful suddenly becomes the abuser; and then might just as quickly change back with apologies and penance. Of course, this may be an indication of another problem (bi-polar or borderline or something else), but it can also be the eruption of the covert narcissist.

It seems to me that the covert is far more powerful and capable than the overt. The covert must work much harder to get the results, but can often do so undetected for years. But that work still comes with a price. Just ask the kids of the randomly exploding mom. They have seen the truth that no one else has seen.

The world is learning about narcissism. The incredible lack of empathy and the willingness to use or abuse others to fulfill personal goals is being noticed. But the covert narcissists are staying out of the spotlight. They are not seen as cruel or abusive or negative in any way. They are seen as helpful.


Filed under Legalism, Narcissism

In the Church

I have been challenged a few times for using the term “narcissist.” The concern comes not from the fact that I am not a board-certified psychologist but from the fact that I am a Christian. Christians aren’t supposed to categorize people, I am told. There are only people who know Jesus and people who do not, some suggest. To categorize people further than this just gets in the way of the real concern.

In a way, I understand. Theologically, there is a very simplistic sense to the concern. However, the error exhibited by the concern isn’t quite as simple. The error suggests that behavior reveals inner truth. Again, there is a simplistic rightness to that, but not all behavior is overt. In other words, the behavior you and I see may not be consistent with what lives inside.

If you turned over the rocks and looked behind the locked doors, I think you could find almost any sin in church or among church members. Active sin with willing participants. Some find that hard to believe. All of us find that hard to accept.

Nine years ago the congregation of Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita learned that their church president had a terrible secret. Dennis Rader, whom they had known for many years, was the BTK murderer. For nearly twenty years, he had terrorized the community. The people never knew if or when they might be his victims. The fact that the police couldn’t seem to catch him made it possible for him to bring so much fear. Even when the killings stopped, no one knew if he was still out there watching his next victims. They certainly didn’t think that he was living among them as a trusted church leader.

BTK (bind, torture, kill), the nickname used to identify the murderer, has been diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder. ASPD is similar to narcissism in many ways with the additional factor of almost habitual illegal activity. It involves lying, grandiose ideas, lack of empathy, difficulty in personal relationships, and more in common with narcissism. And at least one active church member, a church leader, exhibited it.

My point is that we really should not be surprised that these folks can be found in church. There are many reasons. Maybe some of them actually feel some guilt over their sin and hope that association with the church will help. Maybe some of them find the church to be a great hiding place or a feeding ground. And because of their willingness to play the games, people with personality disorders are often trusted in positions of leadership.

This is also true in any other organization. Dennis Rader (BTK) was an active scout leader. You find them in clubs and organizations, neighborhood associations, and political groups. Many seem drawn to public gatherings, perhaps for the affirmations or even for the contacts. The church is not more susceptible to the wiles of these people than other groups, but certainly not immune from them either.

So how do we deal with these people in the church? Should we ignore the truth about them as we embrace them in fellowship because of Jesus? Do we have to determine their doctrine before we can deal with their sin? In other words, if they believe the right things and act right when they are with us, should we overlook concerns and reject labels? I don’t think so.

Matthew 18:17 shows us that it is possible for an abuser to be dealt with as an abuser, apart from consideration of his personal faith. There is a point where the behavior has to be confronted as it is, not as it ought to be. Matthew 18 shows us that there are limits to the “breaks” someone might get because of an expression of Christian faith or church involvement.

Another helpful passage is 1 Timothy 5:8, where we are told that a man who will not provide for his own household is outside the faith and worse than an unbeliever. In other words, it doesn’t matter what he says he believes. What we have to look at is his behavior.

So let me be blunt.

    Abusers should be treated as abusers. Murderers should be treated as murderers. Narcissists should be treated as narcissists.

God may accept them because of Jesus if they cry out to Him, but society has a right and a responsibility to deal with their “personality disorders” and sins without regard to their faith. And the church should support society’s involvement.

That means we do not cover up the sins of church people any more than we would want to cover the sins of school teachers or scout leaders. We call the police and let the justice system do its job. We help the victims and listen to their stories. We understand that there may well be predators and abusers even among us.  And we teach people to identify these disorders.

All my previous cautions about using labels still stand, but naming a behavior is different from calling a person a name.  Not only is it right for us to discern and label behaviors and attitudes like narcissism and ASPD, it may be very important . . . in the church.


Filed under Narcissism

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.


Filed under Church

“A Cry for Justice” – a resource

It’s Narcissist Friday!  


Perhaps one of the most grievous sins committed against the people of God comes in the suggestion that God should be found in the church. What I mean is that He should be found only or primarily in the church organization. So, when a victim of abuse needs to run to the “strong tower” of protection, she is led to the pastor or the elders or the church family. It may be the one place of safety, she thinks. They will believe her story, she thinks. They will help, she thinks. But the church is not that strong tower.

I have come to understand that a certain percentage of my love for books is actually a love for book titles. This one that I found a few days ago has become one of my favorites: “We’ll be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter” by Rachel Hanel. I know little about the book, but I love the title. There is a certain perverse irony in it.

The church often proclaims the message that it is a safe place for those who are hurting. We advertise the love and community, the acceptance and support. We want people to come to the church to find freedom and peace and love. And they should. If the church cannot provide the support the victim needs, if we cannot feed the hungry or heal the wounded, then what good are we?

Listen: if the church is unable to see the hurting from the perspective of Jesus, who loves them without judgment and condemnation, then it cannot be a place of refuge. Apart from the person of Christ, the church offers only a system of rules or standards or ideas, nothing to heal the heart of the oppressed. Jesus is the strong tower to which the abused can run to find comfort and support. If the church offers anything other than the love of Jesus, it fails.

Yet, those of us who read and listen to the stories of the abused hear over and over of the failure of the church. Victims come to pastors and elders and church families and receive judgment, blame, and neglect. If the leaders listen at all, they counsel without wisdom and without love. The victim so often returns to the same abuse, only now even more alone and weighted with shame.

That’s why I would pray that every pastor and church leader read Jeff Crippen’s book, “A Cry for Justice.” When I first started reading it, I found myself thinking that this is the book I wanted to write. Anyone who reads it should come away with a greater understanding of abuse and the church’s responsibility to help the victims. At the same time, you will come away with a sadness as you realize that the one place where the hurting should find help is often a source of more abuse.

“We’ll be the last ones to let you down.” That’s what the new church member hears. The church will be there in times of need. The church cares about you and your family. The church wants to help. But Jeff Crippen has learned, like many of us, that the church often offers its help wrapped in a message of: “It’s your own fault,” or “seven easy steps to restore your marriage,” or “don’t bother us with these personal things.”

Crippen writes about abuse in general, but says much that those who deal with narcissistic relationships will appreciate. In fact, without using the word, he describes narcissistic abuse very well. He covers many of the behaviors that we have talked about in this blog.

I especially appreciated the depth and breadth of Scripture used throughout the book. Like me, Jeff does not believe that Scripture addresses every life situation directly, but that we must reason from the foundation of Scripture to deal with our daily decisions. At the same time, you will be impressed with the careful and consistent use of Scripture throughout the book and the deep regard with which the author views the Bible.

The last half of the book got me even more excited. This is where Crippen directly confronts the church and its leadership. This is where he offers concrete suggestions for churches in providing real help for the hurting. This is what pastors should not ignore.

I know pastors. I know that they are often focused on things very far from hurting people. They are worried about church systems and church conflicts. They are concerned about reaching new people and keeping the ministry growing. They are concerned about what to say about their ministry at the next denominational meeting. These are not trivial things, but they do miss the point. Behind the scenes, the pastors cringe when they see Mrs. So-and-so in the outside office because they know they have little to offer her. They don’t have the time or the wisdom to handle such difficult problems. This is why I have counseled so many not to expect much from the church.

But Jeff Crippen would try to change that. He wants to educate pastors and church leaders. He wants to challenge their trite and formulaic answers. He wants to make them look at the victims of abuse and care. His advice is practical and potent.

With the support of and connection to Barbara Roberts, author of “Not Under Bondage,” Crippen offers an excellent perspective on the subject of divorce among believers as well. (I will be reviewing that book next.)

A Cry for Justice is more than a book, it’s a ministry. And I can see so much potential for the message of this ministry. I would encourage you to buy the book, read it carefully, and then give it to a pastor who will listen. Do I agree with every statement in the book? Probably not. That isn’t important. We will always have differences in perspective and style. But this message is important. I know of too many churches where the abuser is held in higher regard than his victim. Someone, someone of the church, needs to stand up for those who are being hurt.

So, get this book! You know that I rarely say something like that. I get nothing from the sales, not even an affiliate commission. I did receive a free copy of the book from Jeff because he saw that our hearts and ministries connected. You will have to pay for yours—but it will be worth it. In fact, whatever you pay will have twice the value if you pass the book on to a church leader with your strong encouragement to read (and heed) its message. When you get it, let me know what you think.

Here’s the link to the website:


Here’s the link to the book on Amazon:




Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

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!


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Filed under Church, grace, Legalism

Are you open to Manipulation?

(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!)



From time to time I read Seth Godin’s blog.  He has some great insights about marketing and people.  The most recent blog entry is an interesting item on what makes some people more open to being manipulated.  Read the blog for yourself, but here are some of the things I found interesting in his list.  His blog is not intended to be Christian in any way, but these things are more than worth our consideration.   I will insert my comments, particularly in relation to the religious/performance manipulation I have seen.

  •  Believing something because you heard someone say it on a news show on cable TV.   (Or an unreasoning acceptance of the authority of the guy up front.)
  • Repeating a mantra heard from a figurehead or leader of a tribe without considering whether it’s true.   (Again, an unquestioning attitude toward perceived authority.  So many of these teachers have no evidence for the assertions they make, but their followers accept every word as truth.)
  • Trying to find a short cut to lose weight, make money or achieve some other long-term goal.  (“Seven easy steps to being more spiritual than others.”  “Five ways to make God love you.”  “How to raise your kids the right way.”)
  • Ignoring the scientific method and embracing unexamined traditional methods instead.  (The key word here is “unexamined.”  There is an obsession among many homeschoolers or conservatives for the “old ways.”  Some of the old ways are gone for a reason!)
  • Focusing on (and believing) easily gamed bestseller lists or crowds.  (If the teacher can fill the bleachers, he must be true, right?”)
  • Inability to tolerate fear and uncertainty.  (This is the big one.  The desire to control the fears and uncertainties of life opens many people to the manipulation of leaders.)
  • Allowing the clothes of the messenger (a uniform, a suit and tie, a hat) to influence your perception of the information he delivers (add gender, fame, age and race to this too).  (What, judge someone by what he wears?  You’re kidding!)
  • Reliance on repetition and frequency to decide what’s true.  (If you hear it often enough—say, that Cabbage Patch dolls have demons—it must be true, right?)

There are other characteristics that open people to manipulation at Seth’s Blog.  What do you think?


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Filed under Freedom, Legalism

Leaving the Narcissistic Organization

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(At home today, caring for a family member just out of the hospital.  This re-post seemed timely.)

Sometimes narcissists like to be with other narcissists.  Of course, when that happens, there is usually a hierarchy of a sort, a way to know who is above whom.  That takes a system—or an organization.  Sadly, volunteer organizations often fall prey to the narcissistic takeover.

Think of the narcissistic organization as a multi-level marketing system.  The currency, of course, is narcissistic supply.  The leaders share percentages of the admiration and attention that comes from those on the bottom.  Years ago, someone tried to get me to peddle a certain soap company’s products and marketing strategy.  He told me how I would get a piece of the work of everyone I sold the system to and of everyone they sold it to.  In other words, I could live on the support of those under me.  He only stuttered when I asked a simple question:  “Doesn’t someone have to sell soap?”

Every narcissistic organization must have followers, people who exude appreciation and awe for the leaders.  They must be obedient and helpful and enthralled.  They must be impressed most of all with the one at the top, but also suitably servile and attentive to those under the leader.  The leader, of course, has little time for those on the bottom.  They are to send their admiration (and usually money) without expectation.  They must be satisfied with small connections and with representatives.

So the people at the bottom, the ones who actually do the work (sell soap), become something like groupies.  They may not be able to connect with the lead singer, but they can connect with the stage crew or the bus driver.  Then they just might work their way up to the drummer and get to see the lead singer once in a while.

Now, when you are in this system, all of this just seems sort of normal.  You don’t expect to get to visit with the CEO or the Teacher or the evangelist.  But you certainly appreciate their skill and wisdom.  You listen to the sermon or go to the seminar and you tell others how great it was.  Your small group leader is as close as you will ever get to leadership, but you recognize that he has been under the teaching of the leader.

But when you finally begin to realize that the system exists almost entirely for the sake of feeding the leader with narcissistic supply, you begin to see the ugliness.  Maybe you disagreed with the leader or one of his representatives about something and found that you were being shut out, even shunned.  Maybe rumors were started about your character to discredit any concern you might have about the organization.  Suddenly the ones who were so gracious and welcoming turn into something unexpected and frightening.

Almost like turning off a faucet, your connections seem to disappear.  The phone stops ringing.  The emails stop.  The opportunities for fellowship and service dry up.  You begin to feel like an outcast.  You might be able to be restored, with a certain amount of apology and penance.  But probably not.  Once the narcissistic organization recognizes a person as a threat, that person must go.  Those who stay will be carefully marginalized.

So now you are out.  Either you saw the truth and got out or they turned against you and kicked you out.  Neither one feels very good.  Just like those with narcissistic lovers, you feel empty and afraid when the relationship is over.  No matter how often people tell you that you are better off apart, you can’t feel that way consistently.

You see, narcissistic organizations are simply collections of narcissists.  All the manipulations and addictive drugs narcissists give their victims are in these organizations.  Very often the narcissistic organization takes over the lives of the people.  There are activities and groups and expectations and jobs and all kinds of connections to keep you both close and under control.  They welcome you with attention and love and excitement and tie your heart to the system.  When you leave, it hurts.  Even if it was your choice.

And, yes, there is often fear.  Narcissistic organizations often fill their people with stories of abuse outside the organization.  Wickedness, prejudice, and all kinds of evil lie in wait outside the organization.  What would happen to you if you left?  Where would you ever find a place you could trust?

This is why people who leave narcissistic churches often stop going to church altogether.  They are either convinced that no other church could measure up to the level of authority or activity of what they are leaving or they are afraid of being hurt again by another group of users and abusers.

And there is anger.  The narcissistic organization uses and discards just like the narcissistic person.  Those who leave these organizations have often given great amounts of time and money and loyalty—only to have nothing but negative in the end.  Sadness and loss turn to anger easily when we realize that we were used.

But there is another feeling, something better, something good.  There is a sense of victory.  Like a person who escapes danger learns that she is stronger than she thought, the person who leaves this kind of organization feels like they have done something right.  It might take time to heal, but it is good to be out.

Eventually, the poison that held you in bondage will leave your system.  Just be sure that you don’t get sucked in again.  Be gracious and kind, but withhold your trust for a while.  And believe that there are good churches and good organizations that are worth searching for.  Think through what you learned.  Watch the leaders.  Listen to people who warn you.

There are real people who care.  Find them.  And be prepared to give again.



Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Error in the Name of Grace


Grace 101

Because the church system neglected or forgot the message of grace and the sufficiency of Christ, those who teach grace are often thought to be bringing a new gospel.  The message meets a certain amount of opposition simply because the people haven’t heard it before.  But, for the same reason, it attracts predators who want to use the freshness and excitement that comes with it.

Jesus used the birds to illustrate this opportunism.  The birds swoop to the new seed and snatch it away from its intended purpose before it has a chance to take root.  They come to feed, to use the seed for themselves, with no regard for the needs of the gardener.

Often, when the grace message is proclaimed, there are those who welcome it with open arms because they see ways to use it for their own agenda.  In the last post I wrote about the anti-law people who see in the message of grace support for their desire to serve certain passions of their flesh.  Today I want to focus on those who use this message to promote their unorthodox teachings.

The grace message teaches that God takes the initiative and does the work of salvation.  This has been used by some in recent days to support their ideas of universal salvation.  They say that, since we can do nothing toward our salvation, then God has done the work for all people in Jesus.  All are saved; all are forgiven; all are reconciled to God, they say, because that was what Jesus did on the cross for all people.  They do not believe that any personal reception or expression of faith can be necessary because Jesus died for all.  They believe hell was an invention of those who wanted to keep people in line under the law.

The error of this is obvious for many people, but the argument is now couched in the language of grace.  Since God loves all people and the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for any and all, then salvation has been given as a gift to all, whether they know it or accept it or not, they say.  Many of these people held this view before they learned of the grace message, but now they have changed their vocabulary.

Another very current area in which we find the grace message used is in the advocacy of certain movements which have been challenged by the church.  Homosexual marriage, for example, is said to be acceptable because “we are not under law but under grace.”  Drug use, pornography, and other practices deemed immoral by conservative churches are to be accepted because to reject them would be to operate under law.  Believers find this very confusing and some reject the grace message because it is misused.

We must understand that this is to be expected.  The definition of grace is a Person, not a code or a list.  We do not have standards to which we must measure.  We don’t have a law at all except to love one another and God above all.  We cannot point to commandments that must be obeyed in order for us to experience grace.  Frankly, the door that was opened to allow us into Christ without requiring a change of behavior is the same door that is used to suggest that such behavior is now acceptable.

But accepting a person is different from accepting that person’s behavior.  And living under grace is not the same as license to do whatever we wish in the flesh.  Nor does the truth of the sufficiency of Christ negate the personal responsibility of each individual to accept what Jesus has done.

Just because the truth is misused does not make it less true.


Filed under Freedom, Grace 101