Tag Archives: church problems

Pastor Narcissist

It’s Narcissist Friday!


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

Sometimes the narcissist is a pastor.

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

The following is a current, but classic, story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I invite your comments and thoughts.


Filed under Church, Narcissism

Ad Hominem


Ad Hominem is a Latin term that means “against the man.”  It is used to refer to a logical fallacy that subverts the argument by focusing on the person rather than the idea.  Here’s an example:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  How could that be true?  You are just a hairy loser!

Silas dismisses the assertion of Esau on the basis of what he thinks about Esau.  Rather than discuss the idea Esau presents, Silas sidesteps the argument and attacks Esau personally.  This is a logical fallacy that is seen very often.  Nothing positive is gained from the argument.

Usually the comment isn’t so direct, of course.  Here’s another:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  Just because your Canaanite wives don’t know how to make anything better doesn’t mean that’s the best way.

This time Silas attacks the associations of Esau.  Esau is discredited, Silas believes, because of his wives.  We often see this in arguments, particularly in political and theological discussions.  Certain opinions are dismissed without real discussion because of the associations of the one who states the idea.  This is also an ad hominem argument, “against the man.”  One more:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  Well, you also thought that your birthright was worthless.

Again, Silas dismisses Esau’s statement, but this time on the basis of previous opinions held by Esau.  Because Esau believed something that proved to be foolish at one time, Silas attributes that foolishness to the current idea.  This is also widely used in political debates and can be heard almost every day during election season.  The only problem is that it is again the ad hominem fallacy.  Esau’s opinions on the birthright might cause someone to question his judgment but they do nothing to establish or negate his opinion on the quality of his soup. 

In theological arguments, the ad hominem fallacy is an easy way to avoid real discussion.  If the goal is understanding and the proclamation of the truth, attacking the man is not helpful.  In fact, ad hominem arguments may be the cause of much of the division seen among believers.

The discussion of an idea is appropriate and beneficial for the community.  But it is never good for us to disrespect a brother or sister.  If the idea is wrong and hurtful, someone should say something.  Attacking the character or reputation of another believer should not be part of that discussion. 



Filed under Relationship, Theology and mystery

Good People can have Bad Ideas


The Presbyterian Church is going through a hard time these days.  In one recent mailing from folks who are critical of the movements in that denomination I found this line:

“…it is difficult to critique ideas without being accused of criticizing the people behind the ideas.”

No kidding!  How many times have we questioned ideas presented by a teacher only to be chastised by his supporters for daring to criticize “such a good man”?  A few years ago I dared to mention my disagreement with a certain teacher in an email newsletter and received a scathing rebuke from a woman who claimed that the teacher had helped so many people and I was unchristian to say anything against him. 

Well, I need to address that way of thinking.  First, it is not “unchristian” to disagree with wrong ideas.  Duh!  (Oops, a little sarcasm is creeping in.)  Wrong ideas should be challenged.  If those who know the truth don’t speak up against error when they hear it, who will?  And, listen, good people sometimes have bad ideas. It is more than possible that a well-intentioned believer, even a quality teacher, could have certain ideas that would be dangerous for the people of God.  Who is supposed to say something about that? 

In chapter 2 of Galatians, Paul acknowledges the leadership of the apostles, particularly Peter.  Then he tells about a time when he had to stand against Peter to challenge an error.

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; Galatians 2:11

Peter was wrong.  Paul said something.  That was the way it was supposed to be done.  He didn’t disrespect Peter or stop loving him.  He simply pointed out that what Peter was doing was wrong. 

Frankly, we are supposed to do this for each other.  The more we love someone, the more we care about the way they think.  Love and truth are never separate in the heart of God. 

What do you think?

1 Comment

Filed under Church, Freedom, Theology and mystery

Walk in the Light

O house of Jacob, come and let us walk In the light of the Lord.   Isaiah 2:5

I began to understand the ugliness of legalism when I realized that lying was such an important part of it.  So many people were so critical of others while doing many of the same things themselves.  One small example that happened several times was when the children of a family answered the door because mom happened to be wearing jeans.  Since women were always supposed to wear skirts (so they remained separate from the men 😉 ) mom couldn’t be seen in jeans.  Rules were important, but the importance was to pretend you kept them better than others.  Be sure to point out violations of rules when you see them, but cover up the fact that you bend the rules yourself.  So much of legalism happened in the darkness.

Of course, most of the examples I would share would be relatively tame.  Some of them were not tame at all.  Incest, adultery, abuse—these things happen in the darkness.   Once the lying starts, it provides a cover, a system, that allows sin to grow.  How different is it—really—from lying about having a television and lying about abuse?  The family structure that allows lying, the fear and the intimidation, is in place already because of legalism.  No wonder ugly things happen.

The Lord invites us to walk in the light.  Only under grace will we ever have the freedom to enjoy walking in the light.  It is uncomfortable sometimes to let others see our mistakes, to tell the truth about our struggles.  Under the law, we want so badly to look good.  But under grace, we can simply be thankful to know the One who is good.  We trust in Him, not in ourselves.

Remember that the difference between legalism and grace has nothing to do with sin.  We both sin.  Both those who are under the law and those who are under grace do things that God calls sin.  The difference is what we do about it.  Under law, we are stuck with trying to cover our sin, to hide it or atone for it somehow; under grace, we simply own the fact that we continue to struggle with the perspectives of the flesh and sometimes fall.  Then we praise God for His love and acceptance and forgiveness in Jesus.

Walking in the light is better!

Love to get your comments!

Leave a comment

Filed under Legalism, Relationship

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”  About a year after the incident in which he was stopped by police for speeding, Rodney King asked this question.  Because of the tragic actions of the police the night of his arrest, King became a famous figure.  He stood before the crowd on the third day of the riots triggered by the acquittal of the police officers and asked his famous question, “Can we get along?”

Well, sadly, the answer is, “Probably not.”  But, shouldn’t believers, at least, be able to get along?  Aren’t we supposed to have one mind and love for each other?  Aren’t we supposed to be brothers and sisters, dependent on the love of God in Jesus?  Shouldn’t those things count for something?  Of course!

But there is a problem.  Within each of us is this system of living called the flesh.  The flesh serves and sees only itself.  Other people are to be used or just get in the way.  That’s the way the flesh was designed; and that’s why even Christians find it hard to just “get along.”

So, for the next few posts (excepting, of course, Narcissist Friday), I want to look at this thing called the flesh.  I hope that it will help you as much as it helped me to study and understand what’s going on inside.  It is kind of confusing, and I doubt that anyone has the final word on it, but we should be able to learn some things about why we act and feel the way we do and why relationships degenerate. 

Much of what most of us have been taught is less than helpful, particularly concerning what goes on inside our heads.  Many preachers tell us that we have to be in constant battle with our “sin natures.”  Some say that demons are oppressing us and we have to conquer them.  Others tell us that we just need more Bible memory, more quality preaching, more good works, more time in church, or more whatever.   Or maybe we already have too much: television, spare time, evil friends, wrong thoughts, etc.  Teachers spend a great deal of time telling us what to change to make our lives better.

But the guilt and shame don’t seem to be making much of a difference.  In fact, the church has preached better performance for a long time and we aren’t getting better.  Maybe something else is going on. . .

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, Narcissism, Relationship

Group Narcissism pt 2

So, here’s why I think a group cannot be narcissistic: a group doesn’t really exist!  Although there is a certain group dynamic that can be distinguished from its members, the group is still just the members coming together.  In fact, an argument could be made that a group is simply the personification of the leadership.  Can I say it? – Narcissistic leaders create narcissistic groups.

We have all seen it.  A group, whether it is a church or a support group or whatever, is loving and gracious and supportive.  You join it and you are blessed.  But, after a while, the flavor begins to change.  You begin to realize that the group doesn’t really care.  How often is this because the leadership has changed?

Groups like the one I observed recently have been so good and so helpful to their members.  I know it doesn’t have to be like it is in this one.  The most obvious difference is the leadership.  Narcissists love groups where they can lead and be in front of others and manipulate honor and recognition for themselves.  But the ugly side comes through in how the group begins to treat its members.  Serve and honor the leader and you will rise in popularity and others will be impressed with you.  Challenge the leader or threaten him/her in some way and you will soon find yourself without support.  Sound familiar?

Now, I want to be honest here.  Group energy naturally gravitates toward those who are active and willing to serve.  But watch to see if there are those who serve a great deal without much recognition.  Are there others who seem to do almost nothing but are in the limelight most of the time?  Is it easy for someone to be cut off by the leadership, or for some to just slip away unnoticed?  Does the leadership suddenly turn against those who stop supporting the “party line” even though they have in the past?  When the leader includes himself in the praise for a job well done, did he actually do anything or is he stealing the praise intended for others?  Does he use the word “I” and seem to forget that others worked just as hard as he did?  When members leave the group, how many of them are angry or hurt?

It may be that groups cannot be narcissistic, but certain group leaders can be.  Most of the time that’s what we are seeing in groups that exhibit this behavior.

Comments?  Examples?

1 Comment

Filed under Legalism, Narcissism, Relationship

Can a Group be Narcissistic?

As I looked out across a group I was with recently, I asked myself whether it is in the nature of a group to be narcissistic.  Some of the people I saw were there because they had to be there.  They were bored, discouraged, drained—and the group didn’t notice.  Others were energized by being there.  They greeted people with enthusiasm and happily stood up and shared their thoughts and accomplishments.  There was the standard competition and the standard “How are you doing these days?”  Some got the love; some were basically ignored; some got the shaft.

So, it was pretty much like all groups.  And the message seemed clear that, except for the attendance figures, no one really cared who was there.  Of course, there were friends who enjoyed seeing friends and, for me, those connections are always the good that comes from this kind of group gathering.  But the group was unaffected by the individuals who were present, except for a few notable exceptions.  In other words, except for a few, the absence of any individual would go unnoticed.

If the group treats you like you are unnecessary unless it needs you for something, isn’t that narcissistic?  If the group goes on its merry way when its members drop like flies, isn’t that narcissistic?  If the group welcomes those who feed it and uses their energy until they burn out or are no longer valued, isn’t that narcissistic?  If a group is kind and supportive while certain members provide energy, but turns on those same members when they need energy, isn’t that narcissistic?

And why does this sound like certain churches we know about???????

Well, tomorrow I will share why I think a group actually cannot be narcissistic, no matter how much it might seem to be true.

Your thoughts?

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, heart, Narcissism, Relationship

A Great Church!

This is somewhat off our recent topic track, but I happened to find it among some of my writings and thought it might bless someone.

The kind of church I would like…

1.  A church that teaches that Jesus is real and that we are called to a relationship with Him as a real Person.

2.  A church that teaches that Jesus is the only way and the sufficient way to God.

3.  A church that recognizes that this real relationship with a real Jesus will result in different perspectives and priorities as Jesus leads in each person’s life.

4.  A church where each person is safe to express his heart needs and share from the perspective Jesus is using in her life. 

5.  A church where each person is viewed by the others as Jesus’ work in progress and is valued with eyes of love and compassion.

6.  A church where each person sees himself as Jesus’ work in progress and relates to others in humility and mindful of his own dependence on Jesus.

7.  A church where people are taught to believe that God is powerful and Jesus is real and the real power of God is in us through our relationship with Jesus.

8.  A church where the governing processes reflect the active life of Jesus in relationship to the people and priorities of the church.



Filed under Church, grace, Relationship

Anger against the Church

I love our local pastors’ fellowship!  We have an issue in our town concerning a piece of artwork in our local museum.  The lithograph depicts Jesus receiving oral sex.  It’s weird and it’s disgusting and quite a few people want to get it out of the museum (which happily receives busloads of children from the schools). 

A couple of the pastors were rather angry and wanted the rest of us to sign petitions, send letters, whatever it would take.  We all agreed that a tax-supported museum, which would never support Christianity, should not be in the position of promoting an anti-Christian message.  Museum curators and boards have and make choices about what they display and this showed antipathy toward the Lord we love.

Well, we had a variety of ideas on what to do or whether to do anything.  But someone asked the best question.  Why would an artist draw something like that?  I had done some research and I contributed what I had read.  The artist claimed that this was a statement on the church (one would assume the Catholic church because of the background of the artist and the particular characters and symbols used).  He said that he wasn’t against Christ or the faith, just the church.

Of course, there is no way for us to determine his real motives, nor can we ignore the effect this could have on children who come to the museum.  The actions we take as a group or as individuals will have to be determined outside the motives of the artist.  But it is right for us to ask the question.

There is an anger building against the church.  The long love affair we have had with our own performance has resulted in a reputation of being judgmental and hypocritical.  We learn more and more of pastors who preach against homosexuality while participating in it.  We see rejection and condemnation in the very place and among the very people where we should find love and welcome. 

The “art” in our museum should be removed for a variety of reasons, but the artist did have a message for us.  When we come in Jesus’ name and hurt or lie, it is difficult for most people to remember the difference between Jesus and us.  If we are the light of the world, why should people come to that light?  The fruit of our compromise is beginning to ripen and we are being judged by our culture. 

I hear my pastor friends talk more about God’s grace and love than ever before.  It has nothing to do with becoming “soft on sin” as some would accuse.  It has everything to do with Jesus and the people He came to save.


Leave a comment

Filed under Church, grace, heart

They and I

Rachel at “three in one makes five” writes about meeting some of what she calls “uber-conservatives:”

When I see them my throat starts to close.  My heart starts to pound.  I find myself mentally reviewing all the reasons I believe submission is mutual and I start to shrink into my shell.  Sometimes I start shaking.  I always start sweating.  My foot starts tapping and it is all I can do not to run from the room.  I analyze what I am wearing, trying to put the most modest spin on it in my mind.  My heart starts to feel constricted and I can feel a tight band around my entire chest.  My brain starts to shut down and I panic.  I panic.

Hah!  Boy, do I understand that!  Maybe it’s knowing that you are being judged.  Maybe it’s feeling like they are cruel invaders that want to take over your life.  Maybe it’s just remembering and re-feeling some of the pain of the past. 

I don’t hate them.  I don’t want bad things to happen to them.  I want them to learn about the love of God.  Because of what I have learned about grace, I can see the need in their lives.  I know they are hurting.

But I don’t really want to talk with them or spend time with them.  Yes, they do bring up bad memories.  And I know they haven’t changed.  If I wait for them to apologize, I will probably never get satisfaction.  So, I am nice when I see them.  Cordial.  But, no, they can’t have a piece of my life again. 

Jesus, I long for the day when all of this will be over and we (they and I) will stand together in love and in your presence forever.  Until that day…


1 Comment

Filed under grace, heart, Relationship