"When Narcissism Comes to Church"
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
~ Jesus, in John 10:11
In the Free Methodist Church, the denomination in which I serve, at our ordination service we kneel and are handed a Bible, and these beautiful words are spoken over us:
"Take authority to minister the Word of God. Faithfully proclaim
His Word, declare His forgiveness, celebrate the sacraments,
shepherd His people."
We are called to shepherd God’s people with empathy and love and humility.
I wish that could be the end of this post. I wish that every pastor sought to shepherd the people with empathy and love and humility.
We are imperfect people, and that includes us pastors. We too are imperfect, sinful human beings. We will hurt people from our own brokenness, and we will need to apologize, to ask forgiveness, to repent, and to change.
But many have been hurt deeply by someone who called a pastor, by a shepherd who harms people over and over again or continually in a pattern that does not go away, with no repentance and no true change.
This is tragic, and I am so deeply sorry to each person who has experienced leadership abuse or spiritual abuse from a person trusted as a pastor. I want to make it clear that leadership abuse and spiritual abuse are not okay. Abuse is not okay. Not ever.
"Name it as trauma that affects every single aspect of your existence. This is not an admission of weakness but an honest confession. In your weakness and vulnerability is an opportunity for healing." ~ Chuck deGroat, When Narcissism Comes to Church
Often, narcissism is at the heart of spiritual abuse and leadership abuse. This can look like a grandiose sense of self, an expectation that the rules by which everyone else lives do not apply to the narcissist, a charismatic personality that is over the top… with a deep and permeating sense of shame underneath.
Narcissism is not a term to use lightly.
A new book by Chuck deGroat, When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, is the best book that I know on this topic -- and I have read a lot on this topic.
Chuck deGroat has the professional expertise and training, devastating personal experience, and a powerful heart of compassion for both the abuser and those harmed by the abuse.
Wondering if this book can speak into your experience?
Here is Chuck deGroat’s personal testimony:
“My own experiences of narcissistic abuse have left me feeling small, powerless, terrified, crazy, exasperated, enraged, and ashamed. If you’ve experienced it, you’ve experienced trauma. Do not chalk this up to a ‘bad experience.’ Name it as trauma that affects every single aspect of your existence. This is not an admission of weakness but an honest confession. In your weakness and vulnerability is an opportunity for healing.
Being wounded by a narcissistic pastor is a particularly painful trauma. Clergy hold a uniquely powerful role in our lives, and an experience of abuse (in whatever form) from a pastor or priest or ecclesial authority is a profound violation. Some will avoid acknowledging this trauma for months or years out of deference to a spiritual authority, second-guessing their own experience all the while. Others may acknowledge it but stew with rage and avoid the work of healing.”
(Chuck deGroat, When Narcissism Comes to Church, page 85)
If you find your experience in these paragraphs, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book.
It helped me to continue to put words to my own experience, to accept more fully how my life was affected, and to continue more fully into the healing journey to which God invites me.
As always, if Enhearten can help you process your own experience, please feel free to reach out to us through Jenny at email@example.com.
About: Jenny Switkes is a pastor, mathematics professor, and missionary who is passionate about Jesus and loves the bivocational life that God has given her. She loves helping apostolic leaders clarify their calling and take next steps to live their call.