Signs of an Narcissistic Abusive Pastor

I found this article over a year ago. I’ve re-read it several times and nod my head each time. Not necessarily because it’s a perfect diagnosis of my own congregation, but because it’s given me the vocabulary to describe the abusive behavior I’ve seen.

There are a few caveats I need to warn you about before reading it:

First, you cannot diagnose personality disorders. Don’t even try. Arm-chair diagnoses are dreadful and very unhelpful. Only a professional can diagnose. The strongest thing you can do is say “this could be caused by NPD”.

Secondly, the criteria given in this article is not strong enough to make any conclusions. Any unhealthy congregation will exhibit some of these symptoms.

Personally, I don’t care about the NPD diagnosis; it’s the vocabulary that I’ve found most useful. So often, victims don’t realize they’re being hurt. Or possibly, they do realize they’re being hurt, but they struggle to articulate the hurt, or feel they can’t convince others.

If you’re in that situation, articles like this can help you articulate what it is that’s hurtful and unacceptable. It’s worth remembering too that such abuse is sin. In the Lutheran church, the rite of installation asks the pastor if he will adorn the Holy Office with a holy life. If he’s abusing his sheep, he’s in violation of his ordination vows. Remember that, and don’t let him convince you otherwise.

With that out of the way, here’s the article:

Having experienced leaders like this in parishes like this, and grown them anyway, I believe this describes too many Orthodox parishes in North America today. Read and learn. Let the pastor beware. Taking steps to solve these pernicious and destructive issues has gotten me bounced from more than one parish. Go in with both eyes […]

via Signs in a Congregation That a Leader Has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder — Good Guys Wear Black | Discerning Your Vocation In The Orthodox Church


It is my opinion that our churches need to do a much better job in holding pastors to account in both conduct and teaching; identifying worrisome psychological illnesses in clergy; and having policies (or responsible ecclesial overseers) in place to deal with abusers.



My Bad Pastor

Dear readers,

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may know something about my own challenges in my own congregation. I’m realizing that I’ve never actually taken time to flesh out those details and explain exactly what’s going on.

So, it’s like this…

About 2 years ago, the new pastor was installed at our Lutheran church. The problems became evident right away.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

A couple days later, in my first meeting with the new pastor, he makes a snide comment about our faithful, respected, and well-loved pastor emeritus. “Oh, he probably didn’t mean to say that,” I think to myself.

But then, a few weeks later, my wife tells me about how, the first time she talked with the new pastor, he maligned the character of a handful of people in the congregation. Why is he badmouthing people like this?

Only a few weeks on the job, he thought that he knew his people better than their friends do… and feels free to share his insights on “what that person’s really like” with anyone else who would listen.

Pretty quickly, we realize we had a pastor who readily “tell lies about [others], betray [them], slander [them], or hurts [their] reputation.” (Explanation to the 8th Commandment, from Luther’s Small Catechism.)

Contempt for others

The pastor is often condescending when dealing with others (and in his preaching). He is paternalistic. He likes to remind everyone that he is the pastor.

He deals with relational conflict by taking it personally, and then treating the other party with contempt.

In words and action, he will make you feel like he is so much bigger, wiser, smarter than you, and that you should just agree with him. If you don’t, then you’re pretty much his enemy (and, by extension, an enemy of God). He does not treat others with respect.

Political Manipulation

The pastor and his controlling wife wield considerable power over the congregation. They’re not supposed to, and no one has given them that authority. But they act like they do have that authority, and the congregation is too nice to call them out on it.

There have been several cases of passive-aggressive manipulation on pastor’s part, or outright aggressive manipulation on the part of his wife. They create divisions between people in order to achieve political success.

Toxic workplace

Since the new pastor’s installation, most of our staff have resigned.

In exit interviews, the workers accuse pastor and his wife of creating a toxic workplace environment: being demeaning to others, gaslighting, passive-aggressive behavior, ignoring/shunning people who disagree with him, and so on.

These former workers — all of them very committed members — have left the congregation. They describe feelings of being “broken.” One said that she couldn’t bring herself to go back to that [church] building again.


Bro, do you even ‘Pastor’?

The pastor’s pastoral care is almost non-existent.

He does the shut-in visits that he knows he has to do, although he receives significant help (over 50% of the work) from a retired pastor. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about a general lack of pastoral concern for his flock. Indifference about faithful members suddenly going absent. Indifference about members falling away from the faith (as if to say they weren’t elect or something). Indifference about the challenges the congregation is facing. Indifference about the collective hurt of the congregation over tragic events that occurred in the last few years.

People are leaving our congregation feeling discouraged. Some of them are transferring to other good congregations, and I’m grateful for that. But others are just fading away, and for that I’m very concerned.

Sermon content

It took a while to notice, but the pastor isn’t preaching.

Oh yes, he gets up in the pulpit and talks for ~20 minutes. He sounds confident, even bold. But there is no content. It’s empty words.

Theological content is largely absent. The chosen scripture for the sermon text is usually a pre-text for what he really wants to talk about. Exegesis (explanation of scriptural text) is usually missing.

The Law, if it is present in a sermon, is usually directed toward “those people.” By this, he is usually referring to “nominal Christians” (he never says this explicitly, but it is implied), or to the “unbelieving world.” (A secular society that knows deep-down that there’s a God, but they don’t want to believe in Him.)

This kind of Law preaching is harmful to Christians: it makes them pharisees. They come to think that they’re actually following God’s Law. Oh sure, we know that we’re sinners… blah, blah, blah… but we’re forgiven… blah, blah, blah… and besides, we’re not like those people! (See how harmful it is?)

The preaching of the Gospel is always in his sermons, but it is off-base. For one thing, if you haven’t been convicted by the Law, why would you need the Gospel? It’s a generic announcement that is given as information, as if Gospel message were simply read John 3:16 as an incantation.

There is a huge difference between “preaching about Law and Gospel” and actually “preaching Law and Gospel to you“. You can read John 3:16 and think of it as a gospel incantation, but you are wrong. Preaching needs a target and an objective.

The church confronts pastor

The leaders of the congregation met and decided that we needed to confront the pastor about these things.

The objective was simple yet daunting: show the man his sin, so that he would repent.

Two leaders (an elder and the council chairman) met with pastor. It did not go as we had hoped. Pastor was dismissive and defensive. He deflected all accusations; all reports of interpersonal conflict were said to be caused by the “other” person; staff departures happened because they’re just irrational people.

In short, he was completely unrepentant.

Interestingly, the leaders didn’t realize what had happened in the meeting. They initially felt good about it, but their feelings soured when they realized how the pastor had manipulated himself out of all accusations.

The leadership is now in disarray. They’re not sure what to do next. Some insist that we must fight on, but others are rationalizing pastor’s behavior (“maybe this isn’t so bad… he seems like a nice guy”) and are putting their energies into avoiding conflict.

I don’t think it can get better unless things get a lot worse first.

Impact on Me

The problems in my church have hurt me very deeply. I have trouble sleeping at night. I’m drinking too much alcohol. I am anxious.

And, I question my faith.

For years, I’ve wrestled with serious struggles about the Christian faith. (The problem of evil, all LGBT issues, hell, science vs. faith, and so on). But since the new pastor came, it’s been even more of a challenge to

I love my church family. I hate what the pastor has done to it.

Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!
Lutheran Skeptic