Egotism and Narcissism in Ministry
Over time in the ministry you have opportunities to meet and know people in various forms of ministry and ancillary fields of endeavor such as Christian entertainment of various levels of notoriety. My beginnings in the ministry afforded me perhaps more opportunities than most in that regard. One of the observations I was forced to make early on in my experience as a Born Again Christian is that no matter how spiritual and humble those of this ilk I met or became acquainted with were, they all had an ego, some larger than others, but they all had an ego. In the first couple of years of my Christian walk (though I now know how silly that was), I was troubled about that, to the point of being somewhat disillusioned and distracted, especially in the case of those who were famous or well-known.
As much as those who are earnestly attempting to emulate the life and nature of Christ endeavor to die to themselves and become of “no reputation” as Jesus did, I think we all pretty much are always going to be saddled with the bane, if you will, that when we get right down to it, we all have an ego. Though I’ve thought about it many times, I really still do not know how to reconcile some things about that. Does having an ego mean that we haven’t died to ourselves yet? Does having an ego mean we have not made ourselves of no reputation as Jesus did? Does God not want us to have an ego at all?
I really don’t know the answer to any of those questions. I’m not even sure any of us mere mortals will ever know the answer to those questions, definitively, as long as we are in these mortal bodies. Basically, I chalk it up to being way beyond my pay grade, and end up dropping it.
Sometimes it bothers me when confronted with the obvious truth that I do indeed have an ego, and I wish I could just somehow rebuke it and command it to go away, or that I could just resolve to instantaneously die to it. But, then I always have to acknowledge the fact that I don’t have the faith for that prayer or act of self-deliverance.
The word ego actually means “self.” We all have a self in us by nature, don’t we? Is the “self” in us our “soul”? When we genuinely are Born Again, that is, when our human spirit is regenerated by the infusion of the Holy Spirit, does the “self” in us then become composed of our spirit and our soul? I don’t know, definitively. Maybe you do know, but I don’t. Because my spirit became regenerated, i.e., came alive, when I was born again, and because my spirit is infused with the Holy Spirit, I do believe that scripturally my spirit is supposed to be dominant over my soul (mind, will, emotions), and that I’m supposed to be operating out of and being led predominantly by my spirit. None of us are perfect at this, I suspect. I know for sure I’m not, but most days, I try. Sometimes I get discouraged with it all, and tell myself I’m taking a day off, but that never works well, so I’m usually back on the horse the next day, or sometimes before the day is out.
Anyway, I think it’s probably pretty much a fact of life that most of us have an ego, and I’m not sure a little ego is a bad thing. But, there are some people who identify themselves as a “minister” or “Christian entertainer” who have large egos, some who have larger egos than their peers, and then there are some who by any measure have HUGE egos. Personally, I’ve yet to see any bona fide benefit of an inordinate ego that outweighed the negatives. But, over and over I’ve witnessed the negative impact of egotism in the realm of relationships. In fact, I’ve seen more relationships devastated as a result of oversized egos in Christian-related endeavors than from any other factor.
The fact of the matter is, and it is very sad, if not shameful, to say, many ministers have egos that are way too big, not only for their own good, but for the good of those to whom they could or do minister. Way too many ministers are guilty of believing their own press, even those who actually say that very thing about other ministers. In other words, many ministers can recognize the infirmity of hyper-egoism in others, but not in themselves, though it is obvious to others who know them and sometimes even to their closest friends and loved ones.
Problem is: for most egotists no one will ever tell them their ego is causing them problems, because the behavior of unfettered egotism eventually decimates every existing or prospective relationship. Ungoverned egoism is almost always fatal to relationships, though the problems it creates are evident in many other areas of the lives of the afflicted. Look up in your concordance sometime the passages dealing with “pride” and related words, and you’ll see the range of problems ego and hubris can cause.
One of the common denominators of those suffering from this infirmity is that they generally are “arguers.” They love a “good argument” (as if there is such a thing). They love debate, and in their own mind, they’ve never lost one yet, either through good use of what they consider their arsenal of superior knowledge or their ability to overpower and make mince meat of the foe by forcefulness, even if the foe is a family-member, friend, or someone with whom they have a relationship. Most often people like this consider meekness weakness. Their ego forces them to always have to “win,” no matter what the cost, and mark it down, there’s always a steep cost such super-blusterers must pay in some aspect of their lives for their obstreperousness!
I don’t know if Dale Carnegie authored the brief ode he often cited or if it was borrowed, but it’s one I’ve recited many times because it so aptly illustrates the point regarding those with swollen egos:
Here lies the body of William Jay
Who died maintaining his right of way.
He was right — dead right — as he spun along,
But now he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.
But, as problematic as egoism is, it pales in significance to the problems generated by someone who is a narcissist. As I indicated before, everyone has an ego, but narcissism exceeds ego by light years. Outflow from ego can be dealt with, but narcissism is impossible to deal with. Narcissists live their lives looking into an invisible mirror perpetually before their face. Narcissists cannot have genuine relationships comprised of the elements normal relationships have. Narcissists eventually kill every relationship that comes within a hundred miles of them. Narcissists cause people to secretly hate them, especially their children, because generally they are dominating and controlling individuals who rule every aspect of the lives of family and others to whom they’re related with an iron fist. They are control freaks, who have to be “the author and the finisher” of every miniscule element of their life to make sure that everything always has outward appearances that make them look good.
As Joseph Mattera indicates in the following article, narcissism is a major problem in ministry, and, though in so many ways it is antithetical to the heart of a shepherd, for whatever reason, there is no shortage of narcissists drawn to the ministry. In my writings and ministry aimed at setting captives of hyper-authoritarian church leaders free, I delineate the signs of spiritual abuse in the hopes of showing people that such activities and behavior are far from being the attributes generated from the heart of the Chief Shepherd. Jesus came to earth and went to the cross in order to set the captives FREE! Though it sounds redundant, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul said, “It was for FREEDOM that Christ set us FREE” (Gal. 5:1)!
Narcissists in the ministry are an enigma. Perhaps you’ve had similar experiences as I have in trying to “figure out” a particular person in the ministry, who is very intelligent, very knowledgeable of the Bible, they have undeniable qualities about them, particularly when they are in front of a crowd, commonly referred to as “charisma,” that makes them stand out from the throngs of the “ordinary.” They are skilled at oratory and inspiring or motivating people. Commonly people regard what they see emanating from such standouts as “leadership qualities.” Yet, despite all that, to the spiritually discerning, there are some things about many such individuals that are very difficult to identify and to reconcile — something that just “sticks in your craw,” about them, something so elusive, so subtle, so hidden underneath all that exterior veneer of seemingly meritorious attributes that’s so hard to pin-point. Now I know what that elusive and subtle “thing” was/is in the case of quite a number of ministers I’ve known over the years — narcissism.
Narcissists make for horrible leaders of any kind, but especially spiritual leaders, because they are incapable of loving others sacrificially and laying down their lives for others as Jesus did. The greatest servant of all time, Jesus Himself, said, “No greater love hath any man, than that he lay down his life for his friends.” True friendship means that you have an ongoing attitude of laying down your life for your friends. Friendship is not about pulverizing, denigrating, deprecating, subjugating, or subordinating people with a dominating personality or an overwhelming arsenal of mental knowledge coupled with machine-gun-like glibness. Rather. it’s about laying down your life for your friends — one, because you know you need friends, and, two, because you want them to know you need them and want them in your life. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
The gospel standard says it simply: “What a friend we have in Jesus….” And who is Jesus? — the one who showed by his actions toward those He said He now called His “FRIENDS” that He is the very polar opposite of a narcissist…He is the GREAT SHEPHERD, who laid down His life for His friends!
May God give us more genuine shepherds in the ministry, who have layed down their self-interests and selfish ambition, repented of their oversized egos or their narcissism, in order to give themselves — everything that constitutes who they are — to others, for the good of those other people, rather than living for their own selfish gain and self-aggrandizement.
Moreover, may God give the Sheep of God’s Fold, those who are members of Christ’s Precious Body, the wisdom, discernment, and the good judgment to recognize these pseudo-leaders and false shepherds who are what Peter called, “springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever” (2 Pet. 2:17), and who also Jude identified this way:
These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. (Jude 1:12-16 NASB)
—Dr. Steven Lambert
Ten Traits of Narcissistic Leaders
By Joseph Mattera
By definition, a narcissist is a person who believes the world evolves around them to such an extent their own desires blind them to relational reality which makes them insensitive to the needs and perspectives of others. One of the sad realities in our consumer driven, hedonistic culture is that we are producing millions of narcissistic people including leaders of large organizations.
Because of our sinful nature as human beings, all of us have some narcissistic tendencies to deal with.
The following traits identify leadership narcissism.
I. When leaders think others are there to serve them instead of vice versa
This reverses the principle in Matthew 20:26-28 in which Jesus says a great person in the kingdom is one who serves and that He didn’t come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
In an organization or church led by a leader of this type the ladder for success is based more on catering to the narcissism of the leader than on merit or work output. (Note: I am not discounting the importance of loyalty with this statement.)
II. When leaders want the perks of the ministry without the pain of the ministry
There are leaders I know who want titles, prestige, honor, and the respect that comes with a leadership position but they don’t want to pay the price for it. Most successful senior leaders and CEOs already understand this, so this problem is more prevalent with secondary leaders working closely with senior leaders who desire recognition as a top leader but don’t do the hard work necessary for excellent results.
III. When leaders put their own needs before the needs of the organization they lead
True spiritual leaders give their lives for the sheep in the same way the Lord Jesus did (read John 10). Narcissistic leaders will fleece the sheep and financially jeopardize their organizations for the sake of their own self-indulgent lifestyles.
IV. Leaders who are self-indulgent when it comes to the material things of this world
Some leaders have an excessive desire to continually shop for the things that interest them (clothes, cars, computers, etc.) in order to keep them happy and motivated to serve. Along with this may be an excessive desire for entertainment, pleasure, or play.
V. Leaders who look for close relationships with those who pander to them and avoid those that confront them
Some leaders will only have people in their inner-circles who pander to their need to feel superior. They do not want people around them who disagree with them or speak into their lives. These leaders continually fall for flattery which opens a huge door for satanic deception.
VI. When leaders view people as objects to use for their own advantage
Instead of regarding people as fellow image-bearers of God some leaders view the importance of people based on if they can serve their agenda. As soon as they believe a person is no longer contributing to their agenda they begin to ignore them and look for the next person they can use. To this end they court and even flatter people they have their eyes on, treating them like the most important people in the world which abruptly comes to a halt when their services are no longer needed.
VII. Leaders who are uninterested in other people’s problems
Some leaders have no attention span for others while they are speaking about their own issues or problems. They will engage conversations as long as it is about them or something they are interested in, but will shut down emotionally as soon as the conversation shifts to something outside their interests.
VIII. Leaders who rarely give in to other people’s ideas
Some leaders are not good listeners, refuse to bend, and even act emotionally immature when they don’t get their way or when an idea of theirs is not acted on or agreed with. Once leaders like this have decided they want something, it is almost impossible to change their minds unless they hear another idea that benefits them even more.
IX. Leaders who cannot have intimate emotional connections with close associates or their spouses
Because of a lack of interest in meeting the needs of others, some leaders will only have superficial friendships based on fun, entertainment, and gossip. When conflicts arise they shy away from relationships since they are no longer meeting their cravings for fun, escape, and entertainment.
Their marriages are great in the beginning when they are in the honeymoon stage and enjoying a robust sex life. But when the pressures of raising children, finances, and time management kick in, they bury themselves in things that help them escape reality: another relationship, entertainment, hobbies and the like. Their marriages grow further and further apart as they literally become emotionally divorced before the eventual physical divorce takes place (unless, through self-awareness and repentance their marriages can be saved).
X. Narcissistic leaders are more vulnerable to sexual sins
Narcissistic people are easily bored and are prone to look at pornography and commit adultery because their main desire from sex is not emotional intimacy but physical pleasure. As soon as the excitement wears off in their relationships they look for others who can sexually arouse them. In those cases where adultery has not yet occurred, those with a high libido will gravitate to pornography within six months to one year of every serious relationship they are in and in many cases will hide their continually use of pornography throughout every relationship they have.
Narcissistic spiritual leaders are easy prey to the flattery of the opposite sex which leads to adultery–even in churches they oversee. This is because, unless the cross of Christ is directly applied to their deep emotional need to be the center of attention, when their spouse doesn’t meet their expectations they will drift to someone else to meet their addiction to praise.
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