“I don’t think that churches create narcissists. I think they give a platform for the narcissistic personality to flourish if they don’t have discerning skills.”
– Scot McKnight
I couldn’t help but think that we must develop a better way to root out dangerous individuals from our leadership structures. This sounds promising but it only considers the outcome of a problematic system. It is easy to address dim lighting, foul-smelling rugs, and chipped paint that covers the walls of a dilapidated house. What is harder to address is the condemned foundation on which it stands. For that, we need specialists, inspectors, government agencies that are trained to handle such delicate tasks. If the building and its foundation are found to be unstable and unsuitable for living conditions then it must be demolished.
The church has been good, not amazing, but okay in shining a light on flawed leaders. It has been disastrously poor at handling the foundation it has created that allows for these same individuals to flourish, amass a following, garnish wealth and fame.
Eric Skwarczynski is the host of the infamous investigative podcast show called Preacher Boys Podcast. He exposes violent and sexual abusers within the church. Engages fundamentalists preachers and professional experts. The podcast equips the church and its listeners with resources and materials to combat these dangerous leaders and prevent them from taking the stage again.
In one of his latest podcasts, he interviews the authors of A Church Called TOV: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing, Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer. They cover several aspects of the book which sheds a light on the broken and quite dated foundation and protocols the church has used in the past to confront abusive leaders. They believe we can do better to set up systems that protect the vulnerable and hold predators accountable, no matter the cost.
No matter the fallout.
They layout two practical steps that help church communities sift through and root out narcissistic leaders before they’re employed by a church. It is nearly impossible to find out which seminarian will in time rise to prominence through charisma, intellect, chemistry, and leadership skills only to burn up in scandals related to abuse of power, funds, sex crimes, and more.
Here are their two steps to layout the fishnet to catch these harmful agents as they flop from seminary to church ministry.
Step 1: Oversight Committee: Discernment
Scot McKnight makes the request that a church can develop an oversight committee that oversees the hiring process of ministers, leaders, teachers, and church employees. A committee that contracts a professional psychologist to observe the individual who is contending for the position of prominence. Watching for signs of narcissistic personality disorder or anti-social personality disorder can, and most likely will lead to the committee to make effective and conclusive decisions regarding these persons.
Scot goes the distance to say that this trained professional must be given “veto power” on the hiring process to prevent wolves who hide in sheep’s clothing from being hired onto the staff. This happens often because these individuals are clever enough to hide their harmful character traits during the interview. Narcissists can dupe honest church groups by reflecting an image of perfection.
That is why having a trained professional step in to prevent further damage in this process is crucial to the integrity of that ministry and the vulnerable within it.
Step 2: Oversight Committee: Empathy or Lack Thereof
Laura Barringer adds to this discussion by stating that this oversight committee can assist by watching the possible hiree for signs of callous conduct toward others. Narcissists tend to exhibit extreme indifference and callousness toward people they disagree with or people who challenge their sinful lifestyles.
They will go the distance to humiliate their accusers from the pulpit, in the middle of board meetings, church meetings, social media, and in writing. There is no limit to their callous nature which is contradictory to the person and character of Christ.
Having the trained psychologist or other professionals that delve into the mannerisms and character traits of abusive personalities present to observe and look for these red flags is essential for the wellbeing of any institution and eternally more so for the church.
If laziness is the motive behind our failure to filter persons entering our church then we will be complicit in their crimes. From background checks to multiple interviews performed with rigorous and inquisitive questions we can prevent malicious personalities from taking root in our churches.
There are communities that opt for “peace over divisiveness” to further the gospel and prevent the world from seeing evil within the church. But in reality, there is nothing more divisive and necessary than condemning sinful behavior. In fact, when the church covers up, dismisses, diminishes, denigrates, or distorts the gravity of sinful leaders and their sinful patterns it does that which is contrary to Christ and scripture. It also invalidates the victims of their abuse.
Should we lose members of our church concerning this subject then they’ll leave because we preferred to root out narcissist personalities; because we fought to protect the vulnerable; because we are willing to fight for victims; and because we have instituted protocols that prevent narcissistic people from, one, becoming leaders in our midst, and two, kicks them out as soon as they are revealed as such.
If people leave our church because we protect and promote abusers and narcissists we are no longer a church but a religious mafia with a cross out front. We’re criminals who sing hymns whilst our leaders ravage the vulnerable. A gang that runs a tax-exempt, money laundering, industrial-complex organization bent on the ultimate destruction of whoever dares challenge its unethical money-making machine. A tribalistic entity that sacrifices its vulnerable members for the sake of the continuance of ministry. Clansmen who hide behind the hood of sacredness but under we’re rotten with sexual violence, abuse of power, bullying, intimidation, pyramid schemes, and devil worship.
What? Didn’t think church folk could worship the devil?
Come on, man.
There is no way we can claim that we are redeemed whilst binding others down with guilt, shame, and secrecy. That’s corruption worthy of expulsion and ex-communication.
But we’re unwilling to talk about that mess.
Author and Taylor University professor Randal Rauser said something that shocked me with its simplicity and how little of it we have in the church today.
“In a healthy church community, no question is unaskable.”
Let us become a community that confronts evil at the door. A body of believers that prevents evil leaders and their selfish endeavors from consuming our spiritual family.
Therefore ask yourself and your church body if it has protocols in place to prevent narcissists from becoming pastors and leaders.
No matter the answer I am sure Christ will guide you toward a solution. It’s His church anyway.
When I suggest an ouster of narcissistic leaders I by no means suggest that the church abandon these individuals. By it I mean we remove their authority and power, which is their goal and temptation, to prevent further damage to the church. This also prevents them from further ruination.
I wholeheartedly believe these individuals are loved by God and capable of being redeemed, sanctified, and ultimately glorified in the presence of the Eternal. But whilst on earth, they need extensive therapeutic help to expunge such dangerous coping mechanisms and behaviors that serve to detriment the individual and those they love.
Get help. If you are a narcissistic leader and you lose your power and authority this is the first step in your recovery and ultimate redemption. Let go and get help. Professional help.
Laura Barringer states that leaders we ought to be on the lookout for are leaders who embrace empathy, grace, place people first, seek the truth, justice, live in the service of others, and are Christlike.
If you can see these in your next leader then allow them to flourish within this sphere. Help them grow like a well-watered plant in their spiritual fruitfulness: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Avoid the fallacy of giftedness because too often we hire people on to our staff and attribute fruitfulness toward them because they’re overwhelmingly good at what they do. Their charisma is off the charts and everyone loves their messages. They shed tears and speak softly when the situation asks for such a tone. But this exterior conduct will eventually fall apart.
Seek and invest in those who reflect the person of Christ.