When Narcissism Comes to Church, Chuck DeGroat. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.
Summary: Explores the expressions narcissism can take in the church, the damage it may do, and healing both for the abused and the narcissists who abuse them.
Chuck DeGroat makes this observation early in this book: “A colleague of mine says that ministry is a magnet for a narcissistic personality–who else would want to speak on behalf of God every week?” As a counselor, Chuck DeGroat has seen both narcissists and the people they leave in their wake. Many of them are in the church–church leaders, pastors, or even the quiet but “indispensable” administrator, who is controlling and has everyone around him or her walking on eggshells.
DeGroat helps us to recognize the narcissist in our church and what attracts them. Particularly, he notes how many of the screening inventories for church planters actually select for narcissists. Using the Enneagram, he shows nine different ways narcissists manifest according to each of the types. He then identifies ten characteristics of the narcissistic pastor including: all decision-making centers on them, impatience, feelings of entitlement, and inconsistency and impulsiveness.. Inwardly, the narcissist struggles with shame and rage.
The insidious aspect of this is that narcissism can infect they entire system of a church. A narcissistic leader. It results in a church unable to be honest. DeGroat describes different times of dysfunctional system and what health looks like. He exposes the gaslighting techniques of the narcissist that make others feel “crazy, uncertain, confused, insecure, and bewildered.” This is what life around a narcissist is like and DeGroat helps us see what it is like to be married to one, and why so many such marriages end in divorce.
DeGroat’s final chapters chart the process of healing both for individuals and churches who have been abused by narcissist in the church, and the narcissist. Both take time, pealing back the layers of defense. Especially with the narcissist, the challenge is coming to believe that the real person underneath the glittering image of the narcissist is actually far more beautiful.
This is an important book, especially for any of those involved in calling and placing church’s leaders. Pastoral search communities need to read this book before embarking on their work. Most of all, those in a situation where the charismatic leader who fills the pews or is indispensable is driving everyone crazy, you might want to read this book to understand what may be going on. Sadly, we often are drawn too much to the glittering images and do not consider what lies beneath. DeGroat relates numerous examples but also offers hope that healing can take place, if people are willing to face the truth.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.