When Narcissism Comes to Church (DeGroat)

We have all seen and/or heard it happen: a pastor or elder exercises authority in such a terribly ungodly way that the church basically implodes. In these situations, people are severely disillusioned, hurt, slandered, trampled on, and manipulated. There are various sins involved in situations like this, to be sure. But often a pastor’s pride, selfishness, and narcissism are big factors in such terrible situations. Speaking of narcissism in the church, here’s a book on the topic I recently read: When Narcissism Comes to Church by Chuck De Groat. The subtitle spells it out a bit more: “Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse.”

This book has just under two hundred pages. There are nine chapters that include topics such as understanding narcissism, the different aspects of narcissism, characteristics and inner life of narcissistic pastors, spiritual abuse, and healing this type of situation. The book isn’t overly difficult to read even though it does talk about some psychological aspects of narcissism. There are also appendices that talk about dealing with narcissistic people.

When Narcissism Comes to Church has some helpful aspects. To be sure, DeGroat is right: there are narcissistic pastors out there who use their authority and abuse the Scriptures to manipulate people in order to build their own idea of church. We’ve seen it in the past, it’s happening in the present, and it’ll also be there in the future, sadly. In this book I did learn some more about narcissism.

However, for the most part I didn’t find the book overly helpful. First of all, in the beginning the author seemed to hint that most pastors are narcissists and most church subcultures are systemically narcissistic. The book started off on the wrong foot for me. Second, DeGroat did mention some Scripture themes and verses here and there, but he did not engage much with Scripture to help explain narcissism. He also didn’t utilize much Scripture to explain how to deal with a narcissist or healing for those hurt from narcissism. Of course the term “narcissist” is not in Scripture, but there are more than dozens of texts that address similar things such as pride, anger, arrogance, legalism, and heavy-handed leadership. I don’t object to utilizing some aspects of psychology in a book like this, but in my view the book was thin on the biblical side of things.

Anyway, our readers may find When Narcissism Comes to Church somewhat helpful, but there must be better resources on the topic. I’m currently on the lookout for more similar and better biblical resources on narcissism in the church. Feel free to recommend some.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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