Just the term, Christian narcissist, should be an oxymoron. Someone once told me that the difference between a tare or a weed and a shaft of wheat is impossible to tell until harvest. When wheat is ready to be reaped, its head, heavy with kernels, droops down as if in prayer. Tares always maintain a rigid upright position. So the metaphor holds firm. In humans, the difference between a Christian and a narcissist is the difference between humility and pride.
Since I started my blog a little over two years ago, over one hundred women have contacted me about their husbands who, more often than not, are pastors. Usually, they are spiritually gifted and charismatic pastors who charm their congregations and maintain rigid control over their congregations. And they abuse their wives and children who keep silent in the face of a worshipful church body. Or they are deacons or elders who have been engaged in church activities for decades, often wielding a tremendous amount of influence over the board or the pastor. Their spouses and children know that to leave would mean to be forsaken by all their friends and family at that church.
So what are the signs of a Christian narcissist? Well, just like the wheat and the tares, you have to look for what kind of harvest they are bringing in. Such members of the Christian community inevitably cause great harm. Sometimes their fall is spectacular such as when they are caught in serial adultery or worse. But more often than not, they are a blight on a congregation for a long time. It isn’t that people don’t know that they are there. But it is just easier to find another church or turn a blind eye on the problem. Not sure if you have one at your church? Just like the tares, they have their giveaways.
1: The Christian narcissist twists scripture and uses it as a weapon.
The purpose of the Word is to enlighten our hearts, convict us of sin, and show us who God is and how we are to relate to Him. In that sense, it is a weapon against the enemy just as the truth defeats a lie. But a narcissist uses scripture to get what he or she wants. In marriage, this often looks like an unhealthy focus on the obedience of a wife or the supposed subservience of women. But if you find yourself puzzled at the ways someone in a church uses scripture, tread carefully. A narcissist will misuse scripture in order to keep others in bondage, shame them, or even outright control them. Where there is love, there is liberty. The narcissist has no love and therefore, to be in relationship to one will begin to feel like a prison.
2: The Christian narcissist tears down the body.
One of the evils that a sense of entitlement brings is the assumption of the right to criticize. Narcissists are experts at deflection. Try to hold one accountable and you will get a litany of everyone else’s faults, including yours. And there will be just enough truth in the accusations to shame you into silence. Then the weed among the wheat will launch a negativity campaign against you! Triangulation and division follow the Pharisee. Watch to see who complains first, longest, and loudest and you may have found your resident egotist.
3: The Christian narcissist is a braggart.
One of the things about Jesus that I love is that He never pulled the I am so much better than you. As the only human who could have legitimately used it, Jesus took the posture of a humble servant. If someone is filled with self-admiration, constantly blowing their horn about how much they have given, how much revelation God has given them alone, or what they have done for the church, then Houston, we have a problem. The narcissist suffers from grandiose thinking which shows itself in a disproportionate view of their contributions. Self-importance is the hallmark of a Pharisee so look for someone who seems to believe the church would not survive without them. They talk but do not listen.
4: The Christian narcissist is in the middle of everything.
Do you have someone at your church always interrupting to make sure everyone knows how they feel? Interruption and invasion of privacy is the hallmark of a narcissist. It is about attention and control. The goal of the narcissist is to be the locus around which all others orbit. Trying to know everything about everyone is a serious bid for control. They are the garbage collectors of the church, retrieving bits of information that can be used later to leverage their own power. They interject themselves into everyone else’s business under the guise of being helpful or correcting others but make no mistake. The goal is to glean information and to guide others into what the narcissist wants.
5: The Christian narcissist claims to love but does not show it.
The narcissist is the first to proclaim judgment. They know what everyone should be doing and what should happen if they don’t. But think of the fruit of the Spirit. If we love each other as God loves us then we have peace, joy, and unity. But the self-absorbed really shine in the division and pitting one against the other. Love forgives, but the self-important person holds grudges forever. Love gives sacrificially. The egotist has nothing to spare. Love encourages but the conceited cannot tolerate praise going to anyone but themselves. Love is focused on the good of others, but self-centeredness is the hallmark of those who claim to know God but do not.
In the end, the Christian narcissist is a wolf set among sheep. If you have repeats of ugly situations that end in church splits or if you have a church that revolves around one central personality, you may have one in your midst. The real tragedy is the pain the family of the Christian narcissist must endure. Their families either suffer in silence or risk having the entire church turn on them for leaving the narcissist who typically has a victim mindset. Before you judge the wife of a pastor for leaving, or the husband of the quintessential church lady for never coming to church, be mindful that you may be deceived as to who is the real victim. Methinks the narcissist doth protest too much.
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