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The Narcissistic Church - Series

This is the first of series of posts regarding narcissistic churches.
Is it possible for the church itself to become narcissistic? Sadly enough, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” All organizations tend to follow the patterns of their leaders, which in this case includes not just the pastor(s), but also the lay leaders. If the lead pastor is a narcissist and is able to pull other leaders into his circle of sickness, the church will begin a slide into its own version of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and will go deeper and deeper into it the longer these leaders remain in control. This cycle has a way of becoming self-perpetuating: as healthier leaders leave due to discomfort and disagreement, new leaders who have stronger narcissistic tendencies will emerge along with a subgroup of kowtowing followers who get close to the leader in order to bask in his glory.
Entering and becoming part of a church involves the emergence of a new personal identity that says we belong to and are part of something greater than ourselves. We come to see ourselves as part of the church and the church as part of us in a shared-identity relationship. We find in this relationship a sense of belonging that we may not otherwise have. This new identity often has the ability to sustain us through dark times, which in turn motivates us to strengthen the identity and the relationships that created it. In this way the church is seen as legitimate and important.
The church also has a life that is largely not seen. It is not hidden from view, but it operates in the background much as the operating system on a computer and thus is simply not very noticeable until it goes haywire. It is the identity of the church. Jay White of the University of Nebraska writes, “An organization’s identity consists of the psychological makeup of current and past organizational members. It is formed from people’s psychological reactions to events within and outside organizations; events that are incorporated into their preconscious thoughts and influences their outward behaviors.” In other words, the church has a history that is alive in the present and influencing the current internal story it tells itself in proclaiming its uniqueness to those looking for a church. There simply are not many churches proclaiming that they are average, nothing unusual, run of the mill places in which you will find little that challenges or inspires you. Couple the “uniqueness” message with the reality that the biblical church is one where personal "life stories" are retained but made subordinate to the collective narrative and the possibilities for abuse and predation arise.
A church with a narcissistic pastor at its center quickly begins to veer off course towards treacherous shoals because “the narcissism of the chief executives often sets a similar tone for the corporation [church] as a whole.” One researcher writes, “Everything that develops within a [church] including culture, management style, interpersonal relationships, rules and procedures, strategy, symbols and behavior will have some unconscious basis to it.” The unconscious basis consists of the internal identity the church creates for itself and the narrative the church holds as “truth.” The problem lies in the fact that the “truth” of our narratives is often more about favorable interpretation than it is about factual reality—or scriptural integrity. When the story we tell ourselves about ourselves is accepted as true and then is confronted by outside resistance, it tends to strengthen the value placed on the story as it is rather than examine the resistance for bits of truth. The stronger the attack, the stronger is the resistance, the stronger the truth-story becomes, and a siege mentality often ensues. In other words, external forces rarely produce positive internal changes.
Instead, the narcissistic church simply become more narcissistic and convinced of its own uniqueness.

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