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When is a Call to Ministry Not A Call?

The “Call” to be a Pastor (?)

All Christians are “called” to ministry in one way or another. But what about ordained ministry? How does someone “know” he or she has been “called by God” to be a pastor? It’s a vexing question at best. The “god” a true narcissist is called by is him- or herself in the desire to gain supernatural—and very human—treasure in its many forms. The true call would be almost devoid of this need, as demonstrated by most of the Old Testament prophets. They did not want to be prophets! Moses claimed to be slow-witted and to have a speech defect. Jeremiah cried out that he was too young. Jonah. . . and so on. But there is a problem: more than 90% of all ordained pastors score high in narcissism. A majority are able to redirect it in healthy ways, but this is not about them.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a nuanced mental disease. We all have narcissistic qualities. The fact that Glenn Ball and I have written a book on narcissistic pastors and I am writing this blog betrays my own narcissistic belief that others are interested in what I have to say. That is not necessarily unhealthy narcissism, though. When it is healthy we tend to term it as self-confidence.

Westminster Theological Seminary says this in part: Before pursuing ordination, it is vital for you to evaluate your desires and motives for such a pursuit. Do you want to become a minister because you have the right gifts? Do you enjoy being in charge of others and in control of most situations you find yourself in? Do you like it when others listen to you and take your advice above the advice of others? If these are your main reasons for becoming a minister, perhaps you should reconsider your motives. As Titus 1:7 points out, a minister cannot be arrogant, but must be “upright, holy, and disciplined.” The problem here is that the narcissist is incapable of true self-analysis.

Narcissists most emphatically are not called to ministry by God; they are called by their own deep needs and insecurities. The difference is both profound and tragic.

Most denominations have a lengthy vetting process of supervised ministry but seem to believe that psychological testing has no place in it. They are wrong. Glenn’s study showing that 31.2% of ordained ministers have a diagnosable and very serious mental disorder proves that the internal vetting processes simply do not work.

Narcissistic motivation is nuanced and often difficult to spot until the pattern appears over time. I can only guess what your motivations may be at a given time. It is your actions that clarify and define motives. Here are some hallmarks for identifying the narcissist:

1. They make grand promises they do not keep.
2. They pull people to themselves under the pretense of spiritual mentoring.
3. The speak of grand ideas and projects that rarely actually happen.
4. They “churn” new projects to find something that works.
5. They want your praise – and pity! (A common theme is how hard they work and how ungrateful people are for it.)
6. They tend to tell people different things and then pit them against each other.
7. They are never wrong. Never. In fact, they are experts on everything.
8. They refuse to be held accountable. Anyone suggesting accountability is a traitor and must be destroyed.
9. They are amazingly adept at playing to your weaknesses and needs to pull you into a dependent relationship.
10. They have no respect for boundaries.
11. They not only twist the facts, they outright lie. A lot! And then lie about lying!

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