Like all the signature vices of humanity, narcissism has existed since time immemorial. But according to Chuck DeGroat, who has long counseled pastors with narcissistic personality disorder (and the congregations they have afflicted), the problem has reached epidemic proportions in today’s churches. DeGroat, a professor of pastoral care at Western Theological Seminary, shares the lessons he’s learned in his latest book, When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. Benjamin Vrbicek, a pastor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, interviewed DeGroat about developing a biblical understanding of narcissism and recognizing how it operates within the church, among leaders and laity alike.
What motivated you to write this book?
The real impetus came from pastors, counseling practitioners, and laypeople affected by narcissism. I’ve heard about it from people who had served under a toxic lead pastor, from wives married to emotionally abusive husbands, and from folks serving in organizations marked by a narcissistic culture. All of them, in one way or another, challenged and sometimes begged me to write, and I continually resisted. But as I became more and more convinced of the utter epidemic of narcissism in the church, I decided to move forward.
What is a lay-level definition of narcissism, and what are the typical expressions in local churches?
When we think of narcissism, we typically think of the characteristic grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration, an inflated ego and sense of self-importance, troubling relationships, and—an especially key one for me—lack of empathy. We see pastors who love the stage but manipulate and sometimes abuse people. Often we see ...1
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