"Narcissism In the Church" Book Review
Written by Chuck DeGroat, a counselor and seminary professor, When Narcissism Comes to Church1 addresses narcissistic personality disorder and what happens when it invades the church. DeGroat discusses both individual narcissism and narcissism in the church system as a whole. He shows how it can take away from the mission of sharing the gospel. DeGroat is also compassionate towards those struggling with narcissism.
According to DeGroat, narcissists struggle to be truly vulnerable, instead showing a “fauxnerability.” They feign empathy through behaviors learned over a lifetime. For a pastor, this can be dangerous, because the heart of a shepherd is to care for the flock as his own. If a pastor is faking his compassion and deep care for his flock, then the relationship is only surface level. This leaves the flock with no one to protect them and care for them in times of need. This can cause deep wounds in a congregation left with a pastor who is only seeking his own interests.
DeGroat takes a unique approach of assessing narcissism in the individual. He brings in the Enneagram types as the “9 faces of narcissism.” He discusses how narcissism presents in each of the Enneagram types. He argues that the Enneagram personality traits help to explain why narcissism can look different from person to person. In his opinion, this explains why narcissism is more outwardly prevalent in some people. While some Christians value the Enneagram more than others, this is an interesting way to break down narcissism.
DeGroat discusses the inner self of the narcissist. He addresses narcissists in a compassionate way and hopes for their healing by addressing the root issue. DeGroat believes that at their core, narcissists are fearful and feel threatened by the world surrounding them. Instead of relying on the power of God to sustain them, these narcissists rely on their own power and ability to dominate those around them. This book argues that there is possibility for change within these individuals.
Narcissism in the Church System
DeGroat also looks at systems as a whole. In narcissistic systems, there is emphasis on the outward appearance of the church and feelings of pride in how well they are doing and how blessed they are. These systems lack a heart for the mission and care more about being the best. In a world of celebrity pastors and social media influencers, it’s important for churches to examine their motives and what they are seeking.
DeGroat outlines the differences between healthy church systems and unhealthy church systems. One of the key differences is how the church reacts to change. Unhealthy church systems are unwilling to change and become defensive of their practices when questioned. This is a call for church leaders to reflect on their own systems and to fight to keep their churches in a place where they are open to discipline, change, and self-examination. Most of all, they need to be clothed in humility, the very opposite of narcissism.
This book gives a painful description of what narcissism in church leaders and church systems looks like. Although this is a heavy topic, DeGroat also gives encouragement for restoration and reminds his readers that no one is beyond repair. With hard work, people who struggle with narcissism can be transformed. Thus, there is hope for healing.
1 DeGroat, Chuck. When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. InterVarsity Press, 2022.
Featured Image by Rebecca Sidebotham.
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