The Narcissistic Pastor: 10 signs that you may be one

Ancient Greek mythology offers an important lesson for anyone in ministry, or in any leadership position for that matter. As one fable goes, Narcissus was a beautiful hunter. As a boy his face looked as if it were chiseled from the purest marble. His beauty attracted others to him but he could never let anyone get close even though they tried to extend their love to him. He resisted because he had found another love. Here’s what happened in the story and the implications for someone who might have traits of a narcissistic pastor.

One day at age 16 as be walked along the mythical river Styx, he stopped to sip water from a calm pool. As he knelt, the image he saw in the pool transfixed him. He immediately discovered his new love, the image of himself. His obsession with his own image kept him from giving or receiving love from others. The story says that because he could not bear to leave his reflection, he lay down by the pool and pined away for himself. Eventually the earth absorbed him and he became the flower narcissus. Thus, the word narcissist came to mean a person who has a fixation with himself.

What are some indicators that a pastor or a leader may be a narcissist? And what are the dangers to his or her ministry and family?

Peter Steinki, a prolific author and church ministry consultant, has working with hundreds of churches and pastors in the last 40 years. He once worked with 65 pastors who had affairs and found that narcissism lay at the root of most of those failures. These pastors’ need for others to value them and their need to feel important led them to sexualize their desires. Their narcissistic tendencies led them to moral failure.

Based on my experience with others and upon the insight of others like Steinki, I believe that if a pastor shows signs of narcissism and doesn’t admit them and seek help, he has doomed himself to failure. The narcissistic pastor lives with an inflated sense of self-importance and an insatiable drive to be liked and to be at the center of attention. Satan will capitalize on these traits and tempt him to compromise his morals and values. A narcissistic pastor will create a false self to cover his fear of humiliation. Exposure to the real person is anathema to him. Steinki says that a narcissistic pastor’s drive to avoid disclosure often results in these kinds of behaviors.[1]

  1. Rage if he experiences shame for shame exposes his true self.
  2. An inordinate need for praise in order to feel important.
  3. The feeling of entitlement to special treatment.
  4. The immense need for continual feedback of how important she is.
  5. The feeling of superiority and its reinforcement from others.
  6. Strong reaction to rejection and disapproval, sometimes with intense rage.
  7. The lack of the capacity to mourn, a defense against depression.
  8. Calculating and conniving behavior to “maintain” supplies of continuous adulation.
  9. An impaired capacity for commitment.
  10. No capacity for self-focus or self-examination.

Unfortunately, ministry can give rise to narcissism. We are often in the limelight and get kudos and compliments from others that feed our egos. In the past two decades it seems that annually some well-known pastor commits adultery or fails in some public moral way, often rooted in narcissistic tendencies. Unfortunately, narcissists often exude qualities we laud: self-confidence, a magnetic personality, strong platform skills, and the ability to motivate others. Narcissism is deadly. Perhaps that’s one reason the bible often speaks against pride and for humility.

I’d like to hear about your experience with a narcissistic leader. Would you add any traits to this list? Have you ever seen a narcissistic pastor change? What helped him change?

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[1] Peter L. Steinke, “Clergy Affairs,” Journal of Psychology and Christianity Vol. 8 No. 4 (1989), pp.60-61.

15 thoughts on “The Narcissistic Pastor: 10 signs that you may be one”

  1. Pingback: Porn Is Ruining People’s Lives: 12 Bare Facts About Why We Still Pursue It - ChurchPlants

  2. I fear I am married to one.
    If he never acknowledges he has narc tendencies,how could he change?I e-mailed this info on narc pastors and as usual how dare I even think he was a narc and yell with rage.He is starting a church and made plans without discussing them with me first,when I called his attention to this,he was about to explode.How dare I question himand this exactly why I don’t tell you,he says I’m negative and that’s why he discusses the ministry with others,who by the way think he’s the greatest.
    Oh well….
    I can’t sign my name please

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  6. I believe my priest is a narcissist. Outwardly likeable and friendly, he appears to believe that he needs no one, and flies ioff the handle if criticized in an appropriate manner. Most troubling is his efforts to punish me and my family for complaining to the diocese about him–he has proven to be a truly ugly person inside. All you can do in these situations is go cold turkey and leave others to their fate.

    1. Your post is sad but true. Unfortunately no one would believe he’s that way until they find out for themselves.

  7. Having family and close friends be the only ones on the elder committie and in other leadership possitions is also a sign.

    When discussion time in bible study is only on what the pastor has set up before hand. Hey may tell one to hurry up and make their point or tell one to talk about it later.

    An extreme need to know how exactly others are ministering when he is not around.

    He often requires a strict observance to certain steps when one is given a leadership possition. For example if you are on the prayer team there are rulles and steps to follow often written by him to ensure a proper time of prayer.

  8. Truthsetsyoufree

    My earthly father is a narc monster. He has been a pastor for over 40 years and is still in the pulpit. He is charismatic and charming and so manipulative he uses the scriptures in the most cunning ways. He preaches the truth of the gospel punctuated by flat out lies! His favourite is to take a bit of truth from a story of his abuse and twist it into a funny story to make you look bad, him look good, and everyone laughs at your pain. We all walked on eggshells every day of our lives with him. We were trained that he was doing God’s work so everything he did was what God wants and must be supported. He is your typical violent domestic abuser that is cruel to his wife, children and animals. Our mother is completely destroyed by domestic abuse and is now brainwashed beyond our reach. She supports him in all his ministry. All of his children have now broken the programming and are seeking counselling in their 30s/40s, and wrestling it out with God. Most people outside of the immediate family (and our children and spouses) have never seen the truth and still will not believe it!!! They would rather believe that all his children are lying or mentally ill – he has done damage control and planted those seeds in their minds since he knew we were waking up and he was in danger of being exposed. Even when they believe it they don’t want to talk about it, it’s too hard to stand up and do something about it. The set up of the modern church system is an extremely dangerous one. It is a cult waiting to happen.

  9. My dad is a pastor. In front of the world’s eyes, he is the greatest person walking, except for Jesus. But when people get to know him, they easily frustrate him, and he starts controlling them, manipulating them, and brainwashing them to do what he thinks is right. My mother and I talk about it often, and wonder who is right. He is always asking us to tell him about our frustrations about him with him, to keep us from blowing up publicly. But when actually confronted by one of us, even the slightest notion that he is in the wrong will make him defensive, and quickly heighten his rage. He will start raising his voice to gain control of the conversation and instill fear, and if pushed any further, will start doing things he will regret later. One time we were on vacation and he was badgering me over EVERYTHING I did, and I asked my mom if this was legitimate. We both agreed he was being mean, so we both confronted him. Well, when my mom took the kids outside, he confronted me, and started yelling at me, and which I told him how I felt, and he pushed me into the stove of the vacation condo, breaking the handle in half. He would not acknowledge what happened with me, and my mother was furious. She made him apologize, and he quietly headed to get it fixed. BTW: It was never fixed, we left it like that. This is just one instance of things that happen all the time. What makes it worse, was that he adopted me when I was 8. My mother is my biological mother, and he did not want to have to deal with my biological father. He constantly reminds me of what “He did for me” and why I should be more grateful and should “love” him more. I often wonder how such an arrogant man can be a pastor. And what’s ironic… One of the sayings he has is: “God cannot use a prideful man.” In which I am so tempted to respond, “Then how have you gotten anywhere?” As you know, my life would be Hell after that, so I never have.

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