Saturday, June 5, 2010

Holy Narcissists

Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What you YOU think of me?

I’ve been thinking about the ministers who are able to build big churches regardless of the denomination. Southern Baptist, United Methodist, Pentecostal, or nondenominational, we’ll find standouts who are able to build huge bustling organizations.

What is it that makes them so successful?

Are they extra powerful speakers?

Not that I can see. I recently listened to one of the best and brightest in his denomination. His sermon sucked, to tell the truth. But the audience took it in like he was dishing out chocolate ice cream. In reality he was spinning stories that did not have a point. I’d rather have had the ice cream.

Are they super intelligent? I’ve known some of these guys and they are definitely not the sharpest crayons in the box. Some of them can’t think their way out of a paper bag.

The one thing they have in common is that they are narcissistic and they know how to draw crowds. They have a certain charm that appeals and assures people.

They are also egotistical, and emotionally needy. If you don’t fall under their spell or have anything they need, they’ll cut you out of their lives.

It’s no wonder so many have affairs, or are abusive in their more personal relationships. In fact, every relationship they have is abusive in that they demand unqualified allegiance rather than allowing for mutual respect.

And it’s no wonder all churches I’ve known are dysfunctional and fall apart when the leader falls apart.

Can any church actually be healthy? I am audacious enough to think that the world can be improved and I have thought that churches ought to be at the forefront of positive change.

But how much difference can we make when the strength of a church depends not so much on the ability of its leader but the charisma?

Finally, upon self examination, I admit that I have a certain amount of this charisma. Can’t do the job without it. So what does this make me? And am I helping or hurting the society I’d like to see healed?


  1. Money is NOT the root of all evil and power does NOT corrupt. Charisma is not the downfall of a spiritual leader. I think it's all in what you do with what you've got. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it! ~K

    (altho wouldn't it be nice if spiritual leaders had charisma, smarts, ethic, and could put out a good sermon?)

  2. K, it is very rare to find a minister who is good personally, can preach well, can think competently in theology, and can also be a good administrator.

    But if that's the package that's needed, I guess that's what we clerypeople need to work on.

  3. > And it’s no wonder all churches I’ve known
    > are dysfunctional and fall apart when the
    > leader falls apart. Can any church
    > actually be healthy?

    It sucks that this is your experience, and I'm naive enough to hope that it's not a universal rule. Certainly the churches I've been in have had their failings (apart from the huge evo one I used to go to when I was a student. That was too big to have any sort of community, so didn't suffer from community-related problems).

    I seem to recall that factionalism, together with excessive allegiance to human leaders, was a problem from the beginning ("I follow Appollos?").

    I think you're right: charisma is important in a leader - it helps you do your job. But I do think that power, and charisma (which is power over people, really) is dangerous and can corrupt, pace K. I recall an excellent essay on RLP, where Gordon said he refused to tell people he "wasn't like those televangelists." Because he was conscious of the danger of becoming like them. I would say that the bullying, egotistical narcissistic nature of the "bad ones" is the problem: the charisma just means they can do more damage.

    I wouldn't worry about becoming L Ron Hubbard just yet. I do think that worrying about it is what protects you, though: I'm sure the narcissists don't.

    All the best,

    - Chris.

  4. Interesting thought. Quite seriously, who should a church be looking for? What qualities? This is likely something you have considered extensively and me not at all. I just assumed a religious leader would need to be someone who could potentially be developed into a leader. When I look for a leader in the business world I look for someone who is smart and capable and has an ethic, but also someone who is emotionally grounded, has good boundaries, is a good communicator, someone who has skills with building individuals and teams to accomplish goals and objectives. I look for someone who has enough humility and self esteem to learn knowing that then they will also one day be able to teach. In my estimation and experience, being a doer is one thing, being a leader entirely another. Not everyone has the capacity to be a good leader, although they may be very good at their job and want to lead. Does the church look for potential leaders or is that not an important consideration in the world of clerics? ~K

  5. Sanityman, churches have varying degrees of function and sanity, I guess. I also am glad that you have the "naivete" to believe there are some that do good. I'm still committed to working with local churches, but I've been at it a very long time and sometimes they just make me tired.

    K, we ministers rarely have the whole package of both personal ministing abilities and administrative qualities. I'm more naturally the doer who recognized the need to be a leader, too.

  6. Clergy Guy,

    I hear you. When I look at that list of job requirements you posted above, it seems ridiculous that we expect one guy to be able to do it all. I couldn't.

    On a side note, this is the RLP post I mentioned above, which I think echoes what you said.

    All the best,

    - Chris.

  7. Chris, I like the post very much--very well written