Practical Stuff for Church Leaders

Things You Might Need to Remember Today

Many months ago I made a list for myself of things I need to remember as I go throughout my day. I've revised it slightly for you, but here are some things you might need to remember today:

  1. You don’t need to defend yourself.
  2. Don’t say anything in the emotion of the moment.
  3. It’s not your job to convict others of what they are doing wrong.
  4. You aren’t the general manager of the universe.
  5. You are more than your job.
  6. Trust God.
  7. You don’t have to say everything you are thinking.
  8. God knows.
  9. He is in control.
  10. It doesn’t matter what someone else says, always take the high road.
  11. People will remember how you treat others far longer than they will remember what you accomplished.
  12. Breathe.
  13. Always err on the side of grace.
  14. It’s all about love. 
  15. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).


When Hurting Someone is Right

A good friend said to me recently, “Just because you caused someone hurt doesn't mean you did something wrong.”

Of course, we know it’s true. When the abused finally decides to end the relationship, the abuser might be hurt. When a parent disciplines a child—the time-out or loss of privileges can be painful. When a doctor sets a child’s broken bone, extreme pain is immediately felt. When I made the decision to walk away from my job after twenty years—it was right, but it was also painful for some of my closest friends.

Sometimes we hesitate too long to make the right decision because we don’t want to hurt the other person—when it is actually our delayed action that is hurting them more.

We keep someone on staff longer than we should when it isn’t a right fit for him or her. We put off an intervention with a friend who is abusing alcohol or drugs, and they don’t get the help they need to thrive. Or we keep a secret hidden that is destroying us inside, because we know that telling others and getting help will at the same time hurt or disappoint those who are closest to us.

Is there a decision or conversation you’ve been putting off? Have you considered that your delay might actually increase the pain for others? Today might just be the right day to act.

What If I Am A Narcissistic Leader?

This is the third of a three-part article on narcissistic pastors. I encourage you to read part one, “Mark Driscoll and Other Narcissistic Leaders” followed by “So I Work for a Narcissistic Leader, Now What?” before continuing.

You may have determined that you possess many of the strengths, and perhaps some of the weaknesses of a narcissistic leader. Perhaps you are the type of person that can see a future that is better than the present, you can rally a crowd to your vision, and you can tenaciously move others toward building your dream. But perhaps you also get feedback from your team about your bad listening habits, tendency to exaggerate, or excessive desire to control everything and everyone.

If this is you, here are three things you can do as you take steps toward becoming a spirit-controlled narcissistic leader:

Three things if you are a Narcissistic Leader

  1. Find people who will speak truth to you. The Bible says that “all the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirt” (Proverbs 16:2). That means you think you are right more often than you actually are. Thankfully, Proverbs also provides the antidote for this in chapter 11: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” You need to surround yourself with people who not only believe in your vision, and not only will help accomplish your vision, but also people who will speak truth into your life. These should be people who aren’t scared about losing a paycheck or having you yell at them. They believe in you 110% and want to add value to your life by helping you when you fall to some of your weaknesses, like exaggerating, or control, or competitiveness, or pride.
  2. Work on listening. James 1 says, “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak.” I like the way this reads in The Message, “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” Professional communicators (i.e. pastors) have a difficult time listening. They can become so accustomed to everyone wanting to hear what they have to say that they may have a difficulty caring about what others say. “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish” (Proverbs 18:13).
  3. Walk with integrity. Listen pastors: Because of your gifting, your ability to cast vision and compel a crowd—people will say nice things about you and the danger is you might begin to believe what people say. Pride is a dangerous trap in anyone’s life, but more so in yours. As a narcissistic leader who can rally people to a cause, the stakes are much higher. Your fall will not just mess up you and your family—but it will mess up the lives of scores, perhaps hundreds, of people around you. Pride lands you flat on your face; humility prepares you for honors (I didn’t make that up, it comes straight from Proverbs).

Let me close this series of articles by saying I am grateful for the impact of narcissistic leaders. I’m grateful there are people who are visionary, who can see the world as it should be—not as it is. I’ve given my life to working with and for narcissistic leaders—using my strategic gifts to help them achieve their vision. I’m grateful there is a whole new generation of leaders who are starting churches at an unparalleled pace.

I say to you: Embrace the way God has wired you. Use your gift to raise up communities of faith all across the world. It is what the church needs. An unguarded strength can become a double weakness. Rely on wise people around you to help you stay on track and focused on a life and leadership worthy of a disciple of Jesus.

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So I Work For a Narcissist...Now What?

This is the second of a three-part article on narcissistic pastors. I encourage you to read part one, “Mark Driscoll and Other Narcissistic Pastors,” before continuing.

Let me quickly remind you of the definition of a narcissistic leader—as put forward by Michael Maccoby in his outstanding book Narcissistic Leaders. He is not using the term from a clinical standpoint, nor as a psychologist. He is using the term to define one of four personality types—this one found many times in people starting and leading large organizations.

There are huge strengths—and some corresponding weaknesses for the narcissist, as there are with any personality type. I listed those in part one.

I’ve talked with scores of pastors who, upon hearing this definition, have self-described themselves as a narcissistic leader. Usually they sheepishly say, “I might have a little narcissism in me.” And their staff member (or wife) standing next to them sarcastically says, “You think?”

Some of you know without a doubt that you work for one. You absolutely love the advantages of such a leader. Many of those strengths are the reason you signed up to work with them. You bought into the vision, you embraced the challenge, and you were inspired by his or her confidence when blazing a new trail.

But some of those same characteristics that you admired are now driving you crazy. Some of you are frustrated—you might even be ready to quit. Some of you long for a season when things don’t change every day and when there isn’t always another mountain to climb that is higher and harder than the one before.

I’ve spent my entire adult life intentionally working with, for, and around narcissistic leaders. Some of my closest friends are narcissistic pastors.

Three things to do if you work for a narcissistic leader:

  1. Encourage them publicly and often. Your leader comes across as confident and strong, but she needs your encouragement. Look for opportunities to say something positive every chance you get. Don’t be disingenuous, but your positive words over and over will give you the permission in her life to challenge her on occasion. If your leader is the senior pastor, every time he preaches, send him a text or find him later and tell him one thing that was really meaningful.
  2. Challenge them in private. You may be in a unique position, unlike anyone else, to be close enough to your leader to speak truth to them. It is rarely appropriate to do this in a group or in a staff meeting. Do this in private.
  3. Pay attention to timing. There is a proverb I try to live by that says, “It is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time” (Proverbs 15:23). The narcissistic leader is often caught up with an ongoing internal conversation. Pay attention to what is on his mind by what he’s talking about, and bring up things relative to his internal dialogue. I carry around an invisible bucket where I put topics that I want to discuss with my leader. Sometimes things will stay in the bucket for a few days. One time it was two years that I left a topic in the bucket before it was the right time to bring it up.

It is important to remember that you aren’t the Holy Spirit in his or her life. It is not your job to convict her of sin, or point out her pride. Pray for him, challenge him, love him, at times you might confront him, but remember the Holy Spirit is very capable to do His job.

My final article in this series will address three things to do if YOU are a narcissistic leader.

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Mark Driscoll and Other Narcissistic Pastors

I’ve been studying narcissistic pastors for a few years. And so therefore, I’ve been reading everything I can about Mark Driscoll as the drama has been unfolding. First it was accusations of plagiarism, then questionable use of church funds to promote his own book, and most recently bullying. I don’t know Mark, have never been to Mars Hill Church, and have no idea whether the accusations are true or false. But he leads one of the largest churches in the country, helped start the Acts 29 church planting network (from which he was recently kicked out), and is arguably one of the strongest evangelical voices in America. And the accusations are serious enough to have made the front page of the New York Times last month, and caused Mark to step down from his church until the internal investigation is complete.

When I put Mark Driscoll and “narcissistic” in the same sentence, half of you are saying, “Nailed it.” The other half are saying, “Leave him alone!” Before you give me a high five for taking "your side" or a Bible lesson in slander—let me give you my working definition of a narcissistic leader.

I borrow my definition from Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders. He is a management consultant and anthropologist—and in this book he publishes his study of human behavior and some of the greatest leaders of our time.

By Maccoby’s definition—narcissism is not a sin (remember, he's not a pastor or theologian). Rather, it is a personality type, and one of four dominant types he outlines in his book.

If you’re like me, you think of a narcissist as a vain, self-centered egomaniac. And they can be, but saying someone is self-centered or egotistical is a description of bad behavior rather than a portrait of a personality type.

Rather, a narcissist is a person who looks at the world as a place that needs changing. But unlike most people who fit that description, the narcissist goes beyond that, and actually believes she can change it. She rejects how things are for how things should be. Narcissists do not react to the external world so much as they try to create it.

A true narcissist is the kind of person who 1) doesn’t listen to anyone else when he believes in doing something and 2) has a precise vision of how things should be.

And doesn’t that describe nearly EVERY church planter or founding pastor you’ve ever met? It takes a certain personality type to go into a community when people are saying, “We don’t need another church here!” and “You’ll never find a place to meet!” – and yet they relentlessly cast a vision for what a new community of faith might look like.

It is the combination of a rejection of the status quo, along with a compelling vision, that defines the narcissist.

Maccoby says this:

“They are independent thinkers who act out of freedom, even when it means taking big risks. They are all motivated by a vision of changing the world, creating something that shapes not only their own future but that of their followers. They use everything they can, including people, to implement their vision. They are passionate, energized by their vision, charismatically drawing others into their internal dialogue. They know exactly who is with them and who is against them, and are alert to threats.”

Think about famous leaders who fit this definition: Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi and Winston Churchill.

What about Rick Warren? A few years ago he stood up and told the world he was launching an international alliance of churches, businesses, ministries, universities, and other institutions for the purpose of working together to address the five "Global Giants" that affect billions of people worldwide: spiritual emptiness, lack of servant leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic diseases, and illiteracy. Who does that? I’ll tell you—a narcissist who rejects the status quo and has a compelling vision of how the world should look.

What about Steven Furtick or Perry Noble or Bill Hybels or scores of other pastors who went into a community where they believed the gospel wasn’t reaching the unconvinced—and they started with a few people and a dream and launched a local church that is now reaching thousands.

Maccoby says there are eight primary strengths that are dominant in just about every productive narcissist who he has worked with or studied:

  1. A vision to change the world and create meaning.
  2. Independent thinking and risk taking. They don’t like to follow rules and don’t like to bend to other people’s ideas of change unless they initiated it. In Acts 15, Peter talked about a church for the Jews and the Gentiles. He bucked against all the rules of the day and cast a vision for a different way to reach the world.
  3. Passion. This person tends to be a workaholic, not because they can’t get all the work done; they want to keep working because they believe it is changing the world!
  4. Charisma. Productive narcissists have an undeniable emotional pull on others.
  5. Voracious learning. They seek to learn everything they can in topics they are passionate about. This doesn’t mean they are good students: they are often bored with classes or don’t want to fit into the structure. But they are self-learners.
  6. Perseverance. Failing doesn’t deter them; they get up, learn from it, and try a different angle. Consider Paul in 2 Corinthians 11: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked…” That’s a narcissistic leader who faced some obstacles!
  7. Alertness to threats. It is said of narcissistic leaders – you are either a friend or a foe to them, and there is no in-between. Are you helping them pull the wagon in the direction they are going? If so, great. If not, get out of the way.
  8. Sense of humor. The ability to make others laugh, and even make fun of themselves, is one of the most important and endearing characteristics of narcissists.

I think every church I’ve worked with or been around that is on a fast growth track has been led by a narcissistic leader. And I’ve seen many of these strengths at front and center.

But as with every personality type—there comes a corresponding set of weaknesses. The same narcissistic pastors who have a vision to change the world (and often do) can sometimes be the most difficult people in the world to work with and for. Maccoby lists ten weaknesses that are often found in narcissistic leaders:

  1. Doesn’t listen. Often the very thing that takes the narcissist to the top of the game in his or her field is the very thing that brings him or her down. They realize that it was that very characteristic (not listening to the crowd) that enabled their success, so they don’t tune into things they should be listening to later on.
  2. Oversensitive to criticism. Sometimes they respond to criticism by devaluing the person who said it, attempting to negate the truth of the words.
  3. Paranoia. This is the corresponding weakness to being alert to threats. They have an excessive focus on what might happen to them or who might be against them.
  4. Anger and Put-Downs. They make people feel stupid because they don’t understand the vision.
  5. Overcompetiveness. With pastors, the competition might show up in comments about another pastor or a conference speaker.
  6. Overcontrol. These leaders have a hard time letting their staff do anything without wanting to control and decide everything.
  7. Isolation. They feel very alone, sometimes because they believe they have no peers—everyone is a tool to accomplish their vision.
  8. Exaggeration and Lying. Narcissists tend to ignore anything that stands in the way of their vision. They treat the vision as though it has already become reality. I’ve been around narcissists who are so separated from reality that they aren’t intentionally lying—they literally believe in their head that something happened the way it did, and no one around them is strong enough to correct them.
  9. Lack of Self-Knowledge. They don’t do self-introspection very well. They have to make big decisions that affect thousands of people and can’t allow anxieties, self-doubt or any hint of guilt get in the way of their decision making. They often justify their behavior as necessary to the vision.
  10. Grandiosity. Maccoby says: “Narcissists don’t have a monopoly on the seven deadly sins, but they do run a greater risk of grandiosity, and the simple sin of pride than other personality types”.

Once productive narcissists start to succeed, fame and admiration can begin to chip away at their already tenuous hold on reality. In the worst cases, they begin to put themselves above the interests of the organization or church. We’ve all seen examples of this way too often in the church world. I experienced this a few years ago with a friend very close to me. Pride takes leaders down faster than anything.

In the best situations, a narcissistic leader has surrounded himself or herself with other spiritual leaders for counsel and accountability. They have friends who will occasionally hold up a mirror and speak truth them.

I think it is obvious, according to Maccoby's definition, that Mark Driscoll is a narcissistic leader. There is no way he could have accomplished what he has without the myopic focus of a narcissistic personality. It’s up to others to determine whether his narcissism has overtaken him and led him down the difficult path he now faces.

I have a tremendous opportunity to coach executive pastors, and a few years ago I met with the executive pastors from 50 of the largest churches in America. We talked about the strengths and weaknesses of narcissistic leaders. When asked for a raise of hands, more than 75% of the leaders in the room described their boss (aka senior pastor) as a narcissistic leader, and more than 50% said it also described themselves.

You might work with a narcissistic leader, or you might be one. In my next post, I will tackle three things you can do if you work for a narcissistic leader, and three things you can do if you are a narcissistic leader.

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