“Just as we’re often blind to our own selfish tendencies, we often fail to notice when narcissism is present in our churches.”
Few, if any, of us would self-identify as a narcissist: self-centered and egotistical with a grandiose view of one’s own talents. Narcissists aren’t aware of their narcissism; they usually think everyone else has the ego problem. They’ll say, “If others were sensible, they would agree with me.”
Just as we tend to be blind to our own narcissistic tendencies, we often fail to notice when narcissism is present in our churches. Therefore, let’s look at 10 characteristics of a narcissistic church.
1. A narcissistic church is led by a narcissistic pastor who is consumed with insecurity.
“They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi’” (Matthew 23:6-7).
2. When a narcissistic church’s members talk about their faith, their focus is on “what the church has done for me.”
They forget that, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 just persons who need no repentance…” (Luke 15:1-7).
3. Everyone sits in the same place every weekend as if they own their seats, and look suspiciously at anyone unfamiliar who tries to sit there.
“If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:3-4).
4. Positions and ministry responsibilities are owned by a select few, rather than shared with the congregation.
The same people do the same things over and over. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body” (1 Corinthians 12:14-15).
5. The members of the congregation love one another—and only one another.
“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46).
6. The pastors, elders, deacons and staff demand special privileges, such as reserved parking spots.
They forget, “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Matthew 20:26-28).
7. When members and staff discuss other churches, it is seldom, if ever, in a positive light.
“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls…” (Romans 14:4).
8. There are narrow doctrinal stresses.
Leaders say, “Do these few things, and you’re all right with God.” “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility…” (Colossians 2:21-23).
9. There is an emphasis on works over faith.
Yet, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
10. There is a strong emphasis on appearance and obsession with how the church is being perceived by other Christians.
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves … having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
A narcissistic church is not a church at all; it is a religious club. Maybe a clear answer for both the narcissist and the narcissistic church is a renewed commitment to Jesus’ great commandment: “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Tony Foglio is a pastor, businessman and author of Discover the Bible: Journey Through the Bible As It Was Meant to Be Read (Thomas Nelson, 2004). For more information, go to DiscovertheBible.com.