"When Narcissism Comes to Church" by Chuck DeGroat. A Review

Just like taking an abnormal psych class in college, a reader will likely see their reflection on many pages in the 200-page hardback "When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse". This newly released dossier, written by Chuck DeGroat, professor of pastoral care and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and senior fellow at Newbigin House of Studies in San Francisco, is a velvet covered brick. It is easily readable, and reasonably attainable. 

DeGroat exposes the varied ways narcissism shows up in a parish, whether in the leadership, families, or congregational culture; and how it can show up in the corporate culture of an ecclesiastical denomination, association or network. It arises from the "lack of capacity for self-awareness and self-evaluation, shunning humility for defensive self-protection" (15). Further, according to the author, a deep, underlying shame is the driving force in narcissism (41), and a grasping for power is it's major dynamic (94). And when this shows up in the leadership, it becomes relationally ugly, where many narcissistic pastors "have little ability to empower others in meaningful ways" and "power, privilege, and entitlement are expressed in toxic ways" so that the "things he feels entitled to become extensions of his ego" (74-5). The two crucial chapters that tease out narcissistic traits, especially in leadership, are the 3rd and 4th, "The Nine Faces of Narcissism" and "Characteristics of the Narcissistic Pastor". Every pastoral search committee should examine these chapters to help them as they strive to discern a candidate's qualifications for their congregation.

If a reader has been impacted by, or studied, abusive people - spouses, parents, supervisors - they will find a hand-in-glove connection between the traits of an abuser and the characteristics of a narcissist. The gaslighting, history-twisting, browbeating, crazy-making, manipulating, retaliating, polarizing, domineering-to-secure-victory ploys of an abuser look oddly similar to a narcissist. Further, I will make so bold as to say, if, as you read this volume, you aren't finding yourself doing some self-evaluating, meaningful repenting, and behavior changing, you are likely part of the disease and not part of the remedy.

For a few there will be little niggling nicks and pricks as they read through the book.  If a reader is a complimentarian, the egalitarian approach of the author may disappoint them here and there, but it is not overbearing or hobbyhorse-ish. And there's hope a-plenty in these pages. Not an easy peasy kind of hope, but rugged and resilient, because "God who refuses to reduce anyone to a label...both confronts sin with utter seriousness and offers grace with utter lavishness" (149).

"When Narcissism Comes to Church" is a valuable resource. It needs to be read by all levels of ecclesiastical leadership. It must be in the hands of every pastoral search committee. And if you have been on the receiving end of a narcissist, this manuscript has a lot to give you for your own restoration and recovery. I highly recommend the book.

My thanks to IVP. I asked for the book to review and they freely sent me the copy used for this assessment. Moreover, they made no demands or stipulations and allowed me free rein. Thus, my evaluations are freely made and freely given.

You can purchase the book here: "When Narcissism Comes to Church"


MGring said…
Mike, I read your review of this book a few weeks ago--on Goodreads I think. It was such a good review that I purchased two copies, one for me and one for my future daughter-in-law. We have both been the targets of NPD from people at church.
This book, along with the Narcissism Epidemic book, has helped me to process some very difficult situations/people I have been dealing with for the last year as the interim chairperson of my department and the last several years at church.
The situations have been so difficult that I making some major changes in my church affiliation and taking my family with me. Would love to talk with you about this some time in the future.

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