"Let Us Prey" by R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"Hi. My name is Mike, and I'm a recovering narcissistic!" That's how I felt while reading this 228 page paperback, "Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors and What We Can Do About It" penned by authors R. Glenn Ball, ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and Darrell Puls, founder of Peacebridge Ministries. This little book is ideal for pastors, pastoral candidates, churches, and pastor search committees; but it is especially written for anyone who has been burned and battered by a narcissistic spiritual leader!
The first five chapters of "Let Us Prey" unpacks and deciphers narcissism in ecclesiastical leaders for the purpose of helping the reader recognize what she or he has been through. The authors draw from Ovid's description of Narcissus, and point out that what "Ovid wrote well describes the modern narcissist: he is in love with the image of himself, a shimmering yet fragile twin he projects that has no substance and is ever beyond his grasp; it is thus impossible to love for it has no matter and never becomes real" (20). To protect that unreachable image, there is an intense desire to shape and control a congregation around himself. But also the narcissistic pastor lacks genuine empathy: they cannot even begin to see things - doubts, worries, suffering, etc. - through another person's eyes. They only see your pain and grief as an opportunity "to fill their needs" (40). Along with the desire to control and lack of empathy, comes strident rules of behavior, mostly for others: "the narcissist often has a rigid moral code and is quick to condemn all who do not agree, but it is a brittle, shame-based rigidity with which he personally struggles as he feels the urges deep within that he prohibits and condemns in himself and others" (43), and "As others have noted, religious narcissists tend to be puritanical, which finds an outlet in tightly controlled and very private relationships with other adults" (101). There are more traits listed (entitlement, the lust for winning, his way or the highway, etc.) and packaged with numerous gut-wrenching-true-life tales. I found myself cringing and asking for God's mercy and help through large sections of these pages!
Chapters six, seven and eight work through the authors' survey of one major Canadian denomination. I am not a statistician, so I have no way to gauge if their survey and figures are legitimate. But if their numbers are even mostly correct, then about one in three pastors are implicitly or explicitly predators. And the authors go on to show how some congregations can become complicit. Though I don't have hard numbers outside of this book, I have seen what the authors describe with several pastors and a few parishes.
The final four chapters are aids in recovering from predatory parsons. These chapters tackle forgiveness and prevention. Ball and Puls carefully walk parishioners through the important practice of recognizing their own reactive faults in dealing with narcissistic ministers: "We must turn from what others have done to us to what we have done to others, whether in thought, word, or deed. In a strange turnaround from common sense, seeing and confessing our own wrongdoing frees us from its grip...The most difficult element in the entire process is repenting from victimhood by confronting the truth of my own sin" (160). Further, the authors give pastoral search committees a passel of questions to ask a ministerial candidate, and some valuable explanations that will help to weed out any predators (183-4).
Though there was an item or two I wasn't happy with (their explanation of forgiveness, for example), and I had questions about their survey, in the end I found "Let Us Prey" a potent dossier for healing and health in congregations; and as a valuable tool for reflective self-care for pastors. Fellow pastors, this book is likely to bring you to your knees before God (a good place to be), and if it doesn't then it's possible you may be more part of the disease than the cure. I am happily recommending the book.
My thanks to Wipf and Stock publishers for sending me an electronic version of the book at my request. And my thanks that the publisher put not stipulations on my review. Everything written herein is freely stated.
You can purchase the book here: https://wipfandstock.com/let-us-prey.html
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