I came across a really scary statistic the other day. 30-40% of people in ministry are narcissists. Yes. 30-40%. And that’s frightening. If 15% of your population falls in the cluster B category (Cluster B personality disorders include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder), a large number of them are in ministry. These are supposed to be “men of God” but many are not; many are wolves in sheep’s clothing. I believe this is why Jesus preached so much against the Pharisees – the religious leaders of his time. Jesus says about them in Matthew 23:5-7 Everything they do is just to show off in front of others. They even make a big show of wearing Scripture verses on their foreheads and arms, and they wear big tassels for everyone to see. They love the best seats at banquets and the front seats in the meeting places. And when they are in the market, they like to have people greet them as their teachers.
Time has not changed. Many religious leaders today, as the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, lack the humility that Jesus requires. I believe that some become religious leaders because they have a need for accolades and status and others lose their humility because of the accolades and status.
Which leads me to the difference between Psychopaths and Sociopaths. Clinicians differentiate between the two. The term psychopath is used by those who believe that there is a genetic, biological, and psychological component whereas the term sociopath is the understanding that social forces and early experiences are at play. I am adding this in here because I want to add a caution. We do not help our pastors, ministers, bishops, and priests by idealizing them and by looking up to them. In fact, we do them a great disservice. We are not at fault for creating sociopaths in our religious leaders since each person is accountable for who they become but we don’t help them either by believing that they are in some way above the rest of us. Do them, and yourself, the blessing of seeing them for who they are. Human. With flaws. They, too, need accountability.
I believe that the other reason that there are many people in ministry who are in the Cluster B category is their own personal desire for control and to be in positions of power. Religious leaders have much control and influence and some yield it with few stop guards and that’s scary.
R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls wrote a telling book about the connection between pastors and narcissists in the book Let Us Prey: The Plagues of Narcisssist Pastor’s and What We Can Do About It. This is the description of the book: Jesus warned of wolves carefully disguised as shepherds who would come into the local church as pastors. It is the perfect disguise from which to devour the flock one lamb at a time. The authors were the first to study this phenomenon in North America and discover how serious the problem is. What they uncovered is shocking. The enemy has infiltrated the North American church. In this study of a large Canadian denomination, just under one in three pastors met the diagnostic criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). This is one of the most destructive and least treatable of all mental disorders, but is often well hidden behind layers of “sacred” deception. Some are charismatic while others are quiet and even awkward, but they share the same needs for power, control, praise, and public recognition. They are also rigid, unbending, never wrong, demanding, and full of hidden rage, leaving the people working for them in demoralized fear. They see you as inferior and God as a rival, while the worst see themselves as God. If they see you as a threat, they will do everything possible to destroy you spiritually and emotionally. Is your pastor one of them?
It’s also why so many people are repulsed by religion and see it as a means to control the masses. It’s why I left religion and I don’t think I will ever join a church again. I will happily attend, volunteer my time, and financially contribute to a church, but I don’t want to ever be a church member again. It’s because of my experience that I shy away from becoming a member of any organized religion ever again. I know I am not alone in shuddering when I pass by a church building and see the institution and not God in there. Many religious leaders are the cause for turning people away from God, not to God. Many have done a lot of serious damage to the name of our God in the name of religion.