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.

Subscribe to and receive articles directly to your email.

Tim Stevens2 Comments