Clergy and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

I have long suspected that the pastorate attracts those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It offers a position of trust and esteem, where your opinions are sought after and you are adulated for speaking publicly. You are invited into the trust of parishioners, and you are seen as closer to God (even if our theology tells us that this is not the case). It was therefore quite interesting to find a paper on this subject by R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls. Puls has a blog here.

Elmer Gantry

In their paper, the authors focus on the Presbyterian Church in Canada, but their conclusions have broader application:

Now extrapolate our findings to the United States. Conservative estimates are that there are roughly 300,000–350,000 churches in the United States. If the percentages hold true, 96,300–112,350 congregations in the United States are pastored by clergy with diagnosable Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

They write (emphasis mine):

Narcissistic Personality Disorder has found its way into the institutional church. The actual levels and places where it manifests itself have been surprizing. Within the clergy of the PCC, there appears to be much higher levels of the most destructive expressions of narcissism than in the general population; while this was anticipated, the actual levels were greater than expected. In its covert form narcissism appears to arrive later in the practice of ministry, which was not anticipated. NPD appears to decline steadily through time in ministry; however, its continued presence is noted in some individuals well into retirement.

The number of clergy their study discovered with NPD is startling:

The hypothesis that the ministerial profession attracts individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a means of supply for their psychological needs is supported. NPD in active clergy in the PCC is between 500% to 3000% higher than is found in the general population. The problem is real, and it seems that ministry attracts narcissists for the same reasons that elementary schools and playgrounds attract pedophiles: these institutions provide access to victims. Ministry fills narcissistic supply needs through instant power and respect for the office of clergy. We believe that few other positions would be as attractive to the narcissist. Where else but in the clergy role are people instantly and automatically given authority to tell people how to lead their lives on a regular basis under the imprimatur of God and holy writ, are invited into parishioner homes and their counsel sought during the most intimate and difficult life situations, and where they can fit scripture to meet their desires and ego needs?

This NPD in the clergy drives parishioners and other non-NPD clergy out of the Church:

It is unlikely that the overt NPD pastor can remain hidden. His grandiosity and need for adulation eventually become caustic enough that it is likely the people under or over him will resist and work to deny narcissistic supply by dismissing or pressuring him or her to leave — if they are not driven out first by narcissistic abuse. This may be the reason for the large percentage (57%) of NPD’s located in the grouping of those who are currently not in active ministry but who have not retired.

As churches bleed people and blame “the culture” for those losses, it might be instructive to look within, to see if clergy are in fact one prime driver in losing people to the faith. As this study says:

The constant need for recognition as an authoritative expert, the lack of empathy, the need to be right, the inability to forgive, the drive for revenge and the willingness to manipulate, use, and throw away parishioners is the antithesis of Christ. It poisons the gospel message and destroys faith in God and in each other. Whether or not the percentage of NPD pastors, both overt and covert, is directly connected to the fact that 20+ percent of all churches are experiencing internal conflict at any given time (Roozen 2008, 26) is not yet known, but it makes sense that there would be a strong correlation.

The NPD pastor is like a spiritual and emotional vampire, taking from others what he needs without regard to their health, wellbeing, or even survival. One must wonder at how many people are driven out, never to return, from churches annually, and the Church overall, by these pastors.

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