In 2017, my family and I left the church we loved and served for eight years. We weren’t prepared for the whirlwind of emotions we felt afterward. We were simultaneously confused, relieved, angry, fearful, sad, and lost.
In an effort to understand what happened to me and my family, I researched, read stories, and listened to others share stories like ours. I connected with bloggers and reporters who gathered data in an effort to help and educate others. I stumbled onto the Fort Worth Star-Telegram story series about decades of child sex abuse cover ups in churches, more news stories of pastors bullying their congregations, leaders misusing church money, and other grievous acts.
I found out there is a name for what happened to us. It’s called spiritual abuse.
Now I’m writing our story in my Giant Church Inc Series, shedding light on an epidemic in the church, and telling people what spiritual abuse looks like. More than anything, I want to point us to Jesus Christ, our Hope in the midst of the devastation caused by self-serving leadership and spiritual abuse. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).
An Important Work
I learned about Chuck DeGroat’s newest book, When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, from a fellow advocate. The moment I saw the title of the book, I wanted to be one of the first to read it and help launch this necessary and important work.
Chuck confronts the problem most would rather ignore. Many choose not to see. The problem is hard not to acknowledge as more and more stories of abusive high profile church leaders hit the news. He doesn’t shy away from naming the narcissism in our churches and Christian organizations, or the destruction it causes. He also makes sure we know, “It’s an us problem, not a them problem. My hope is that this book will invite each of us to ask how we participate in narcissistic systems while providing clear resources for those traumatized by narcissistic relationships, particularly in the church.”
His work as a counselor to narcissists and those they harm, gives him unique insight into the behavior of both the abused and the abuser. He reminds the reader that we all have narcissistic tendencies and connects them with each personality type on the Enneagram. If you don’t know about the Enneagram, no fear. He educates us, and I plan to explore it further.
Through my earlier research, I was able to name the spiritual abuse, but Chuck helped me dive even deeper and taught me more language to describe our experience. The book will serve as a resource I’ll use again and again when I have a question or need clarity on this issue. He also took me to the other side…inside the minds of the narcissist leader and his or her followers…into the inner workings of the church planting networks. He helps us see why and how narcissism thrives in our churches.
But he doesn’t leave us there. He is thoughtful and wise as he leads us along truthfully and tenderly. He knows the trauma associated with abuse, and recognizes the difficulty some readers will face when reading details. Still, he challenges us to continue the hard work of healing. I am committed to it, because I don’t want to be part of the problem any longer.
Let’s Change This
I recommend this book to everyone in the church. Congregants, laymen, elders, staff, and pastors. Chuck DeGroat writes about what we see in our churches and read in the headlines. We don’t want to talk about it, but we must talk about it.
“The long, sordid history of the church testifies to our arrogant love of power, position, wealth, prestige, success, and privilege. As Henri Nouwen says, we long to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful, the toxic cocktail refused by Jesus in his wilderness temptation, but gladly embraced by many pastors today.
But given changing ecclesial dynamics and a growing social movement that takes clergy narcissism and abuse seriously, the church and its servants may be in a season of needed humiliation and reckoning. My hope is that we will respond to it humbly.”Chuck DeGroat, When Narcissism Comes to Church
I hope with you, Chuck. I pray it starts a conversation about this problem in our churches, and that it’s the beginning of a wide scale eye-opening and heart change.
Join the conversation. You can order the book at the link below the image and read the first chapter.
The devil led him (Jesus) up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Luke 4:5-8 NIV