Jacob simply described his Pastor as a narcissist.
But, it took over an hour for him to describe all the destruction wrought by his Senior Pastor while Jacob served the burgeoning church plant.
Jacob had studied for two years in college before he and his wife joined a church that had been a church plant, but was now ruled by an elder board.
The pastor, who was an excellent speaker, had planted the church and he had been effective in ministering to its members through his pulpit ministry. When he and his wife joined, Jacob was determined to be an encouragement to the pastor, knowing that often pastors have no one to go to for help and encouragement.
They struck up a seemingly close relationship and within six months, Jacob was asked to come on staff as the “Executive Ministry Director” and also serve as an elder on the board. He brought much organization to the young church and the growth in the following twelve to eighteen months was stunning.
The school cafeteria, in which they were meeting, was filling up.
However, Jacob was sensing what he interpreted to be an apparent consequence of the rapid growth, a lack of shepherding on the part of the leadership.
Jacob said he “started a conversation about it.”
But the pastor was “increasingly focused on gathering people around himself to hear him preach.” Jacob said, “It was getting to be unhealthy.”
He believed the purpose of church leadership to be the Ephesians 4 model of training the members for the works of ministry, not gathering them to hear one uniquely gifted teacher.
Jacob determined to discuss the issue with the pastor in a non-judgmental way, something Jacob considers his modus aperandi when confronting. Having grown up in an abusive home, he was particularly sensitive to “being wrong.” He was quick to “take the log out” of his own eye as Jesus, in Matthew 7, instructs.
He was not prepared for the pastor’s manipulation. Jacob described his reactions as “narcissistic.” He immediately shifted the blame to Jacob.
The confrontations came like clockwork. Every three to four months Jacob would sense that he was responsible before God to encourage the pastor to get off his high horse and shepherd the congregation rather than basque in his growing fame.
Never once did the pastor admit fault, according to Jacob. He would ask the pastor to consider what he had said, whether it was valid or not, and the pastor said he would. But the pastor’s response was always half-hearted and he “was never very convincing.”
Shepherding the 1%
Jacob described the church as being in a very wealthy area and had several millionaires in the congregation. It appeard to Jacob that the pastor would drop whatever he was doing and visit a wealthy member when called upon.
However, when someone less afluent or less influential sought counseling from the pastor, he would schedule them two or three weeks out.
Jacob remembers a young couple, who had just married, having marital struggles of a serious nature. They asked for an appointment with the pastor. The pastor scheduled them for two weeks later. However, a woman who was wealthy, attractive, and good friends with an influential pastor in their denomination asked for an appointment to discuss some of the well-known pastor’s teaching. She was immediately given a hearing…at her home…with just the two of them there.
An older couple was having marital difficulties and ended up calling Jacob to come counsel them. Jacob recalls physically shaking on the way to their house, knowing he was much younger than they were and had very little experience in counseling. He was convinced it was not for him to be in this position, but knew the pastor would not meet with them.
It ended well and years later, the couple claimed he saved their marriage. But Jacob was angered by the shepherding failure of the pastor that was not getting any better.
The pastor’s self-centeredness also was apparent in his handling of the church’s money.
He hired a personal assistant, paying him $40,000…without elder approval.
He gave himself a $10,000 raise…without elder approval.
He signed himself up for a medical plan that cost $5,000…without elder approval.
And when the church purchased office space, the pastor spent $20,000 on the remodeling…without elder approval.
According to Jacob, the building had a luxurious office for the pastor and a long countertop along one wall for the five other staff members. The fact that he and the other staff members had a countertop did not bother him. He was happy with his countertop office. But, “It was a glaring representation of [the pastor’s] heart” that drove Jacob to speak with him about it.
The pastor, in response, suggested Jacob take over the kitchen space for his office. Jacob told him that was not the point.
Keeping the Head Down
It was getting to the point where Jacob did not trust the pastor. He said, “It was almost like he was hijacking God’s truth for his gain.” He explained that he would sit under the pastor’s sermon and realize he did not trust him. The pastor did not “have his best interests at heart.”
Jacob tried to keep his head down and do ministry.
But, though he received great encouragment from the elders and congregant members when he would periodically preach or teach, the pastor would “pull him aside and make him feel like he had totally failed was the worst preacher ever.”
Jacob found out later that when people would ask the pastor for Jacob to teach a Sunday School class the pastor would tell them Jacob had “personal problems” and “doctrinal issues.” Jacob believed the pastor was jealous and afraid of anyone else in the church that was gifted. He could not stand to see “anyone else in the congregation celebrated.”
He knew at “some point he would be cut off.”
When the pastor told Jacob he was firing him, he said he could remain on as an elder.
The pastor wrote a letter to the elder board explaining, “Jacob has acknowledged his faults. Jacob was abusive to [me]. He was so oppressive to [me].” It was not at all what had passed between them.
When Jacob met with the elders, they were very encouraging to him and asked what he wanted to say to the congregation. Jacob said he “didn’t want to control it.” Later the elders sent a draft of the letter to Jacob.
Apparently the draft was quite different than what was read to the congregation. Following the congregational meeting, a senior member called him and said Jacob was “trashed” at the meeting. The member was very dissapointed. The elders had said just enough to raise suspicions, but did not raise a single failing of Jacob’s.
They gave him a good severence that Jacob interpreted to be “buying him off,” being they had not actually raised any issues with his work with the church.
“This felt well beyond circumstantial difficulty. It felt like spiritual warefare against my soul. Like a deliberate attack against the deepest part of who I am. It is hard to describe the level of woundedness I experienced.”
Like others with whom I have spoken, he said, “One of the hardest things to face besides the death of loved one is betrayal.” He said he was ready for the pastor to act in unbecoming ways, but not the elders. He was not prepared to see them “manipulated as weak men” by the pastor.
When it happened, “something snapped.” He said it has taken a long time to overcome.
When asked what was most healing to Jacob, he mentioned “time” and “God’s sovereignty.” Of particular interest was his struggle with God’s sovereignty in the situation.
He explained that knowing God is sovereign was “both a barrier and ground for healing.” It was a barrier because “God has brought this upon me so he must be displeased with me and bringing discipline.”
An easy interpretation for any of us, let alone one who has been raised being told he is worthless and always wrong. He says,
“My disposition is to believe others don’t care about me. I know its not true. It is an ever present lie. I was force-fed it as a child.”
On the other hand, the knowledge of God’s sovereignty also meant, “If God wounds me, its because he loves me. And if he heals? Its because he love me.”
He has popped back and forth between these views, knowing all the while God loves him dearly and the first interpretation is not biblical. He takes great comfort in this self-talk based upon the truth of God’s Word.
Following a year working as barrista and working towards an undergraduate degree, Jacob moved across country to attend seminary. He had not preached from a pulpit since leaving the church.
Within a week of arriving he was asked by the president of the seminary to fill in for a retreat speaker at a nearby Christian camp. The speaker had become ill and was unable to attend.
Jacob was given the task of preparing a sermon and a devotional each day for the retreat on very short notice. Rather than an overwhelming experience, he said he felt the Lord was saying to him despite his experience, “I trust you to handle my word. I did not disgard you.”
It was healing to know the Lord had more for him than what a narcissistic senior pastor had sought to impress upon him.
Jacob still struggles with the insecurities common in my research to those who have been under abusive leaders. There is a palatable sense of self-doubt that accompanies the trama from such abuse.
I have yet to meet someone who was “self-differentiated” enough to remain free of the harm. It is what drives me to encourage those under abusive leadership to get out. The long-term impact I have seen is not worth manning up.
Jacob has told his story to others and faced the disapproval of those who do not understand abuse. When I first asked him to share his story, he shared some hesitancy. He explained,
“My wife and I have…learned the hard way to be much more cautious in choosing to share our experience and the insights we have gleaned. On multiple occasions, my willingness to be vulnerable has resulted later in others immaturely attempting to use my vulnerability to their own advantage by assuming that these experiences somehow encumber my abilities in some way…something like making me seem like ‘damaged goods.’ Needless to say, this has been hurtful, but alas, we are broken people who live in a broken world. “
Even as Jacob came before a group of elders to be taken under the care of a denominational conference in preparation for ordination, he was fearful. He struggled to determine if the telling of his story would create backlash.
I hope and I pray that the bride of Christ to which he wishes to minister will in turn minister to him as he continues to experience God’s gracious love in healing.
Do you have a story to tell? We need to tell our stories and others need to hear them for healing to truly take place. Contact PearlsAndSwineSite for a confidential interview.