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23 Reasons Why Narcissists are Drawn to the Church

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC,   November 10, 2023

At first, it can seem hard to believe that narcissists could thrive in a church setting.  But, upon closer inspection, it becomes very clear exactly why narcissist are drawn to the church and why they tend to stay for quite a while.

 The simple answer to why narcissists are so drawn to the church is that fellow church members make easy targets to abuse and fool.  This is not because church members are stupid or foolish.  But they are more trusting and empathetic than many other people, often in order to demonstrate that they are “good Christian people.”  And for that reason among others, the narcissist can gain much more leverage much quicker than in other places.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at why narcissists are so drawn to the church.

Table of Contents

1. Narcissists Wear a Mask to Church

A common term in the world of narcissism is mask-wearing.  The narcissist hides his/her shame so deeply by putting on a proverbial mask.  That mask allows them to hide their true self.  Maybe an even better term is to put on an act.  I clearly remember my ex husband’s facial expressions transforming as he consciously went from one role to another in his need to be seen in certain ways in certain circumstances.  The more I recognized it, the scarier it got to watch.

Because the church gauges some of its success on certain behavioral changes, when the narcissist can show these displays of behavior (whether it be a mask or an act), it is credited to him as positive change or growth in the Lord.  And then it becomes an ever-spiraling cycle of misplaced praise leading to even more fake behavior.

Because the process looks to be positive on the surface, nobody questions holes in the act or red flags.  That is because in the Christian life, there are always ups and downs.  We fail, then we pick ourselves up again and keep on working toward spiritual growth.

The narcissist uses this process to make it look like he is moving forward in his faith.  And he may even be trying to convince himself that that is exactly what he is doing.  All while continuing to put on an act, and thinking that overtime the act will automatically become reality.

*Note:  For the best resources on understanding and dealing with religious narcissism, click here!

2. Christians Tend to Be More Trusting of Each Other

Christians probably aren’t really more trusting than their secular counterparts.  We all tend to extend more trust within our circles of people.  That is because we expect people to invest more in the people that we relate to on a more than casual level.

But what makes Christians seem to be more trusting is that when issues arise, they can feel more of a compulsion to resolve those issues and live in harmony.  And sometimes that means allowing others more trust than they have earned, especially when others are watching how those people are relating to one another.

Unfortunately, even if you choose to treat a narcissist kindly in spite of the underlying issues, they will take that to mean that everything is fine.  They will barrel ahead in the relationship–whether business, friend, or family–as though nothing is wrong and there is nothing to repair.  You will never get them to admit to their issues and try to resolve them.  And they will never be worthy of the trust that people try to bestow on them in the hopes that they will rise to the occasion.

23 Reasons Why Narcissists are Drawn to the Church
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3. Christians are Supposed to Be Empathetic Toward All Others

Another reason that narcissists are drawn to the church is that they will expect you to be empathetic toward them.  Empathy can come easy to many of us.  We all know that nobody is perfect.  And the vast majority of people that we encounter are genuine people tha we should be empathetic towards.  But a narcissist will hang you out to dry if you extend empathy to him.  And if you don’t, he will demand it and “punish” you until you do give him the empathy that he thinks he deserves.

One of the hardest things to do in this case is to maintain an empathetic heart and show love to the narcissist but also keep healthy boundaries at the same time.  I struggled with this delicate balance for many months with my counselor.  She recommended the book, Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  To say that this book was amazing for my healing would be a drastic understatement.  Because I had been married to a narcissist for just shy of 31 years, I had no idea how to set and maintain boundaries.  A new world was opened up to me!

All this is to say that we can still be empathetic to the narcissist.  But that does not mean we are a doormat.  And he will definitely not think we are being empathetic because he won’t be getting the control and manipulation that he feels belongs to him.  But you will be doing the right thing based on what your relationship needs in order to keep yourself healthy.

why narcissists are drawn to the church

4. Churches are Always Looking For Leadership Positions to be Filled

There is always tons of work to do in the church.  And most churches do not have unlimited money to pay people to do those jobs.  So that leaves them dependent on people that are willing to do the work for little to no reward.

That is where the narcissist comes in.  He is willing to do that work for a seemingly thankless job.  That is because the church body is more than willing to let him take over control as long as things seem to be getting done.  What they don’t realize is that they aren’t turning over control of things getting done.  They are turning over control to someone who will use it to always get their own way, regardless of how harmful it will be to church life.

When things don’t go the way the narcissist wants them to, he will privately dispose of those who get in his way.  And because most people don’t want to make waves in the church, they are more than willing to quietly sneak away rather than cause a huge disturbance.  And that makes a perfect segue into the next point.

5. Church Members Who Realize They are Being Abused by a Narcissist Will Walk Away Quietly

One more reason why narcissists are drawn to the church is that members who are abused will walk away quietly.  They don’t want to cause more trouble.  They never intended to in the first place.

The wording in this point may be off by a little bit because many of us don’t even realize we are being abused by the narcissist.  We think that maybe he has just misunderstood.  If we can explain things in a better way, then he will understand and things can be resolved.  But that isn’t it.

The truth is that he knows very well the confusion and chaos he is causing.  And it allows him to stay on the top side while the rest of us are still trying to figure out what went wrong.  As long as we remain confused, he can remain  in control.  And many times, it is easier for the victim of the chaos to just gracefully bow out than to try to figure out the confusion and chaos that just won’t end.

6. Narcissists’ Lies Won’t be Challenged in the Church

One of the biggest reasons why narcissists are drawn to the church is that they can continue to lie constantly without facing the consequences.  This can go on for years.  Then even after people realize what is going on, they still won’t seek to right the wrong.  It is too difficult.  They realize that if the truth hasn’t been told yet, the narcissist is generally not going to start telling the truth now.  Many times, even with definitive proof, the narcissist will keep on lying until the bitter end.

My narcissist would lie about even very unimportant things.  It didn’t seem to matter.  It was just always total spin.  One time I actually got him to admit to the truth.  At that point I didn’t have a clue as to the depth of narcissism I was dealing with.  So I asked him why he would lie about that particular thing.  His answer was that it was because he wanted that lie to be his reality.  That may have been the most truthful thing he ever said to me.

The lies continued unabated for many years after that.  And I was successful in pinning him down a couple of times.  Usually it was because I had email proof that he had said differently previously.  And when he realized he was caught by his own words, his answer was that he misremembered and would have to figure out why he had a problem with misremembering things.

The only problem with his declaration was that he has one of the sharpest memories of anyone I know.  He can recall a conversation verbatim years after it happened.  The only difference in his ability to recall was whether he was trying to gaslight me or defend himself.

How to Stop Narcissistic Lies in Their Tracks

The best thing you can do in this situation is make sure that ALL communication is in writing, whether email, text, or handwriting.  But when you are working with someone on a church committee, and especially if they are the leader, it is virtually impossible to make only written communication the rule rather than the exception.

Upon realizing that lying is affecting ministry of the church, the best thing to do is to remove the wolf in sheep’s clothing from their position of leadership, if  not membership from the church.  1 Corinthians 5:11 makes this clear.  It says, “I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.” (New Living Translation)

This is a great way to disengage narcissists who are so drawn to the church in order to gain their much-needed narcissistic supply. And it is necessary to the benefit and well-being of the church family.

why narcissists are drawn to church

7. It is Easy for Narcissists to Hide Behind Church Servanthood

Hiding behind church servanthood is a huge reason why narcissists are drawn to the church. Narcissists have one primary need:  supply.  They need to be seen as the best, most relevant, most successful of those around them.  My narcissist used to tell me that he needed approval more than he needed food.

So, how does the church play into this need?  The narcissist will use the church to put himself in a position of leadership and control.  In the church, these positions are really servant-oriented in nature.  It is based on doing our part to keep the church functioning like a well-oiled machine.

When the narcissist can get credit for keeping everything running smoothly, then he is getting the supply that he so desperately needs.  This is the case even if everything is falling apart around him.  He just needs the perception to be that he is the hero that has come in and saved the day.

In fact, narcissists cause so much chaos and confusion that it is rare for things to actually improve under their watch.  And many times, much damage has done before people finally realize what has been going on.

When people take positions in the church, there is rarely a supervisor standing over them making sure that they do everything they need to.  People are generally trusted to do the job that they have promised to do.  And the majority of the time, that is what actually happens.

But in the case of a narcissist taking over those positions, it is important that once the church realizes what is going on, they take care of the issue swiftly to make sure that damage does not get to the point of unrecoverable.

8. The Church Tends to Forgive its Members

One of the reasons why narcissists are drawn to the church is actually related to one of the most significant tenets of the church.  Christians believe that their sins are forgiven through the blood and sacrifice of Christ.  And in return, we are to do the same for our fellow Christians.  Ephesians 4:32 says, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  If Christians are supposed to be known for anything, it is for forgiving their fellow brother, especially realizing that the wrong their brother has committed against them is probably very insignificant in light of all that they have done over their whole life that Christ has forgiven them for.

Unfortunately, the narcissist will use the forgiveness line to keep on abusing forever.  My narcissist used to use the seventy-times-seven verse on me all the time.  And for years, I accepted that.  Until I couldn’t do it anymore.  I would tell him that it had been way more than 490 times by now (admittedly, I was not living in the spirit of that verse by throwing that back at him).  But I would also give quote back to him Romans 6:1: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”

While it was a pretty effective verse for the occasion, throwing Scripture back at a spiritual narcissist never ends well.  Nothing is ever healed or resolved.  And my case was no different.  What it did do was allow me to know that I was okay in the place that I was sitting in.

9. The Church Tends to Give its Members the Benefit of the Doubt

This point is another reason why narcissists are drawn to the church.  They can continue almost indefinitely in this position and rarely if ever be questioned for their dishonesty, trickery, and gaslighting.

If someone does catch on and approach them regarding the issues, they will usually respond with, “I was just trying to help.  I would never do anything to harm the church.  I only have nothing but love for the church and my people.”  These are statements that are nearly impossible to counter without the narcissist feeling like he is being attacked personally.  And when the church finally does realize what he is doing and how he is using his defense mechanisms, things will get very ugly if they stick to their guns.  And the narcissist is counting on those fireworks to wreak havoc on top of the damage he has already done.

It is because of this disaster that so many people in the church will continue to give the narcissist the benefit of the doubt.  Nobody wants to believe that someone would be so deceptive in how they are working with fellow Christians.  So they hold out hope that maybe they are just misunderstanding the situation and it will get better.  But it won’t.

10. Narcissists in the Church Work Covertly

While narcissists are drawn to the church because they can be so visible in their leadership positions and all of the “help” they are providing to the church, the real work they are doing will be behind closed doors.  For every good work they are doing in plain sight, there are several devious activities going on behind the scenes.  They can be publicly supporting a huge decision the church is getting ready to vote on.  But behind the scenes they will be casting doubt in the minds of several people that they see as easily influenced by him.  Then on voting day, when the vote goes awry and the church goals are not realized, they will behave as though they are confused and can’t imagine how the church could not have moved in the direction it should have.

why narcissists are drawn to church

Because his words were so subtle and “under the table,” nobody, including the ones he spoke to, has a clue of what he was actually doing behind the scenes.  And in the rare event that someone does indeed see what is going on, if they bring it up publicly, the narcissist will deny to the end and cry misrepresentation or misunderstanding from the poor person that he gaslit all the way to the vote.

Because everything was done behind the scenes, the narcissist will continue to keep everyone as compartmentalized as he can for the sake of never being found out.  It is a remarkably effective ruse that allows most narcissists to continue to function unseen for a very long time. This leads me straight into the next point.

11. Narcissists Can Fool Church Leadership into Supporting Them and Punishing the Abused

Yet another reason why narcissists are drawn to the church is because inevitably, people realize they are being played.  And eventually they get tired of it and decide to do something about it.  But when they go to their leadership, they don’t get anywhere.  In fact, they end up looking petty, unforgiving, unreasonable, and sometimes outright wrong.  That is because the narcissist has already gone before them, sowing the seeds of doubt in the leadership to believe your story.

The diabolical thing about this is that they usually do it without saying a single negative word about you.  They will destroy you behind closed doors when nobody is looking.  But in public, they will only say the nicest things about you.  By very strategically changing their story among the leadership and taking on the role of a servant victim, it places you in the role of deceiver, troublemaker, and problem.

My Example of the Narcissist Fooling the Church Leadership

I dealt with my narcissist ex husband turning me in to two different pastors for not being a submissive and good wife.  I told the second pastor that it was true that if “I would just shut up and obey then everything could go back to normal.”  I clearly remember the look he gave me–he was silently but very markedly saying, “well, then, just obey.”

When he finally realized about a year and a half later what was really going on behind closed doors, he apologized profusely.  And from that day forward, he used that conversation as an example of when the words being said don’t always line up with what was really going on.  I am incredibly grateful that over time, my church leadership did figure out exactly what was going on.  But what tipped them off was not me finally figuring out how to explain it to them.  It was because when they started putting my ex’s feet to the fire, he started doing the same things to them behind closed doors that he had been doing to me for over 35 years.  And it quickly became crystal clear to them.

12. Members of the Church Don’t Want to Pick Sides When There are Issues

This is one of the most unfortunate reasons why narcissists are drawn to the church.  None of us really want to choose sides, especially when we love all the parties involved.  And generally speaking, when we choose to not pick sides and to continue to love everyone, it is a good thing.  But when abuse is involved, choosing to not take sides is actually taking sides with the abuser.  Because you choose to continue to love them through the difficulty, they read you as finding them not at fault.  And that gives them permission to keep on abusing because they have been successful at getting away with it so far.

Many times, not only does the abuse continue, it will actually increase in severity.  And the victim will feel more helpless than ever before.  If you know of a case where abuse has been committed and verified, please make sure to let the victim know that you are aware and in support of the healing they need.  And then make sure that you tell the abuser that you are aware of what has happened and you are praying and rooting for his healing.  It is important to support his healing.  But it is also important for him to know that he cannot continue to abuse and get away with it behind closed doors.

13. Narcissistic Abuse Doesn’t Get Revealed Because of Embarrassment

The church can be full of shame and people that feel like they are not good enough and never will be. Many people go to the church hoping to find comfort and support because of the inferiority that they feel.  But they can end up finding the opposite. They get there and realize that they can’t live up to the standards that some impose.  And the spiritual narcissist will fully take advantage of that problem.

It begins with the narcissist assuring the “inferior” that he can help them.  He can rescue them! And then the gaslighting, word salad, and chaos begins.  His words seem so kind and encouraging.  But yet they leave the people he spoke them to feeling even more inferior.  If only they could be as good, encouraging, and spiritual as the narcissist.  What they don’t realize is that they aren’t seeing the narcissist as he really is, but as he wants them to see him.

The truth is that in his supposed encouraging words, the narcissist is actually making his peers feel inadequate and as though they will never make progress from where they are.  All they can see are their constant failures while they perceive the narcissist to always be moving further and further in the right direction.  That perception is by design.  The narcissist wants them to feel that way.  He doesn’t want them to be encouraged.  He wants them to elevate him as the prime specimen.  The only way to do that is by bringing everyone else down.  But he can’t let them know that that is what he is doing.  So he does it in a way that they have no idea what hit them.

14. The Abused Don’t Realize the Extent of Narcissistic Abuse

This may be the primary reason why narcissists are drawn to the church.  They can easily carry out their signature tactics and the people they are using them on will likely not have a clue.  Why do victims of narcissistic abuse not recognize the extent of the abuse?  There are several reasons.

First, if the victim already lacks confidence in themselves, they will play into the narcissist’s claims that “there is something really wrong with them (one of my ex-narc’s favorite and almost daily quotes to me).”  They will feel like something is really wrong, but they won’t be able to put their finger on it or make it better.  This pattern can go on for years.

Next, they tend to work very hard to be overly charming.  They want you to think that they think the world of you.  And they will do things here and there to prove it.  That is how they get their narcissistic supply.  But the minute they think you perceive them differently, they feel like they are forced into high gear.

They may initially react by pouring on the charm even more to get you back in their good graces.  Or they may give in to your new opinion of them and isolate you to “punish” you for feeling the way you do about them.  Or, they could just decide to discard you entirely if they think it isn’t worth it and they can get more out of the next person.  Generally speaking, when all of this happens, the abused don’t have a clue what has happened to them.  They just  know things aren’t right and they have no idea what they did wrong or how to fix it.

why narcissists are drawn to church

15. Church Leadership Doesn’t Want to Admit They are Being Tricked or Manipulated

There is such pressure in church leadership to look like everything is well handled and under control.  Nobody wants their difficulties to be aired publicly.  Many times, when things are not going well, it seems better to keep them hidden away than to let them be seen.  Unfortunately, in the case of narcissists, this allows them to continue to spread their toxicity.

Often, church leadership keeps things behind closed doors to protect the privacy of its members.  That is a noble thing to do.  But it allows the narcissist to move on to new targets easily.  If the church at large doesn’t know what the narcissist has been up to it will be nearly impossible to nip the behavior in the bud or see the attacks before they happen.

Keeping the Narcissist From Moving on to New Targets

So what can the leadership do to avoid such things from getting out of control?  A great way to do this is to teach the church body how to recognize and defend from these types of attacks using Scripture.  While the Bible doesn’t use the word narcissism, it has tons to say about the condition.  You just have to learn the words that the Bible does use.  Then it becomes easy to learn how to deal with it.

Some of the Bible’s words for narcissism are pride, arrogance, foolishness, slanderous, haughty, liar.  There are so much more.  And some of these words describe people that don’t rise to the level of narcissism.  But if you see how God says to handle those, just know that He expects us to do the same to deal with actual narcissists.  A great example verse is Psalm 101:5.  It says, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will silence;  the one who has a haughty look and a proud (arrogant) heart I will not tolerate.”

16. The More Narcissists Learn Tactics to Control and Abuse, the Better They Get at Doing it Even More

Narcissists are experts of manipulation.  And they study their victims intensely from the first moment they meet them.  Because the rest of us don’t think or function this way, we tend to see them as sincere and caring, or even charming.  We don’t realize that they are relating to us in such an artificial way.

Narcissists learn what their victims like/dislike, believe in, what motivates them, narcissists manipulate them to do what they want based on now knowing what makes them tick.

In the church, this generally looks like ministry help, great knowledge of Scripture, encouragement, wisdom, service to others, and many more activities that are generally thought of as humble and caring.  If the narcissist can emulate these items to appear that he is a great Christian, it will give him the narcissistic supply/adoration that he so desperately desires.

As time goes on, the narcissist realizes he must step up his game to make sure that he is not seen for what he really is.  So he learns all of the right words and actions to say and do that make him look like a staple of the church.  And this behavior will be so good that it can fool even the most wise of us.  That is because none of us want to think that someone could be so calculating and cruel to base relationships on what they can get out of people or how they can be seen as superior above all others.  And that is maybe the biggest reason the narcissist is more drawn to the church than many other places.

17. Church Members Fear (For Good Reason) That the Narcissist Will Turn the Tables on Them if They Report Abuse

Another reason why the narcissist is drawn to the church is because he knows that those he has abused will fear him.  Once church members have seen the true character of the narcissist, they realize what they are up against.  He will do anything he can to keep others from finding out what is going on.  And they know he has the willingness to destroy them if they choose to call him out or challenge him.  Getting out from under the narcissist’s abuse unscathed is a difficult task.  But it can be done!

Here are some good tips:

  1.  Don’t ever be alone with the narcissist.  Make sure at least one other person is with you.
  2. Try to keep as much contact as possible in writing instead of in person if you can’t be with others.  It will make it easier to prove that you are not lying.
  3. Speak to a counselor who has experience with narcissism.  Everything will become clear very quickly and they will know ways you can keep yourself and others in the church safe.
  4. Make sure your church leadership understands what is really going on.  This can be very difficult.  But it is critical to the church’s wellbeing that the leadership not only knows about it, but how to deal with it.

So many things are hidden behind closed doors.  By taking this ability away from the narcissist, you take away his power.  By letting him know that the whole church sees what he is doing by handling it well, he will no longer be able to operate as a narcissist in your church.  And he will have to move on.  The more churches that know this, the better.  It will become impossible for the narcissist to use the church for supply.

why narcissists are drawn to the church

18. The Narcissist’s Need for Affirmation Feeds the Christians’ Need for Good Behavior

This point is a top reason why narcissists are drawn to the church.  Narcissists need affirmation just as much as they need oxygen.  And one of the biggest priorities of the church is to encourage the body of believers.

Narcissists will go in ready to do whatever it takes to be seen as the most spiritual and most helpful.  They will lead Bible studies and clean toilets (until they have established their sparkling reputation–then they won’t clean the toilets anymore–unless it means that they are more sacrificing than everyone else).  As they gain more and more affirmation, they will move themselves up the church ladder until they are at the top calling all the shots and making all the decisions.

For older narcissists, this position becomes attainable because they have been around the church long enough to know the lingo and inner workings.  It doesn’t mean they will do the best job though.  It means they will have more power and ability to wreak havoc behind the scenes.  But it never works out well in the end.

19. Church Leaders’ “Cures” for Narcissists Actually Create More Narcissistic Injury

This dominates as a reason why narcissists are drawn to the church because the only people that are aware of the narcissist’s insidious behavior are the ones closest to him.  The rest of the church sees him as a spiritual giant.

This is why the narcissist hones his skills of attack behind closed doors.  He becomes so good at isolating people and attacking them in ways that they will never say a word to anyone.  Either they stay silent because they aren’t sure what happened or how to process it.  Or they stay silent because they are terrified of the tables being turned on them for whatever they have seen him do to others.

So when church leaders want the narcissist and victim to work out their difficulties privately, it lands right into the narcissist’s playbook.  He will use all the right words to convince the leadership that he is pure of heart and only wants the best for his church.  All while beating the victim down even more behind closed doors.  The victim has been re-victimized.

20. Church Members are Generally Content to Let the Leadership Make Most Decisions

Nearly every church makes this reason why the narcissists are drawn to the church nearly a given.  The vast majority of the body trusts the leadership to make the best and wisest decisions without the body needing to be overly involved.  A huge trust factor plays into this nature of the church.  If you trust your pastor or priest with your life choices, why wouldn’t you trust him with the building of the church and day-to-day issues?

The narcissists understands this well.  And he knows how to take full advantage.  By swooping in and saving the day, he becomes the hero that is willing to do what it takes to help the leadership make it the best church it can be.  Except that is not what he’s really doing.  In actuality, he is priming the leadership to eventually do his bidding.

21. Narcissists Can Make Themselves Look Successful in the Church Regardless of Level of Failure

The reason why narcissists are drawn to the church regarding looking successful no matter how much of a failure they are is because they will always use the blame game.  Nothing is ever their fault.  And they will draw from whoever is in their vicinity to shift the blame away from themselves.  Narcissists of all walks of life use this tactic.  It is not just exclusive to those who use the church to gain their supply.

If things start going south, the narcissist begins by trying to explain away the failure.  They exude success.  But nobody understands them or what they are trying to do.  When that line of argument doesn’t work, they will move to blame whoever else was there.  It is always someone else’s fault.  And they will word it in a way that totally confuses the one on the receiving end of the blame.  The confusion and chaos that results means that the narcissist can continue to play these games indefinitely and nobody will catch on for a very long time.  Unless they have experienced narcissism before or have been taught how to defend against this behavior.

22. Church Members and Leadership are Willing to Hide Abuse to Preserve the Church’s Reputation

Narcissists love this about church life, hence another good reason they are so drawn to the church.  They works primarily by isolation and deception.  And because the church tries to respect the privacy of its members, it does not put negative life “out there” for the other members to see.

The narcissist knows this and will use it to continue to move from one member or group to another once things get too heated to stay where he’s at.  He can continue to move throughout the church to get the supply he needs indefinitely as long as there are unsuspecting members left.

This puts the church in a very precarious position.  Privacy is a must.  But educating the church to the egregious behavior of the wolf in sheep’s clothing is also a must.  So how do you balance between the two?

The church body must be educated without them realizing what specifics you are dealing with.  The pastor/priest preaching about specific events that have happened between members equates to gossip.  And imagine how the involved parties feel, knowing they are being outed from the pulpit!  Privacy needs to be preserved for the health of the church.

How My Ex Narc Took Advantage of Our Church

My ex narc actually took advantage of this in some huge ways.  Spoiler:  he was found out sooner than later.  The church did a great job of calling him out while still respecting our family’s privacy.  But unfortunately, there were a handful of fellow members that chose to believe his lies than see what was really going on. (I have an article on the effects of the narcissist’s lies on the church body here.)

A Couple of Examples

Anyway, let’s talk about what happened and how our church worked through it.  One thing that happened was after almost two years of work with church leadership and our counseling agency, instead of healing, my then husband doubled down on the control and manipulation.  Because things had gotten even more toxic, the church leadership decided to bring charges against him for abandonment and rebellion against the authority of the church.

Note:  this is a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) church and church government is a big part of church life.  While this may sound unusual for those outside of the church, it is not so much in many denominations.  It helps to protect families in need when used in the right way.

At the point there were charges against him, he started going to several members.  He asked them to vouch for his amazing Christian character.  There was no mention of what the charges were or what he was doing about it.  He simply said that the session (church elders) had randomly charged him falsely.  AND THEY BELIEVED HIM!  That was shocking to me, since they had known the church session and how honorable it had been for many years.

Because we could see a church split coming over an issue that couldn’t even go public, I asked the session to drop the charges.  They did.  And my ex narc was REALLY happy about it.  Until he realized that he didn’t win.  Charges were dropped to preserve church peace.  And because of this, he couldn’t decimate those who had crossed him.

Needless to say, it made him even determined to take everyone down who dared to stand up to him.

A Second Way My Ex Narcissist Took Advantage of Our Church

I’m going to fast forward through a lot of the craziness to talk about this one incident because it was a huge turning point with our church.  Up until this point, we had kept the things happening behind closed doors private. By this time, though, the session had placed me and the kids in an undisclosed home until we had a separation agreement in place and could return home safely.

My ex did not like that the session had stepped in.  And he knew that charges were coming down again.  So this time, he decided to head it off before it started.  He wrote a letter to every family in the church.  He sent it on a Friday night or Saturday morning.  But he didn’t send it to the session or to me for obvious reasons.  It didn’t matter.   The forwarding emails came very quickly to the pastor.

The letter was full of lies and a very twisted story.  And at the end of each form letter, he put a short paragraph that was personal to the person he had addressed each one to.  I guess that’s how he wanted to make them feel like it was a personal letter and not a form letter that he had sent to everyone.  The session was angry to say the least.  The pastor called me to let me know what was going on and told me he would need to engage with the whole church about it the next day.

The Result of the Narcissistic Letter

So, after the service, he sat everyone down to talk about the letter they had received.  Without providing private details, he explained how my ex had lied about the church’s role in all that had happened and told them what had actually happened.  Then he encouraged people who had more questions to speak with him or one of the elders.  A few did do that.  Several asked me a couple of questions.  And tons of people came up to me and said they had no idea what was going on but I had their full support.  I was grateful.

There were many more things going on at this time, but I think this gives you a good idea of the craziness that we were dealing with.  I will say, I was incredibly blessed that so many people saw what was going on.  My pastor said that after talking with several members, 99% of them were sympathetic to my situation and supportive.

23. Many Churches Prioritize Reconciliation Above Healing

Knowing that our church was no longer going to allow my then husband to continue to abuse his family, he moved on very quickly.  And unfortunately, there are plenty of churches in America that will support men who oppress their families in the name of the authority of fatherhood.

The churches that exercise authority over members also want control of the marriage relationship.  My husband went to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church so I will focus on what happened there.

At first, the leadership at the OPC church said they would cooperate with the counseling going on at our church regarding my husband’s healing and our reconciliation.  Our church’s position was that unless there was healing, there would be no reconciliation.  It wouldn’t be safe to allow him back into our home.

The OPC’s words unfortunately didn’t line  up with their actions.  They wanted to meet with me.  My pastor sat in so I wouldn’t be unfairly cornered.  That meeting did not go well.  The OPC pastor basically said he couldn’t justify divorce unless there was adultery.  Abuse didn’t count.  He did say because there was porn in the marriage, he could justify the adultery charge.  But nothing was ever done about it.  It was conveniently forgotten.

Next, the OPC pastor started emailing me about when I could start couples counseling at their church with my husband.  This was advised against by everyone in my circle of influence because couples counseling with an abusive spouse only allows more abuse. And he also started talking about me reconciling with my husband.  Yet not a word about his healing or even recognition of what he had done to his family was on the table.

A Bigger Problem than Just One Denomination

It isn’t just the OPC that holds these viewpoints.  My PCA church did a good job of keeping our family safe from abuse. But I had two other friends in two different PCA churches that were kicked out of their church.  The reason:  not staying married to their abusive husbands.  This was after they had asked for help from the church leadership.  There are many more denominations that don’t understand how to support people that are abused.  This refers to abused men as much as women.  Click here for an article that talks about the specifics of abuse/reconciliation/divorce in the OPC.

Churches need to take care of their own if they want to be relevant in society.  This is a sad reason for why so many women have been forced to walk away from church entirely.  They feel so beaten down by the church as well as their abusive husbands.  They can’t even try to find a church that will love them and support them in the difficult situation they have found themselves in.  And unfortunately, this is why narcissists continue to be drawn to the church.  They can be so incredibly successful at abusing their victims without people finding for years if ever.  And if it ever does come to light, the victim continues to be oppressed.

So What Can the Church do to Avoid Narcissistic Abuse?

Now we have established that abuse is a huge elephant in the room in churches.  So, what can we do to eliminate some of the reasons why narcissists are so  drawn to the church?

Recognize it for What it Is

It’s time to call a spade a spade.  We need to recognize abuse for what it is.  It is not always visible bruises.   And we know that emotional, spiritual, psychological abuse is often even more traumatizing than physical abuse. It. Is. Abuse.  And it needs to be addressed for the sake of healing.

Leave the Influence of the Narcissist, Even if That Means Having to Leave the Church

Narcissists will lose their reasons for why they are drawn to the church if they can no longer hide there.  But they will never give this up on their own.  The only way for this to happen is to say no more.  That includes the victims, but also the leadership of the church that has pledged to protect the peace and purity of the church.

It is not as easy as just saying no more though.  The narcissist will destroy anyone who gets in the way of his narcissistic supply.  So churches must use the help and support of counseling agencies that are familiar with narcissism and how to deal with it.

If your church is unable to do this in a way that allows you total restoration and healing, it may be time to look into another church that will look out for your overall wellbeing.

Remove the Narcissist From the Church Before Any More Damage Can be Done

In a perfect world, the narcissist would be identified for what he is and dealt with immediately.  Because narcissism is nearly impossible to cure or heal from (just google “narcissists that have healed” to see how rare it is).  Unfortunately, that is not the case right now, in the church or nearly anywhere else for that matter.

Interestingly, Jesus had some words to say about this.  He called spiritual narcissists “whitewashed tombs” as well as hypocrites in Matthew 23:27-28.  And the Bible is full of verses that talk about no letting the narcissist get away with his evil in the church, in relationships, in business, in the home, and virtually anywhere.

It is especially hard to call out narcissists, especially when they are covert.  If you call them out, they will have ten reasons why you are wrong and they are right.  And then they will make you the evil person for even thinking they could be less than perfect.  But it’s okay.  You know the truth.  And you need to stand your ground!  Just like Jesus did with the Pharisees.


Unfortunately, there are many more than 23 reasons why narcissists are drawn to the church.  But these are some of the biggest ones.  And hopefully these are the ones that when addressed in the church body can help the church begin its journey of healing.

Severe problems call for huge moves to achieve healing. At the end of the day, the only way to solve the problem of narcissism that is so prevalent in the church is to make it no longer safe for narcissists to hide in the church.  If we could do that, we could actually make the church vastly safer for the rest of us.

Recommended Reading

If you would like to go deeper into this subject, there are the two books I would highly recommend.  The first one was life changing for me in how I worked with my church leadership.  I actually bought a copy for my pastor to keep for future reference.  The second one is equally is good, but I read it much later in my journey, so it didn’t have quite the same effect as the first.  Both are excellent books!



I hope you find as much value in these books as I did!

If you liked this article, I think you will love the following articles as well:

When the Church Doesn’t Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

Will the Church Support Divorcing a Narcissist?

Are Narcissists Demon Possessed?

What Does the Bible Say About Narcissism?

Can a Spiritual Narcissist Heal?

Can a Narcissist Be a Christian?

What is Spiritual Narcissism?

What Does the Spiritual Narcissist Do When You Try to Leave ?

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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