Protecting ministers from narcissism

C.S. Lewis calls pride the “great sin” and “the essential vice.”  Scripture teaches that through the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16) we can be tempted into sin.  There are even more passages show a disdain for hubris (excessive pride and self-confidence) and the need for humility.  There is a healthy level of narcissism that promotes self-care but left unattended, and it can develop it to self-centeredness.

In a journal article in 2004, it was noted that over 90% of pastors fall into at least one of four types of unhealthy narcissism (Zondag, 2004).  The average is greater for young pastors, and it is equally distributed amongst denominations.

Centripetal narcissism (need for affirmation) – feel alive when noticed by others and hurt by minor remarks by others.  This is where the highest concentration of pastors are located.

Centrifugal narcissism (need for comparison) – feel an uncanny ability to persuade others and correct others.

Isolation narcissism (need to feel separate) – feel that when they are alone, everyone is criticizing them and are disappointed that others do not see their isolation.

Self-satisfaction narcissism (need to feed superior) – An overwhelming sense of luckiness to be who they are and well off.

What can pastors do to protect themselves?

  • Seek God’s face through spiritual disciplines
  • Gain an awareness of self – be honest about strengths and weaknesses.
  • Gain insight from authentic relationships with other ministers and lay leaders.  Open to their effort to hold you accountable and to sharpen you.
  • Learn to say no to certain activities until you understand whether you are called to them or whether they feed prideful tendencies.

What can congregations do to protect their pastors?

  • Ultimately, this is a two-way street, but it the best place to start would be in prayerful support.
  • Don’t be yes-people.  Generate your own ideas and bring them forward.
  • Hold the pastor accountable in a loving way.
  • Encourage and affirm your pastor.



  • Lewis, C.S. (1980) Mere Christianity.
  • Zondag, H. J. (2004) Just like other people: Narcissism in pastors. Pastoral Psychology 52(2), p. 423-427
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