Pastoral Lessons from Mars Hill Church E6: Lessons on Narcissism (with Dr Chuck DeGroat)

Join Ryan Williams, Dave Bruskas, and Sutton Turner as they reflect on their time at Mars Hill Church in Seattle and share lessons they have learned that can serve other pastors and ministry leaders.

For more on Dr. DeGroat’s book, please visit Amazon.

Listen here: https://amicalled.com/pastoral-lessons-from-mars-hill-church-e6-lessons-on-narcissism/

A transcript of the podcast is below.

Introduction:

Welcome to The Older Pastor/Younger Pastor Podcast, a discussion through the pastoral, epistles, scripture, and ministry in the 21st century. The Older Pastor/Younger Pastor Podcast is part of Am I Called Ministries. Am I Called Ministries helps current and aspiring pastors, ministers, and leaders to live, love, learn, and last in ministry. Visit Am I Called at amicalled.com.

Pastor Ryan Williams:

Welcome to a special series of episodes of The Older Pastor/Younger Pastor Podcast. In today’s episode we’ll be discussing pastoral lessons learned from Mars Hill Church, lessons on narcissism. Many of you know the Mars Hill Church in Seattle closed its doors at the end of 2014 after a year of scandal, complaints, and revelations about what had gone on within the church for many years. Mars Hill Church at its peak was around 18,000 people spread over 15 different campuses and it had an operating budget of around $32 million. It also had a podcast audience weekly of around 300,000 people.

Pastor Ryan Williams:

For the point that Mars Hill was at its climax, there was about 24 months until its doors closed. I was a part of Mars Hill Church. I served as the lead pastor of the Everett location. Dave Bruskas, who’s with us today, also served at Mars Hill as an executive elder. Today with us we have our guest, Sutton Turner, who also served as an executive elder. Today we have a special guest, Dr. Chuck DeGroat from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He is the author of When Narcissism Comes to Church. He has pastored churches. He’s a professor. He’s also a counselor. Guys, welcome. It’s great to have you here today.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Thanks, Ryan.

Pastor Ryan Williams:

All right. So today we’re going to kick off as we always do, wanting to care for and help pastors and ministry leaders, current and aspiring, to live, love, learn, and last in ministry. To do that, we really feel like the scriptures have given us all that we need for life and godliness, but they’ve also given us kind of an outline for how we are to function within the church, how we are to lead, how we are to love. So today we’re going to look at Jesus’ command to His disciples in John 13 verses 34 through 35.

Pastor Ryan Williams:

This is a really famous passage, obviously, but I think it’s one that gives us a tone and a tenor for how church and Christians are to interact with one another, regardless of if they’re pastors or if they’re congregants. This is what Jesus says to His disciples. He says, “I give you a new command, love one another just as I have loved you. You also are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Now, for those of you who don’t know what narcissism is, it is kind of the direct opposite of what Jesus’ command to us there is.

Pastor Ryan Williams:

But for a more informed description of narcissism and narcissistic institutions, Chuck, would you be willing just to lay it out for us? I mean what are some of the characteristics of a narcissistic church or a narcissistic institution?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Yeah. Well, thanks for having me, you guys. This is a tough subject. I mean I’m sure it’s tough for you. You bring stories. You bring pain. I have my own pain that I bring with me to a topic like this. When I first engaged this conversation it was really hard to write on, to be honest. I mean this kind of stuff, we see it a lot in the church nowadays. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to provide some clarity because we often have a caricature of narcissism, a political leader, a Hollywood star, someone we have in mind that may not exactly fit.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Psychologists tell us that narcissism comes in the package of grandiosity, a need for affirmation, a need to be on stage, a need to be affirmed, a low sense of empathy. In other words, narcissists are not really able to really understand how they impact other people. Often there’s volatility in their work and their relationships. I see this oftentimes when I do consulting work with churches. I see some constellation of these kinds of attributes in larger systems that might look like a church that is large, but it doesn’t have to be that large. It’s just a church that is really impressed with itself, you might say, really believes that God has chosen it, called it special.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

It’s unique. We’re the only church that speaks truth. We’re the only church that champions morality. We’re the only, fill in the blank. We’re the only church. So there is this sense of God has specially called and ordained us, anointed us, whatever word you want to use. So that’s generally what we see. There’s often I’ve found with people who are narcissistic and even institutions, a real lack of curiosity about it, a real sense that when we begin to go there with them, they’re not really interested in having that conversation. They’re pretty impenetrable.

Pastor Ryan Williams:

That’s really, really helpful. But the hope is obviously that our listeners are going to be able to do some diagnosis of themselves and some diagnosis of the church or churches that they’ve been a part of, hopefully so that they would learn about narcissism in the church and then also do everything they can to get away from it or to really turn away from what would be a really narcissistic institution. The hope is that this wouldn’t be just a bring out all of our garbage into the light just so that we can have our own therapy with it here, but hopefully that we would be able to share some specific examples of what Mars Hill Church was like so that others who are experiencing similar things might be able to say, “That’s what it’s like.”

Pastor Ryan Williams:

So Dave and Sutton, I’d like to invite you into the conversation now. Would one of you guys just be willing just to kind of share some of your experiences as well as maybe just ask Chuck a couple of questions about what narcissism in the church might look like and how it played out in Mars Hill?

Pastor Dave Bruskas:

Sure. Chuck, thanks again so much for the time today. Found the book really helpful, especially the idea of collective narcissism which you talk about and the idea of that the church culture being narcissistic. When I first came to Mars Hill and really to an executive elder role, I had been a lead pastor in Albuquerque so I was being transferred and moved into a position of greater authority. One of the first questions that was asked me by a fellow executive elder is, “Hey, now that you’re here what are you going to do on the side?” In other words, what is going to be your other ministry of attention so that you can have something bigger and broader outside the local church?

Pastor Dave Bruskas:

Chuck, I think when I look back on that, part of that was born out of necessity. In the early days of Mars Hill, the finances just weren’t there to provide for the staff well. So many of the staff had to go do a second job. But by the time I arrived, the situation was different. Looking back on it now, and it’s easier to see it now than it was then, it seemed like the church was really a platform for the leadership to build for themselves a broader persona, a bigger, more grandiose version of himself to the broader church and even outside of that.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:

So my question for you is real simple, just in your research, is that a typical trait of a narcissistic culture where the local church is almost a springboard for those involved in leadership into something bigger and better?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Yeah, bigger and better. That’s a good phrase. Because it’s almost like it’s such a deep violation of that passage you just read, Ryan, because when I think of loving neighbor, when I think of loving God, I think of that in very personal terms. I think of loving neighbor in very local terms. There’s this grandiosity with narcissism and narcissistic churches where now we’re really aware. We’re managing an image not just locally or not just for our people but for the world. The world is our audience. Everyone is a tool in that. They’re an asset. They’re a pawn.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I mean I’m intentionally trying to use words that are somewhat dehumanizing in the sense that oftentimes with larger institutions staff come in and they leave. As one church told me, there was a trail of dead bodies here where we used you for a while and you wrote a book. You developed a curriculum. You created something. You brought us some attention, but you failed us. You weren’t loyal enough. You didn’t come through in the way that we hoped that you would come through. So there’s really not a sense in systems like that that you’re valued for who you are.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

When I think of you guys talk I think a lot about the Pauline epistles. Oftentimes when I teach on Paul I talk about the indicative and the imperative and that deep sense of being. This is who you are. You’re a son. You’re a daughter. You’re chosen. You’re loved. Often what I found in those spaces is it’s a lot about imperative. It’s a lot about doing and not so much about being, so you find yourself exhausted and overwhelmed in a system like that and sometimes just used and abused.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:

One of the patterns that I saw begin to develop at Mars Hill was this idea that loyalty equals godliness, that the leaders that were perceived to be the most godly and spiritually mature were also those who were most loyal to the senior leaders in the church and to the church itself. What are your thoughts on that? Is that a pattern that you’ve seen in other places as well?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s so twisted, isn’t it? Because loyalty’s not such a bad thing. But there’s a demand for loyalty. When I talk to people who’ve been in systems like that, when I remember my own stories, you sort of know when you cross the line, when you’ve been disloyal. You’re shut out. You’re not invited to the group of insiders and their gathering later that night. You’re not included on the email. You’re not in anymore. So loyalty’s very important. It’s loyalty to the person, to the leader, not ultimately loyalty to Christ. I mean I think when I met humble leaders, they’re very willing to be engaged, even on the hard things.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Here’s where I messed up. Here’s where I disappointed you. Because ultimately, we’re serving Jesus together and we’re all learning. We’re all growing. We’re recognizing our blind spots, our sin. But yeah, the narcissistic leader makes it all about himself or herself and in so doing, creates this artificial standard. You’re either in or out depending on your absolute loyalty to me, to my agenda. That can be really, as I say in the book, crazy-making, confusing.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I use the language of gaslighting because there are folks who experience this who will say, and I know I’ve experienced this, “Maybe it’s me. Maybe I did something wrong. Gosh, I should be better. I should be a better leader. I should have done that differently. I should have wrote that email a little bit more carefully. I should have developed that curriculum with a little bit …” So there’s always a sense, “Gosh, I must have messed something up.

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. Let me try this again. Chuck, can you hear me? Okay. All right. So Chuck, when I look at the nine different characteristics, diagnostic characteristics of a narcissistic personality, I look back at that and compare that to the culture at Mars Hill Church, I can check every box, every single box without a doubt. It’s interesting now when I look back, what is it, almost six years, that I can see it clearly. But during that time period, I couldn’t see it at all. Not only that, anyone that would raise issues or challenges or threatens to the institution, I would attack them along with the rest of the leadership.

Sutton Turner:

But then now on the other side and you look back, you can see it more clearly. So what would you have told me back when, let’s just say 2013, 2014, when I don’t see it? Understanding that I have the capacity to see it, but let’s assume that, how could you help somebody that was Sutton Turner back in 2013, 2014, that’s hurting people, sinning against people, that’s damaging, that’s not having empathy, that’s rationalizing that we’re doing this because of the greater good and it doesn’t matter it’s hurting people? I mean it’s just so we’re fully trailing on and Chuck comes to me and says … What do you say to me to help me see what I’m doing?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

That’s a great question. That’s a hard one honestly because I think that those who follow that narcissistic leader can sometimes be just as blind and, sadly, complicit in it too. I know I speak as someone who has been complicit myself. We often when we’re talking about narcissistic leaders, we talk about them being mirror hungry. In other words, the audience, the staff, that’s their mirror. They want reflected back to them that kind of loyalty that we were just talking about. Followers are ideal hungry. What that means is that they’ve elevated you to such a heroic status that you will follow them to the ends of the earth, sort of like William Wallace in Braveheart.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

So those who serve under them are sometimes in the midst of that so blind to it that it’s really hard. That’s where it’s hard to know what I would say to you. Oftentimes what I try to do is I try to bring to folks a bit of the debris field, a bit of the damage. “Hey, can you take a look at what’s happened here?” Because my hope would be that maybe you’d be more open than the leader to seeing … There have been, as I said with one staff at one point, 13 transitions they’ve been called in the last year of pastors here who are brought in who are supposed to be the next site pastor, the next executive pastor, the next this person, the next that person.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

So what do you do with that? I remember sitting with a man and saying, “What do you do with that?” He’s like, “Man, I hadn’t thought about that. I just thought about how God has been blessing us.” I said, “Yeah, I mean they have families.” I mean I’ve heard some of those stories where they lost health insurance. They lost reputation. I remember sitting with this man. He began to weep. He said, “I just did not think about it that way.” I hope, Sutton, that maybe I could get through to you by just sharing with you a bit of the pain that people are experiencing as a result of the debris field of this ministry or this senior leader.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

But I don’t always see that breaking through, if you know what I mean? Because I know how hardhearted I was or how complicit I was. So it’s hard sometimes to break through, if that makes sense.

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. It does make sense because I mean I know Dave and I have had a lot of one-on-one meetings over the years with different people that have reached out to us and say, “Hey, Mars Hill hurt me,” or, “You hurt me directly,” and had an opportunity to hear their story and empathize with them. Unfortunately, those were all the stories I never heard during the time period or I never listened. I don’t know which one that would have been. But now looking back, you see the impact. So then my next question is is that are there people that are in that types of narcissistic environments that never see the impact?

Sutton Turner:

I mean they never have the day that Dave and I waking up and just feeling just incredibly sinful and incredibly shameful for participating in some of the things that we did and then looking around and realizing that there are other people that don’t carry that same weight for being a part of that. How can you help me get my head around that?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Yeah. Well, and it says something about your health, all three of you, that you had at some point woke up to this, woke up to the reality that maybe the senior leadership they weren’t heroic, perfect, put together as much as you thought they were. In contrast, remembering a call I had a few months ago with someone who was really struggling with the reality that an old colleague and family member was going back, another story, another pastor in a different place, different church who fell from grace and was now restarting a church some place else.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I was on a call with someone who said, “This friend, this colleague is going with him and I don’t know what to do with that after all that’s transpired, after all the pain, all the brokenness, all the disappointment.” She said, “He just needs this guy to be a hero. He can’t allow him to be flawed. He can’t believe that this person that he followed for so many years is broken, is sinful, is flawed, has hurt people in the way that people say.” It gets back to that loyalty phenomenon. People have compared some of these dynamics, even the cult dynamics where you’ve got such a loyal following that they’re simply unwilling to see the brokenness within the system, in the person, the debris field around them.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

They’ll follow to the ends of the earth. Again, I mean whether or not there’s clear data or not, they’ve got to be spinning in a way that isn’t truthful, isn’t accurate. He’s not that bad. He hasn’t done those things.

Sutton Turner:

So let me ask you a question. Someone who suffers from clinical narcissism, is there a church structure, an accountability form, a way that someone that is highly gifted, let’s say incredibly gifted, would be able to themselves be pastored and submit? Or is this a situation to where this type of disorder is just they’re just unable to serve in full-time ministry?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Yeah. That’s a great question. First I’d say that I make a distinction between narcissistic traits and narcissistic personality disorder. There are many of us who have narcissistic traits but are not diagnosably narcissistic personality disorder. I would say that in my experience, I think the research bears this out too, when you’re talking about the disorder, it’s really hard to see substantial change. They’re very tethered to their ego. So the chances of seeing humility, repentance in any of the ways we would hope to see it are, well, they’re just very slim.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

So when you talk about structure, the question I often get is, “I’m in a nondenominational network. It probably would be different if I was Presbyterian.” I want to say, “Well, listen. I was Presbyterian and I watched the structures fail us. I watched accountability fail us.” I think sometimes when you’ve got, it’s sometimes called in the circles that I’ve run in, the Old Boys’ Club when you’re protected by other men who have your back and say, “I’m not going to let them get to you. I’m going to protect you.” I mean I see this all the time. I’m consulting right now for a presbytery where they’re protecting a narcissistic leader in part because this person has brought in a lot of money and has really impacted that region for good, I mean I want to say for some really good things actually.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

But he’s just resisting any accountability and that makes me really sad because I want to believe that there’s a structure. I want to believe that there’s something that we could do, some kind of accountability. We get Dave and Sutton in their lives and they’re going to meet regularly. It’s not going to happen. And then it happens. I can tell you, I’ve been duped at different points. They’ll say, “Okay. Well, Chuck, we’ll set you up to be that guy’s therapist,” and then I’m duped and I’ve got to come around to see what I’m missing. This is just really tough stuff that we’re dealing with.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I’m grateful that God is a God of enormous grace because of my own blind spots because I know … I’m sure I’m hearing it from you all. Gosh, I feel bad about how I participated in particular kinds of ways too.

Pastor Ryan Williams:

I moved countries to join Mars Hill Church. I moved from Austrailia back in 2011 and I think the narrative that I tell myself is I agree theologically with the Acts 29 distinctives, Mars Hill was offering internships, there was REtrain there. There was this opportunity to really be trained as a pastor. And I am sure there was some of that pure motivation. I was called. I wanted to be that but there was also I know in my own heart just I have had to do some reflective work I wanted to be a part of something that was big and shiny and dynamic. It was this world leading ministry. I was a younger man. I was about 24, 25 years old when I moved out here to the States. I look now and I say knowing what I know would I have done that. I met my wife and I have a great family. I totally would for them do that again. When we are talking to aspiring ministry leaders who are listening to this right now, what wisdom would you have for them as they are looking at ministries and churches and different programs that they want to align themselves with? As they are seeking to make a wise decision, what are some diagnosis of their own heart that they might need to do to make sure that they are not wanting to be a part of a narcisstic institution just because it has a dynamic leader or is the happening place in evangelicalism?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Oh wow. You guys ask really good questions and they’re really tough questions. Because I wish I had a ready answer for you as someone who now trains pastors. I do a lot of work with future pastors around getting to know their own life, getting to know their own story, some of the patterns and dynamics that have come to make up who they are. It’s tough sometimes when you’re 25, you’re 30 years old, and you’re driven by some measure of ego. It’s tough nowadays in the age of social media when we prop up people who we don’t even know. But then I realize I did this.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I was a guy going out to Ligonier Ministries conferences back in the day, Sproul and Packer and Brown, Swindoll and all these. That’s not a comment about them. It’s more I wanted to follow someone. Paul, Apollos. Paul says, “Look at Jesus.” I don’t know why Jesus isn’t enough for us. Part of my job, I think, is to invite people to Jesus and, in so doing, inviting them to a different way of living and being and relating in the world with humility in a world that so quickly draws us to the next great thing, this denomination, this church plant, this strategy, this program.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I can tell you that I do it in fits and starts and I’m sure you guys all have enough experience to be able to say the same thing. You invest in someone for such a long time. I think about people I’ve invested in who are tugged by their ego into something that two or three years later I’ve lost contact. I’m like, “Oh no. I thought we did good work. I thought I discipled you well.” So this is hard work and it’s humbling work because you realize even your best work, even my deepest investment in people I sometimes find that they go off the rails.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

But then again, when you look at the life of Jesus, Jesus had three years with the disciples and what do they do after the three years? I mean one betrays Him. The others go in different directions. I think Jesus would be pretty good at this, pretty good at discipling people. But I give myself some grace that they went off the rails even after Jesus spent three years with them, so have some humility.

Sutton Turner:

So Chuck, what have you seen in the narcissistic leader in times of stress? How does that show up? What does that look like, especially from someone that’s close, that really can see behind the green room door, so to speak?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Yeah. That’s a great question. In times of stress, I mean that’s when they really become micro managing and controlling. Commanding control really goes into high gear, I think, when they’re under stress. They become much more paranoid, much more suspicious. I think there’s a general, with narcissism, there’s a general inability to trust anyone anyway. But they can fake it. I call that faux-nerability, F-A-U-X, a kind of faux vulnerability. But under stress they become all the more suspicious. And then even the folks who are most loyal, they begin to question.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

They micro manage. They become somewhat obsessive. They’re the only expert in the room. I mean you guys can have all the training that you have and I’m the expert. I’m the enlightened one. I’m the guru. This is where I scratch my head. I’ve been in reform contexts for a long time where we talk about our brokenness and our depravity and our sinfulness and things like that. And yet, I’m the guru now. I’m the enlightened one. It can get really toxic behind the curtain in the green room. I’m sure you all have experienced some measure of that.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:

Super helpful. Chuck, I’m very much like Ryan. In hindsight, in reflection, I’ve come to realize that what drew me to Mars Hill and probably energized me while I was there was my own narcissistic characteristics, this grandiose thought of if I’m not a part of something really big then I don’t have any significance whatsoever. Because things are growing and big and they’re gaining influence, it overcomes all the sin and the brokenness beneath it, so coming to terms with that.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:

But for younger pastors out there listening or any of those pastors, what could I have done prior to coming upon this the hard way and having to deal with my own sin through just the pain of it? What could I have done in the early years to get input on the things I don’t see? Because clearly for those of us caught up in narcissism, we don’t see what we don’t see. So number one, what would you say to somebody who is beginning to wonder about himself? And what are some practical things that can be done to check, to get input from others to speak into these areas you may be blind to?

Pastor Dave Bruskas:

Secondly, what advice, what counsel would you give to the person who’s beginning to suspect he or she is caught in a narcissistic culture? What can they do to bring about change, and when is it time just to go?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

A word that’s become really important to me is curiosity. I think what undergirds what you’re saying right now is this real sense of curiosity. Why is it that a few of us around the table here, virtual table, have been drawn to grandiose visions? What is that about? What did I need when I participated in what I participated in? One of the hard realities is, this is sometimes tough for men in particular, is to recognize the shadow side, the shame, the insecurity that really when it comes down to it, I can feel sometimes, and I don’t know if any of you have ever felt this way.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

But when I joined the faculty that I’m on now, I looked around the table and I felt like an eight-year-old boy. I thought, “I just don’t belong with the big boys.” I can’t tell you how much I felt that a lot over the years. So I’m drawn in. Gosh, I remember when I was drawn in. I was with a group of guys and they were hanging out one night. They were drinking bourbon and they were making steaks. They were talking about all the people who they know. “You know him? Wow. I feel like I finally made it. I’m finally there. My goodness.” That’s a big piece of it is are you aware enough?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I turned 50 this year and I still wonder if I’m aware enough. But am I aware enough to catch myself in the act and to say, “That’s really appealing right now. He wants you on his podcast? Okay. Well, your book must be … You must be something now, Chuck. That’s what you’ve been waiting for.” To catch yourself in the act and say, “No. No, no, no, no, no. I don’t want to play that game anymore. I’m tired of playing that game.” A favorite poet of mine, David White, talks about getting to a place in life where you’re sick of tired of playing the game of the false self.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I just don’t want to play the stage game anymore. I want to live more honestly. Going back to the passage from John, I want to love God. I want to love my neighbor. Everything gets a whole lot more simple hopefully at that point. I don’t know if I’ve fully answered. Did I get at what you’re asking for, Dave?

Pastor Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Maybe just a follow-up is for those that just begin to think they’re in a narcissistic culture, a collective narcissism, at what point, because I get this question a lot. What determines whether you stay and try to bring about change and what should lead you to go?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all to that. I like the adage, put oxygen on your face first. I think that you need oxygen when you discover you’re in that kind of system. That means you go to a wise older friend, a Dave, a Sutton. You sit down with them and say, “Hey, talk to me about what’s going on here. I’m feeling a little crazy.” You go to a therapist who gets these kinds of dynamics, a humble person, himself or herself, a spiritual director, a mentor, a friend, a pastor, someone who you could talk to before going in and confronting.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

It’s a really dangerous thing to do. That never goes well. I know when I tried to do that at one point, to go in to confront the narcissistic leader, it didn’t go well for me. So I want to think very carefully about what do I need and what is my role. After some time of doing some discernment with a wise person, maybe a wise group of people, okay, maybe I do decide to step away or maybe I connect with a couple of my colleagues and I go to a group of elders and I raise some questions. But I do it really slowly, patiently, methodically, and with prayer and discernment.

Sutton Turner:

On that, as a follow-up, Chuck, as you’ve studied churches and narcissistic leaders, is there an instance where there’s been a large narcissistic leader that has been confronted and been receptive? I mean has it ever gone well? I mean if you’re an executive pastor or a senior associate pastor out there, is it worth that person … If it’s a 0% possibility that it’s ever going to work out well, do we want to tell the guy, “Hey, you’re going to be the first?” Or do we say, “You know what, this is probably not a wise decision for you to confront this. You might want to just leave.” So I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Yeah, yeah. Well, I think it really depends on when I go and I do this work, hopefully in a slow process of discernment, I’ll begin to see if there’s curiosity there. Where I see curiosity or a willingness to see blind spots, a growing openness, usually it doesn’t happen overnight. But where I see a growing openness, I’ll often say, “I think there’s some hope here. I think maybe he needs to step away for a season of sabbatical.” We’ll craft a plan perhaps for him.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

But there have been spaces that I’ve in, to be honest, where I’ve not seen that and where the door is closed and shut and padlocked from behind by the narcissistic leader. That’s where I don’t quite have as much hope. But yeah, I have seen. This is where I frustrate some people with the writing of this book because I am hopeful. I remember there was a woman who deals a lot with narcissism, actually from Australia, Ryan, who shut me out at one point. She said, “They’re wicked and that’s it and there’s no hope.” I said, “Listen, I believe we’re all image bearers.”

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

There’s this great line in Calvin’s Institutes where Calvin is talking about walking along the side of the road and sees this person in pain, person who doesn’t know Jesus and says, “Because he’s an image bearer, he’s worth giving yourself in all things.” That’s Calvin saying, “Each and every one of us is an image bearer to whom we owe a lot because we’re designed for dignity,” as one of my old professors used to say. So I want to keep pursuing until I’m shut out completely.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I know there’s one story of a pastor. I won’t name the name. But this pastor spent a year inviting people into his office and just hearing stories of the debris field of damage that he created, a whole year of just listening to how he had hurt people. I thought, “Wow, that’s some pretty extraordinary humility.”

Pastor Ryan Williams:

[inaudible 00:36:47].

Pastor Ryan Williams:

(silence)

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Yeah. What encouragement would I have? I’d say, “You sound exhausted.” Now I’m putting on the hat of the therapist. “You sound really, really exhausted.” I mean the Bible talks a lot about this idea of Sabbath. We need rest. I mean I don’t know about you guys, but one of the things I’ve learned about myself as I’ve gotten older is that I pushed hard for a long, long time. I simply need spaces to play, to relax, to read, to rest, to be in solitude. I’ve cultivated some of that. I’ll walk into systems like you’re describing, Ryan, and I’ll see the exhaustion on their faces and I’ll begin right there.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I won’t begin with a diagnostic of the system. I’ll just begin with, “How’s this working for you? Is this sustainable for you and for your family?” It seems to me that when I just start providing some care for the pastor or the pastor’s spouse or just kind of sit with them and saying, “What do you need in this season? How is this going?” They get to the conclusion that they need to get to on their own. I don’t really need to say a whole lot about a lot of other things. They know. They’re longing for rest. They know their Bibles well enough to know that God wants us to experience that deep rest for our souls that we so deeply long for.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

I mean this is what pastors do. We’re all pastors. We sit with people and say, “I might know a little bit more right now about what your soul longs for than you do. So let me tell you a little something about springs of living water that are available to you right now if only you’d receive them.”

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

(silence)

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Yeah, that’s a good question. With my first-year students, I begin every semester with a reflection on the Beatitudes. I tell them that right before Jesus ascended the hill, talks to them about the nature of the kingdom, He’s engaged in this very large public ministry event. He’s healing. He’s teaching. In other words, He’s pretty impressive. He’s doing some pretty awesome things. People are coming from all different kinds of places as far as the Decapolis to see Him and He’s just called His disciples. I like to ask my class to put yourselves there as a young man watching Jesus do these great things. What would it feel like?

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

They inevitably say, “Wow, that’d be awesome. He called me? I get to be a part of this? Maybe I’ll get the Jesus juice at some point. I’ll get to do the things He’s doing.” Jesus is right in the midst of this and He leaves. No pastor in his right mind would leave a ministry that’s going really well, lots of people are coming from all different places. But Jesus leaves. He goes up the hill and says, “Let me tell you about the nature of my kingdom. Blessed are the [foreign language 00:42:27],” those who’ve come to the very end of themselves, Eugene Peterson said, the poor in spirit. “Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek.”

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

There’s just something about that. “We just missed it. We just missed it.” It’s as simple as that. Again, it took the disciples a long time to get that and internalize that. And then even still, even after Jesus is raised and Peter and Paul are still going like this and Paul and Barnabas are still going like this. There’s infighting. Ego, comparison, competition will always be with us, I think. But I just keep returning to the life, the ministry of Jesus and saying, “Lord, shape me in that way. Conform me to your image.” So that’s my final word. Look to Jesus. Follow Jesus.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

If you do, by the way, and you guys all know this, there are going to be a lot of humiliations along the way. You’re going to have to see things about yourself where you’re like, “Oh no, there it is again. There’s another blind spot. There’s another …” Okay. It’s okay. Grow through that. So that would be my last word, if that’s helpful.

 

###

Sutton Turner is the chief operating officer of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices, and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vanderbloemen
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/vanderbloemen-search-group/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/VanderbloemenSG

Please pray and give to support these churches as they Make Disciples and Plant Churches