How To Spot and Survive Narcissist Pastors

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

After this show was broadcast, Julie posted a blog that addresses very serious issues about the study in Let Us Prey and its authors.

Have wolves in Shepherd’s clothing infiltrated the North American Church? And are sheep being systematically devoured as a result? Joining me this week on The Roys Report is Darrell Puls. Darrel is a researcher and author of the book, Let Us Prey! How can you detect if your pastor is a narcissist? And what do you do if he is? Don’t miss The Roys Report, this Saturday morning at 11 on AM 1160 Hope For Your Life, and at 7 p.m. Sunday evening on AM 560 The Answer.

This Weeks Guests

Darrell Puls

Darrell Puls is a professional conflict interventionist with forty years of experience, and founder of Peacebridge Ministries, a Christian nonprofit that works directly with faith communities experiencing internal conflict. He is the author of The Road Home: A Guided Journey to Church Forgiveness and Reconciliation (2013). R. Glenn Ball is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, where he has served for more than thirty years in parish ministry and as a specialist working with distressed churches.

Show Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.

Segment 1:

JULIE ROYS: Welcome to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I am Julie Roys. And I’m so glad that you’ve joined me for today’s discussion.

We’re going to be talking about an issue that’s extremely important. But frankly, I wish it weren’t an issue, and I wish that we didn’t have to talk about it. But we do. That’s because this issue is ravaging churches and unsuspecting staff and laypeople. It’s the issue of wolves in shepherd’s clothing—pastors who are supposed to be protecting their sheep, but instead, they’re preying on them. 

And if you’ve been a part of a church where this is happening, you know how painful and confusing and disorienting this can be. And here in the Chicago area, there’s been a lot of talk about this issue. That’s because over the past 18 months, we’ve had two megachurches—Willow Creek Community Church and Harvest Bible Chapel—where the pastors have been accused of abusing the flock and the staff. But this doesn’t just happen in big churches; it happens in churches of all sizes. And it’s not necessarily because pastors are just human or they’re sinful. According to my guest today, sometimes, there’s something else—something very sinister, to blame.

Now before I go any further, I want to speak to you pastors who are the majority of you out there, who are honest and kind and sacrificial. And, you know, again, I recognize this isn’t about you. And I hope that nothing that we discuss today casts aspersion on you. Again, the majority of you pastors I just so appreciate. We love you. And we recognize how thankless your job often is. So just want to make that very-very clear.

But my guest today is Darrell Puls, and he’s worked with many churches as a mediator. And he says that over the years he’s seen a “different quality” to some of the church conflicts. At first, he said he didn’t know what to make of it. He writes in his book Let Us Prey, “In many cases, there was something deeper going on (in these conflicts), but I couldn’t tell you what it was. Though I expected the pastor to be involved, and even be part of the problem, my training—and my biases—said that he or she was caught in the middle. So, like most interventionists, I looked for the issues and then probed the deeper meanings behind them so that we could fashion a workable settlement. But what I didn’t expect was that the pastor . . . was at the very center in almost every fight that had this ‘different’ quality to it.  I also didn’t expect that the pastor would intentionally sabotage a settlement—or the entire process—to get what he, and he alone, wanted.”

Well friends, that’s what happens when the pastor has something called Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD. So how do you detect if your pastor has this condition? And what do you do if he does? 

Well joining me right now is Darrell Puls, author of Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissistic Pastors. Darrell also is a professional conflict interventionist with 40 years of experience. He’s also the founder of Peacebridge Ministries—a nonprofit that works with churches experiencing internal conflict. So, Darrell, welcome! It’s a pleasure to have you join me! 

DARRELL PULS: Good morning Julie. It’s a pleasure to be here.

JULIE ROYS: So, Darrell, why don’t we just start with a definition and explanation of what narcissism is.

DARRELL PULS: Well narcissism is something we all have to a certain degree. It’s that we enjoy being complemented. We enjoy sometimes being the center of attraction. There’s nothing unhealthy about that. What we’re looking at and what concerns us is where that is an insatiable drive to be at the center of attention, to be adored, to be admired, to have power over other people. And there’s a crossing point from healthy to unhealthy. And it’s been defined for probably 3 decades now. It’s narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is a pathological need to be in charge, to be right, to control, and it’s hallmarked by manipulation, by lies, and pretty much by anything you could think of. Mostly, it’s about manipulating people, getting what they want from them and then throwing them away.

JULIE ROYS: And I understand there’s 2 classifications of narcissists. There’s overt and covert. 

DARRELL PULS: That’s correct. 

JULIE ROYS: So, explain the difference between those two.

DARRELL PULS: Well the “overts” are fairly easy to spot. They’re in your face. They’re the extraverts. They’re the ones who tend to be up front. They’re the center of attention in a room. They want to be the center of attention. And they’re actually often described as being charismatic. They can be incredibly charming when they want to be. Those are the extraverted ones. They tend to be pretty much in your face. And when you cross them, you’re likely to experience what’s called narcissistic rage, which is something you really do not want to experience. It is amazing in its destructiveness, because they have picked out every weakness that you have, and they use them against you. The “coverts” are their twins, but opposites. They are shy. They are introverted. Their motivation is they know that they want to be recognized, they have this grandiosity, but they’re ashamed of it. And so they try to hide it. They’re every bit as good at manipulating people. But the way they approach it is they don’t expect direct praise. They expect indirect praise, such as in a conversation they will put themselves down, for example, one says, “Well, you know, I have dyslexia but I still manage to read 40 books every year.” And you’re expected response is, “Wow, that’s great!” But either way, they have to be in full and complete control, and if they decide you’re an enemy, they are going to get rid of you one way or another.

JULIE ROYS: So, this is something that you’ve very passionate about, about weeding out these narcissist pastors. What fuels that passion for you?

DARRELL PULS: (laughter) That’s a good question. I was an associate pastor under one for 3 years. It was good for 2 years and then he turned against me. I made the mistake of saying he was actually going to have to retire someday. And it turns out he had no intentions of it. But the next thing that I knew, all of my enjoyable duties were gone. And I was pretty much shunned by everybody. Then he came into my office and spent half an hour tearing me to pieces. And then finally stood up and said, “you know, I love you, this is all for your benefit,” and wanted a hug. It was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. And coming out of corporate conflict management, I have a pretty thick skin. So, he really knew what he was doing. And he did it well. 

JULIE ROYS: And I’m imagining, and I’ve investigated a church recently where that happened, where there was someone, and I don’t know if he had NPD, whether that would be clinical—there certainly are a lot of hallmarks that you’re describing right now that I heard.  A lot of people that I interviewed described incidences where that sort of happened to them. But I’m guessing, you’re in a church, you’re expecting your pastor, I mean, in fact, you do kind of, I mean, you shouldn’t put them up on too high of a pedestal. But you look up to them. They’re spiritual leaders. They’re someone who supposedly knows God. And they can speak this incredible strong talk, you know, right? But they’re not necessarily walking it. How does this impact the person who’s in the pews, or the person who’s on staff?  I mean, how disorienting is this? What’s the process, the person who’s in the presence of this narcissist can have?

DARRELL PULS: Well, you’re right. We have expectations of our pastors. And we automatically give them a bye on many things. And often times we’ll say, “Well, it’s just an eccentricity of the way they’re acting.” But over time, this builds up. And if you become one of their, they identify as useless or an enemy, their attacks create incredible what’s called ‘cognitive dissonance,” which is the difference between what you believe to be true and what is flowing in that totally contradicts it. I’ve gotten 100’s of emails since publication of the book from all over the world from people who have been attacked by their pastors. And every one of them describes this feeling of total isolation, total confusion, of, “What did I do to deserve this?” And the first thing I tell them is, “you did nothing to deserve this. Nobody deserves this.” But it’s one of those things where, when they turn on you, it’s definitely life changing, and not necessarily for the better.

JULIE ROYS: And it can be so brutal and so wounding. And I know there’s people listening right now, because I know they were, even in social media, they were saying they were going to tune in. But they’ve experienced this. They’re reeling this morning.


JULIE ROYS:  You’re feeling, like right now . . .

DARRELL PULS: Absolutely.

JULIE ROYS: I know, you’re sitting there saying, “Man, that’s me. I’ve experienced that. And even right now, I’m still hurting. I’m not healed from this.”


JULIE ROYS: Friends, I want you to stay on the line. Also, I’d love to have you call in. The number 312-660-2594. That’s 312-660-2594.  Again, I’m Julie Roys. You’re listening to The Roys Report. Joining me today Darrell Puls author of Let Us Prey. We’ll be right back after a short break.

Segment 2

JULIE ROYS: Well have wolves in shepherd’s clothing infiltrated the North American church? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re talking about these wolves parading as shepherds. They’re supposed to protect the sheep, but instead, they’re preying on them. How do we spot these destructive pastors? And how do we deal with them once we do?

Love to hear from you today. The number to call is 312-660-2594. That’s 312-660-2594. Also, I want to let you know that I’m giving away five copies of a book by my guest today, Darrel Puls, it’s called, Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors. And if you’d like to enter to win that giveaway, just go to Also if you’d like to join the live conversation on Facebook, just go to The same on twitter. My handle is @ReachJulieRoys.

Again, joining me today is author and founder of Peacebridge Ministries, Darrell Puls. So, Darrell, in your book, I want to go to the study that Glenn Ball, who’s you co-author, did with you. And you make a claim because of the study, that the prevalence of pastors with this extreme, very destructive form of narcissism called Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD, you’re saying that 30% of pastors in North America have this. At the same time, I know there’s been some issues with [this] study—some criticism that’s been sparked about this study—even this week. We’ve had some discussion about that. And I’ve had some discussion with some listeners as well. As I understand it, the major issue deals with the questionnaire that you used when you polled all of these pastors. It was developed by a very well respected, world class researcher Hessel Zondag. But there is an issue. So, can you describe what that issue is?

DARRELL PULS: Well, when we first decided to use what’s called the Netherlands Narcissism Scale (NNS), it was because it offers a greater sense of nuance within the entire pattern of narcissism. And so, Glenn contacted professor Zondag and asked for permission to use it. Zondag sent us a copy and asked us specifically to use what he had sent us. On that copy, and I think you’ve seen it Julie, . . .

JULIE ROYS: Yes, I have.

DARRELL PULS:  . . . is a very clear notation for diagnosing Narcissistic Personality Disorder in both its overt and covert forms. We followed that to the letter. And once we had everything put together, we had a statistician go through all of everything to make sure that our numbers were correct. Very recently, I was made aware though an email from another researcher who suggested that the NNS was not designed to identify clinical narcissism, which essentially is a personality disorder. So I went through and found the original validation documentation that Zondag and his partner Hans Ettema, in the Netherlands, had done. And sure enough, it says that it identifies narcissism, and it uses a 100% of the entire group as part of this. But it says it does not identify clinical narcissism. So now I’m confused. Very confused. And I’m literally sick to the stomach . . . 

JULIE ROYS: I’m sure.

DARRELL PULS:  . . . because I’m thinking, “Am I watching 3 years of work go down the drain? This is not good.”


DARRELL PULS: I finally managed to contact professor Zondag, who is retired in the Netherlands, and asked him specifically, “If it’s not designed for this, why was this on this document that you personally sent us?” He did not answer. He simply said, “It’s not designed for that.”  And so, I am still confused as to why he sent us that document, and so on. However, in going back through our numbers, in going back through our data in panic mode, as you can imagine, we started looking at the numbers, and we started looking at it. And we started correlating it to what the NNS does test for. And quite frankly, we do have to make some changes in the book. We are going to make those changes. I notified the publisher. But they’re not severe. We still have identified a group of about 30% of the pastors who have extreme narcissism. Of that group, 5.2% were in the covert, the under-the-radar type. And the rest, 26%, were in the overt. And they don’t fit into what Zondag identifies as healthy narcissism, which in our study was 57% of the pastors. They had narcissism. They’re narcissistic, let’s put it that way. But it’s healthy. It’s what helps them do what they do. It helps them stand up in front of people. And they channel it in very positive ways. But what we are still looking at is that smaller group that is channeling it into ways that aggrandize them but tend to destroy the church.

JULIE ROYS: OK. So let me just summarize what I think you’re saying is with this study, you recognize, and honestly Darrell, I just really-really appreciate that you’re just owning there’s a mistake here.


JULIE ROYS:  And owning what the problem is and being up front about it. I think that shows integrity. And I appreciate that. And we all make mistakes. And although this one, it kinda seems like somebody else made a mistake and you’re saddled with it. 

DARRELL PULS: That is true.

JULIE ROYS: But that being said, what you’re saying is, 30% of the pastors, whether you’re saying it’s narcissistic personality disorder, this NPD, it’s clinical form, or, as you’re saying, just an extreme narcissism that’s not healthy, you’re saying 30% of pastors fall into this range. And I want you to describe the difference between healthy and unhealthy in a second. But 30%. That seems like a pretty high number. How does that relate to, say, the general population?

DARRELL PULS: General population, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual put out by the American Psychological Association, or Psychiatric Association, says that it has a range of between 2% and 6% of the general population will have narcissistic personality disorder. So, what we’re looking at is up to 5 times higher in terms of that.

JULIE ROYS: Although not completely apples and oranges necessarily, because you’re saying . . .


JULIE ROYS: . . .  NPD in the general population. And this is just . . .


JULIE ROYS: . . . all we can say right now, you know, with more certainty is that this is extreme narcissism.


JULIE ROYS: But still, what we’re seeing is that these pastors, we’re seeing a much higher prevalence than the general public, which seems to indicate that 1, the role itself seems to attract narcissists, but 2, as congregations, do we like narcissists to lead us? 

DARRELL PULS: (laughter) 


DARRELL PULS: That is a beautiful question, because the answer, I believe, is “yes.” 


DARRELL PULS: I don’t know of a single church that does not want to be more than they are. I don’t know of a single church that does not want to grow, that does not want to impact the community in which it is, that does not want to be known for this, that or the other thing. And then during the selection process for a new pastor, they’re looking for somebody that says, “I have a vision for how to grow this place. I have a vision of how great this place can be.” And that’s what they’re looking for. It confirms what it is that what they’re looking for is legitimate. And they don’t do the background checks. They don’t do a deep background check. They do a cursory background check if they do any at all. And next thing they know, they’re saddled with one of these people. One of the questions that I ask a church that’s looking for a new pastor is, “Why are you looking for a pastor who is looking for a job? There’s a reason this pastor does not have a job. You need to know what it is.” And you can’t rely on what it is they tell you. In one church I know there were 400 applicants for the position. And about 12 of them claimed, “I have been, I know that I have been anointed by God to be your next pastor.”

JULIE ROYS: Oh boy.  You know what? Anytime anyone says it, ‘cause I’ve been in ministry, and I remember our pastor used to instruct us, “If somebody tells you, comes to you and says, ‘God told me this,’ automatically a red flag should go up.” Because how do you respond to that?  “No, God didn’t tell you?” I mean it’s one of those very, I find, manipulative ways that people get their way in the church. And so, yeah, you know what, we’ve got about 30 seconds before we have to go to break. So, I’m going to have to put a pause on this. But I want to continue this discussion. Why is it that we end up with these narcissist pastors in the pulpit?  Again, joining me Darrell Puls, author of Let Us Prey and the number to call, (312) 660-2594. I’ll be right back after a short break.

Segment 3:

JULIE ROYS: Welcome back to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I am Julie Roys. And today, we’re discussing an issue that’s devastating some churches. In fact, according to my guest this morning, at any given time, approximately 20% of churches in the United States are experiencing active internal conflict. And sometimes, this conflict is due to power struggles, like who controls the money, the people, or the belief. But increasingly, he said he’s seen that the cause of these conflicts can be far more stealth and far more sinister. The cause in some of these conflicts is the pastor himself—someone we expect to be protecting the sheep, right? Not preying on them. That’s because in these cases, the pastor is a narcissist. He has this twisted form of self-love and self-hatred that dominates all relationships. Instead of following Christ’s command to love others as we love ourselves, narcissists care about themselves—and only about themselves. If you have a question or a comment, the studio lines are open. And the number to call is 312-660-2594.  Also, today I’m giving away three copies of Darrell Puls’ book on narcissist pastors called, Let Us Prey. If you’d like to enter to win that book, just go to  Darrell, we have someone on the line. I think this is someone who’s become a friend of mine through . . .


JULIE ROYS: . . . reporting on Harvest Bible Chapel, Dan George, right? Dan, are you on there?

DAN GEORGE: Yeah, I’m here Julie.

JULIE ROYS: Hey, good to have you on the show. Thanks for calling in. And you have a question I think a lot of people are asking in the aftermath of these scandals, or of being a part of a church where there’s been a narcissist pastor. So, yeah, Dan, what are you wondering about?

DAN GEORGE: Yeah, Darrell, thanks. So, as Julie says, my wife and I were part of a church where this for sure this was going on. We’re out of Harvest Bible Chapel. And we’re looking for a new home church. How would you tell someone to both respect the senior pastor office and, I don’t know what else to say, but to vet a new church to be on the lookout for this before we walk in the door, or before we make it our home?

JULIE ROYS: Good question.

DARRELL PULS: Well we recently went through that. We’d left the church where we had been. And we found that we kept coming back to this one church. And what you need to listen for is, particularly in the sermons, how does the pastor interject himself or herself into that sermon? Is it ultimately about the pastor or about scripture? Is the pastor using scripture as a weapon to control people by warning them that this is what they have to do? Or is the pastor full of himself?  Here’s an interesting one. Their sense of humor tends to be really off center. And so, the pastor is telling a joke in the middle of the sermon and it falls flat. That’s actually a red flag. Because they don’t understand normal humor. But over time, there are, you can pick up on verbal giveaways, the verbal flags that they give up, because they can’t help but put themselves into their sermons.

JULIE ROYS: That’s interesting. So, I guess they can’t understand normal humor. I’m guessing maybe that’s because there’s not an ability to empathize with how people would feel?

DARRELL PULS: Absolutely. They can’t empathize. The only time they will laugh, you will a belly laugh, is if they’re laughing at what has just happened to someone else. And you had better not ever laugh at them. You will pay a price.

JULIE ROYS: Oh boy. Dan, do you have any follow-up to that? Or did that pretty much answer your question?

DAN GEORGE: It does answer the question. But it makes me think of our experience where the pastor was, often used himself in the sermon, but made a point of talking about how he was never the good guy. Do you see that in these pastors that have the narcissistic, whether it’s NPD or . . . ?

DARRELL PULS: Generally . . .

JULIE ROYS: So pretty much self-deprecating. Is that what you’re saying?

DAN GEORGE: Yes, yeah.

DARRELL PULS: That’s primarily a sign of a covert narcissist. They tend to be self-deprecating, put themselves down. And what they’re expecting from you then is to contradict them, whether it’s in the receiving line after church, or it’s somewhere else, you know, they say, “I’m just not very good at this.” They know that several people are going to come up to them and say, “Oh pastor, you are so good at this. I don’t understand how you can say such things.” It’s just another way of gaining the spotlight.

JULIE ROYS: Well Dan, thank you. I appreciate that question. You know, one thing I want to get to is how these narcissists are formed. Is there some sort of pathology in the home? Is it, you know, or is it something that we even know?

DARRELL PULS: The primary theory is that sometime in childhood or early adolescence, the child desperately needs unconditional love from the parents. And it is denied. And it is not only denied, it is viciously denied. And if this happens a few times, it tends to crush the soul. It makes the child feel that they are totally worthless. And once that happens, there is an internal mechanism that causes them to say, “I’m not going to feel anymore. If love is this painful, I’m not going to feel love. I’m not going to empathize with anybody. I’m just going to shut it all down.” So what they have is self-hatred. But they have to project this image, and it is a projected image, of success, of intelligence, of charm, or whatever. And they’re incredible actors, by the way. They can be amazingly charming. And so what you see is a projected image. It is a mask. And it’s not who they are or what they are. And deep down inside they are absolutely terrified of not being in control, and of being found out as being a fake.

JULIE ROYS: And I guess the million-dollar question is then, and as Christians, I mean, Christians are compassionate people, I think that’s why we’re so . . .


JULIE ROYS:  . . . that’s why we’re so easily played by these people because, I mean, even as you say that, I feel sorry for the little kid. I’m thinking, “Oh my goodness. How awful.”  You know, the kid was crushed. I feel bad. And so there’s a part of me that says, well let’s help the narcissist, you know, let’s do something to help him. And often churches, it seems like, they marshal, and you know, this is the situation I’m most familiar with because I’ve just finished reporting on it, is at Harvest Bible Chapel where there were multiple attempts to get help, to get counseling, to do all these things, and marshaling all these efforts to try and control this condition and what we see as a problem in the pastor. I’m hearing from an awful lot of people this can’t be cured. How do you feel about that, Darrell?  And we only have just about like a minute.

DARRELL PULS: OK. The NPD, extreme narcissism has one of the lowest recovery rates of any mental disorder. I think it’s only beaten out by sociopath. And it’s because they cannot conceive that there is anything wrong with them. They just cannot entertain that thought. And so they project that “everybody else has something wrong with them. I’m smarter than they are.” Again, it’s a defense mechanism. But if you can’t admit there’s a problem, you cannot . . .

JULIE ROYS: Well, and how can you be right before God because you can never repent of it? I mean, you know, that’s the condition of their souls. I worry for these pastors where this has happened. We need to go to break. But when we come back, we’ll continue our discussion about narcissistic pastors. Again, Darrell Puls, author of Let Us Prey. We’ll be right back.

4th Segment: 

JULIE ROYS: What do you do when a pastor is preying on the sheep, instead of protecting them? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re tackling a difficult subject—the subject of narcissist pastors. These are pastors with a twisted form of self-love and self-hatred that destroys relationships—and can destroy entire churches. And that’s a big part of why we’re doing this show. We want to equip both laypeople and church leaders to spot these wolves in sheep’s clothing and get them out of the sheep pen. 

Towards that end, we’re giving away copies of a book by Darrell Puls and Glenn Ball today called, Let Us Prey. The book is about narcissist pastors—how to spot them and how to survive them. So if you’d like to enter to win a copy of that book, just go to my website— 

Also, I want to let you know that if you missed any part of today’s broadcast, or you just want to listen again or share it with friends, audio of that will be available at my website today by 1 o’clock today. You just go to the podcast button, and you’ll see it. Also, I want to let you know that next week, we’re going to be sort of continuing along these same lines. We’re going to be talking about living in the aftermath of church scandals. After two megachurches have been rocked by scandal like has happened here in Chicago, how does the Christian community, how do we move forward in this? How do so-called wounded and hurt church refugees find healing and refuge? And how do pastors help these refugees when now, both pastors and churches are viewed with suspicion by so many of the people in the congregation? Joining me will be two area pastors and three so-called church refugees. It’s going to be a great show, so I hope you can make it a point to join us next week here on The Roys Report. 

Well, returning to our subject of narcissist pastors, again joining me is author and founder of Peacebridge Ministries, Darrell Puls and Darrell someone asked on Twitter, she said, Anne Lewis, about that 30% number that you had. How do you come up, what’s the criteria that you use, what were the questions for finding these narcissist pastors? Again, these are ones that have the unhealthy form of narcissism; what are the questions that you used to determine that?

DARRELL PULS: Well, like I said it was part of the Netherlands Narcissism Scale developed by Hessel Zondag. And he developed that off of what is called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which is a very popular inventory, then validated many times and is used a lot here in the United States. And it asked questions such as, it has statements that you either agree with or disagree with on a scale of 1 -7: “People admire my talents and abilities. I am a natural born leader and people follow me.” When you start getting out to the extreme end there, is where you start running into the problems. And generally, scores of 5 or higher, on a series of the questions, indicates very high levels of unhealthy narcissism.

JULIE ROYS: And it seems to me like we kind-of foster that because, I mean I’ve heard like this whole, you know, that the pastor, the senior pastor especially at some of these mega churches they talk about being a point person and you need to have these qualities and the senior pastor needs to be in charge. So it seems that natural born leader, that almost seems like something we’d have on some sort of gift survey. And we kind or glory in this, right?

DARRELL PULS: Yes, yes we do. We enable it. And do a very good job of it.

JULIE ROYS: Yeah, we do. Well I think we need to rethink church a little bit in North America. And I should mention that the study that you did was actually with Canadian pastors, correct?

DARRELL PULS: Yes, we studied an entire denomination from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. 

JULIE ROYS: OK. No study yet on U.S. pastors in particular?

DARRELL PULS: No. I was contacted by some universities, when I spoke at the American Association of Christian World Counselors conference about doing some follow up studies. But to my knowledge, nothing yet is underway. 

JULIE ROYS: I think that needs to be done, just my two cents on that.

DARRELL PULS: I agree. Ours is the only study out there. So it is preliminary. 

JULIE ROYS: Well I think we need more study on this, I definitely do. I want to go to our phone lines. I have Brandon on the line. Brandon from what I understand, you’ve had an experience with a narcissistic pastor, is that correct?

BRANDON:  Yeah, I have. It was about a year ago, finally, I actually was released from my job. And I found, I was just kind of in a state of bewilderment. Not sure, what I am going to do at this point? Do I want to continue with ministry? I was a worship leader on staff there. I happen to be on a job interview at one point and I was kind of in this state like depression almost saying, “is this going to be something I have to face no matter where I go?” And I just happened to look up on, I think I Googled something about, “is narcissism just so common in pastors?” Something like that. And it came up with this little article from the book, from Darrell’s book, and I was blown away at how almost identical that story was to mine. Even down to the point of sitting down in an office meeting and getting berated for like 20 minutes, unsure how to even respond to anything. And then the meeting’s done, he gets up and says,  “I love you” and wants a hug. 

JULIE ROYS: (laughter)

BRANDON: And I was like, “oh my gosh!”  And that happened to me like 3 or 4 times. 

JULIE ROYS: Oh my goodness! And I want to ask this, because Brandon what you say, I mean, the way I read scripture any pastor that gets up, I don’t care whether you have NPD or whatever you say you have or don’t have, you don’t berate people. And actually I remember listening to a certain pastor and I never liked him on the radio because he would belittle people. He would mock people. And I remember thinking that is not how you treat human beings, that’s not what Christians do. And yet they get away with it in these churches. And that’s where I want to turn it just a little bit. Because you talk about the narcissistic church that’s often headed by this narcissistic pastor. You say the healthy leaders, like, you know, I’m assuming, hopefully Brandon, you know get chewed up and spit out. Or, they leave because they recognize that this is toxic. And so what you end up with are leaders that have narcissistic tendencies themselves because they want to bask in the glory of this narcissistic pastor who may be a celebrity or may be on radio or may, you know, write books. And so, you remove that pastor, what do you have left? 

DARRELL PULS: It all falls apart.

BRANDON: You have a bunch of empty sycophants who are just used to kinda riding on the coattails of somebody else, and enabling. Well they don’t know what to do anymore. They just fall back into the same pattern. (Inaudible) So what I’ve discovered since leaving is that’s kind of been the pattern at this church. They have people who, they’ve gone through senior pastors who have basically been antisocial to extremely social but no depth.  And the leadership has been lacking without it. It’s been a frustrating thing.

JULIE ROYS: So Darrell, you work with these churches in the aftermath. What do you do when you got one narcissist gone but you have some narcissists left?

DARRELL PULS: Well, what I do is go in and analyze the damage that’s been done. Not so much financial because that’s pretty obvious. But I look for the psychological, spiritual, and emotional damage done to the people who are still there. And then what I try to help them through is a process that they adopt to make sure they don’t hire another one. But the only actual healing is to learn to forgive and to let all of it go and to allow God’s love to flow through you. And you come to a point where you no longer hate them, you no longer fear them. You do pity them. Because they can’t help what they do.

JULIE ROYS: Are you saying they’re not responsible? Because aren’t all of us culpable for our sin?

DARRELL PULS: Yes, we are ultimately. But this is a condition where they are driven and obsessed to behave in the ways that they do. And efforts to change them just don’t work. How that plays out in God’s scheme, I am not qualified to say. I don’t know. 

JULIE ROYS: There is a book out there, I read just the first couple of chapters called The Pandora Problem. 


JULIE ROYS: And this author is saying that actually he’s had some success working with narcissists. But it seems like not in the traditional counseling model where you have someone isolated, one-on-one with a counselor. He’s saying these people need to be in community. And the community needs to be part of the healing. Maybe our counseling methods aren’t able to deal with this. 

DARRELL PULS: They need to be held accountable and that’s what they fight against all the time. They don’t want to be held accountable. And I think a community approach that is based on love but also very strict accountability might have a chance of success. Steve Sandage, who wrote the forward to the book, is a therapist at Boston University, he says he has had some success.  But it takes a very, very long time to establish trust because they don’t trust anybody. 

JULIE ROYS: That’s sad.

DARRELL PULS: It’s just part of their nature, part of their paranoia, that everybody is out to get them. It is possible but it is not something that is common. 

JULIE ROYS: Yeah, you know somebody just texted me, R.T. Maldaner. He’s a pastor in the area. And I know he was at Harvest for a time. But he texted me a question. He said, “what role does spiritual warfare play in this?” 

DARRELL PULS: (laughter)

JULIE ROYS: We don’t have a lot of time. We have about . . .

DARRELL PULS: I get it, I am going to give a very concise answer. My belief is that this is Satanic. Period. I have come to the belief that Jesus warned us we would wolves coming into the congregation to kill and destroy. And this is them. 

JULIE ROYS: So, do we then need to add a component of spiritual warfare, praying and attacking Satan when it comes to these narcissists?

DARRELL PULS: I think so. Prayer was the only thing that saved me. It literally was. It’s the only time that I heard God speak and it was only two words. He said, “Trust me.” And quite frankly I had to shut up and say, “Okay. You got a deal.” 

JULIE ROYS: And that’s on the healing process.

DARRELL PULS: This is the result. That’s on the healing side. And this is the result of it. 

JULIE ROYS: Boy what a great, great topic today. Darrell I have so appreciated this discussion and I know we have really just scratched the surface, right? There is so much more that we could talk about. You reference Matthew 7:15 says, Beware of false prophets that come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. And friends that’s what we are experiencing with these narcissistic pastors, But it’s nothing new. I take some comfort in that. There have always been wolves among the sheep, right? And Jesus warned us to avoid them. My hope is and Darrell I am guessing your hope too, that this isn’t going to devastate people’s faith because they’ve had a bad pastor, right? 

DARRELL PULS: It happens but I wish it wouldn’t because it has nothing to do with faith. 

JULIE ROYS: Well again, if you missed any part of this program, just go to to hear the podcast. Thanks so much for joining me. I hope you have a great weekend and God Bless.

Read more


Keep in touch with Julie and get updates in your inbox!

Don’t worry we won’t spam you.

More to explore

1 thought on “How To Spot and Survive Narcissist Pastors”

Leave a Reply

Subscribe To Our Podcast