In 2014 I started a ministry traineeship at the church that I had been at for almost 19 years as I was keen to expand on my current ministry experience and see what full time ministry was like. The traineeship was for 3 years and would include theological training as well as the opportunity to work in our community doing ministry I had never had the time to do before. This new chapter of my life though came at a cost, a good paying job and financial security plus the added stress of keeping the family afloat throughout the traineeship were just a few of the difficult changes that had to take place.
It was no surprise then that the first 6 months of the traineeship were stressful, but what seemed to outweigh all the stress was the exciting new ministry opportunities that I could now get stuck into. I also had the opportunity to work with the newly appointed minister who I had been told was extremely down to earth and who had a heart for getting out there to share Jesus with the lost in and around our community stirred my passion even more.
It wasn’t long before serious reports of verbal abuse started coming to me from people in the church. They came with stories about harsh and often bullying conversations they had personally had with the new senior minister that seemed to be out of character with someone who should be a shepherd to his people.
So when I asked the senior minister if we could chat about these reports that had come to me from people in the congregation I was a bit taken back when he said that there would be no need to discuss these issues because “these were hard people anyway” and “it’s better to not waste our time on hard people like them”.
Alarm bells immediately rang, I had never experienced, let alone worked with someone who seemed to be caring on the surface but underneath really had no time or empathy for people that had serious struggles in life. I knew something was wrong but I was not long into a 3 year traineeship and almost had to force myself to think that somehow things would be ok.
And over the next few weeks and months, the senior minister seemed to work hard at his relationship with my wife and me, he invited us over for lunch and dinner. At one point he even offered to give us some marriage guidance as the demands of ministry were impacting our marriage.
Instead of experiencing care, love or Christian wisdom I saw another side to the senior minister that made me question his character and maturity. The marriage guidance he offered was so brutal it shook me to the core. He drilled me about my ability to financially provide for my family, he suggested that I should consider moving churches, he even asked my wife and me personal questions about our sex life and suggested that by now one of us should have had an affair.
The two meetings my wife and me had with him left me in a state of emotional turmoil. I couldn’t understand why the person who was to oversee and mentor me would be so callous. Why would he think it was ok to cross employer/ employee relationship boundaries when he was supposed to train and look after us.
After this, I started seeking help from a trained psychologist who knew the senior minister. They were able to identify the senior minister as a narcissist. They explained the details of a narcissist is and how to deal with one on a day to day basis. This meant that my wife and I had a start point in our relationship with him.
Over the next few months though, I unknowingly became his enemy and on many occasions he stood me down from ministry opportunities in and around church. Without knowing it he often spoke about me negatively to other staff, which I found out later.
Around 6 months before we finally left the church the senior minister asked me and my wife if we could hang back after the evening church dinner to go over a few things with him, which we agreed to do. The meeting started with him asking why we had taken ourselves off the ‘cooking dinner for the whole church’ roster. I responded: “because we financially can’t afford to spend the money to cook for 70-80 people and that we are busy with various ministries, college – and for my wife, full time work commitments plus her leading youth group each week.”
His response was to suggest that I should leave ministry immediately and look for another job and that I should consider what being a good provider for my family means. I felt his 45 minute meeting was a concerted effort by him to force me out of ministry. My response to him was that after 27 subjects and 3 years of training, I would in no way be giving up.
It is fair to say that things didn’t go well from there on. I made a formal complaint to the church council and I asked them to send the matter to the diocesan Professional Standards Unit. I was removed from staff meetings and any general ministry duties. We didn’t talk much after that.
Finally at the end of September 2017 my family and I decided to leave the church that we had attended for 22 years. Leaving church was certainly hard. Finding a new church by God’s amazing grace to my family wasn’t so hard and we are still serving the God that saves in that same church today.
The things that haunt me most about our experience with a narcissist are these:-
We lost friends. Friends unfortunately took sides, even friends of 20 years, friends I had talked down from the edge, mates that called me brother with sincerity. My wife and I lost true lifetime friends and it still makes us weep 18 months on. To lose friendships like this shows you the power of the narcissist to manipulate and spread lies, it forces me to rethink about the trueness of all friendships I have.
We lost partnerships in ministry. A friend I worked alongside of every week for 3 years eventually chose a side and it wasn’t mine. He was a trusted ministry partner. We shared our lives together. I told him, only him about my struggles with the senior minister and all the while he was telling him everything. I felt so stupid and naïve.
The other big thing I have lost is my confidence. I struggle to see how I can be effective in ministry. I can only trust in God’s ability to work through me, but the loss of confidence is with me at every turn. I can’t shake it.
But God blesses us, even in the hard times. My blessing from all of this turmoil is that I see what pride does. I have seen it rip apart a whole church, friends and even families. A mans pride in his ability is not godly it is only of the world and God has no place for it in his church.
It was a blessing to learn this and to be aware of it in my own life.