To all appearances Saul was special: chosen by God to lead a nation, anointed, publicly endorsed by God and the leading prophet of his time, divinely led, humble, non-assertive, and had a kingly appearance. Even his early days as king reflected God’s favor. He was a success. Yet, incredibly, the same man developed an “above the law” mentality and a knack for denial and self-justification when challenged by God’s prophet. Saul then began a nosedive into anxiety, paranoia, and depression. Jealousy consumed him as one of his servants, David, began to share in the limelight. Although Saul knew David was a dedicated servant who would lay down his life for him, his jealousy raged, driven by an evil spirit.
Scripture records Saul’s relentless plots to kill David, to recruit others as assassins, and to even use his own daughters (at the expense of their hearts) as unwitting accomplices. In his paranoia he perceived his own advisors and his son Jonathan as disloyal, even threatening to kill Jonathan. Such was his delusion that he pronounced a blessing in God’s name on a man who revealed David’s hiding place.
Saul’s life ended miserably after consulting a medium. Never was he able to bring himself to say, “I repent.”
SYMPTOMS OF A NARCISSISTIC LEADER
Symptoms of narcissism abound in the Saul Syndrome. According to Drs. Floyd and Narramore, pathological narcissism is characterized by at least five of the following symptoms:
1. A need for constant attention and admiration. Like Saul, narcissists love the admiration of crowds and need to be the focus of attention. While taking credit for everything positive happening in their church, they distance themselves from weak or unsuccessful programs. Much time is spent posturing, demanding unquestioning loyalty that creates a wall of silence protecting them from scrutiny and maintaining their perfect image. Status conscious, they actually believe the prosperous image they project (for example, “C.E.O”) enhances the image of the church, and therefore the success of the church. Even when they do things that seem motivated by service, they are actually motivated by their desire to look good. They become spin doctors — never admitting a failure, but spinning the facts to maintain the illusion of grandeur. They will not accept positions that will not bring them praise.
2. A sense of entitlement. Position comes with appropriate perks, say these Sauls who require extravagance as a salve for their fragile self-image. Since entitlements reflect their honored position, they expect and even demand perks that their secular counterparts (for example, business executives) receive, and are angry when these are not forthcoming. Such entitlements may include exorbitant salary and investment packages, luxury autos, travel opportunities, and the exclusive right to perform high-profile ceremonies (for example, funerals and weddings of the wealthy) even when families may desire a staff member to whom they feel closer. Entitlement outweighs any sense of concern for the financial health of the church or its staff. Narcissistic pastors also feel entitled to blind loyalty and respect without earning either.
3. Interpersonally exploitive (for their own ends). Money and favors are solicited from wealthy, influential members in the guise of friendship. Consequently, it is easy to understand why other church members feel slighted and why the narcissist has few enduring, close friends. Staff, (paid and volunteer), are worked unreasonably to make the pastor look good. When image is everything, no price is too high — especially when others pay it. Any attempt to reign in out-of-control church finances is a threat to their self-image. Such pastors believe the church and staff revolve around them. Consequently others never become the people God made them to be. When a staff member is finally used up he or she is replaced by someone fresh.
4. Lack of empathy. Saul’s lack of empathy and normal parental concern is chilling. And while empathy is professed by narcissistic leaders (that is, it is part of their projected image), they are self-engrossed and care little for the needs and feelings of their staff or congregation. For example, visits to the bereaved or dying may be made solely to ensure the family will do business with the church. (For example, a pastor visiting a wealthy, dying man turned to the wife after the man had taken his last breath and said, “Will you be having the funeral at our church?”) This inability to empathize with those they lead enables narcissists to pursue their own ends without any restraint (that is, no hesitancy to use and abuse workers). Any protest or reluctance is met with anger and self-righteous talk of dedication and sacrifice. Such pastors have no concern for the long-term health of the church or staff.
5. Envious of others or believes others are envious of them. They cannot stand to see anyone else getting credit or being in the limelight unless they put them there and can share in the people’s admiration. Even successful ministries in their churches are a threat unless they can take credit for them. “More common in church ministry is a senior pastor who refuses to allow an associate to preach for fear the congregation might like the associate’s preaching better than his own. … He takes steps to limit the praise the associate receives, usually by limiting his public exposure.” Their belief that staff members are envious of them also feeds their paranoia.
6. An arrogant, haughty attitude. Uncharacteristic of a servant of Christ, these Sauls exude an air of pride, aloofness, and an over-inflated sense of importance. They overestimate their achievements while stubbornly refusing to acknowledge others’ accomplishments or abilities because their significance is threatened as well as the exclusive admiration they crave. Narcissists are offended when others do not share their opinions of themselves and often become vengeful.
7. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success. True narcissists are not interested in truth or reality — or you. They concoct a vision of success that becomes their obsession. These fantasies are often bred by the vain promises of church growth gurus and images presented by megachurches and television ministries. In the mean time, present reality is usually overstated. When contradictory facts and figures are submitted it makes them angry, and the messenger is denounced as negative. Data is doctored to reflect the illusion. Many churches have been destroyed because they were led into projects that were too costly for the congregation but were necessary to build the self-image of the pastor.
8. A belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people. This is reflected by their buddying up to big-name leaders while treating their own people like simple commoners. Therefore, they ignore advice and/or correction that may come from staff, board, or congregation. After all, “Who do they think they are?” This sense of specialness is also reflected in their tendency to live above the rules while rigidly enforcing them on others. Often this leads to unethical, immoral, or illegal behavior.
In conclusion, the disturbing paradox of the Saul Syndrome is that Christian leaders, whose holy calling implies Christlikeness and Spirit-led lives, are capable of exhibiting such incongruity. As a result many staff and congregational members leave Christian service wounded, bitter, and confused. Some never return.
The good news is that the Saul Syndrome can be dealt with successfully, but the likelihood of the leader being open to help is negligible. Nevertheless, great hope is found in the One “who is at work in you, both to will and to do work for His good pleasure,” (Philippians 2:13, emphasis added). Scripture illustrates God’s ability to bring change to the most resistant hearts with the most deeply rooted behaviors (for example, Jacob and Saul of Tarsus). Perhaps through the earnest, compassionate prayers of those aware of a leader’s dark side change can be precipitated, for it is “ ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts,” (Zechariah 4:6).
Source: Ed Vainio