The diseases of narcissism and pride have joined forces to squelch Midway’s ministry, but there is a cure!
There is a pandemic at the church, and no it’s not the external threat of COVID-19. It is a disease that comes from within people’s hearts. Those that have it may not even know it, but sadly that doesn’t prevent the contagious effects from spreading. The trained eye it can see and diagnose it. Like any bad news a doctor may bring, the sooner the patient accepts their condition, they can begin to pursue options for healing.
At Midway Presbyterian Church, the disease is a dangerous variant of pride called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). And it is fatal to the church’s ministry if left untreated.
NPD is notable as a rare condition when considered clinically, but when applied to the life of a church – sadly it is all too common and Midway is no exception.
The condition applied to church settings is expounded upon in the article “Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. While written about and for Orthodox communities, the symptoms are no less applicable to the Presbyterian persuasion of Midway. The article outlines 16 signs to look for in a congregation that their leaders are sick and have infected their congregation with NPD. Consider some of them below:
“A Culture of Secrets: Because Covert Narcissistic Personality Disordered leaders in congregations are highly manipulative in ways that do not fit with the faith, they tend to foster a great deal of secretiveness in their decisions, dealings, and interactions. It will give the feeling that there are things you are ‘missing’ but cannot put your finger on. There is an overall lack of transparency, with the feeling that many decisions and actions are made in private deals and conversations that bypass the official protocols.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The Midway Guardian has extensively documented the culture of secrecy at Midway Presbyterian Church. Whether it be participating in the misuse of executive session to perpetrate injustice in the court systems of the church, major decisions made without the presence of the whole leadership team while bypassing official church protocols for church elections, secret reports condemning officers for “public sins” while decrying non-Session members being aware of allegations of wrongdoing, the removal of church members and the spouse of the accused from a secret judicial proceeding, failing to communicate the whole truth regarding past missteps of the Session, concealing information from the congregation while promising transparency, or adopting a culture of secret judicial proceedings as a rule.
Members of Midway ask yourself: What else haven’t you been told?
“A Negative Atmosphere: There will be either a shallow sense of joy and purpose, a sense of deadness, or outright negativity in the larger congregation. There may be pessimism that any new idea can work (usually an effect of the only ideas that are seen as valid and good are the NPD’s ideas). Or, there may be a plethora of special interest in-fighting between ministry groups (NPD’s seem to enjoy pitting people against each other). Still yet, there may be predictable campaigns against perceived enemies of the NPD leader. Once one enemy is eliminated, the NPD leader will predictably find a new enemy to purge, and yet another and another until the congregation is a mere shell of its former vibrancy.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The Midway Guardian has extensively documented the culture of purging enemies and dissenters by the leadership team at the church. Senior Pastor David Hall and his Session “Yes-Men” have orchestrated an unprecedented number of prosecutions in Midway’s nearly 200 year history. Seemingly celebrating the failed leadership, David Hall has joked that he could win an award for being the pastor at a church with the most complaints over a multi-year period. Meanwhile he has preached on the virtues of “pruning” the congregation while his supporters on the Session rally around seeking to remove officers with different perspectives by placing them on a pathway to excommunication.
“People Walk on Eggshells: The closer the individual is in function to the NPD leader, the greater there will be a sense that they are ‘walking on eggshells’. There will be avoidance of speaking about the NPD individual, or the NPD’s issues or failings, there will be eye rolling when the NPD is mentioned, or a spooky silence.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The Midway Guardian has repeatedly warned about the dangers of a Midway Session motion passed in September of 2020 that threatened church discipline on officers who disagree with the Session majority. This motion has been used as the basis for charges against 4 Ruling Elders that have all been suspended from their duties. Given that members of the congregation elected these men, this action alone represents a major blow to families at the church. A complaint has alleged that this motion violated constitution of the PCA. When the Midway Session has persecuted so many officers with such zeal in recent days, why wouldn’t every remaining officer who may privately disagree ever voice a concern after witnessing the smear campaign others have been subjected to not feel as if expressing any alternative viewpoint might cause the eggshells they lay on to give way to an indictment?
Members of Midway ask yourself: Would the threat of church discipline buy your silence if you were an officer? How is such a scenario even possible in Christ’s church? What don’t you know because nobody is brave enough to say it?
“Imbalance of Power: There will be a clear imbalance of power; if the NPD is the pastor, the congregational council or other elder leaders will be quite impotent and only serve as seat fillers to required positions. The NPD individual will be the puppeteer to the other leadership. If the NPD person is not the pastor, their committee or area of responsibility will gain an uncanny centrality to the congregation. For example, educational programming decisions or new ministry developments having to be approved by the property board.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Many of the controversies unfolding at Midway find their source at the congregational meeting of July 2020 where three Assistant Pastors were elected as Associate Pastors unconstitutionally (as a slate, without a ballot, and without the use of a pulpit committee). The contentious nature of the meeting had to do with more than just the procedures used – the addition of three voting members to the Session that would never have to be reelected was a concern for multiple Ruling Elders who warned that the church would regret such action in part because the balance of power was being shifted away from elected volunteers to paid pastoral staff.
Members of Midway ask yourself: In what distinct and obvious ways has the addition of three Associate Pastors enhanced the ministry of Midway Presbyterian Church? Has their vote on the Session done anything notable for Christ’s Kingdom on Earth or have they been used more consequentially to bring charges against brothers?
“Check and Balance Bodies Are Dying or Dead: Committees or boards that are supposed to be the ones responsible for oversight and supervision of staff are essentially non-functional or simply rubber stamp approve what the NPD leader wants. For example, a Staff-Parish Relations Committee that is ‘in the back pocket’ of the NPD leader; they would not dare to challenge the NPD person.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The Midway Guardian has reported in great detail on the 40-5 credible report filed alleging “important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings” in the local church courts. The Session’s strong negative reaction and subsequent demands for apologies to this constitutional request for review and control is concerning and should shake everyone’s confidence that church leadership at Midway is committed to checks and balances.
Members of Midway ask yourself: Why would a church Session “committed to the truth”, “repenting when in error”, and “submitting to rightful authorities” react so negatively to a request to ensure church court proceedings are pure and above board unless there is something to hide?
“Group-Think Predominates: There is a strong tendency for any committee or individual to avoid any conflict or open difficult discussion at any cost. The group simply ratifies anything that the NPD leader wants, and even goes to work to keep others ‘in line’ by being the ‘axe-men’ for the NPD leader.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The Midway Guardian has detailed how Senior Pastor David Hall’s “Yes-Men” on the Midway Session carry out his wishes to prune Midway’s congregation and purge Midway’s leadership. Given the effort to study and bring charges against multiple Ruling Elders at once for refusing to deny the provably truthful statements of the 40-5 credible report is one such prominent example.
Members of Midway ask yourself: Have you witnessed (or perhaps been subjected yourself) to coercive attempts by the pastors or elders to silence you for holding alternative viewpoints or expressing misgivings over concerning trends at your church?
“Strong Avoidance of Mention: No one is willing to speak up about the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room; the NPD leader may be doing outrageous things and the congregation may be in dire straits, but no one mentions the problems at all.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Just about everyone at Midway can agree there are problems actively dividing the church. It can be a fearful thing to speak out when things are wrong. Especially when the theme of submission to those deserving “double honor” is emphasized in church programming.
Members of Midway ask yourself: Do you agree with the idea that a public response is sometimes necessary to expose error and restore peace? Are you a part of the solution?
“Rumor and Gossip are Rampant: Though the NPD leader is likely to rail against talk behind their back (some of which may be quite true), the NPD leader has created a culture in which non-transparent communication is the norm. The NPD leader may preach vehemently against rumor and gossip, all the while being a major producer of the same.”
“Communication is a Mess: There is no consistent method of communication flow; there is confusion of what information is private, confidential, general knowledge, or public. There are no clear norms about how information is managed. Triangulation, the habit of not communicating openly and honestly face to face between two people, but communicating through a third party is common. Communication is not clear; it is covert, vague, and often very confusing.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The Midway Guardian has reported on church control structures and a number of troubling Session communications and meeting minutes that either have concealed the whole truth or provided a one sided view of events. One such instance was the revised communication that was required to “clarify the basis of discipline” after the secret trial of Ruling Elder Phillip Dudt.
Members of Midway ask yourself: Have you received an increase in official communications from your shepherding elders and in the mailbox at your home? Are these communications confusing and have you wondered why there is such a strong need to control the narrative?
“Tone of Intolerance: Despite the well-crafted ‘Christian speak’, there is an uncomfortable sense that there is an unstated intolerance of particular classes of people, or those ‘outside’ the sphere of influence of the NPD leader are not worth the effort to even address. There may be occasional ‘leakage’ of shocking levels of intolerance, such as the NPD leader openly derisive of a class of people, other denomination or religion, or politic.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The Midway Guardian has reported on the intolerance of different opinions, the criticism of other churches, and the persecution and humiliation of members of the church by the Midway Session. Just because something is said from the pulpit doesn’t excuse it.
Members of Midway ask yourself: Have noticed the theme of trials, persecution, and calls for repentance and submission from the pulpit in the last year? Do these themes characterize the ongoing division at Midway?
“Vision and Mission are Disorganized: The effect of an NPD leader in a congregation is that the entire congregational effort gets tainted with the toxicity of the NPD style of interacting with others. This skews the central mission and blurs the vision of a congregation. The tell-tale signs will be an inconsistent vision, mission statements that are laughable in light of the functioning of the congregation, and frequently stated plans that never reach fruition, or run off the rails soon after decided upon.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Consider the point made about the “Imbalance of Power” above. Has the church seen good dividends or enhanced division as the result of taking Assistant Pastors and transitioning them into voters on the Session? To be sure, the Session made a case that the congregation needed to take their recommendation and elect 3 pastors at one time, but the connection of this action to tangible enhancement of Midway’s mission to West Cobb and the world is questionable.
Members of Midway ask yourself: What has the addition of pastor votes on the Session accomplished in terms of mission that wasn’t already being accomplished? Was the division that resulted worth it for men who were already preaching and continue to do so to now be able to vote on the Session?
“Good People Disappear: Congregations that have an NPD leader will methodically lose good, skilled, and motivated people; they just don’t hang around for the abuse that NPD leaders mete out or tolerate the frustration of fighting the devil right inside the Church.”
“The Backdoor is Wide Open: There will be a constant hemorrhage of members leaving via the ‘back door’. People leave quietly to get away from the sick (and ultimately dying) congregation. There will be no one doing follow up on these departures, because everyone already knows why people are leaving, but no one will talk about it. Meanwhile, the few new members will be celebrated with great attention.”John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Anyone who attends Midway for long will recognize that it is a revolving door. Everyone may be thankful for the new members, but where is the concerted effort to recover the ones who have been driven away or left in frustration? It is no secret that Midway had an unfortunate split once before. A fair assessment may be that it never recovered.
Members of Midway ask yourself: How many good families do you know that worship elsewhere or simply have disappeared? Is there a common theme in why they departed when asked? Were they a part of last season’s congregational pruning?
Numbers Don’t Add Up: Numbers in claimed weekly attendance, the numbers ‘claimed for Christ’, non-worship program attendance, income, expenditures, hours worked all will have curious irregularities if examined closely. Often, there will be new rules that closely guard the numbers from view; sometimes members only permitted to view the numbers if there is someone official to interpret the numbers for them.John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Members of Midway ask yourself: If you have been a member of the church for 10 years, 15 years, 20 or more – do you remember a time when there were hundreds of more worshippers present each week than you see now? Do you recall a time when there have been so few in regularly attendance at the church worship and programs? Are there identifiable common denominators in leadership with this trend?
Spiritual Stagnation: Programs that are supposed to be producing spiritual growth and development are shallow, poorly planned, led by weak leaders, and poorly attended. There is often a sense of one dimensional spirituality instead of a richly textured, developmentally sensitive and process oriented effort that delights and celebrates individual and corporate growth.
Persistent Decline: When there is an NPD leader in a congregation, there will be a persistent decline globally. It may be a slow spiral, an irregular spiral, or a rapid spiral, but have no doubt, with an NPD leader in power in a congregation, the congregation is headed for at least serious damage that may take decades to recover from, and may in fact kill the congregation.John of the Cross – Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder
As noted above, Midway Presbyterian Church has split before. This is a sad part of its long history.
Members of Midway ask yourself: Has Midway recovered from the split in the past? Are the power struggles ongoing just a reflection of past issues with the church leadership that have never solved?
Maybe you agree that Midway has all of the symptoms above or maybe you only see a couple. The simple fact is that even one symptom should be cause for alarm and highlight the need for corrective measures. Narcissism can be understood by its relationship to the sin of pride. In a Biblical context narcissism has been called “insolent pride” – that is a sin of haughtiness or looking down on others contemptuously.
According to the “Signs in a Congregation that a Leader has Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder” article there is a solution to the symptoms of NPD in the leadership of a church: “Ultimately, the only hope for congregations for strong, covert NPD leaders is for others to pray that their reign and career to come to and end.” This may only be partially true. While certainly there comes a time when toxic leadership must be removed, such an act should be the product of Biblical confrontation. As former Midway Pastor Mic Knox has advocated in the past, perceived spiritual abusers should be confronted and called to repentance.
Christ can make all things new. He is the great healer. He can even take out hearts of stone coarsened by years of narcissism and pride. He can heal a church crippled by NPD. But it starts with humility and repentance. How can leaders repent if they unknowingly have NPD and no body confronts them?
Midway members: If church leaders at Midway have hurt you through spiritual abuse you can be a part of the solution by calling them to repentance and seeking reconciliation. This is every member’s responsibility as God holds the people accountable for the actions of their leaders.
The church is unwell at this time. Hypocrisy is minimizing the power of the Gospel at Midway. Now you know the cure. Midway’s community of West Cobb and the world deserve a pure church that purges sin not its own officers.