Meekness via Charisma

Attend any church service on their annual “Pastor Appreciation Day” and you’ll undoubtedly hear multiple testimonials about how blessed this church is to have a pastor who is “the most humble man I’ve ever met!”

It does strike me as odd that there is no “Mayor Appreciation Day” or “President Appreciation Day”, though they also classify themselves as “public servants”. That’s probably because we consider the paycheck and the position to be reward enough for their so-called “service”,

You spent your life begging for this job and you got it. Congratulations. Now prove you’re worthy of it, and anytime you want to quit, there is a long line of narcissists who are trying to claw their way into your pulpit.

Pastors, on the other hand, are given a “Day”, like our “Mother’s” and “Father’s”, and other shepherd-y authorities.

Note: Upon further inspection, I’ve learned that there are President appreciation days in most dictatorships, during which the dear leaders are praised with speeches that seem to be stolen from the Evangelical churches I’ve attended.

To counter my anti-church friends, not all those pastor-appreciators are butt-kissing associate pastors who are worshipping the throne to which they’ve aspired or who have been humiliated into submission by their inability to secure their own congregation (though I’d be lying if I said those people make up zero percent of the preacher-praisers).  Instead, I think the vast majority of those pastor-pedestal-ers are sincere people who have been blessed by the pastor directly, and by the services and community over which he presides.

However, it also seems obvious to me that there’s hardly a moment where a narcissist looks out of place behind a pulpit, which is probably why the primary customers for pulpits are politicians, professors, and cult leaders (my apologies if those are the same thing). In fact, I would dare say that most pastors are far less comfortable in the real world than a rock star is behind a pulpit.

So, despite the protestation of millions of grateful congregants, I can’t help but think that the job of “Spiritual Authority” tends to attract the same type of applicant as any other title that includes “Authority” – the confidently attractive, the charismatic, and the anointed (my apologies if those are the same thing). Your pastor might be a particularly humble shepherd, but if most of them aren’t, and everyone thinks theirs is, I have to hope – for your sake – that you’ve got a better way to tell than your own opinion and your church’s consensus.

Church Costumes

The truth is, “Wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” is a hard act to maintain, especially in a well-shepherded flock.  Better to pay the price for a snug “shepherd” costume and get a flock of your own.  It can fit so well, sometimes it’s hard to remember which is the suit and which is the beast. But without a great deal of caution, the cloak seems to turn the insides a little wolf-y anyway, so at some point, it’s often a distinction without a difference, for nothing induces grandiosity quite like an audience or a title. I don’t know a religion or democracy that states otherwise.

I think this is the wisdom behind James’s warning, “let not many of you become teachers.” (James 3:1) A desire for the job should be the first disqualifier, because speaking for the King is never without drama, so it tends to draw resumes from the theatrically inclined. It must require a certain undesirable quality to enjoy professionally speaking on behalf of God.

A few reluctant people like Moses or Jonah were dragged into it, smoking and sopping. But the majority of Christian heroes like Saul and Peter and Paul seem to be born and bred, hungry for the inevitable conflict that comes with carrying the banner for God. In fact, we enjoy looking up to those people. They make good, strong heroes, and they fight bad, wrong villains. There has always been a place amongst God’s chosen people for divine dirt bags, and when one of them is on my side, it’s easy to see their virtue and think they are “the most humble man I’ve ever met!”


Somehow, I only ran into the word “pastoralist” for the first time recently. Apparently, it’s a common term that refers to activities or practices related to the care of grazing of animals, such as cattle, goats, and sheep. This felt perfectly right to me, since even modern day pastors refer to their congregation as their “flock”. As a pastor’s kid, attending pastors’ conferences and conventions, I heard this all the time from pastors who felt a grave responsibility to protect their flock from “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who might try to enter their congregation (or enter members’ heads through the media they consume and the interest groups they graze), pretending to be a mature Christian, but leading the flock astray, for their own appetites.

But the more I considered the role of a “pastoralist”, the more it all felt terribly wrong! First of all, it seems insultingly infantilizing and paternalistic, especially in modern times, because maybe – maybe – long ago, people needed a local pastor to tell them what to think about the Bible and how to hear from God. But in an age of literacy and access to all the writings, audio, and video of all the greatest theologians throughout time, I don’t need someone ordained with a “license” to condescend to me as a sheep.

From there, the analogy implied in the title “pastor” grew in accuracy, and creepiness! Pastoralists control where and when their flocks graze. They control what is consumed. They determine the herd movements. They monitor the “health” of each member, including breaking a sheep’s legs, for their own good if they start to wander off (as multiple Christian sermons have taught me). “And that’s not even the bad shepherds,” I thought, “those are the good shepherds!

And that’s when it hit me: There is only one Good Shepherd named in the Bible (John 10:11-15). We are His sheep. The Bible makes reference to shepherding roughly 300 times, and only once does it refer to a church leader as a “pastor” (Ephesians 4:11-12). And if Christ’s opinion counts for anything in Christianity, He made it abundantly clear – if we are the sheep in the analogy, He is the only shepherd (John 10:11-15 and Matthew 9:36 and Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:3-7 and Matthew 25:31-32 and Mark 6:34 and Luke 12:32 and Mark 14:27).

And that part about “wolves in sheep’s clothing”(Matthew 7:15) who might try to enter the flock, pretending to be a mature Christian, but leading the flock astray, for their own appetites? That was Jesus talking about – as far as I can tell – any pastor who has been licensed to imply, “Yeah – you know that title that Jesus is supposed to have in your life? I think that’ll be mine.”

A Good Shepherd would never give a sheep the responsibility to protect, direct, or pastor the other sheep. The Good Shepherd never intended to. Fellow sheep don’t lead the flock. So, even though “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” is a catchy idiom, I think Jesus really should have warned us about wolves in shepherds’ clothing.

So What?


…at least this has been the majority of my experience, but I’d love to be wrong.  Do you think there’s a correlation between authority and narcissism?