Megalomaniactic Pastors: What if Your Pastor’s a Functional Psychopath?

Megalomaniactic Pastors-Andy-Gill-Patheos

Scene from House of Cards: Frank Underwood manages to turn a crisis into an opportunity by leveraging his relationships to speak into a local congregations turmoil and manipulating their emotions after a sudden death of a younger congregant.

I meet up with a ton of pastors for lunch or coffee. It’s not a means of “networking” as it’s mostly just a means of connecting with like-minded men and women. These groups of people consist of mega-church leaders, musicians, youth pastors, lay-leaders, and everyone else in between.

But, the other day I met up with a pastor of a larger Church, as he was guest speaking/preaching here in Philadelphia. Never thinking about it before, today really, I realized that most of us within pastoral ministry are good with people; that is, we’re easy to talk to; conversationalists.Functional-Psychopaths-Andy-Gill-Facebook

This guy was no different. And, the more “mega-church” pastors I meet up with the more I’ve noticed the differences between guys like them and, well, guys like me (i.e. dudes who’ll probably never have a mega-church). It’s that type of person that walks into a room, saying nothing, and their energy seems to draw peoples attention towards them. When you sit down with them one-on-one they become even more likable than before you met them.

Although, while I was over at Princeton Theological, and lived with these leaders in the dorms, eating with them for at least two or three meals a day, I noticed something was off. I’m not an “academic,” and, I’d never been a part of as serious of an academic community found in Princeton. So, at the time, I chalked this feeling up to being in a different environment.

A few years later, looking back, it wasn’t the petty competitive nature you’ll find in academia (which is really almost anywhere); it wasn’t just the bigotry induced atmosphere in which made you feel as if the campus was locked into the 1950’s; it was this cold-hearted-disconnect I felt within the student body; a falsified warmth when attempting to relate and connect with the average student and future-pastor there on campus; it was this underlying sense that a connection and true healthy intimacy was an impossibility for them to have. Finding relational depth with the average person on campus was as fruitless of an effort as nailing jell-o to a tree.

To be honest, the closest understanding you could have in order to feel and fully understand what it was like to be a student at Princeton Theological Seminary is through watching the movie “Get Out” (I’ll possibly write more on this later).

What if your pastor’s a functional psychopath?

That is, a person who “uses [their] detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society…” Dutton goes on to say “that shockingly, in some fields, the more ‘psychopathic’ people are, the more likely they are to succeed.”

Think about the history of our Church.

The Machiavellian priest or pastor vying their way into a position of power. Look at the historically recorded historicity of disgusting politics of the seven councils shaping our theology. The endless wars. Consider the dozen or so of former popes bedazzling their garments; beheading, deposing or excommunicating their people.

What if the seed of the Church wasn’t watered by the blood of a martyr, but instead was pried out of the murdered Saints hands?

Granted, power in and of itself is not corrupt; it’s the persons pursuit of manipulating and dominating others purely based off of one day possessing the feeling of power.

What about this pastor who proudly tells his congregation the story of punching a child as hard as he could for not taking the lord seriously? What about Steven Furtick manipulating the emotions of others in order to coerce others into baptism?

This isn’t even mentioning the modernized [mis]use of Jesus, theology and His Church to needlessly propagate oppression or even legislate inequality based upon a falsified-prophecy that this is “Gods Plan.”

Refusing to Further Enable A Psychopathic Culture

If we’re sheep, then the functional psychopathic pastor is nothing but a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The thing is, we’re not sheep. The analogy doesn’t work for this instance, regarding rebellious sheep resisting and refusing to further enable this psychopathic culture.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” – Jesus (Matthew 10:16)

The “ability” to continuously feel nothing while gaining everything at the cost of the innocent, personally speaking, I just couldn’t do that. At heart, I’m a pastor, but within evangelical culture in order to make it as a pastor one must consistently and continuously elicit psychopathic tendencies.

Donald Miller, one of my favorite writers, says it best: “I think a lot of the shame-based religious and political methodology has more to do with keeping people contained than with setting them free. And I’m no fan of it.”

The questions I’m left with are: Is it possible for a pastor to run a sustainable Church (not having to be bi-vocational) without containing their congregants through fear-driving techniques and emotional-manipulation? Personally, I’m not so sure… I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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About Andy Gill

Andy Gill has studied theology for two years in Princeton and graduating from Eastern University stepped into pastoral ministry in southern California. His passion is to communicate on topics such as the pursuit of justice, equality, and how that interacts with one’s faith and theology. Currently he resides in Philadelphia and works with youth. He consults and utilizes social media as medium to share these messages. Andy has been featured on sites such as RELEVANT Magazine, Red Letter Christians, ThoughtCatalog, and various other platforms. You can find him tweeting daily, and writing weekly at his personal blog - feel free to follow along by liking his Facebook page.