“What this church needs is a good sociopath.” 

No call committee would ever mouth these words. No nominating committee would ever think of using this as a criteria for choosing an elder. Yet, pastors and other church leaders are not immune to sociopathic tendencies, and may, indeed, be prone to some of them.

What is a Sociopath?

The American Psychiatric Association classifies mental disorders and lists them in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. What used to be called “psychopathic” or “sociopathic” behavior is now labeled, “antisocial personality disorder.” Here are some characteristics:

  • Superficial charm and good intelligence
  • Absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations
  • Untruthfulness and insincerity
  • Lack of remorse and shame
  • Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
  • Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
  • Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love

If you have been in/or around church leadership for any length of time, you realize you might know someone who exhibits some or many of these tendencies. In fact, some of them might appear normal. You might exhibit some of these tendencies yourself.

Sociopaths and the Church

So, why, of all places, would the church community fan the flames of sociopathic behavior? Well, it goes like this. When you consciously or subconsciously reward those who seek power and affirmation, don’t be shocked. Verbal manipulation, aggressive behavior, cleverness, and intrigue are not so much shunned by many church communities, but rather embraced.

Can you say, “Annual Meeting?”

Fortunately, Jesus gives us a different way.

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, (Mark 10:42-43 NLT).”

How does Jesus teach us this upside down view of leadership? Jesus teaches through modeling more than any other way. Jesus “makes disciples” by living an emotionally and spiritually grounded life with his closest students. Actually, he is the most emotionally and spiritually healthy person who ever lived. Even atheists and those who don’t follow Christ might agree. They have a sense of longing for another way, like the rest of us.


Here’s the way.

Imitate your dad.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing…” (John 5:19-20 NLT)

If you have experienced the key concepts of Joy Starts Here, you know how important it is to grow in emotional and spiritual maturity. What do these traits look like?

“Emotional maturity is actually the ability to stay gentle and protective of weakness under increasing levels of emotional intensity, desire, distress and pain and still act like one’s true self (JSH, p. 239).”

“Spiritual maturity is the ability to do everything required for emotional maturity and remain a gentle protector for people while also maintaining a clear relational connection with God. Spiritual maturity allows us to see ourselves and others as God see us (JSH, p. 239).”

Pastors and leaders, your family is watching you. Young people are watching you. Everyone is watching you. As has been said,  when you are a pastor or church leader who is paranoid, your instincts may be right. Christian community does involve so many vocations where people are, indeed, talking about you without you knowing.

Hope for Sociopaths

This is not time for despair but strong hope. Think about it.

Those who look to you who are trying to make sense of a world that often seems to be falling apart; well there you are. They are watching you, and they see someone who is glad to be with them, in spite of what is happening.

Those who have reached a point where they don’t think God is there and if he is there, well, he doesn’t care. You get the pleasure of shattering their notions about God and wrecking everything by showing tenderness and strength while remaining centered on the present, with the one who is present, no matter what. I hate when that happens…

No…What a gift you are!

When you let the Holy Spirit build protector strengths through you, you become a supernatural dynamo of blessing and joy; just exactly where it is needed. This is not a strategy. It is a way of life.

This is being attentive to your dad…seeing what he is doing, and doing the same.

O, and leaders who exhibit sociopathic behaviors? God’s got your back. I mean, come on…think Peter and Paul? That’s right. You are in good company.

Now, let’s all of us open ourselves to a better way.

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