by Andrew Hanson

By Andy Hanson, October 3, 2013

 

Ted Wilson’s Milestone Address to the General Conference dismayed and disturbed me. Why? In researching that question, I discovered James Patrick’s article, “Working with a Narcissistic Leader,” in the Christianity Today. Hence, this post.

 

If Wilson’s narcissism was the reason for my distress, how should I react? How should thoughtful Adventists relate to this situation? I offer James Patrick’s observations and selected quotations from Ted Wilson’s address for your consideration.

 

Excerpt from “Working with a Narcissistic Leader: The Delicate Dance Of Effectiveness Amid Ego”:

 

While narcissistic leaders are nothing new, today's church culture may be fertile soil for narcissism. Our ‘celebrity driven’ mindset for defining leadership, and elevation of leaders who excel at casting vision, manifesting charm, and exuding enthusiasm produces pastors whose personal ‘brands’ are bigger than their church's. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to know how to respond to narcissistic tendencies in the leaders we work with. [1]

 

Under the heading Field Guide to Narcissists, Patrick describes narcissistic church leaders as people who “interpret the world only as it pertains to them,” and they “do not see this self-referential orientation as a problem.” His description of narcissistic behavior is extensive; however, the following list of characteristics should allow the reader to understand more specifically the behaviors and thought patterns that Patrick describes.

 

Because Narcissistic leaders are confident that their judgment, opinions, and behavior reflect orthodox belief and right thinking, they have “the ability to articulate vision with an inspiring self-assurance.” Consequently, loyalty is a virtue. “They are passionate about leaving a legacy.” They have poor listening habits. They emphasize “indoctrination of the ‘vision’.” “They habitually dominate meetings” and have “a tendency to become an information broker, especially of sin.”

 

Patrick supplies a list of do’s and don’ts for survival when working under a narcissistic spiritual leader (NSL).

“Empathize with an NSL's feelings, but don't expect them to empathize with yours.”
“Offer them your ideas, but give them the credit.”
“Offer information, but not opinion.”
“Don't disagree openly… discreetly allow the seed of the idea to become their own.”
“Don't over-perform.”

 

Patrick also provides advice about establishing a healthy environment while working with a narcissistic leader. “Cultivate an environment of honesty, clarity, and objective assessment of ministry practice, particularly relative to the organization's stated values and goals.” Keep conversations “focused on the team's goals, and this can mitigate opportunities for any NSL to warp reality to their own ends.”

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Now dear reader, I suggest that you read or listen to, in its entirety, TNC Wilson’s Milestone Address to General Conference Delegates July 3, 2010, titled “Go Forward,” and assist me in making up my mind. Does Wilson have narcissistic tendencies or doesn’t he? The following quotations seem to me to be problematic. I invite your input.

 

“I humbly ask for your prayers that the message I share today is heard clearly and that the messenger not be lifted up. To that end, if there is a particular point with which you agree, please respond with a heartfelt 'Amen' instead of applause. Thank you for your help in keeping the message, not the messenger, the center of our time together.”

 

“[Babylon] has corrupted God’s commandments and instituted another day of worship other than the seventh-day Sabbath which is the only true mark of God’s creatorship. The third angel announces in verses 9-12 that 'If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand he or she will be tormented or destroyed with fire and brimstone. If you worship the beast and his image you are rejecting THE one sign God has proclaimed as His test of allegiance the seventh-day Sabbath.”

 

“The Spirit of Prophecy is one of the identifying marks of God’s last-day people and is just as applicable today as ever before because it was given to us by heaven itself. As God’s faithful remnant, may we never make of none effect the precious light given us in the writings of Ellen G. White.”

 

“Never doubt the destiny of this mighty Advent movement. It is in God’s hands. God has given us prophetic instruction to know the culmination of the great controversy–God is the Victor!”

 

“Go forward, not backward! Use Christ-centered, Bible-based worship and music practices in church services…. Worship methods that lift up performance and self should be replaced with a simple and sweet reflection of a Christ-centered, Biblical approach.”

 

“The historic Biblical beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not be moved. The Biblical foundation will stand secure to the end of time. Listen to what we are told in Selected Messages, Book 1, pages 207-208.”

 

“If God did not create this world in six literal days and then blessed the Sabbath day, why are we worshiping Him today on this seventh-day Sabbath as SEVENTH-DAY Adventists? To misunderstand or to misinterpret this doctrine is to deny God’s Word and to deny the very purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist movement as the remnant church of God called to proclaim the three angels’ messages with Holy Spirit power.”

 

“Seventh-day Adventist Church members, hold your leaders, pastors, local churches, educators, institutions, and administrative organizations accountable to the highest standards of belief based on a literal understanding of Scripture. Utilize wonderful resources such as the Biblical Research Institute’s new book on hermeneutics that helps us know the correct way to interpret the Scriptures.”

 

“One of the most sinister attacks against the Bible is from those who believe in the Historical-Critical method of explaining the Bible. This unbiblical approach of 'higher criticism' is a deadly enemy of our theology and mission…. Stay away from this type of approach because it leads people to distrust God and His Word. Selected Messages, Book 1, pp 17-18 speaks directly to this issue.”

 

“While the Bible is paramount in our estimation as the ultimate authority and final arbiter of truth, the Spirit of Prophecy provides clear, inspired council to aid our application of Bible truth. It is a heaven-sent guide to instruct the church in how to carry out its mission. It is a reliable theological expositor of the Scriptures. The Spirit of Prophecy is to be read, believed, applied and promoted.”
 

“Jesus is coming soon!! Soon we will see in the eastern sky a small, dark cloud about half the size of a man’s fist. It will get larger and larger and brighter and brighter. All of heaven will pour out for this climax of earth’s history. Everyone will see Him at the same time through a miracle of heaven. And there seated in the middle of millions of angels will be the One we have been waiting for…not the humble broken Lamb, not the High Priest, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ our Redeemer!”

 

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[1] James Patrick, “Working with a Narcissistic Leader: The Delicate Dance Of Effectiveness Amid Ego,” Christianity Today, November 2010, accessible online at

https://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2010/november-online-only/workingnarcissisticleader.html?start=1.