Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The Jealous King


He was a madman. He exiled or killed off all of his wives. A master of manipulation, he worked to gain the favor of the people above and below him. Known as a “ruthless fighter, a cunning negotiator, and a subtle diplomat,” (Nelson’s Bible Dictionary), he was the first of six King Herods, Roman rulers in Palestine around the time of Jesus’ life. The biblical account presents Herod the Great, a self-designated title, as the narcissist in the Christmas story. He was so bad that when people recognized the leadership potential of his son, the buzz around Jerusalem became, “Herod is great, but his son is greater.” To eliminate the competition, he ordered the assassination of his son.

In direct contrast to the magi, the joyous kings, who came to worship the newborn King of the Jews, Herod was the jealous king. The Herod spirit is an insecure, manipulative, self-serving one.

Narcissism, a term derived from Greek mythology, designates a person obsessed with themselves. Modern psychologists even designate a narcissist disorder for some people, though many people would simply be described as having narcissistic tendencies.

Unfortunately, the church is not immune from this reality. I’ve spent more than twenty years studying the effects of narcissistic ministry leaders on churches and people. I’ve seen it surface in a senior pastor. I’ve experienced it in a pastor’s wife (not my own!). I’ve seen it in a church treasurer. And likely, you may have too. The manipulation and politicking I’ve occasionally – not often – seen in churches by someone with narcissistic tendencies rival anything that happens in Washington, D.C.! And it leaves much damage in its wake.

Earlier this year I read Chuck DeGroat’s recent release from InterVarsity Press, “When Narcissism Comes to Church.” DeGroat offers several characteristics of the narcissistic ministry leader.

Decision-making centers on them. They must keep their hands in the decision-making, and they are offended and angered when people make decisions different than what they would choose.

Impatience and lack of ability to listen to others. He may call his impatience decisiveness, but he lacks curiosity, empathy, and compassion.

Delegating without giving authority. She wants people around her to carry out her wishes, resulting in micromanagement. She may call a team together and ask their opinions, but at the end of the day she instructs them to do what she wants in sundry subjective details.

Feeling threatened or intimidated by other talented people. DeGroat says they often “feign connection in order to woo followers.” They pour it on to people they want to sway, yet they are deeply threatened by someone who does not seem to need them.

Need to be the best and brightest in the room. The narcissistic ministry leader wants to outshine others. In a healthy team, when one person wins, it makes everyone look good. In an unhealthy one, jealousy and turf wars erupt when one person shines. The narcissist needs to be special, needed, and the hero. Henry Cloud writes in his new book, “Trust,” that narcissistic “people have a great investment in being seen as ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect.’ They must be adored and idealized by others in order to feel secure and trust.” A narcissistic parent will even feel threatened by the success of other people’s children and may even target them.

Intimidate others. Highly insecure, “they are always on the watch for disloyalty, and when they find it, they punish it severely.” They see their opinions, views, and the way they would do things as the “right” way. And they will not hesitate from using intimidation to try to back you down into your corner.

Praising and withdrawing. She will pour it on to praise the person that she feels approves or her, submits to her, and can be controlled by her. But watch ought if you disagree with her, because she cannot tolerate disagreement. To her, it is disrespect and worthy of correction. Her correction. When she realizes you will not be controlled, she withdraws – and often begins plotting how to get you out of her system.

The narcissist works hard to control themselves, their family, and those around them. However, staying in control will attack your spirit of joy. Herod was crazy in part because he would not give up control. He tried to perfect his life by controlling everyone around him. But the spirit of joy is in direct contrast to the spirit of Herod.

The Bible describes the magi, after their 1000-mile journey that likely took six to nine months, as being “filled with joy” (Matthew 2:10 NLT). Unlike Herod the Great, they focused on One even greater – the true King of Kings. Seeing themselves as one part of a much grander plan, they served others, valued input from others, and helped others to accomplish their goals.

And the young Child born in the manger modeled the opposite of the Herod spirit. The Creator of the universe came to earth as a vulnerable baby, needed to be carried, nourished, and helped by the very humans He created. Giving up His rights, and giving up any need for acclaim, He humbled Himself.

And because He did, you and I can know everlasting joy. The spirit of great joy comes from submitting to and worshiping the King of Kings - and serving others with your life. Give up your control and trust Him.

Read Lessons Learned from Church Hurt

Pictures used courtesy of Pixabay.

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