Last fall, I heard a professor state that according to a psychological exam, NPI/MMRI-2, many church leaders scored very, very high in narcissistic tendencies.
A book that we’re reading in class, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, says that we are all narcissistic to some degree as it is the only way to be self-reflective or ambitious to a certain extent.
But it’s funny to me that so many of us who ponder, pursue and persist in ministry share a strong narcissistic streak (funny not in a “ha ha” way, but in a “oh crap, that can’t be a good thing” kind of way). It makes me wonder if many of us feed ourselves in the acts and relationships of ministry. Oh sure, we feed others too, but there is something in it, something a little insidious in it for us.
In other words, because of some personal need in our own lives, I wonder if we become as dependent upon people as much as we hope they are dependent on us, not in a transformative, apostolic way, but in a way that inclines us to have people feed some need in our lives.
I confess that I have seen glimpses of this in my own life. A few years ago, I had the chance to speak at a youth praise night and there was some effort made to get a good showing out there, a few hundred students, whatever. To be honest, I had little experience speaking outside my youth group of a dozen or so people and I was a bit nervous. So when the time came and the band got everyone excited and hyped up, I got up there and in front of all these hundreds of people with lights on, I realized that the only response I felt I could elicit in that atmosphere was laughter. So in and through my “sermon” I made jokes, not excessively, but to hear a response. Looking back, it was selfish. I didn’t mean to. I think it just came out of my insecurity, my sense of inadequacy, the fear that I might not live up to the moment. And while I may have captivated an audience, I’m not sure if they were compelled to follow Jesus that night. I pray people were able to glimpse at God despite myself, but I don’t know.
Since that experience, I was convicted. I don’t want to preach to make people laugh or to impress someone with biblical literacy or theological language. I don’t even want to preach as though to show off. I just want to testify to the God who has changed my life, who continues to work in/on me, a God who desires more than to save me or us from me, but to something greater.
So when I get the chance to preach now, I don’t do it for me, and I don’t get as nervous anymore. Or at least, if I get nervous, I get about as tense as a witness about to take the stand. I just testify. I say what I saw. I tell you where God moved me in the Word or about my life.
But the antidote to narcissism is somewhere in this, it seems, to face the person in the mirror and being willing to break that image.