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Me, A Narcissist?

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.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

8 responses to “Me, A Narcissist?

  1. Steve Hayner ⋅

    This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard for pastors/leaders to help their congregations to become more truly missional. We get our “strokes” from what happens when people gather–around us–participate in great programs which WE planned–or engage in making the institution (where we are the central figure) “successful.” The “attractional church” is much better at feeding the narcissism of a pastor than the “missional church” which sends people out to be emissaries of the King in building outposts of the Kingdom in the world.

  2. Prof. Hayner,

    this is the strange paradox of new leadership, how can we learn to lead not from the center? while this makes more sense in the macro- sense, for instance, we have a growing feeling that the marginalized, non-western churches will drive the church catholic into the next century. but in the micro-sense, how do we lead in church, not just in a self-aware sense, but from the beginning in decentralized ways?

    the paradox for me, especially as it relates to this notion of narcissism, is that we still put our names on things, even our ministries. missional or not, doesn’t that feed our narcissism? and i can’t help but find this related to our economics and the means in which we incentivize people for new ideas and new developments. i suppose postmodernity has helped in creating room for the anti-hero, and the notion of process, but it seems that we have no room, tolerance, or patience for this yet in our churches.

  3. elderj

    oooh David, you got Hayner to comment on your blog. You’re so cool. Man!!!

    Anyway, I think post-modernity has actually exacerbated the issue because the locus of authority is no longer transcendent, but extremely localized and personalized therefore reinforcing our tendency toward narcissism. Not the pressure and the praise rebounds to me and me alone rather than to the institution or the ideology I represent, hence heightening the temptation to make the preaching occasion really all about me, rather than about bearing witness to what we have seen and know.

    • good point, postmodern tendencies move away from objective truth proclamations, but being aware of a hermeneutic of suspicion always inclines them to speak from a posture that is self-critical in terms of colonizing the thoughts of others and powerbrokering. In this sense, the narcissism of postmoderns could be argued to be kept in check due to the narcissism of others. whereas in the modern sense, the dynamics of personality and charisma could lead to a great deal of duplicity in terms of confusing kingdom vs. Kingdom. know what i mean?

      • elderj

        I do, but the evidence of the first truly post-modern generation, the so-called Milennials, argues against that as they evaluate doctrine, worship, etc., not against some extrinsic standard of “truth” as the moderns purported to do, but rather against their own, and their own self-selected communities, extremely unstable interpretations based largely in their own emotive responses to it. Such responses I think lend themselves to a tendency towards messianism, i.e. “I can change the world” syndrome. Their hermeneutic of suspicion while lending them to some measure of self criticism, does not engage the ideas of others, but rather serves to diminish the truth claims of all all ideas, including their own, so that the exclusivity of the claims of Christ on ones allegiance, and indeed on the allegiance of all, is a priori dismissed without investigation.

  4. so where does that leave us, elderj? what is a good way to approach the problem?

    you acknowledge the problem with the modern approach and clearly have problems with postmodern approach (albeit both camps are caricatured in our broad strokes here), but i assure you that the preoccupations of neither camp are not altogether “emotive” as you suggest, nor do I think that postmoderns emphasize the individual nearly as much you think they do. the community, the traditions, and history get more play in the postmodern forms than do the modern, which cannot help but select the parts of the historical church they see fit.

    at least from a postmodern perspective, they are merely trying to reconcile the church with the whole of christian history, not just since the reformation or the great awakenings of this country. i do think that their emphasis on process and context can be problematic, but i think some exploration outside the Greek and Cartesian worldviews are necessary for the church to move forward, in ways that do not objectify the world or divinity, bur render our communities of faith all the more subject to God.

    as for declaring Christ as Lord and Savior over all, i think postmoderns can say such a statement, they just dare not say when or whether even such investigation is a worthy endeavor to begin with.

  5. elderj

    It leaves us where we’ve always been: struggling to sort out how to live as disciples of Jesus when everything in us resists begin submitted to anyone other than our own determinations of truth, whether those be embodied in the traditions handed down and respected in the modernist tradition, or in the immediacy of post-modern encounter. The truth of Jesus is both objective (modern) and subjective (post-modern) but we all are sadly, and utterly selfish.

    The problem of narcissism is the problem of the tree in the midst of the garden. The same temptation that lured Eve away lures us; we want the world to revolve around us. The difficulty is that this is so close to truth as to be almost utterly indistinguishable from it. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, not the environment. God became a man, not a dolphin. We are in so many ways the center and pinnacle of the created order, made a little lower than the angels and called “gods.” And yet, we are not the point; He is! That is why Jesus is so intriguing and frustrating because he so perfectly embodies complete person-hood: supreme mastery over himself, authority over the created order (including physical ailments and the demonic), and thoroughly confident in both his authority and identity. And yet, he is perfectly submitted to God and completely humble.

  6. elderj

    I had to stop, because I had left off commenting and gone to preaching instead!

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