Narcissism in Ministry

Jan 3, 2014Kingdom Uncaged


I’ve been noodling a lot about narcissism lately. First off, I worry I’m narcisissistic. How much of my day revolves around my wants, my supposed needs, my desires? Having grown up as an only child can do that to someone. Perhaps the reason God sends stress and pain into my life is to keep the self-absorbed me from taking over myself entirely. Thank You Jesus for trials!

But here’s the thing I’ve been wondering about: the link between entitlement and narcisissism and ministry. When we come to a place in our lives where we feel we’re entitled to certain things, we embody narcisissism.

I’ve (unfortunately) encountered Christian workers who believe the world owes them things: applause, money, glory, time. That because they are doing this difficult thing for Jesus, others should step up and gift them with all sorts of things. When I’ve seen this, I’ve wanted to vomit.

What about joy?

What about serving Jesus, not for material or personal gain, but simply for His sake?

What about the paradox of suffering joyfully for His Name?

I’ve met people who firmly believe it’s the Body of Christ’s job to take Christian workers out to dinner, to shower them with blessings, to fix their houses, to pay for their children’s schooling, because, after all, they’re doing this hard thing for Jesus.

I’ve met people who appear to be working hard in ministry, but actually don’t work at all. I‘ve met people who hide their sins behind the veil of ministry. I’ve met people who go into ministry to run away from their glaring and blatant sin issues. I’ve met people in ministry who are more than willing to share how you’re wrong, but crucify you back if you dare bring up one sin issue. I’ve met people who abuse their families while studying theology. I’ve met people who’ve gone into ministry simply because it afforded them credibility, the perfect facade to cover up what is dying underneath.

I once knew someone who wanted to capitalize on a child’s grave illness by taking a picture and sending it to financial backers. “We got the most support that month,” the person boasted, as if discovering the correct method for extracting the most money from folks.

If being in ministry is about the money we get, the prestige we have, the indulgences we cherish, the ability to hide behind an acceptable Christian facade, then we are walking on the wrong road. The road is wide, Jesus said, that leads to destruction. The road is narrow, leading to Him. And that road has nothing–nothing–to do with narcissism. Since when did Christianity have anything to do with demanding to be served?

If we believe that the world exists for us in some sort of narcissistic love fest, we are gravely wrong. If we mistake the generosity of others as our due reward, we miss the mark. It’s not that others owe us, it’s that we owe Him everything.

Am I alone here? Perhaps I’m jaded and cynical. But I can’t help but think this breaks God’s heart. I can’t help but resonate with those Scriptures about wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’d never thought of those verses when I was a young Christian. I believed everyone. I trusted every person in ministry. I elevated them to pedestal status. But now I’ve grown up.

Maybe that’s why I love my church so much. It’s not a perfect church, but it’s honest. And the leaders have a strong work ethic, good accountability, evident moral character, and a desire to see God’s kingdom (not theirs) advanced. If it wasn’t for this church, I’d despair.

I’ve seen enough in my years as an adult Christian that makes me wary of anyone who calls him or herself a minister. Prove it to me. By your actions. (Hmmm, the book of James comes to mind here). Because, folks, I’ve heard enough lying words to know words can be very persuasive and enticing, but also dead wrong. We have, according to a counselor friend an almost limitless capacity to self-deceive. If we write or say enough words about our greatness (ah, narcissism!), we’ll believe our own press, and others will too.

I have written this before, but I rest in these two words: GOD SEES. He sees those who serve Him for their own gain. I’m scraping by, cowering under Paul’s beautiful audacity, to rejoice that even so, Christ is proclaimed. I’m not there yet. All I can see is neglect and abuse of God’s high holy calling. But He sees. He knows when others serve Him to hide. Or to gain financial freedom. Or to be showered with earthly praise. Or to be served. He sees.

All I can do is grab His hand, entreat Him to please-please-please deliver me from my own ugly narcissism, and tenderize my cynical heart.