Friday, December 10, 2010

True Confession of a Narcissistically Challenged Pastor

Dear Tony,
God can use a jack ass to accomplish His will. Seriously- He can. Trust me. get over yourself!
Sincerely,
Balaam

Leaders often get blamed too much for things going poorly and praised too much for things going well. As a pastor I get a certain amount of criticism as well as praise- it comes with the calling. I suspect every pastor wrestles with how to handle criticism and praise. An article I just read on a leadership website really challenged my narcissistic tendencies.

When I am thinking straight I know any ministry effectiveness that occurs in our church or school isn't because of me. There is no example in Scripture, apart from Jesus, where a ministry leader is the reason for spiritual fruit. God uses people in leadership roles to do His will, which differs from saying that Moses was the reason Israel was redeemed from the hands of the Egyptians or Joshua was responsible for taking Canaan. Even Paul is clear about the real power behind his ministry efforts- it wasn't his skill, intelligence, or craftiness. Spiritual fruit comes from one source- the Spirit of God by the will of God made possible by the work of the Son of God. God needs no man to build His Kingdom. I am absolutely unnecessary for God to bring glory to Himself. I should get over myself and any notion that our church and school are in anyway "successful" because of me.

Despite knowing that God doesn't need me to give spiritual health and growth to Redeemer or Heritage, my flesh struggles when credit isn't given for all I've supposedly done. It's a pathetic, but an honest revelation of my sinful desire to be recognized and appreciated. Our church ministers in an "upwardly mobile" suburb possessing a culture of people who thrive on the approval of man. My people struggle with this culture as do I. Professional status is a high premium around here. I can see narcissism in others, but am loathe to admit I fit right in all too often. The article I mentioned earlier is written by a pastor that expresses the same thing I find in myself all too often. Pastor J.R. Kerr writes-

It was a silly thing to do, but I couldn't stop myself. During a "get to know you" conversation with a few acquaintances and a man from the church I serve, we were talking about interests, passions, and areas of ministry. I tried to keep the focus on others at the table. But then it happened.

The man from my church made a statement that I interpreted as making light of me. The fuse was lit, and within a few moments I managed to work into the conversation the areas where I was leading and the wide impact of those projects. I subtly reminded everyone what our church had accomplished in the city. I even managed to throw in some attendance figures for good measure. I pushed everyone else out of the conversation's spotlight.

When it was over, I felt like I had binged on junk food. Self-loathing set in: I hate when I do this, and I hate it even more when I do it as a servant of Christ. Why do I keep falling into this temptation?


I can see how God's people struggle with the approval of man and a certain amount of narcissism and I grieve for the lack of peace this brings them. Being honest, I feel it myself. May God help the pastors and people of churches in this place (and the many places like ours) to seek the glory of Christ alone.

5 comments:

Jim said...

So you read an article on narcissistic tendencies, and think of yourself. It's always about you, isn't it? :-)

Just joking, of course. Couldn't resist.

More seriously, I'm trying to think whether I think that narcissistic tendencies are more represented among pastors than other professional groups. Or whether it's more of a problem for pastors because, well, because they (and we) are always comparing themselves to the Pastor.

I also wonder a bit whether there's a bit of compensating going on. In the past, the pastor would likely have been the only person in a small town to have been to college, let alone holding a post-graduate degree.

Now, lots of folks have been to college, and many have hold post-graduate degrees - and post-graduate degrees that typically allow them to earn more than the often poorly-paid pastor (relative to what the same set of skills would earn him in other labor markets).

One result of this, I suspect, is the seemingly ubiquitous desire of pastors to earn a D.Min. As best as I can figure it, the only point to the D.Min. is so a pastor can be called "doctor."

Also, the Protestant antipathy toward human authority. Yes we must obey God rather than men, but that same God tells us to "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account" (Heb 13.17).

I have a feeling that many pastors would not feel it necessary always to be "proving themselves" if church members reflexively gave them the honor, obedience, and submission that their office deserves.

Again, this does not mean some sort of idolatrous obedience, but rather a recognition that, as pastor, the man bears God's authority in a way that those who do not hold the office do not.

I've long thought that we get pastoral submission exactly wrong. If anything, we think that watching our language like prissy school girls is all we need to do.

That would drive me crazy. If I were a pastor I definitely be willing to trade real deference in my God-given domain of authority for the prissy behavior of "Oh, pastor's here. We need to mind our ps and qs."

Reepicheep said...

Jim- funny opening!

Excellent observations.

Perry said...

When I was a teenager and my family went to a mainline church, there was a guy who was the head of our church's Sunday school board, who was also on our city's school board. During one rather contentious Sunday school board meeting, the rankor among everyone was quite high, with many opposed to this guy's ideas (as usual). At one point in the meeting, as this guy was probably trying to reign in the chaos and take the meeting back and bring it to some kind of order, he raised his voice and said, "But, I have a degree! I have a degree!" That said bushel baskets full.

Perry said...

Unfortunately, I miss quoted Mr. "So-and-so." Substitute "degree" for "PhD." That should make things clearer and more precise.

Woody Woodward said...

Before moving to KC in 1988, for 20 years I attended several Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma. It may have just been Oklahoma SB’s or maybe the “end thing,” but it seemed to me that every ego seeking, self recognized, “see me” feasting pastor demanded his due title, supported by a proud, don’t you dare touch my hair pompadour. Glad you and Nathan don’t adorn yourself with that kind of doo.