The word narcissism is thrown around a lot these days; and for good damn reason. In fact, our culture breeds those who exemplify it now like seahorses, yet they all seem to live far too long! This dilemma is in fact something that anyone, even without a spiritual bone in their body, can easily spot a mile or so away. And even if they don’t get out much, I’m sure Facebook or Instagram would be a case in point as to their predominance. Yet, for those of us who add a daily mirror check through the reflection of that outdated book we always hear about, then we should actually be meeting the narcissist in ourselves most regularly–if we allow God’s laser pointer to zero in on that particular bullet point of our lives. It is no less the case I’m afraid for many who peddle the word of God on any given Sunday in our pulpits across America. And as much as we’d like to think we are exempt from the analysis; I beg to differ.
A Month of Sunday’s Ago
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 20 years ago now that I served as one of those clerics myself in a local church. And preaching was of course important. And it is my humble opinion that it is indeed very vital in the life of the church. And as much as I used to think that anybody with a “call” could get up and say “thus saith the Lord”, I’ve come to believe that those that do it should have what Stuart Briscoe once suggested, “the heart of a child, the mind of a scholar and the hide of a rhinoceros”! It is sufficient of course to also add that the preacher’s task is pivotal to aid in guiding the hearts and minds of people towards reshaping the world they are far too often conformed to, and to act as spiritual chisels in the lifetime task of transforming their thinking towards the mind of Christ instead. This of course is no easy assignment, and the fainthearted and the unqualified need not apply.
Now I for one, though I have preached a good bit in the past, I have for sure sat in on more sermons than most. And as a result, I would like to think I’m a pretty good guide as to its consequent blunders that cause many people like myself to prefer a root canal instead. Besides noting the obvious fact that people who cannot take a 2000-year-old book and bring its relevant reality into the life of the average person, which causes them to seriously wrestle with its truth claims should never be allowed to do it, there are other more even weightier issues I’m afraid. For instance, sometimes methinks, in light of the importance of what we’ve been called to do, perhaps we like the sound of our own voice a bit too much.
Who You Calling a Narcissist?
I think part of the reason we fall prey to this tendency is because though our task is indeed a difficult one for a variety of reasons, it is also equally a vastly rewarding one. I came to this realization first hand after I finally threw in the towel on the “full-time” ministry (whatever the Hell that’s supposed to mean) and entered back into the world of well…you and me.
First of all, I had the privilege of spending 10 to 20 hours each week immersed in the scriptures and mounds of theology books, which is synonymous to giving a new tool to Tim the Tool man. I loved it! And most pastors with a call towards this task should, or else get out quickly while there is still time for all of us to escape the sermonette.
Secondly, if I was of course doing what Pastors should be doing (no differences of opinion here), I was able to spend the rest of my time praying; doing the work of an evangelist in the public square; trying to help the poor (like pulling eyeteeth!); visiting Aunt Ethel and Grandma Louise, and of course burying Uncle Joe. Those of course were all things that I actually loved to do by virtue of the call, and in fact the only thing about my job I disliked was getting folks hitched. That’s’ a story for another time.
But imagine if you will, being a Jesus freak, and getting to go to work every day and do Jesus freak stuff. It was the greatest reason in the world to get out of bed. And yet what I realized once I entered back into the workforce of the average Dick and Jane, was that I had a somewhat protected life. But let me explain.
You see what I had so easily forgotten, is that while I was busy week after week trying to get those “unspiritual” people to be committed, and to give Jesus their all, I found out that they were often simply too busy getting laid off from their jobs; losing their homes; having their teenagers commit suicide; and praying to God that their spouse might make love to them again. You know, the small stuff.
In essence, sometimes, though I would have told you I was giving them a steak every Sunday with the words I had prepared, I was also equally guilty of beating the dogshit out of them at times, totally unawares. And in that sense, I too was guilty of loving the sound of my own voice given the task I had been commissioned with, more than bleeding with the people who were simply looking for Jesus in some possible shoe leather. Not some condescending tower of theological certainty and ex cathedra pronouncements upon their life, but an ear to listen to, a shoulder to cry on, and a grace that used to be called amazing. And in that sense at least, I missed it for a while, much to my great disappointment.
A Solo Pulpit’s Silent Ego
But I think likewise, loving the sound of our own voice manifests itself in another very subtle way that we often miss.
For instance, when Pastors preach every Sunday and yet never equip others to do likewise, people are not able to witness something more akin to something the scriptures actually beckon us to do. As a result, we bypass the exemplification of humility to congregational narcissists who might not yet know what it looks like, by showing firsthand that we’re actually not actually the cat’s meow at all.
Instead, oftentimes we get either the same preacher week after week (who is quite frankly not that good) or we get the golden tongued orator we can’t get enough of, yet the church is built around his persona and magnetism, and thus people tend to worship his reflection right along with him. And as a result of this gross error in judgement, as pastors exit to “bigger and better deals”, churches fold in the aftermath, having built the church house around a bigger narcissist than ourselves. And it would seem that even though Paul reminded the Corinthian church (a church sadly reminiscent of today’s) that neither he, nor Peter, no Apollos died for them; they constantly gathered for the smooth operator sermonizers, who could have been banging the church pianist after choir practice, but somehow the fact that they could “preach the word” was the glue that held the whole house of cards together.
And as a result of this pastor worship, everyone now goes to the biggest and best show in town to hear the guy with the tightest skinny jeans and the best three-point sermon. All the while people shuffle out and shake their hands as they exit unchanged; and yet it seems in America we love to have it so.
Hello, My name is Mark Prince, and I’m a Narcissist
So, I guess you could say I’m a recovering narcissist, simply calling shots now from the sidelines as I see them. And though I still revere the task of the preacher and even the foolishness of its message to the Greeks and the stumbling block it still is to the Jews, I sometimes wonder if us preacher types have stopped to realize that we may not be that big of a deal after all. And maybe, just perhaps; our own reflection has blinded us to the fact that what people are most in need of is one who simply looks a little more like Christ.
Yep. That oughta do it I think.