Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Spiritual Narcissism

The names say it all:  YouTube.  MySpace.  And of course, iPod, iTunes, and iPhone.

If there is a theme to our day, it’s that it’s all about me.  The technical term is narcissism.  In Greek mythology, Narcissus is the character who, upon passing his reflection in the water, becomes so infatuated with himself that he devotes the rest of his life to his own reflection.  From this we get the term “narcissism,” the preoccupation with self.

Narcissism is the classic, “I, me, mine” mentality that places personal pleasure and fulfillment at the forefront of all concerns.

Now, as Christians, this should be incompatible to us.  We follow a Savior who said He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28); and “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).  And then He bowed in submission to the Father, “Not my will, but Yours (Luke 22:42).

Yet much of Christianity has been invaded by narcissism where the individual needs and wants of the believer become the center of attention.  Have you heard the way we talk?  I'm not being fed here,” or “I need to be ministered to” rolls off our tongues without us even blushing.  We walk out of a worship service saying, “I didn’t get anything out of it,” as if worship is about what we receive rather than what we give to God. 

And it’s killing the church, blinding our vision, hijacking our mission, and muting our voice.
We have to make our message very clear:  It’s not the church’s job to do everything for people.  It is not the church’s job to give you the life you want, much less the one that you are expected to forge out yourself through a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.  The church cannot ensure that all goes well with you, that all your bills will be paid, that every sickness will be healed, and that your kids will always behave.  Most of your life is your own responsibility.

So why do people come to church anyway?  To get fixed, find friends, renew faith, or strengthen family.  That’s all well and good, and the church is obviously here to offer assistance in all four areas.  But the church cannot be held responsible for these four areas of life, nor should anyone expect it to be.

Let me offer an illustration to drive home the point.  The parents of a middle school student drop their child off at a middle school ministry.  The child does not change into a model Christian student.  So the parent’s immediately search for a new church with a more effective middle school ministry and drop their child off there.

What’s wrong with this picture?  What is wrong is the complete absence of any sense of obligation that spiritual growth is the responsibility of that middle school student, not to mention that spiritual leadership within the family is the responsibility of the parents!  Instead, people have a “drop-off” mentality to parenting and many churches even accommodate this.

There comes a point when personal responsibility kicks in and people have to take ownership of the quality of their lives.  Yes, the church exists to instruct and inspire, but it does not exist to do it all for you.  Yes, it ministers to families trying to raise children; it seeks to heal those who are broken; it provides the richest community available for meaningful relationships to be formed, and it offers the necessary tools to help you grow in Christ.  But the church cannot do life for you.  That’s your job.

Some would say that spiritual narcissism is most prevalent in contemporary churches where a strong evangelistic emphasis of reaching the lost is found – suggesting that such churches have abandoned orthodoxy just to put warm bodies in the pews.  Most churches, of course, are doing nothing of the sort .  Nowhere is spiritual narcissism more resisted than in evangelistic churches where they willingly set aside their own preferences for the sake of others, particularly the unchurched. 

Ultimately the Christian life is not about us; it’s about surrender, sacrifice, serving others, preferring others above yourself, and bringing honor to God.

And spiritual narcissism is antithetical to Christianity.

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