Have you ever visited a narcissistic church? Even worse, do you attend—or perhaps lead—a congregation that is self-absorbed and in love with itself?
Not long ago, I had the unpleasant experience of visiting such a place. I had heard good things about this church, and I had high hopes for what I would find there. And lately I’ve been trying really hard to see the good and not be critical toward other believers.
Of course, you probably wonder how I knew the church was narcissistic. For one thing, the name of the church and the name of the pastor were mentioned about 10 or 15 times more than the name of Jesus. So even though there was considerable evidence that people were in love with their church, I had a much harder time finding evidence of their love for the Lord.
On one level, it’s certainly a good thing that people take pride in their church and their pastor. I’ve met some Christians who are ashamed to tell me where they go to church—a clear indicator that the church has low morale and a downward trajectory.
However, what about Paul’s statement to the Corinthians? “We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). When the church itself becomes the message, or our focal point is the pastor instead Jesus, it’s a sure sign we’ve become narcissistic.
And although I realize churches may want to market themselves and let the surrounding community know they are there, shouldn’t we beware not to follow the motivation of the men who built the Tower of Babel: trying to make a name for ourselves? (Genesis 11:1-9)
After my visit to the narcissistic church, I’ve had to search my own heart and ask God to give me a sincere desire to see HIM lifted up: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory” (Psalm 115:1). As John the Baptist recognized, Jesus only will increase if we allow ourselves to decrease (John 3:30). Help us, Lord.
I was grieved by one additional observation about the narcissistic church: There was absolutely no evidence of God’s presence or anything supernatural. In other words, everything that took place in the worship service could easily have been attributed to human effort instead of any involvement of the Holy Spirit. The singers sang, the musicians played, the preacher preached—but where was God in any of it?
You see, the church is called to be much more than a social club or humanitarian organization. If we’re no different than the Moose Club or Kiwanis, we’re in big trouble. Shouldn’t we reflect our glorious design to be “built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit”? (Ephesians 2:22)
Yes, I understand the need to be culturally relevant and able to reach “seekers” and unbelievers with the gospel. But shouldn’t the Holy Spirit be involved in the process? How will lost people be persuaded to become disciples of Jesus Christ if we’re content just to “play church”?
One of the signs of the End Times is that many people will be narcissistic, even in the church: “lovers of themselves…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-7). So what’s the antidote for this terrible malady? My prayer since visiting the narcissistic church is that I will die to myself and fall in love with Jesus more than ever before.
I’ve also been praying for renewed evidence of the Holy Spirit’s fruit and power in my life. Shouldn’t we expect that Paul’s example would also be true of us today? “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
Are you content with your Christian life right now? I’m surely not.
Rather than allowing me to remain judgmental toward others, God is challenging me to deal with my own narcissistic heart and lack of spiritual power. Are you willing to join me on this uncomfortable—but necessary—pathway to revival?
Excellent post, Jim. Yes, this is an all-too-easy trap to fall into. I, like you, blog and try to guard myself from allowing it to become about the blog and its success indicators rather than its purpose: the message. I see a lot of similarities in that trap as the trap you’re describing that many churches fall into. It’s easy to end up “doing” church rather than “being” church.
Yes, I’ll join you in this struggle.
I was about to congratulate you on this blog. But in light of this post, that seems out of place. So, instead, I’ll encourage you to keep following God’s will with your writings.
Be well, friend.
Thanks for the excellent perspectives, Tom. We live in a day when churches, bloggers, and seemingly everyone else is seeking a higher PLATFORM. How ironic that our Lord, in contrast, came to wash people’s feet and take the LOW place of servanthood. How do we so often miss this?
Good word, Jim!!!!!!!! Over and over, in so many areas, I keep coming back to the truth that it’s NOT about ME!!!! I’ve also been a bit leary of what I keep hearing, lately, that seems to be saying that since we are covered by the blood and made new, we are , therefore, sinless…..We are , hopefully getting more and more obedient and honed, but it could be dangerous ground if it causes us to start to dismiss our consciences, for even little offenses or sins. It’s HIS righteousness and kindness that overtakes us and changes us . We never “change into God”. We can be filled and changed from glory to glory but we are still human and still live in this body till we arrive totally in heaven. In HIM we live and move and hava our being. Any thoughts?
Thanks for the encouraging word, Roberta. It’s good to know that it’s not about us. It’s amazing to read the book of Acts and see that the church seemingly spent no time promoting the church. But as they lifted up the name of Jesus, the church grew and prospered.
Jim, this singular point you make is central to the discussion. The disciples NEVER preached their own reputation or the reputation of any particular church. As Paul wrote, “I preach only Christ and Him crucified!” I was challenged recently by some friends who were taught the heresy that the supernatural gifts suddenly disappeared after the apostolic age. So I read the works of the early church fathers on the subject. (The leaders who were handed the leadership of the Christian church as the original disciples passed away.) Here is what I found. Until about 500 A.D. new believers were EXPECTED to move in ALL the divine gifts of the Spirit outlined in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. But, around 500 A.D., bishop John Chrysostom wrote that they were seeing less and less manifestation of the supernatural as these 2 things happened in the churches: they became focused on money and moral sin became acceptable in the body. Despite the false teaching that God took away His gifts after “the apostolic age,” the historical fact is that, when preachers saw their role as a profession, they knew they would need to stop preaching against sin if they wanted the money of the richest sinners. So narcissism in the church began long ago. American evangelicals have merely perfected it.
As evangelical, “Spirit-filled” believers, we often have pointed out the shortcomings and narcissism of the traditional, institutional churches. But sadly, we have often fallen into the same traps today. The church I described in this article was evangelical and Bible-believing, yet they seemed to think the Holy Spirit wasn’t particularly necessary to what they were doing. If the Holy Spirit isn’t necessary for our activities, then what fruit will our activities produce? Jesus said that apart from Him we can do NOTHING!
Jim, great blog. I couldn’t agree more. I sooo believe in the Church but I’m also so aware that the Church is going through major reformation; much of it is greatly needed.
Good to hear from you, Ken. At the same time as I’m grieved by much of what I see, God keeps reminded me that the church is the bride of Christ, His beloved one. I pray that I will be able to see the church as He sees it, becoming a constructive force for renewal, not just a critic (which is all too easy).
As long as the focus is on little more than marketing and consumer satisfaction I fear we will see this replicated over and over. Marketing can appeal to many per Christians and new believers so they teach them that their way is biblical. Only a visitation of the Holy Spirit can set us free.
So true, Gary: “Only a visitation of the Holy Spirit can set us free.” Sadly, much of our religious activity is spurred by the fact that the Holy Spirit is doing so little.