Friday, January 03, 2020

Pastors - Lovingly Work the Field God Has Given You

(Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan)

Years ago (1979) I read Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch said that bureaucratic structures fuel narcissism. He wrote:

“The narcissist has many traits that make for success in bureaucratic institutions, which put a premium on the manipulation of interpersonal relations, discourage the formation of deep personal attachments, and at the same time provide the narcissist with the approval he needs in order to validate his self-esteem. Although he may resort to therapies that promise to give meaning to life and to overcome his sense of emptiness, in his professional career the narcissist often enjoys considerable success." (Quoted in Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, pp. 110-111)

Barton says our churches function like bureaucracies, and therefore "it is not surprising that clergy are sometimes rewarded, not punished, for their narcissistic behaviors." (Op. cit., 111) Barton writes: "There is a lot of narcissism among leaders—even Christian ones—and the truth is that we are driven by our grandiosity more than we think." (Ib., 110)

Narcissistic pastors and leaders view themselves as worthy of deserving something greater than where they are. Barton writes:

"One of the ways to recognize narcissism within ourselves is to notice when we have not yet accepted the field, the sphere of action, that God has given us—the opportunities and the limits of life in this body, this community, this set of relationships, this financial situation, this place where we have been called by God to serve. Narcissistic leaders are always looking longingly at someone else’s field as somehow being more worthy or more indicative of success. They are always pushing the limits of their situation rather than lovingly working the field they have been given." (Ib., 111; emphasis mine)

Over the years God has purged me of several narcissistic attitudes and behaviors. I doubt if it's all out of me yet. I do know that, in my extended praying times over the years, God has labored to defeat the self-idolatry that constructs a throne in my mind.

I am a pastor at Redeemer Church in Monroe, Michigan. This is my twenty- eighth here. How thankful I am for this! As Barton says, 

"The good news is that there is something deeply spiritual about living and working within our God-ordained limits—or to put it another way, living fully and acceptingly within our own set of realities." (Ib., 112)