The Dangers of Narcissism in Worship

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Conversation is interactive communication involving two or more participants. A healthy conversation includes a balance of articulation and response, listening as well as speaking. God’s revelation and our response to that revelation is a great model of meaningful conversation…we call it worship.

Robert Webber wrote, “Worship proclaims, enacts and sings God’s story.”[1] If we agree with Webber’s assessment, then we should also realize the worship story or conversation doesn’t begin with us. What we do and how we do it is a response to, not the initiation of that conversation. God started the dialogue and graciously allows and encourages us to join Him in it.

Conversational Narcissism is what sociologist Charles Derber calls the constant shifting of the conversation away from others and back to us. Derber wrote, “One conversationalist transforms another’s topic into one pertaining to himself through the persistent use of the shift-response.”[2] Shift-response is taking the topic of conversation initiated by another and shifting its focus to our own selfish interests.

Conversational Narcissism is manifested in worship when we take the topic and shift its focus to a topic of our own choosing. So instead of worship focused on God and God’s story, it is focused on me and my story.[3] Shifting the topic of our worship can also shift the object of our worship. When those shifts occur, the conversation is no longer initiated by or focused on the worshiped but instead the worshiper.
Narcissistic worship begins when we constantly point the conversation back to us…what we need, what we prefer, what we like, what we want, what we deserve and what we’ve earned. We often call it worship preferences. But God calls this one-sided, selfish and unhealthy conversation sin.

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 39.
[2] Charles Derber, The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979), 26-27.
[3] Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 231.

Originally published at http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner/the-narcissism-of-worship-my-way/ – Republished with permission.



Dr. David W. Manner serves as the Associate Executive Director for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists with responsibilities in the areas of Worship, Leadership and Administration. Before joining the convention staff in 2000, David served for twenty years in music/worship ministry with congregations in Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Oklahoma Baptist University; a Master of Church Music degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and a Doctor of Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.