"Ministry in a Culture of Narcissism" by Walt Mueller

November 1, 2009

Every time I come to the National Youth Workers Convention, I try to go to at least one seminar with Walt Mueller. He runs the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding and he knows his stuff and he’s an excellent presenter. I had a very easy time taking notes today.

“Show me someone without an ego and I’ll show you a loser.” Donald Trump

Narcissism is becoming epidemic in our culture. Here is a question we need to ask and answer: What are the implications of what I’m seeing and hearing on how I do and should do ministry with kids?

Narcissism Defined: Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.

Important distinctions:
1. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a diagnosable disorder. There are 9 criteria, to be diagnosed a person meets 5 of those criteria.

2. Cultural Narcissism is becoming more normalized. There has been a 30% increase in cultural narcissism in the last 20 years with the greatest rise between 2000 and 2006. Millennials are the most narcissistic generation.

Signs and Symptoms of Narcissism:
1. Obsession with celebrity

  • We are looking beyond character and only at popularity
  • The number 1 selling genre of magazines read by teenagers is the weekly gossip genre

2. The advent and explosion of reality television

  • Started in 1992 with “The Real World.”
  • Created the idea that everyone should be interested in us

3. We build an army of admirers and pursue fame

  • Admiration is about getting attention
  • Poll: Would you rather have fame or contentment? 29% of millennials choose fame. That’s up from 17% when the Baby Boomers were teenagers.

4. Promoting “me” through social networking

  • Social networks are not bad things on their own
  • They are used poorly when they are used to promote the kingdom of the world
  • 20 years ago, kids kept secrets locked in diaries, but today these secrets are on facebook pages.

5. The branding of self

6. The pursuit of personal happiness opposed to the pursuit of social conventions and norms

  • Example: there used to be a social stigma associated with divorce. Today, that stigma is gone and it is overridden by the desire to pursue personal happiness.
  • But is life really supposed to be about happiness? That’s not what the Bible says.

7. Academic cheating is on the rise

  • Seen as necessary to get ahead
  • ethics are relative
  • the ends justify the means

8. Sense of entitlement

9. Displaced authority

  • Parents overindulge their children
  • Parents become subservient to their children

10. Materialism, Conspicuous Consumption

  • We want to build status
  • We want to appear wealthy
  • We find identity in our possesssions
  • We will go into debt to achieve this

11. Showboating Brand Name Labels

12. Customization (of cars, cell phone ring tones, credit cards with our pictures on them)

13. Lack of Sportsmanship

14. Appearance obsession and cosmetic surgery

  • There is a decline in modesty
  • A refusal to look older
  • Magazine/television/movie images set the standard

15. Sex without bounds and with objectification

  • The goal is to feel good
  • It’s okay to objectify other humans as long as it feels good
  • It’s your body, do what you want

16. Cyclical Relationships

17. Weddings are no longer about the covenant but the spectacle

18. Bragging and Christmas letters (AKA Dear friends and family, it’s time to tell you how great we are )


19. Viewing and treating members of the congregation as consumers

20. An emphasis on how God improves the quality of my life

21. Viewing and treating church as a product to be bought

22. Me-centered corporate worship

23. The idea that you can make your own faith

How Narcissism is Spread: Causes and Carriers

1. Human depravity
2. Postmodern spirit and worldview
3. The fabric of our culture
4. Easy credit
5. Marketing
6. Media messages
7. The Self-Esteem Movement
8. The Family
9. The Church

Have we seen the worst? What we can expect:

1. Extended adolescence and postponement of adulthood
2. Marriage later in life
3. Rise in cohabitation
4. Hooking up and friends with benefits
5. The spread of materialism
6. Rise in consumer debt
7. Decline in civility
8. Rise in anger, aggression and violence
9. Expansion of the justice system and law enforcement
10. Loss of community
11. Broken Relationships
12. Missions will suffer
13. Compassion will be more motivated by selfishness
14. Obsession with self-improvement
15. Self Creation of the idolized self
16. Continued rise in normalized narcissism

What now? What is the ministry response?

1. Look in a mirror and ask, who am I?
2. Tell God’s story–creation, the fall, redemption and glorification
3. Fill your life and kids’ lives with the Bible
4. Address issues on humility and pride from a Kingdom perspective
5. Model and teach the Christ Centered life
6. Call garbage “garbage.” Some messages we hear over and over are garbage.
7. Be honest and tell kids the truth about themselves
8. Let people tell you the truth
9. Educate and challenge parents
10. Create opportunities for mission and service that are for God’s glory–not their glory.

We closed with Proverbs 30:7-9

Two things I ask of you;
do not deny them to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need,
or I shall be full, and deny you,
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
or I shall be poor, and steal,
and profane the name of my God.

One response to "Ministry in a Culture of Narcissism" by Walt Mueller

  1. Thanks Becky. . . I hope this was all helpful to you. Blessings in your ministry!