Jo Saxton asks some tough questions of leaders in her talk at the Q Conference. Saxton believes there is a thin line between narcissism and calling that most leaders—including Christian leaders—walk on a daily basis.
“Our ambitions and our appetites and our longings for approval will take us to places our characters won’t sustain. They’ll take us to places we don’t have the capacity to resist,” Saxton warns. Leaders have power, privilege, and opportunity, Saxton says. And sometimes, even Christian leaders will use the resources at their disposal for selfish reasons.
Christians are constantly told we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we’re gifted, talented, here to change the world, amazing, worth dying for. “Narcissism never touches our lives at all, does it now?” Saxton asks the audience with a grin.
In the Christian world, leaders are in danger of using their callings as a cover-up for self-actualization or “wish fulfillment”. “In those places, our dreams become our rights; our popularity determines our success; our needs can become our necessities; and our celebrity is interpreted like it’s an anointing,” Saxton explains.
“Where is this calling a call? And where is this calling a need about us?” Saxton asks. This is where we need to understand the nature of narcissism so that we can avoid using our calling to cover up a problem with narcissism.
Symptoms of Narcissism
Taking some information from the Mayo Clinic, Saxton moves into the symptoms of narcissism.
Exaggerated sense of self-importance
Sense of entitlement that requires constant and excessive admiration
Exaggerate their achievements and talents. Saxton gives a Christian example for this one: How big is your church? There is a temptation to give the “Christmas numbers”, Saxton says, when we are asked that.
Believe they’re superior and can only associate with special people
Expect favors and take advantage of people to get what they want. The ends always justify the means here, Saxton says.
Saxton has thought about this problem of narcissism on a personal level. She says she is “one breath away” from allowing her appetites, dreams, ambitions make her the center of it all. We call it serving, Saxton explains, “and it actually is about me meeting my desperate needs”.
The Antidote to Narcissism
So what is the antidote to narcissistic tendencies? Saxton says Jesus told us what to do when he instructed us to “take up your cross and follow me”.
How do we take up our cross as leaders? Saxton suggests three practices.
- In our soul care – How’s your soul doing? Specifically, Saxton urges leaders to ask how the wounds and the broken pieces of their lives are doing. How about their emotional, mental, physical health? “I wonder if there are areas of your life where people won’t question you on now because you look so wonderful,” Saxton says.
- Community – Do you have people who know you and can ask you embarrassing questions about yourself? Do you have true friends?
- Putting someone else at the center – Do we know how to put someone else at the center? Our challenge is to leverage our power, privilege, and opportunities to sacrifice for the sake of another. If we are always using our resources to make sure we end up “on top”, we aren’t really leading people.
While these may be uncomfortable questions to ask ourselves, they are vital if we want to avoid the traps that so many leaders have fallen into. If we allow narcissism to subtly take over our motivations, we won’t be able to accomplish the Kingdom purpose we’ve been sent to do.
Watch Jo’s full message here: