I borrow my definition from Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders. He is a management consultant and anthropologist—and in this book he publishes his study of human behavior and some of the greatest leaders of our time.
By Maccoby’s definition—narcissism is not a sin (remember, he's not a pastor or theologian). Rather, it is a personality type, and one of four dominant types he outlines in his book.
If you’re like me, you think of a narcissist as a vain, self-centered egomaniac. And they can be, but saying someone is self-centered or egotistical is a description of bad behavior rather than a portrait of a personality type.
Rather, a narcissist is a person who looks at the world as a place that needs changing. But unlike most people who fit that description, the narcissist goes beyond that, and actually believes she can change it. She rejects how things are for how things should be. Narcissists do not react to the external world so much as they try to create it.
A true narcissist is the kind of person who 1) doesn’t listen to anyone else when he believes in doing something and 2) has a precise vision of how things should be.
And doesn’t that describe nearly EVERY church planter or founding pastor you’ve ever met? It takes a certain personality type to go into a community when people are saying, “We don’t need another church here!” and “You’ll never find a place to meet!” – and yet they relentlessly cast a vision for what a new community of faith might look like.
It is the combination of a rejection of the status quo, along with a compelling vision, that defines the narcissist.
Maccoby says this:
“They are independent thinkers who act out of freedom, even when it means taking big risks. They are all motivated by a vision of changing the world, creating something that shapes not only their own future but that of their followers. They use everything they can, including people, to implement their vision. They are passionate, energized by their vision, charismatically drawing others into their internal dialogue. They know exactly who is with them and who is against them, and are alert to threats.”
Think about famous leaders who fit this definition: Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi and Winston Churchill.
What about Rick Warren? A few years ago he stood up and told the world he was launching an international alliance of churches, businesses, ministries, universities, and other institutions for the purpose of working together to address the five "Global Giants" that affect billions of people worldwide: spiritual emptiness, lack of servant leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic diseases, and illiteracy. Who does that? I’ll tell you—a narcissist who rejects the status quo and has a compelling vision of how the world should look.
What about Steven Furtick or Perry Noble or Bill Hybels or scores of other pastors who went into a community where they believed the gospel wasn’t reaching the unconvinced—and they started with a few people and a dream and launched a local church that is now reaching thousands.