Originally published on the Forge Scotland blog.
The other day I managed to catch both parts of a BBC documentary “‘Nick and Margaret: We Pay All Your Benefits’”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b036yrhh (sadly the first part is no longer on iPlayer, and the 2nd only has a couple of days left). Whilst the whole programme was fascinating in itself, and a startling insight into the lives of people both those on low income and those living on benefits, there was one particular comment that really made me think.
One of the benefit claimants, Liam, had been claiming unemployment benefits since he left University having achieved a 2:1 in Media Studies. Over the course of the programmes he said a number of times that he didn’t want to do particular jobs because he was trying to build a career. At one point he said to Stevie, the working mum he was paired with, that he didn’t see the point of getting up every day to go to a job that just made him depressed.
Philip Ryken, in his excellent book “City on a Hill”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/City-Hill-Reclaiming-Biblical-ebook/dp/B0037B6R56/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374831630&sr=1-2&keywords=city+on+a+hill , advises us that the twin characteristics of the “post-Christian” era are relativism and narcissism. Generally when we think about narcissism we have a very extreme, caricatured, picture, but as I pondered on Liam’s statement I saw an inherent narcissism that centred around the idol of personal happiness.
We must not think that, as Christians, we are any less susceptible to this form of thinking. The “Health and Wealth” or “prosperity gospel” movements are clear indicators that the idol of personal happiness is alive and well within our walls. It is all too easy to read John 10:10 and interpret life in “abundance” or “fullness” as meaning that Christ came that we should have personal happiness. And yet the very life of our Saviour, supposedly our example, shows this lie - His life was one of (debated) poverty which ended with extreme physical suffering, early death, unmarried and betrayed.
Digging a bit deeper, I worry that our increasingly individualistic church culture lends itself to ever more subtle ways for narcissism to creep in. We each now have our own ministry, our own calling, and this lends itself to falling into the same trap as Liam - overlooking certain “jobs” because they are somehow unsuitable, even “beneath” our ministry. But our calling is not our own; ministry does not belong to us - if it did, then we would, ultimately, be self-serving - the very definition of narcissism. We are called to partake in the Missio Dei - the Mission of God. It is Him that we serve, it is His ministry that we are called into.
As I look around the church today, I see many people who are heavily invested in serving, and yet many churches struggle to find people to serve. In amongst our every-member ministry, with people rightly gaining experience and confidence in the gifts that God has given them, I worry that we have lost the ability to serve others as Jesus did - without personal gain.