A culture of ego-feeding

Does much of North American church culture set people up for failure by being individual centred?  Have we created and operated in a culture of ego-feeding in much of what we call church and ministry?

I am not saying we do, I just don’t know that we don’t.

This question comes to mind on the heels of years of involvement in what I will call western evangelical church culture, followed by years of involvement in AA/12-step culture.  A striking contrast to the two cultures in my experiences is that AA/12-step culture creates fewer opportunities for egos to get inflated.  AA/12-step seeks less often to promote individuals.  There are few titles, positions, authority and virtually no pay.  They have certainly not eradicated ego-feeding, but they do keep a very real perspective that it can bring a person and organization to ruin in a hurry.

My experience with church culture on the other hand, although inadvertently, appears to be quite centred on promoting individuals and placing them in settings that leave them in danger of runaway egos.

Would 43,000 people admiring you, calling you Pastor, and financing your very comfortable lifestyle have an impact on your ego?

Titles, ranks, offices, attention, fame, and money, just to name a few of the ego-feeding factors common in church culture are what I am referring to.  Have we created a culture of ego-feeding for our pastors and ministers? Do we put too much focus on a small number of individuals and inadvertently idolize them?  Would any of us be any less immune to runaway egos if we were given a title, attention, adoration, and were constantly the centre of attention?  And in many cases, paid well as well?  Who would we become if these were bestowed on us?  Could we handle it?  Have we not experienced many who couldn’t?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not for a moment saying AA/12-step culture is all right, and church cultures are all wrong.  Far from it.  I am just saying that churches could learn a lot from the cautions we seek to implement in AA/12-step.

In AA/12-step, we are constantly reminded that we remain sober a day at a time.  Yet I have seldom heard in church that we should seek to grow and live in our relationship with God a day at a time.  Instead, I have experienced far more emphasis placed on building and running programs and productions.

In AA/12-step we are constantly reminded of our primary purpose, “to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety”.  Few opportunities exist to take AA away from this.  In my church experiences, we wove in numerous directions that often overshadowed any primary purpose to seek, serve and share the message of Jesus Christ.

Why does AA/12-step take measures to avoid ego-feeding?  Probably so the primary purpose does not become overshadowed thus making AA/12-step ineffective and pointless.

Could our church cultures learn something from this?

Ciao.

Chaz

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About Chaz

Husband, father, brother, son, friend. Sober member of AA. Grateful for the life God gave me and for the happy struggle of recovery.
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6 Responses to A culture of ego-feeding

  1. Our singleness of purpose is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. I have always said that you can’t keep your ego and get sober at the same time. That is a dangerous mix. prosperity preachers are very important people in certain circles. Do you think Mr. Osteen is more humble than holier than thou with an ego that is 10x his size? Can you preach and maintain a modicum of humility? AA in principle does not have any leaders and we are not organized so that one is not set above another. We are all equal. There but for the grace of God, I have seen in my many years certain ego driven members come and go and we survived them.
    I think the universal teachings of AA can be applied in anyone’s life, be he a preacher or a church goer. A simple man or a rich man. It’s a good question.

  2. Chaz says:

    Hey Jeremy…. always glad to hear from you. Lost track of your blog…. did it go private?

    I do not wish to single out Joel Osteen. I have never met the man and know little about him. I have no knowledge of him having an inflated ego or any other characteristic I would not wish to emulate. I only chose him as the pastor of the largest church in the U.S. as someone of whom I would ask the question.

    I too have found great help in the singleness of purpose we focus on in AA. It is a simple point to try to remain anchored to. Few are perfect at it including me. My point is simply that AA does a lot to create a culture that supports simple humility and abandons ego. And even though ego-building seems to find some inroads, the opportunities are far less.

    The mere fact that many church cultures attempt to publicize their leaders through all forms of broadcast and recorded media, and build auditoriums so thousands of people at a time can hear one person speak, and give them titles, fame, and fortune is just such a striking contrast. And I simply cannot see where this is not fertile ground for ego-inflation. I know I would be in danger of it in these circumstances.

    And maybe what I am saying is that I find simple AA and other 12 step meetings refreshing in this respect.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Ciao.

    Chaz

  3. Debby says:

    Chaz, I think you’ve read a couple of posts I’ve written on saying the “church” needs to be more like recovery. Neither are perfect, no doubt. I know not all AA or NA meetings are alike and those in recovery have to chose the meeting best suited to them. Much like people chose a church. But you bring up some valid points. In the end, I guess it’s all about the heart. That’s true for all of us. Where is heart? Or maybe, whose heart do we share?

    Just read Heidi’s post of your comments on her Good Life blog. So well said, as usual.

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Debby… thanks for the reply. I had not read your posts to do with church and recovery meetings. However, it does seem to come up a lot from people who have experienced gritty reality of some recovery meetings.

      In recovery, most of us come in having narrowly escaped death or total destruction. And for those of us overcoming addiction, to ego (using the term as a verb) is to die.

      Contrasting this with my experience in a middle-class suburban church, where our problems were not as life threatening as often. And egoing (again, verbified) was subtly supported as long as it looked christian.

      Not saying for a second that it is this way for all churches. Just my experience.

      I enjoy the authenticity of much of my recovery experience. It can stil and often is tainted by the manipulations of people. I simply feel that the iminent danger of death keeps recovery meetings more honest. In my circles anyway. We can’t as easily afford to ego. Lest we die and harm those around us along the way.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  4. Heidi says:

    I couldn’t leave your comment buried in the back when It says so much that I would like people to hear. My post for this morning is rescheduled since I was moving to another topic.

    I love this post. I saw so little humility as I grew up and became a churchgoing Mom, and part of the structure, that I didn’t even know what it was! When I first observed men talking about their feelings and failings– I didn’t know what to think. It was like landing on foreign soil and not speaking the language. Unlike a vacation, however, It wasn’t just a great place to visit. I wanted to live there!

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Heidi… thanks for dropping by and for your reply.

      It is very easy for us to get swept up and insulated in church environments. And if we never see any other form of culture, we simply do not know we are part of a structure to which we are inadvertently conforming. Yet same can happen in AA or anything else.

      My only concern is that in Church, part of that structure is people with positions and power. If history has taught us anything, it is that few people can handle positions and/or power without their ego jumping in and corrupting them.

      Our whole church structure where we gather in large numbers to hear a finite, esteemed few carries dangers… in my experience anyway.

      To contrast this with a typical AA meeting, we have fewer people gathering to hear usually a wide range and number of others who are not esteemed higher than the rest of the crowd.

      In church, we often celebritize our leaders. We put them on TV and buy their books. We help them make millions. AA’s on the other hand usually learn from other alcoholics who are no more sober than we are. We are all sober a day at a time. There are fewer opportunities to become celebrities. There are fewer ranks, titles, and opportunities for wealth.

      With that said, I do recognize that in AA, we do subtly assign rank to our sober time. We often esteem old timers as saints. Newsflash, they are not. In fact, some are arrogant, self consumed egotists who are prideful in their tenure of sobriety. But in my experience it is less common.

      And here is the crazy thing about it all…. and probably what is motivating me to write on this topic…. Today, having been away from church culture for the better part of 5 years, I revere Jesus Christ and his teachings more than I ever did. I am all the more convinced that he was who he said he was. And this is without the “help” of the structure of the western charismatic mainstream church I experienced for decades.

      Maybe I just needed a break from celebrity christians calling themselves pastors, ministers, and church leaders. Maybe I just needed to get away from the noise and ego-fueled agenda long enough to get to know the God who it was all supposed to be about in the first place?

      Who knows. I simply know that today, I feel closer to God than I ever did.

      Ciao,

      Chaz

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