The Narcissism of Worship My Way


narcissismConversation is interactive communication involving two or more participants. A healthy conversation includes a balance of articulation and response, listening as well as speaking. God’s revelation and our response to that revelation is a great model of meaningful conversation…we call it worship.

Robert Webber wrote, “Worship proclaims, enacts and sings God’s story.”[1] If we agree with Webber’s assessment, then we should also realize the worship story or conversation doesn’t begin with us. What we do and how we do it is a response to, not the initiation of that conversation. God started the dialogue and graciously allows and encourages us to join Him in it.

Conversational Narcissism is what sociologist Charles Derber calls the constant shifting of the conversation away from others and back to us. Derber wrote, “One conversationalist transforms another’s topic into one pertaining to himself through the persistent use of the shift-response.”[2] Shift-response is taking the topic of conversation initiated by another and shifting its focus to our own selfish interests.

Conversational Narcissism is manifested in worship when we take the topic and shift its focus to a topic of our own choosing. So instead of worship focused on God and God’s story, it is focused on me and my story.[3] Shifting the topic of our worship can also shift the object of our worship. When those shifts occur, the conversation is no longer initiated by or focused on the worshiped but instead the worshiper.

Narcissistic worship begins when we constantly point the conversation back to us…what we need, what we prefer, what we like, what we want, what we deserve and what we’ve earned. We often call it worship preferences. But God calls this one-sided, selfish and unhealthy conversation sin.


[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 39.

[2] Charles Derber, The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979), 26-27.

[3] Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 231.


7 Responses to “The Narcissism of Worship My Way”

  • David Manner Says:

    Thanks for the response, Tom. The conversation illustration is metaphorical for revelation/response, not a literal conversation like you and I would have. Worship is indeed as you stated from the created toward the Creator but it is a response to God’s revelation, giving it dialogical characteristics.

  • Tom Kraeuter Says:

    Although I agree with the general gist of the article, I have to take issue with the beginning. Worship is not a dialog or conversation. In Scripture, it is always from the created toward the Creator, the redeemed toward the Redeemer. Worship can be part of a dialog – when God speaks, we should worship – but worship itself is not a two-way conversation.
    I am not trying to be nit-picky, but as James MacDonald once said, “We need to be precise in our definitions if we want to accurately embrace the very purpose for our existence.” He’s exactly right.
    If you can show me in the Bible where the word worship is used as God speaking to His people, then I’ll admit I was wrong. But it’s not there. Worship is always Godward-directed.

  • John Chisum Says:

    David – This is an excellent post. Thank You SO much for making me aware of the term “conversational narcissism” and relating it to our worship – – fantastic! John

  • Jim S. Says:

    I don’t think the issue is about the songs that have a lot of “I” or “Me” statements or ones that have what could be considered “What I want” lyrics. I believe it is to have balance in the worship. Any relationship or communication is two way and is centered on both participating groups, not just one. Worship should also reflect this… equal part character and holiness of God, and equal part our position in him and who we are to each other. Songs that only talk of the majesty and might of an omnipotent God are amazing but can leave us feeling insignificant and him distant. Somgs that speak of “I” or “Me” in relation to God can bring the intimacy close but strip away some of the holiness and awesomeness of God. A balance brings both, awe and intimacy, majesty and relationship. I think of the song Amazing Grace… truth, God’s character, God’s holiness, me focus, thankfulness, boasting of God, and a lot of “Me” and “I” all in one.

  • Simon Says:

    Thank you for this article. Could you give us some everyday church life examples of this, please. Are you saying that when we focus in on ourselves in song we are narcissistic? Does trying to avoid this then disqualify us from using songs that are me or I focussed?

  • Tami Cinquemani Says:

    Powerful words. Thank you!

  • Tom Freeman Says:


    thank you… this is an exceptional… thought provoking article.

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