Avoiding a Messiah Complex (with a Giveaway!)

by Chris Lautsbaugh on February 6, 2013

Do I have your attention? (if not, keep reading…there will be a giveaway later on!)

Do you really think missionaries view themselves as a Messiah to the people they reach?

No, but this complex starts with a small thought, attitude, or even temptation.

That temptation is rooted in arrogance.

What!?

Missionaries being arrogant?

Aren’t the words associated with missions, words like “service, suffering, and sacrifice?” How could that lead to arrogance?

Our perceived external humility in serving others, can easily lead us into internal pride.

Being a missionary feeds our human desire to be indispensable or needed. It feels good to hear people say they could not make it without us.

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I listen to young missionaries proclaim their desires all the time:

“To rescue people out of their poverty.”
“To help those who cannot help themselves.”
“I know I have something to offer these people.”

If we are not careful, this youthful zeal can work its way deep in our hearts. It begins with a legitimate desire to help. Slowly, subtly, this godly desire turns into an air of superiority. Pride at its root says “I am better than them.”

I’ve had numerous times in my missions career where my desire to give and serve was superseded by a focus on what I was getting out of the work, or at least what I thought I was earning from God.

For me, it stemmed from a false perception which believed climbing the ladder of good works endeared me more to the Father.

If we have a misunderstanding of grace and our acceptance from God, our service can quickly become a merit badge of honor. Worse yet, it could be a way to work off our bad deeds, attempting to balance the cosmic scales of good and bad.

I meet many missionaries who are doing great things, but for the wrong reasons.

I’ve been one.

Jesus reserved some harsh words for these people, the Pharisees. (Matt. 23:27)

As missionaries, is our service an attempt to climb the ladder to God?
Do we desire to be indispensable to those we serve, because deep in our hearts; we must be for us to feel “ok’ with God.
If people don’t need us, have we lost our value, losing one of the greatest tools we have to earn the acceptance of God?

I realize these are drastic examples.

We must ask ourselves if we can see even a hint of this attitude as we look in the mirror.

How often in our marriages do we serve hoping to be noticed, rather than being motivated by love? It is the default mode of the human condition and is more common than we would like to admit.

Our society tells us the only way to success is to be bigger, better, faster, or stronger. We owe it to ourselves to evaluate our missions and service in light of the free gift of grace.

Are we giving to get?
Is our service more for those we minister too or for our own personal peace of mind and security with God?
If people did not “need” us, would we feel less valuable?

In my book, Death of the Modern Superhero: How Grace Breaks our Rules, I explore how the world pushes us to be superheroes in our families, marriages, and even in ministry. The world tells us nothing is for free; hard work is the key to achieving anything.

The gospel of grace breaks these rules. We are accepted by God and cannot improve the work of Christ by our missionary efforts.

In our missionary endeavors, do the “rules” of the world motivates us more then the grace of God? They shouldn’t.

We don’t have to be superstar missionaries.
Rather our success is defined through faithfulness and obedience.
We like to say, “If we only impact one, it is worth it.” But deep down, would our pride allow us to be at peace with this?

Applying grace to our missionary lives is not a once off event, but rather a continual journey of soul-searching and contemplation. We may begin to find success in one area, only to have another rear its head. For the rest of our lives (and ministry), we will need to apply the message of grace on the missions field.

How have you experienced this temptation? What tips can you offer to avoid  a “Messiah Complex”?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes

——

I would like to give away 10 copies of my book to readers of A Life Overseas. You will have your choice of Kindle or print versions (print version only available in US/Canada/South Africa).

In order to enter, all you need to do is:

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2. Like our A Life Overseas page on Facebook.

That’s it! Simple! Both these tasks can be accomplished in the right hand column of this page.

Already subscribed or a Facebook friend? No Worries, You are Already entered to win! Entries close Feb. 13th.

Want a bonus entry? Head on over to Chris’ blog, www.nosuperheroes.com, to find an additional way to win a book.

Thanks for your faithful support and input to  A Life Overseas.

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at NoSuperHeroes.com on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
  • Raechel

    This was a good post – lots to think about…I’m looking forward to reading more on this blog 🙂

  • Lindsey

    Just did both! I have loved reading this blog over the past few months. Would love to read your book, as well!! 🙂

  • Gary Ware

    Great expose. Messiah Complex. I lived this for about 50 years, worked with others suffering the same problem and it is not restricted to Missionaries. Electricians, Plumbers, CEOs, Pastors, Parents, etc. suffer this because we learn it.

    “Applying grace to our missionary lives is not a once off event, but rather a continual journey of soul-searching and contemplation. We may begin to find success in one area, only to have another rear its head. For the rest of our lives (and ministry), we will need to apply the message of grace on the missions field.”
    As in AA, I had to recognize MY problem, admit it, and mentally give up the position attached. I also realize, as you stated, I am never free from wanting it again.

    • Great thoughts Gary. Grace is not limited to missionaries, nor is pride. I suppose that is why the gospel is good news to all. Thanks for commenting.

  • A challenge. These are hard questions that I am tempted to answer quickly. “No, of course not.” “Nah, that doesn’t apply to me.” But these are the sort that take some serious mulling over, and not just once, as you say. Thanks for the reminder. By the way, I am STILL reading your book. I thought I would zip through it, but I read a small chunk and it takes me a while to think through it. Great stuff!

    • Thanks Christie! I agree, we react to these questions, but when we ponder them, we realize that small, subtle form of pride easily takes root in our hearts. Glad you are enjoying the book!

  • Lisa

    If you asked me if I thought I had a Messiah complex, I would have denied it (I’m weak! Insecure! I don’t have anything much to offer!!). But God showed it to me in His wonderful way the pride of my heart.. and it is a lesson I will never forget, even 8 years on.

    After about a year of full-time language learning, I was asked by the youth pastor of our local Cambodian church to give a testimony in English at the Sunday evening English service. I was a little disappointed not to try out my Khmer language skills, but understood that it was about the kids, not me.

    So, I shared my story, including my journey into missions, while the Pastor translated. I was pleased to note that he was doing an excellent job and translating faithfully to my words and meaning… until I was wrapping up.

    “God loves Cambodia so much that He sent me here”.

    The Pastor hesitated for a second and I realised in that moment the arrogance of my words. While I was thinking of the effort it had taken to uproot me and my family from Australia, he heard me applying words to myself that should only ever be used to describe Jesus.

    Graciously, he translated that God loves Cambodia.. full stop. And I was convicted of my smallness in His great plan and purposes that He is achieving here.. with or without me.

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  • Hmm…considering I just found this blog today, subscribed and then just found this post after already reading about the blog and wanting to buy the book, I was so excited to see a giveaway! It looks like it might be over based on the date but I did not see a list of winners and so was hoping that maybe their was an extra book or two floating around. 🙂

    • Thanks, Amy– the giveaway is actually over . . . but I’m sure you can still grab a copy over at Chris’s site. 🙂
      Glad you stopped in!

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