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I’ve had numerous times in my missions career where my desire to give and serve was superseded by a focus on what I was getting out of the work, or at least what I thought I was earning from God.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