How Do You Cure a Messiah Complex?

Dear Roger,

How do you cure a “Messiah Complex”? I think that I may have one.
Sincerely, William

Years ago, I was one burned-out pastor. On a Saturday night, I was sitting behind our orange couch crying, and I couldn’t stop.

Julie suggested, “Why don’t you call one of our church counselors and see if you can get some help?”

So, I called Steve and told him what was going on. He said, “I’ve been seeing this coming for a while. I’ve already contacted a counselor who specializes in executive-level stress. He’s waiting for your call.”

I was in the counselor’s office Monday morning. About the third session he said to me, “Today, we’re were going to start dealing with your Messiah Complex.”

“Messiah Complex!” I exclaimed. “I’m not delusional. I don’t think that I am Jesus!”

“Of course not;” he responded. “However, in some situations, you act as if you are.”

The term “Messiah Complex” can describe an individual who believes that he or she is destined to become a “savior” today or in the near future. But that's not the kind of Messiah Complex that we’re talking about today. Let me explain.

What Is a Messiah Complex?

For our purposes, we will define a Messiah Complex as a person’s belief that he or she can “fix” or “save” another person from their problems.

How Do You Know if You Have a Messiah Complex?

My counselor and I worked through quite a list here; perhaps some will sound familiar to you. I would dare to say that most of us have made some of these assumptions at one time or another:

1. You feel the need to jump in, to “fix” whatever difficulties a person is going through.

2. You feel like you know what’s best for others—even more than they do for themselves.

3. You feel that it’s your responsibility to keep your friends or loved ones on the “right track.”

4. You trust yourself more than any professional or expert to help address other people’s problems.

5. You may find yourself doubting the credibility and efficacy of professionals.

6. You start paying another’s financial costs. There is a big difference between helping out in hard times and becoming a go-to source of funding for someone else.

7. You’re certain that without you, your friends or loved ones would be “toast.”

8. You expend so much energy trying to fix others that you burn yourself out.

9. You feel that is your responsibility to change people.

10. You think you’re the only one who can help.

11. You believe someone out there is capable of single-handedly making everything better, and that person happens to be you.

Read through this list one more time. Can you imagine how exhausting it is to believe that you are responsible for everyone else’s well-being? How frustrating or disheartening it is to watch people struggle when you can’t fix it? How painful it is to “fail” over and over again, because these things aren’t actually true?

I do have good news for you.

God never intended for you and me to act like everyone else’s Messiah. Jesus came to save us from sin and give us eternal life in Him. In heaven, we will be free from sorrow, sickness, pain, and all the problems we face in this world—but here on earth, we will experience them all.

And “that’s life.” You and I shouldn’t feel responsible for saving others. We simply can’t, and in trying, we may interfere with their spiritual growth along the way.

How Can You Heal Your Messiah Complex?

I worked through another list with my counselor, intended to help me understand my “Messiah Complex,” recognize when I was trying to save others and stop taking on the role that was never meant for me.

Some of these are tough to hear. Others are more obvious, but extremely difficult to let go of. Remember; you don’t have to confront and overcome a Messiah Complex on your own—the Holy Spirit is in you!

1. Keep in mind that you may not be as smart as you think you are.

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly.” (Romans 12:3)

2. In trying to help others, remember that God is God, and you are not.

God is omnipresent: He is everywhere all the time, and you are not.

God is omniscient: He knows everything about everyone, and you don’t.

God is omnipotent: He is all-powerful, and you are not.

3. Become an active listener. Notice that often, others may just want to vent, not be fixed.

Be quick to listen, slow to speak. (James 1:19)

4. Stop thinking about what to say next while the person you are trying to help is talking.

To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)

5. Wait before stepping in with advice. Consider carefully what you’re going to say before you say it.

We have received … the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom but in words spoken by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)

6. Offer help only when someone else requests it.

[Paul asked Timothy] Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful in my ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)

7. Beware of pride. When you are proud, you’ll often assume that you really can “save the world” while meeting everyone’s expectations … and you can’t.

Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

Finally, following the model of John the Baptist will heal a Messiah Complex every time.

John was baptizing scores of followers, and then he saw Jesus. John said, “Look, there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Go and follow him.”

Then, John spoke the immortal words which will forever squash a Messiah Complex: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Well, William,

I hope this helps. Healing from a Messiah Complex isn’t easy. But as you put these principles into action, you can get there.

Love, Roger

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/ipopba 

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].

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