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A Pastor’s Reflections: Messiah Complex

January 8, 2013


One of the great dangers in the pastorate is that a minister might develop a messiah complex. What do I mean? Most well-respected pastors have many people that look up to them for a number of reasons. Certain men have been identified as suitable ministers because their lives are exemplary—they are models of godliness and piety. Pastors are often wise and offer sage counsel to those in need. They are typically supposed to be very knowledgeable about the Bible, something that many in the church long to study, know, and understand. These are all good and desirable things.

The pitfall comes, however, in that when so many people begin to look to the minister as the “go-to” person on many different issues, the pastor can easily develop a messiah complex. In other words, the pastor can deceive himself into thinking that he can solve any problem that comes his way and that if people only listen to him, things will run smoothly in the church. Confidence in God’s word and the power of the Spirit to transform lives can easily shift to arrogance and pride in one’s own abilities to fix things. This situation easily can arise in the sphere of counseling.

In pastoral counseling people will often come to the pastor distraught with their lives in tatters and looking for spiritual wisdom and guidance. In these scenarios I always began my counseling sessions with a reminder both to the counselee and me. I told the person that I would do my best to help them with their problems, which typically involved the following steps: (1) doing a lot of listening; (2) identifying the root sins behind a person’s problem(s); and (3) pointing the person to Christ through word, sacraments, and prayer. These three basic steps are the core foundation to solving any counseling issue. This is not to say that every problem is easily or quickly solved, but at their core, all problems involve these three steps. I would tell my counselee these steps to remind us both that the person who would ultimately solve their problems was Christ, not me.

I would tell my counselee that our sessions together would be limited because I did not want the person to become dependent upon me, like a patient visiting his psychologist on an unending regular basis. In such a scenario the doctor becomes the answer to the problem. As a minister, I was merely present to assist a person in diagnosing the problem—I constantly wanted to remind myself that the Holy Spirit applying the word was ultimately necessary for convincing the person of their sin and that only Christ could sanctify the sinner.

When pastors forget this truth, Christ alone saves, they can quickly fall into the messiah complex. In the end, a pastor should constantly pray that he would always be a signpost to the Messiah—like John the Baptist, “May I decrease and he increase.”