I’m excited to welcome my friend and pastor John Burke to the blog this week. John is the lead pastor at Gateway Church in Austin, and the author of several books, including Mud & the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others Through the Eyes of Jesus (a must-read for every faith leader). During this season of celebrating the Messiah, I love this reminder to faith leaders that you’re not Him.
You can’t fix, change, or save another person, but oh how we try! I almost burned out my first few years of leading others in ministry because I didn’t realize I was trying to be their Messiah. I had great intentions, yet I was actually usurping the role of Jesus in that person’s life. After a few years, I felt totally fried—emotionally, spiritually, even physically. Why? Because I’m not God, but I was accidentally trying to take His place in the role I was playing. It will kill you!
Mercifully, I sensed the Spirit of God gently saying to me, “John, you’re not the Messiah.” Over and over, as I’d complain about the heavy burden I shouldered, that whispering Thought would remind me: “You’re not the Messiah. You have a role to play, but you need to sort out your job from Mine. Respect your human limitations and let Me be God.” If we’re going to spiritually lead for the long-haul, we must turn from Messianic thinking.
Here are 4 signs you’re trying to be the Messiah:
1. You feel responsible when people keep making bad choices.
You think you are really helping them, but then they do something stupid, and you feel like you’ve failed. The problem is that their choices are not your responsibility. Their choices are their responsibility before God. We need to be able to offer guidance without taking it personally when they choose otherwise.
2. Your emotional state more often reflects their emotional state.
We are told to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. But this command has to do with empathy in the presence of another. Connecting emotionally when in a person’s presence conveys love. If we find that we go home and cannot live our own emotional lives (i.e. We can’t be doing well emotionally), while those we serve are not well emotionally, that’s a problem. We need to be able to experience the fruit of God’s Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) by virtue of our own connection with God, regardless of how others are feeling.
3. You feel guilty saying, “No.”
Often we get sucked into Messianic thinking with people who have deep emotional wounds. You have compassion for what they’ve been through—that’s good. But a person with a huge hole in the heart needs a Big God to heal that wound, not another fallible human who will eventually let them down. You’re just human, so you need to be able to love them in the moment, but point them to the only One who can truly bring healing.
4. You have no time to replenish.
God modeled the Sabbath for a reason, and I don’t think it was because He needed rest. It’s because we need rest. We need time to disconnect, do something fun and replenishing, enjoy life and thank God and find spiritual renewal. We need that every week, but when you think you’re the Messiah, you believe the lie, “I don’t have time.” Why don’t you have time? ‘Cause you haven’t saved the whole world yet! God calls us to turn from that false thinking and trust Him.
I’m sure there are more signs of a Messiah Complex, but these were the ones I experienced most. Leading others spiritually is a noble, honorable calling from God (1 Timothy 3:1). To love God and to love others by building them up spiritually is the essence of Jesus’ Great Commission to all His followers. But we must remember, we are not the Messiah.
We are limited, finite human beings. We must respect our limits, do what we can, and leave the rest to God. And we must remember that the goal is not to spiritually sprint a few years and then never run again. The goal is to pace to be a life-long leader. “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). It’s a spiritual marathon leaders are running, so respect your spiritual limits, and set a healthy pace that other finite humans can follow.
What threatens to burn you out as you spiritually lead others? Comment so we can learn from each other.