As elders in Christ’s church, we often take ourselves, our ministries, our successes, and our failures to personally and seriously.
Sometimes we over-think our importance in God’s Kingdom due to ignorance. Somewhere in our training someone has impressed upon us that we really have the ability to change hearts, change families, and change communities. We prove not to understand the sovereignty of God and the depravity of mankind as we ought.
Sometimes we over-think our importance in God’s Kingdom due to arrogance. We have been privileged to enjoy some degree of success in church-building and the applause of men has been sweet to our ears. Sadly, this has resulted in our having a “Messiah Complex” where we believe we really have what it takes to do good work for Jesus. We arrogantly believe we have the power within us to bring about Christ’s Kingdom if we work wise and hard enough. Somehow, we have come to believe we really are “little christs” with the responsibility and power to usher in God Kingdom, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
And what is the consequence of such folly? Some of us know it well. Too often we become overly impressed with ourselves and emotionally excited when we experience numerical, quantifiable, and visible success. Then later, when things begin heading in the southward direction, we find ourselves prone to compromise. We are tempted to do whatever is necessary to experience renewed short-term success, a change in trajectory, or the applause of men.
Then we are tempted to slander and blame others for the lack of visible success we are having in our current ministerial endeavors.
Then, when nothing seems to work, we find ourselves falling prey to depression as we are forced to take the blame for being failed leaders unable to fulfill our preferred vision. This is regardless of whether or not it was ever God’s vision in the first place.
Friends, this is my story. I am a fellow minister who has been sorely tempted with the “Messiah Complex.” I, like you, have battled arrogance, compromise, slander, and depression, and I am absolutely sure I will do so again. I wish I could put this “thorn in the flesh” behind me once and for all, but that does not seem to be God’s will in regards to my sanctification.
However, over the last few years, I have been greatly aided by the Christ’s Spirit applying Christ’s Gospel to my life. And today, I long to encourage you as well.
Fathers and brothers, let us consider our identity. We are not “little christs,” but we are the little ones identified with Christ. We are his friends washed by his blood. We are his bride clothed in his righteousness. We are his brothers perfectly acceptable to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And here is the great news, we can never again be otherwise. Our relationship is fixed. Our acceptance is not adjustable or wavering; it cannot be improved or “deproved.” Every morning God says of us, “Well done my good and faithful servants!” Every night he smiles and says, “You are my children and in you I am well pleased.” He sees not our sins, for they have been cast on Jesus and then cast into the deepest parts of his Sea of Forgetfulness. Today, we are righteous and successful in his eyes, not through works of ministerial righteousness that we have done, but only by the merits of the Great High Priest. Therefore, let us not be seduced by the lies of the devil, the world, our our sinful flesh. Let us be neither arrogant nor depressed. Our individual and daily performance should have nothing to do with our identity and sense of worth. We have not greater worth due to an improvement in church quality or quantity. We need never bow our head in humiliated self-loathing when it comes to church dysfunction of any sort. Regardless of what men say, regardless of what we say, we are priests of great worth because the Great High Priest who is worthy has declared us so. Repenting minister, please realize afresh this truth and rest in his gracious love.
Then, fellow elders, let us repent again of our arrogance, compromise, and depression. Hear that said by the King of the Universe and Head of the Church. Scripture teaches that “unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain who seek to do so.” It reminds us that “without Christ, nothing good is really possible.” Jesus is the Sovereign Lord who withholds and pours out his Spirit. He is the one who hardens, softens, turns over to depravity, and rebirths hearts. He is the one who changes families, builds churches, and converts cities. Jesus is the one who is building his church, and he does so in his own manner, with his own instruments, and at his own pace. Friends, let us not over-think our importance in this regard. When Jesus and the Spirit determine to pour out revival fire, no minister can get in the way. Likewise, when they determine to slow down the quantifiable growth of his various assemblies, no minister is good enough to change his mind and affect his plans of retardation. Fathers and brothers, there is no reason for our visible success to result in ecstatic arrogance or depressed arrogance. And there is certainly never a reason for us to compromise in order to “help Jesus out” or “give him a hand.” He needs not such. No, our “Messianic Complex” if from the devil and the dark side. We must remember that Jesus is sovereign over devils, demons, angels, and humans. He is sovereign over state and church. He decrees whatsoever comes to pass and no one can say to him, “What have you done?” Both human depravity and the Spirit’s irresistible calling work out in accordance with his perfect and unchangeable will. Ministers and elders, realize this truth afresh, repent, and rest in his gracious love.
[Why not pause for a moment and pray before reading that which is found below]
Now, after our moment of Gospel repentance and sabbath-rest, let us get back up and go about the business of storming the gates of hell that will never prevail. It is true that “greater is He that is in us than he who is in the world.” With Christ, all things which he desires and decrees are possible. His kingdom cannot fail, and we are more than conquerors through Christ who gives us strength. Fellow elders, let us not over-think ourselves, and let us not under-think the Spirit. Jesus Christ is doing great Kingdom work through all of us, but we need to know it might not look exactly as we have previously imagined. Therefore, in accordance with the bold and humble spirit that Christ is working in us, let us meditate on the following prayer and ask the Lord to make us more humble, bold, faithful, and optimistic:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
It is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders.
We are ministers, not messiahs …. *
*Ken Untener, in honor of Oscar Romero, printed by Ruth Haley Barton in “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership,” p. 217.