The Church Planting Savior Complex

By Clint Clifton

With the rise of me-centered Christianity comes the danger of me-centered ministry. In pastoral ministry – and in church planting specifically – pride is a greater danger than failure.

Charles Manson, John Thom, William Davies, Jim Jones and a host of others are infamous for claiming to be Jesus Christ. Can you imagine the nerve? You’d have to be crazy to think you’re a savior!

Yet, all over the world, for the past 20 centuries, this ridiculous claim has been made by audacious men and women. You can wade out into the fascinating world of the “Savior Complex” by watching the 2018 documentary Looking for Jesus or by scrolling through this list of people who claimed to be Jesus Christ in the past few centuries.

There’s a version of the Savior Complex in modern church planting. This disorder manifests itself in the subtle but sinister ways we speak and think about our contribution to the mission of God. Have you ever thought or said:

  • “There are no other gospel-centered churches in my community.”
  • “If I leave, the church will die.”
  • “This church wouldn’t be here without me!”
  • “I am a better preacher than anyone in this area.”
  • “The churches in my community don’t understand the people around them.”
  • “When I’m in control, the church will be more faithful/effective.”
  • “If I don’t do it, no one else will do it the way it should be done.”
  • That you and your church-planting endeavor are the “hope” for your community.
  • If churches decline to support your church, do they really love God and the gospel at all?
  • Why is it so hard to get people to follow your leadership?
  • “Why don’t I get the respect I deserve?”

Church planters, it’s like we’ve been vexed by Minny the maid[1] repeating to us: “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.” With the rise of me-centered Christianity comes the danger of me-centered ministry. If in fact, “you is smart,” it’s only because Jesus made you that way (Ps. 139:13). If in fact, “you is kind,” it’s only because Jesus was kind to you (Rom. 2:4). And if by chance, “you is important,” it’s is only because you were made in the image of an indelible, eternal Savior (Gen. 1:27).

God cares about you, and He cares about the hell-bound masses in your community, but what God cares about most is the glory of His own name.

Whatever we do as church leaders to centralize and platform ourselves only serves to decentralize and dethrone the real Savior. God forbid that it ever be said of us that: 

Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Rom. 1:21-23)

Practically speaking, for the church planter this means it is a form of robbery to believe or communicate that you or your church is the answer to lostness in your community. Your church is not the answer. The gospel your church preaches and the Savior that gospel proclaims is the answer.

That means:

  • The success of your church ≠ the success of Jesus’ mission
  • The size of your platform ≠ a higher likelihood of people in your city coming to faith
  • The realization of your vision ≠ the realization of God’s kingdom
  • The failure of your church ≠ the failure of the gospel

Least you think I’m being nitpicky and quibbling over words, let me remind you that God is a jealous God, zealous for His name to be made great. The Ten Commandments open with the words, “have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3) and goes on to say, “for I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (v. 5).

In pastoral ministry – and in church planting specifically – pride is a greater danger than failure. So, let us, as those called according to His purposes, humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God, and let us say with the apostle Paul when others inquire of us: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).


[1] Minny the maid is a reference to the 2018 movie, “The Help.” Actress Octavia Spencer repeated the phrase to Mae, the little girl she looked after, played by Emma Henry.

Published August 8, 2022

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Clint Clifton

Clint Clifton is the founding pastor of Pillar, a multiplying church in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and the senior director of resource and research strategy at the North American Mission Board. He is the author of several books and periodicals on the subject of church planting, including Church Planting Thresholds: A Gospel Centered Church Planting Guide and Church Planting Primer and is the host of the Church Planting podcast.