Doctor Who? The issue of the messiah complex in youth ministry
My love of Doctor Who goes all the way back to my early years in school. The small video section of my school library contained a few PBS specials, a Bugs Bunny Cartoon in Spanish and a few random classic Doctor Who episodes that were thought to be educational. The idea of an alien who could travel anywhere in time and space, save the universe from baddies and took along an earthly companion to experience it all was exactly what a blossoming Denny needed for a hero.
It wasn’t really until the relaunch of the series in the early 2000s that I got truly embedded as a Whovian. Yes, I know that I am a late comer because I didn’t follow such and such a Doctors series. Yes, it’s cool to like the show now and maybe I am just on the bandwagon, but you know what I still love it. It is probably one of the few shows on television I watch during the week and binge-watch repeatedly on a rainy day. I think in the end I am drawn to if because of the vast universe, the great dialogue and some incredible acting and writing (Cue someone reading this somewhere and going off on a Steven Moffat rant or wanting to argue that Tennent was the only good new Doctor etc.).
So, to all you Whovian youth workers out there I want to ask you a question. Are you the Doctor or are you a companion?
The Messiah Complex in Youth Ministry
To put it in more youth worker relevant terms. Do you have a messiah complex? It’s easy to picture ourselves as the Doctor in youth work, isn’t it? We often act like an alien from another planet. Some would argue that a full-grown adult who spends most their time with teenagers eating Doritos may exist on another plane. More than that though we may like to picture ourselves as the hero of our own little stories.
An easy temptation of youth ministry is hero worship. With the younger years, you are a hero just because you belch the entire alphabet or because you run an awesome summer camp. With the older ones, it may be because you are an adult who listens or who understands what the kids are going through. As they grow older and become adults themselves, you are the role model they looked up to, the person they asked to officiate their wedding, baptize their first child or simply stay a part of their lives. None of these things are bad. In fact, if you can check all of these boxes you are probably pretty good at your job (Put belching the alphabet on your next resume!)
The real test though is what you do with all that attention. Is it about you? It would be so easy to think of ourselves as the main character in the story of our youth’s lives leading them on a great adventure where we will show them new worlds, battle a few monsters and look a bit silly doing it. I wear a bowtie now, bowties are cool (Matt Smith the 11th Doctor).
Follow Me as I Follow Jesus
We are not the Doctor though, we are the companion. Paul possibly said it best in I Corinthians 11:1 “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” Paul had an amazing life and the bulk of the New Testament follows either things he did or letters he wrote. If anyone had the opportunity to be hero worshiped it was Paul. That wasn’t what he did though. Instead, Paul took the very realistic approach to say follow me as I follow Jesus. He knew he would be looked up to, he knew people would want to follow him, and I am sure the temptation to be propped up as the messiah crossed his mind more than once. But he knew that if the faith of his followers ended at him it would only last as long as he did.
The whole movement would have lived and eventually died on Paul’s shoulders if he was the end of the line. Instead, he simply invited others on the same journey he was on. A companion making other companions on the journey.
A few years back I heard Francis Chan speak at the National Youth Workers Convention and he mentioned an idea about movements. His point was essentially that movements in Christianity happen when someone follows Jesus. The same movements die when people stop following their leader in following Jesus and simply look at the leader. We fail, we fall, we grow old or we can no longer belch the alphabet. In the end, we will let our followers down.
Companions to the Hero
As companions of the Hero of this story, why not let Him take the starring role instead of picturing ourselves in that place? There is nothing wrong with being a supporting role. There is an appropriate amount of attention and you get to stand in awe of someone truly amazing.
I remember an episode of Doctor Who where the whole world had been taken over by The Master (an arch enemy/friend) of the Doctor. Martha Jones (The Doctor’s Companion) had been sent on a mission to save the world. What did she do? She traveled the world and told everyone she could about the Doctor. She gave them all hope and a hero to look for. In the end, that was all the Doctor needed to save the day. I won’t spoil the rest of the show for you.
A person who tells everyone about their hero and invites them to put their hope in him. Does that sound like anyone to you? Isn’t that exactly what we as Christians are called to do? Isn’t that exactly what our world needs?
So, I encourage you next time you meet with your youth to ask yourself these questions: Who’s their hero? And, if it’s you, how do you pass them on to yours?
Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.