The dangers of having a “savior complex” during your mission trip
We all want to save the world. We want to help people living in poverty, save kids from abusive situations, and provide a struggling community with food and water. And this is a good thing. The desire to make a difference is the fingerprint of God on your heart; God designed us with the desire to help others.
Dangers arise though when we take this desire too far. This is commonly referred to as the “savior complex.” The savior complex is a state of mind where we subconsciously begin to see ourselves as the answer (or savior) to those living in poverty. While it's good to believe that we can make a difference, dangers emerge when we take that feeling too far. Here are the dangers of having a savior complex during your mission trip.
It elevates you above others
A mission trip is all about serving and loving others. It's not about us. Ironically though, if we allow the savior complex to creep into our minds and hearts, we actually risk making the trip about ourselves. The savior complex tempts us to satisfy our desire to “save” the people we meet, elevating our need to feel like a hero above the needs of others.
When we elevate ourselves, it can also lead to a feeling of superiority; it can make us feel like we're better than the people around us. Philippians 2:3 addresses the temptation to elevate ourselves by saying, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
It takes away the dignity of others
Have you ever felt embarrassed when you couldn't do something and someone else had to help you? Perhaps you've struggled with a subject in school or a task at work, and you feel a little embarrassed about it. When someone else has to help you, you are in a vulnerable position. The person that helps could either demean or empower you.
The same is true on a mission trip. When we are serving and helping others, the person being served is in a vulnerable position. If you have a savior complex in that moment, with a “Stand back, I've got this” attitude, you risk making someone feel undignified. Instead, we need to embrace empathy in that moment, and try to understand the way the other person is feeling. Then offer to help.
It can create dependency
The savior complex tells the people we meet, “I'm here to save you from your situation.” While we all want to help those in need, this mentality can create dependency in the people we serve. We have to strive for a balance between serving locals and encouraging locals during a mission trip.
Serving is great, especially when we help those that can't help themselves. But equally great is encouraging and empowering locals as they figure out their own solutions to their problems. Working alongside locals as they troubleshoot problems in their community is often the best way to serve overseas. But if we enter a community with a savior complex, it discourages community problem-solving and encourages dependency.
It encourages you to “do for” instead of “do with”
If someone else always did your math homework for you in high school, you would probably call that person your savior. But while it's great in the moment to have that work done for you, it really doesn't help you in the long run.
In the same way, having a savior mentality on a mission trip encourages you to “do for” the locals instead of “do with.” When we do stuff for locals the whole time, it is often great in the moment but doesn't really help them out after you leave. Instead, if we “do with” the locals and invite them to participate in uplifting their community, we are setting them up for success after we return home.
It's a team effort
The opposite of a savior complex is a team mentality. When we embrace a team mentality, we reduce the temptation to elevate ourselves above others or take away the dignity of the people we meet. The team mentality also discourages dependency and encourages a “do with” attitude.
Jesus is the only true Savior, and we are to be His hands and feet. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” We are designed to work together to serve and love others. When we abandon a savior complex and embrace a team mentality, we are truly living out what it means to be the body of Christ.
Written by CJ