Raising Children Without the Evangelical Savior Complex

People need the Lord ~~” I can’t tell you when I first heard this emotionally stirring chorus, but I can tell you that I was very young. Growing up evangelical, it was instilled into my impressionable spirit a sense of urgency to reach the world for Jesus.

Soothing, meditative music was good.

Cultivating a love for others was good.

A sense of mission and responsibility to the world was good.

Developing an unhealthy evangelical savior complex was baaaaaaad. 

evangelical complex

Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

Placing the eternal fate of “the world,” as in millions and millions of people, on children and youth is detrimental to healthy social development. It’s a burden too great to bear for young spirits. My parents were not professing Christians when I first converted and I spent many sleepless nights in turmoil over my eternal separation from them. People become rescue projects, instead of dynamic human beings.

It creates a warped view of reality in which there is an invisible divide between those who are ‘saved’ and ‘not saved’ which is conveniently bolstered by children’s natural development to cognitively sort and make sense of the world. As a child, I remember being confused at meeting people outside of Christendom who were kind because I had no frame of reference to understand there were people “on the other side” who were every bit as human as me.

I did not know how to relate to “non-Christians” without evangelizing them. How can I enjoy spending time with people if at any moment they could get in a car crash and face the fate of hell? How can I learn from people if everything they do, say, and believe are coming from an evil source because they do not know Jesus? How can I be vulnerable when I am a representative of Christianity to them and “ruin my witness”?

Every ingredient required in building healthy emotional bonds with others is tainted by over-spiritualization. The child grows not in maturity, but in ego where they have a messianic complex of having to save the world.

When I began to shed the arrogance of my youth, it was a hard but important fall. The gravity pulling my descent dissolved my savior complex. I resolved to put away my superhero cape and instead, live out my ordinary days in faithfulness.

But what about my kids? Should I raise them to simply live out their ordinary days? They are so young with a whole life ahead of them to blaze trails, dream big, and…uh-oh…here comes that loaded phrase…change the world! How can I raise them without a complex while inspiring them to steward their one wild and precious life?

What I eventually discovered is that our children aren’t going to change the world, they already have. Remember back to the day they came into our lives, how we were introduced to a love we never knew possible. How it changed the way we viewed our partner, our parents, and every baby in the news and on the streets. Remember how they uttered their first words and how confounded we were that not every person recognized the child genius who spoke in our presence. Remember their developing personalities, how it delighted us and changed the dynamic of every room they walked in—how the store clerks smiled even on their worst days, how the dog became more gentle to accommodate their new roommate, how they made up songs, drew silly pictures, and created art into a world that previously was missing it?

Our children, by being beautifully human and whole, already changed the world the moment they drew their first breath. And when they know and are secure of their own invaluable worth as change-makers, the influence they have on the world won’t grow out of egotistical savior complex, but one who is comfortable in their own skin taking place in the world. They won’t impose, manipulate, and place their agenda on others, but will organically give of their secure selves. They won’t have puffed up egos, but a solid self identity.

What if our children are disappointed when they encounter grown up realities? What if they believe they can change the world but experience competition, setbacks, and failure? Wouldn’t it be easier if we teach them to be content in being ordinary, as opposed to change-makers?

First of all, we don’t have to be extraordinary to be change-makers. Our kids won’t all grow up to be CEOs, celebrities, or the president. Their range of influence will vary, some may reach millions of people, others will live humble lives in their locale. Each will walk their unique path, and learning contentment within the finitude of each child’s skill set and opportunities is an important trait.

And yet, I believe in raising small dreamers, even if they may never see their dreams realize, because our imagination is a muscle that atrophies if not exercised. If our children grow accustomed to being confined by the limitations of the way society functions at its present state, they will get comfortable marching to the beat of status quo.

Perhaps we are risking disappointment for our children. Perhaps we are sowing potential for discontentment if they constantly see the gap between their reality and their dreams. But are we limiting the fullness of their humanity if we don’t bring them to the tension of settling and striving? How will we know the depths of their potential if we don’t give them the tools to mine for possibilities?

Most importantly, how will we see alternative visions to our broken world if we do not find them reflected in the dreams of the next generation?

We dreamed. Perhaps some, especially the more jaded ones among us, don’t feel like we did, but we did. We broke cycles of shame, disrupted patterns of pain, hoped for better when we brought our children into our families. We did it because we love them so fiercely.

It’s only fair to ensure our children believe they can dream as well.

Who do you want to be when you grow up? Dream big, child, you have and will change our world.


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