Dealing With The Jonah Complex

As I examine my peer group, I see a staggering number of people with loads of talent and ability. At times, I even envy some of them for their sheer excess of God given talent! I’m more of the one, maybe two trick pony types- you know the ones who do one or two things well (for those of you uber-talented folk who may not understand!).

However, as I look around at this generation, I see a plethora of talent! So many young men and women gifted by God to transform their world. As I behold this wonderful revelation, another realization grips my heart. “If there is this much talent in our movement, why are all the talented young people sitting idle?”


I’ve begun to notice that there appears to be a tendency for Millennials to be apprehensive in regards to ministry- involving any service to God. I’ve personally encountered talented drummers who were content to sit on a pew, incredible speakers who were too afraid to step up to the podium, gifted singers who would never try out for the praise team. All of this makes me wonder, why have so many Millennials settled for mediocre? That is until I stumbled upon a scientific theory known as the “Jonah Complex.”

Abraham Maslow developed this psychological theory in the early 1900s, taken from the Biblical story of Jonah. In this theory, Maslow defined the Jonah complex as, “the fear of one’s greatness, the evasion of one’s destiny, or the avoidance of exercising one’s talents.” What Maslow discovered is a unique human trait that learns to accept life as is because we are afraid of what may happen if we dare pursue anything better.

As he began to study this complex, he determined that humans “fear their best as much as they fear their worst!” Professor Maslow would often ask his students, “What’s the point of learning to become a mediocre psychologist?” He boldly declared, “Doing only as much as necessary to be competent is a recipe for deep unhappiness in life”. He understood that if his students became content with merely getting by, they would be evading their capacities and possibilities for greatness.

When I understood this theory and witnessed its effects on my generation I knew something had to be done. But how do we deal with the Jonah Complex? How do we break free from the fear of success? It starts with our “stinkin’ thinkin’!”

The Bible gives us a remarkable parable as Jesus attempts to convey a message to His followers. The parable is found in Matthew 25:14-30… Jesus begins this parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is as…” This is an indication that this isn’t just a story, but rather this parable was designed to teach a kingdom principle. So in this particular parable a man is leaving town, and he begins to “deliver unto them his goods” according, the Bible says, to their “several ability”. To one servant he gives five talents, to another he gives two talents and finally he gives his last servant one talent. Notice the master does not give out the talents equally, each servant only received enough talent to max out their abilities.

Don’t get caught up in talent evaluation! Don’t ever allow the idea that you are not as talented as other people discourage you. God will only empower you to do what you can do. But always understand you may only have 1 talent, but your talent is just as important to God as the next guys five talents! And your one talent will make just as much a difference in this kingdom as the five  or two talent individual!

Then the Bible says that the man who had been given five talents went out, and he invested ALL five talents. And the result of his investment was five additional talents. The two talent man did likewise, and his result was two additional talents. But the one talent man took a slightly different approach; instead of investing his talent, he instead buried it and hid it. The Bible says that the master was gone for a long time. This man had plenty of time to find something to invest his talent in. Instead, he decided to keep his talent that way when the master returns he could return what he was originally given.

Finally, the master returns to check in on his servants and see what they’ve been up to. The two servants who had invested their talents were rewarded with a tremendous honor as their master excitedly announced, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” Then walks up the one talent servant, his head was down, his shoulders slumped, and his feet were dragging as he tried to excuse his inactivity, “Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.” In other words, Lord, I know you can be a little demanding, so I didn’t want to disappoint you and invest your talent in the wrong place. Instead, I just held it for you! Look, here’s your talent back!

Now we would assume in our human understanding that a return is a return. If this was a financial investment we would be content with breaking even, especially if our other two went well. However the master responded, “Thou wicked and slothful servant…” His rebuke ends with these stunning words, “…cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness…” The master looked at this man and called him wicked, lazy and unprofitable (of no value) all because of his lack of investment.

I am convinced that the master was not interested in returns at all. I don’t think he would have cared if the five talent man only brought back one talent, or if the two talent man brought back half a talent; I think he was just interested in seeing if there was anyone in his kingdom who was willing to invest everything they had to make the kingdom work! The success wasn’t measured in what they brought back; the success was measured by what they were willing to give!

That’s the formula! Instead of realizing greater success, it appears that more and more people are drifting into a weird abyss of disappointment and despair. We are now content to live life like the man with one talent. To just sit on our abilities until God comes back. After all, we don’t want to invest our talent in the wrong places, right?

So how do we deal with this unique complex? We must give ourselves completely to our God, and allow Him to use whatever talent we have to bring to Him! He’s not worried about how talented you are; He just wants to use YOU! Listen to the advice of Abraham Maslow.Abaham-Maslow-quote-