Female Submission and Power Abuse

womanA mandate for female subordination in the church sometimes results as a cultural issue, and sometimes as a biblical interpretation issue. In this article, we will look at both.

A Cultural Issue

Female submission is highly related to culture. Hofstede (1980) labels masculine cultures as those that show maximum distinction between acceptable male and female behaviors. Hofstede notes that masculine cultures tend to pursue assertiveness and competition. Every culture includes some individuals who abuse females, some more and some less. Since masculine cultures are more assertive, however, they also tend to condone more aggressive behaviors including female abuse. Feminine cultures pursue harmony in relationships, lifestyle quality, and protection of the weak. A few cultures such as Japan pursue assertiveness (masculinity) but also pursue harmony in relationships (femininity). These cultures tend to allow female abuse, but the abuse remains secretive to preserve harmony and reduce shame.

Hofstede (2010, 149) notes that, “A U.S. best-seller was called Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, but in feminine cultures both sexes are from Venus.” The masculine-feminine cultural factor is highly related to the agreeableness factor of personality. When the entire culture values sympathy, compassion, and friendliness (the agreeableness personality facets), Hofstede would call the culture a feminine culture. Table 4-1 shows masculinity cultural rankings for 76 countries.

High                                      Medium                                 Low

Ranking   Country                   Ranking   Country                    Ranking   Country

1 Slovakia 25/27 Hong Kong 51/53 Spain
2 Japan 28/29 Argentina 54 East Africa
3 Hungary 28/29 India 55/58 Bulgaria
4 Austria 30 Bangladesh 55/58 Croatia
5 Venezuela 31/32 Arab cntrs 55/58 El Salvador
6 Switzerland Ge 31/32 Morocco 55/58 Vietnam
7 Italy 33 Canada 59 S Korea
8 Mexico 34/36 Luxembourg 60 Uruguay
9/10 Ireland 34/36 Malaysia 61/62 Guatemala
9/10 Jamaica 34/36 Pakistan 61/62 Suriname
11/13 China 37 Brazil 63 Russia
11/13 Great Britain 38 Singapore 64 Thailand
11/13 Germany 39/40 Israel 65 Portugal
14/16 Philippines 39/40 Malta 66 Estonia
14/16 Columbia 41/42 Indonesia 67 Chile
14/16 Poland 41/42 West Africa 68 Finland
17/18 South Africa 43/45 Canada-Qbc 69 Costa Rica
17/18 Ecuador 43/45 Turkey 70/71 Lithuania
19 United States 43/45 Taiwan 70/71 Slovenia
20 Australia 46 Panama 72 Denmark
21 Belgium Fr 47/50 Belgium Ni 73 Netherlands
22/24 New Zealand 47/50 France 74 Latvia
22/24 Switzerland Fr 47/50 Iran 75 Norway
22/24 Trinidad 47/50 Serbia 76 Sweden
25/27 Czech Rep 51/53 Peru
25/27 Greece 51/53 Romania

Table 4-1: Masculinity in culture (source: Hofstede, 2010, 141-143)

A 2015 disagreement between Hillary Clinton and the Chinese government illustrates the cultural issue. Hillary Clinton criticized the Chinese government for a poor women’s rights record. China (with a masculinity rating of only 11 in Table 4-1) cannot understand or value her position. That is, their cultural filter for masculinity limits their ability to see women’s rights as a moral issue. To further her personal agenda, she tried to shame China (which represents a form of abuse) by making her criticism public. Like Japan, China values harmony and detests shame. Thus, she implemented an unkind method (shame) to support her personal “morally right” position. Since the Chinese see the issue through a masculine cultural filter, to them she appears merely like an “ugly American” who fails to understand an appropriate use of shame. The Chinese not only refuse to change their position, they now seem even more resistant to change than before the criticism. Each party feels morally right in their stance.

Similarly, churches in the countries listed in the first column above will possibly struggle with female equality issues more than churches in the countries listed in the last column. For instance, the United States is listed as a slightly masculine culture (rank #19). And, some church denominations in the United States endorse female subordination roles as part of their basic doctrine. They may base their doctrine on a strict biblical interpretation, but like the Chinese discussed above, their masculine culture sometimes affects their understanding and interpretation of Scripture. However, even feminine cultures sometimes include church sub-groups that condone female subordination and abuse. Regardless of what Scripture says, culture sometimes plays an overriding effect on the way that believers view the female’s role in the local church. For instance:

  • The Apostle Paul said, “The woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (1 Cor. 11:10). Due to the cultural norms of his time, Paul seems to view a head covering as a sign that a woman has authority to pray and prophesy. Some masculine cultures take Paul’s guidance quite literally. For instance, I visited a church in Central America that still requires women in church to wear a head covering—every female donned a white scarf over her hair upon entering the church. In contrast, most North American churches in the twenty-first century regard Paul’s statement as culture-based guidance. That is, while some church cultures may require women to wear a head covering, many North American churches interpret this passage as general guidance that women should appear respectfully dressed when in public. The interpretation and application, however, seems to vary by the degree to which the local church originates in a masculine culture. Even in North America, the term “respectfully dressed” means entirely different things to different sub-groups.
  • The Apostle Paul notes that, “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor.  11:3). Speaking in Greek, Paul used the Greek word, “kephalē” that is commonly translated as “head” in English. In twenty-first century English, “head” indicates a hierarchy of position and authority. In modern English, the “head” of an organization is the leader or supervisor. So in some cases, the masculine church cultures of the twentieth and twenty-first century use 1 Cor. 11:3 as a proof text that males possess authority over females, and males should function as decision makers at home and in the Church. In the first century Greek language, however, “kephalē” meant “head” as in “source.” Marianne Thompson explains that, “kephalē means something more like ‘source’ as in ‘headwaters’” (see Women, Authority, and the Bible (91, 1986). The first century meaning “does not include “authority,” “superior rank,” “leader,” “director,” or anything similar as a meaning” (ibid, 97-98). Thus, when the Apostle Paul says, “the head of the woman is man,” he is noting that man is the source from which God made her. The latter meaning correlates well with Jesus’ words, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be first among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served, but to serve” (Luke 22:27). Regardless of Jesus’ words and the more appropriate translation of “kephalē,” churches originating in the more masculine cultures tend to understand the scripture through a cultural filter of a male dominated culture.

A Biblical Interpretation Issue

Alvera Mickelsen discusses the biblical interpretation issues on female submission very well in Women, Authority, and the Bible (1986). We will discuss three issues:

  1. Biblical views about women teaching.
  2. Passages about female roles.
  3. Passages about mutuality.

Biblical views about women teaching

  • Mothers are instructed to teach their children (Prov. 1:8; 6:20; Deut. 6:7, 21:18-20). Notably, Timothy was taught by both his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5).
  • Women taught men. For instance, Apollos was taught by both Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:26). Since the Apostle Paul lists Priscilla’s name first, some scholars suggest that she held the more dominant and assertive role as teacher and leader. And some believe that Priscilla may have authored the book of Hebrews.
  • The Apostle Paul told women to pray and prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5). 1 Cor. 14:3 says that prophecy includes edification (teaching), exhortation (correction), and consolation (encouragement). Prophecy that includes teaching, correction and encouragement occurs in many ways including a public ministry, especially preaching.
  • Women were leaders. Deborah was the leader over Israel and a prophet who wrote one of the chapters of the book of Judges (Judges 4-5). As an author in the Bible (Judges 5:7) she is inherently a teacher.
  • The Apostle Paul recommended Phoebe to the church in Rome (Rom. 16:1) He called her a “servant of the church” but used the same Greek word that is translated throughout the New Testament as “minister.”
  • The Apostle Paul called Junias one of the apostles (Rom. 16:7). Apostles were servant preachers and teachers.
  • Miriam (Micah 6:4), Hildah (2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chron. 34:22), Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3), Anna (Luke 2:36), and Philips daughters (Acts 21:8-9) were all accepted as prophets. Among other roles, prophets preach and teach.

Passages about female roles

  • The Apostle Paul provides specific guidance in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:12 about women teaching in the congregation. Paul said directly that women should remain silent in church. In the first century, however, women almost never received an opportunity for education. Since females rarely received any education, he might conclude that women should remain silent and abstain from teaching. That is, no one should teach without an education, male or female. Indeed, Paul taught with authority partly because his teacher was one of the most recognized teachers of the century. By reflecting on the historical context of uneducated females in the first century, Paul’s statements seem understandable. His culture excluded education for females as a cultural norm. Taken at face value, the above two passages directly contradict Paul’s statements about equality and mutuality, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Walter Liefeld (ibid, 153-154) concludes, “Paul is not writing to impose an arbitrary permanent restriction of women’s ministry. Just as he counseled submission on the part of slaves in order to make the gospel attractive, so, in order to avoid maligning that gospel through appearing to dishonor their husbands, he counsels women to accommodate to contemporary standards of decency.” Those without an education should not speak, but listen. In the first century, this generally meant that women should listen.
  • 1 Tim. 2:11-12 provides perhaps the strongest statement in the Bible about the participation of women in ministry, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” However, David Scholer (ibid, 201) looks at the context of the passage, noting that the local church in Ephesus suffered from false teaching that originated from uneducated women. Additionally, a local Ephesus religion esteemed the role of priestess prostitutes who taught the superiority of female priestesses. “The statements of 2:11-12 are thus ad hoc instructions intended for a particular situation in Ephesus of false teaching focused on women. These statements are not to be understood as universal principles encoded in a supra-situational ‘church order manual’ that limit women in ministry in all times and places. Rather, the instructions of 2:11-12 are directed against women who, having been touched or captivated by false teachings, are abusing the normal opportunities women had within the church to teach and exercise authority.” He concludes, “1 Tim. 2:9-15 should be understood as a unified paragraph on the place of women in the church in Ephesus. It provided instruction for and was limited to a particular situation of false teaching.” Unfortunately, churches originating in a masculine culture tend to omit looking at the historical context of the passage and interpret 1 Tim. 2:11-12 as a universal principle for a church manual.

Passages about mutuality

1 Cor. 11:11-12—“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” In this passage, the Apostle Paul appears to be saying that based on redemption, males and females share equality in the sight of God.

Gal. 3:28—“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” F. F. Bruce notes the fundamental truth of this passage shows that “if restriction on it [the principles about mutuality] are found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, they are to be understood in relation to Gal. 3:28, and not vice versa” (ibid, 83). That is, 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:12 teachings about the appropriate women’s role in the congregation should be understood only as it supports the central truth provided in Gal. 3:28. Any explanation that contradicts Gal. 3:28 cannot be truthful.

One criteria for working in a church is that we are given a gift for that work. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom. 12:6). However, the Bible never indicates that the gifts are given based on gender (ibid, 93). Marianne Thompson notes, “the starting point for such a theology of ministry lies in the God who gives gifts for ministry and in the God who is no respecter of persons” (ibid, 94). Since God gives all the spiritual gifts to both genders, we must conclude that both genders are equally qualified for all functions.

Scripture gives considerable guidance about the spiritual gifts (ibid, 259):

  1. “Christ gives spiritual gifts to believers through the Holy Spirit.” (Eph. 4:8, 11; 1 Cor. 12:8-9,11)
  2. “Spiritual gifts are given to each believer without exception.” (1 Cor. 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10)
  3. “Spiritual gifts are gifts of God’s grace.” (Eph. 4:7, Rom. 12:6, 1 Pet. 4:10)
  4. “The Spirit gives many different gifts, providing for rich diversity of ministry in the church.” (1 Cor. 12:8-10. 28; Rom 12:6)
  5. “Spiritual gifts are meant to be employed for the benefit of others.” (1 Cor. 12:7, 25; Rom. 12:6, Eph. 4:11-12, 1 Pet. 4:10)
  6. “The gifted members of the church are parts of the body of Christ and therefore individually members of one another.” (1 Cor.  12:13, 14, 27; Rom. 12:5)
  7. “Gifts must always be used in love. Without love they are useless.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

Most noteworthy, “Women receive the same gifts as men” (ibid, 259).

Symptoms of Abuse

Abuse can occur at the hands of a female or a male. The first step in abuse recovery is recognition of the abuse. When you finally recognize abuse, you can stop blaming yourself solely, and start recognizing the truth—both parties share in the lack of communication skills that enable abuse, and the abuse results from insensitivity by the abuser.

To assess your symptoms of abuse, rate the number of times in a month (on the average) that the below statements characterize your relationship (1=almost never, 2=two or three times per month, 3=frequently, more than three times per month):

  1. You not only suffer from angry outbursts, but the angry person blames you for their anger.
  2. When socializing with friends or relatives, your abuse is hidden.
  3. The other person confesses to an abuse, apologizes, commits to reform, and then acts abusive again.
  4. Your abuser neglects to ask for your input in planning for future events or directions.
  5. Almost everything you do, including the way you dress or appear, must be approved by the other person.
  6. You feel blamed for the relationship problems.
  7. You feel like you are walking on “eggshells” to reduce conflict.
  8. When you share your feelings about a disagreement, your feelings or statements are invalidated.
  9. You do not feel understood.
  10. The other person seems to interpret your statements and behaviors more negatively than you meant.
  11. Miscommunication affects your relationship.
  12. Your abuser refuses to discuss your problems.
  13. Small issues escalate into an ugly argument.

Total your scores for the above symptoms. Your total score should be between 13 and 39.

Green light—your relationship is not showing signs of abuse = 18 or less

Caution light—your relationship is showing some potential for abuse = 19 to 27

Red light—your relationship shows significant signs of abuse = 28 or more

If you score totals somewhere between 19 and 27, compare your score for the first six items to your score for the last eight items. If your score results almost entirely from the last eight items, it results more from a lack of communication skills than from abuse. A score of ten or more from the first six items indicates a high potential for abuse.

Truths about Recovery from Abuse

  1. Your abuser will almost certainly deny abuse in your relationship. His or her scores on the above assessment will total much less than yours. However, the victim’s perception of abuse indicates the only appropriate score. Do not argue with the abuser about the scores—in this case, the victim’s perception is all that matters.
  2. Your abuser will probably see your assessment and effort at repair as a confrontation by you—an attempt to discredit him or her.
  3. Your abuser will probably refuse to get help. He or she is usually satisfied with their behavior and believe that you are the one who needs to change, not him or her.
  4. Upon finding that you will not accept further verbal abuse, your abuser may initiate physical abuse in a “last ditch” effort to control you.
  5. If you score 28 or higher on the above assessment and the abuser refuses to admit a need for his or her personal change, your relationship may need to die.

How to Start Recovery

Regardless what happens to the relationship, take the following steps to protect yourself:

  1. Get counseling help. You will need emotional support during recovery. Get professional help if available. If not, form a group of close friends who will hear your stories and support you emotionally. You will probably need these friends now more than ever before. Study the remainder of this book very carefully.
  2. Ask your abuser to go to counseling with you. If he or she refuses, go yourself.
  3. Set boundaries for your abuser. Let your abuser know what behavior is acceptable to you and what is not (physical hitting, yelling, threats, attempts to control you and your relationships, attempts to control your movement or activities, withholding financial support, locking you out of the home, throwing out  your clothes, demands for sex). By establishing boundaries, you help to define abuse so the abuser can better recognize it. So, firmly let him or her know when they fail to comply with your boundaries, every time.
  4. Ask for changes that you want in your relationship. This may include setting boundaries for how much time you need to spend by yourself, how much time to spend with friends, how much time to spend together, a time of the day to discuss issues, the need to be included in discussions about plans for the future, and the need to be included in discussions about finances. Correspondingly, require changes in the abuser’s behavior. This may include how much time he or she spends outside the home, limits to drinking and gambling, limits to illicit drugs, limits to sexual conduct including pornography and extramarital affairs, a requirement for gainful employment, and limits to socializing with the opposite gender.
  5. Refuse to accept threats (e.g., “If you refuse to ask me for permission to go shopping, I’ll lock you out of the house.). That is, consistently “call the threat” by choosing to engage in the threatened behavior. By refusing to accept threats, you let the abuser know that threats are unacceptable, and that you retain self-worth.
  6. Leave the relationship if your abuser refuses to stop abusive behavior, or fails to give any indication that he or she is willing to control their behavior.
  7. Leave the relationship if your abuser sexually abuses your children. Incest is an addiction, so protect your children by staying away from those with the addiction. If the abuser gets psychological help to recover, avoid reconnecting with that person until you are absolutely sure that they have changed. Even then, avoid leaving your children alone with him or her.
  8. Identify another place to live in case you must flee your abuser. Ask friends, relatives, and anyone else for possible places. Make sure these people keep your requests confidential. Avoid tipping off your abuser about any plans.
  9. Always carry enough money on yourself (or have it available in a very safe place) to pay for transportation to a place that is safe for you to live. Keep a packed bag of clothing, personal items, and important documents in a safe place in case you have to suddenly leave. Make a plan of how to escape to a safe place in case you need to leave home suddenly. And avoid telling anyone else about your “safe place”—your spouse will probably try to follow you there with the intent of harm.
  10. Get a job, even part-time, outside the home. If you need to flee home, even a small income will help tremendously. No one should feel “stuck” in an abusive relationship because of finances. Gradually save a small part of your income to help pay for transportation and a safe place to live.

The Effect of Abuse on Self-Esteem

Abuse systematically destroys self-esteem. Thus, it gradually destroys your God-given identity and self-worth. Those who suffer from abuse always suffer from a damaged image of their self.

Self-Esteem—what develops it?

Self-esteem results from seeing a reflection (a mirror image) of ourselves as we interact with other individuals (Schiraldi, 1993, 17). It functions like looking into a mirror. When we see a reflection of ourselves through someone’s reaction toward us, we use that information to determine our self-worth. Thus, self-esteem might be more appropriately called “other-esteem.” It rarely comes from yourself, but it results from your perception of the other individual’s opinion about you.

Exercise 4-1: Please explain how the following affects you:

If self-esteem results from our perception of another’s opinion of us, what is the expected normal effect on your self-esteem:

  • If someone yells at you?
  • If someone threatens you?
  • If someone hits you physically?
  • If someone invalidates your feelings or statements?
  • If someone spends money gambling that would normally be used to support you financially?
  • If someone keeps you isolated, or restricts you from socializing with your friends?
  • If someone fails to ask for your input when making plans that affect you?
  • If your marriage partner has an extramarital affair?

Self-esteem is damaged largely due to the negative image that one sees of himself or herself in the eyes of others. Chronic false beliefs reinforced by an ungodly culture fuel this negative self-image.

Fundamental Truth:

We lack self-esteem only because we believe a lot of things that are untrue! (Schiraldi, 1993)

What common false beliefs kill a person’s self-esteem?

I am abused because I am a bad person. According to the Bible, we are all born sinful. That is, every person is inherently bad. Some people believe that they are abused as punishment for their sins. But when our sins are forgiven, we are given a new nature. Forgiveness means that God ceases punishment for our past. Bad things may still happen to us, but not as punishment for our past. For Christians, we were bad, but we are now redeemed. We were wearing filthy rags but we are now justified, aswhite as snow.

No one loves me. Some people believe that no one loves them. This, too, is false. It is unrealistic to assume that no one loves a person simply because he or she is unable to see that love, first-hand. When questioned, almost every person will acknowledge someone who is a parent, brother, sister, child, a church member, a pastor, or friend who cares about them. And, regardless of the love of others, God loves us enough that He died for us.

I should always please others (live up to their expectations of me). Some people believe that they should always be able to please others. Inevitably, such a person tries to live up to the unspoken and unrealistic expectations of their abuser. This attitude gives control to the abuser and leads to an unrealistically low self-esteem.

There is something wrong with meI am defective and inferior to other people. Some people believe that something is wrong with them, personally. Instead of realizing that a failed relationship, an illness, or some other uncontrollable factor might have caused a disappointment, they blame themselves for every disappointment. Regardless, many people eventually feel that something is wrong with them simply because they experience emotional numbness, guilt, loss of appetite, sleep, concentration, and loss of energy caused by an abuser. These uncomfortable feelings are not normal for them. However, the belief that something is wrong with them is a misperception. It is normal to have negative feelings that result from an aggressive environment. These emotions and symptoms are a normal reaction to an ungodly environment. These are normal feelings for a very abnormal environment. The event and environment, not the feeling or person, is abnormal.

Almost everyone can feel inferior when compared to those with spectacular accomplishments. However, you possess many skills that have been honed over decades of practice. God values each individual equally, including the one who may be handicapped in some way. All are valued, equally. There is no inferior person. Even a one-month old baby who possesses no skills whatsoever is highly valued. If a one-month old baby is not inferior, neither are you. Each Christian has “run the good race, and fought the good fight.” The Apostle Paul was able to exclaim, “I have kept the faith, I have finished the course.” As a joint heir with Christ, you are an overcomer.

I am hopeless—there is no future for me. An abuser can easily leave the victim feeling defeated, especially when we have few friends. However, God gives us friends. With Christ as our leader, hope abounds. Even when we totally fail, there is a bright future. God redeems our future, especially those with abuse. The Bible says, “These three remain: faith, hope, and love.” God will change our most hopeless situation into hope and purpose. God will bring love when our abuser brings hate and despair.

I should always feel respected and viewed as perfect. Every person would enjoy being put on a super-spiritual pedestal of near-sainthood by others in their local church. Subsequently, as they start to feel anger and resentment during times of abuse, they naturally feel guilt, stemming from the belief that they should be perfect. They fail to accept that they are merely human, not yet perfectly sanctified. The truth is that while everyone likes perfection, we are all merely growing spiritually. No person is perfect this side of heaven.

I am unworthy. Many Christians believe that they are unworthy. The truth is that we all WERE unworthy, filthy, and wretched. However, we are now joint-heirs with Christ.  We are no longer unworthy and filthy any more than our joint-heir, Jesus Himself. We are now spotless, redeemed, and made worthy through the blood of the Lamb.

Exercise 4-2: Explain which of the above beliefs plagued you in the past, or still provide a problem now.


Exercise 4-3: The following laws were adapted and edited for style from Howard’s Laws as described in Building Self-Esteem, A 125 Day Program (Schiraldi, 1993, 25). The Bible teaches the following five laws of our unconditional worth before God:

  1. God values you infinitely and eternally. Please search and be able to discuss at least two Scriptures that substantiate that God values you infinitely (see Jn. 3:16, Titus 3:4-7, 2 Peter 3:9, Ps 121, 139:13, Matt. 28:20, Jer. 31:3).

How has God shown you that He values you infinitely and eternally?

  1. God values each individual equally. Please search and be able to discuss at least two Scriptures that substantiate that the following externals neither add to nor diminish from our worth (see 1 Sam. 16:7, Acts 10:34-35, Rom. 12:4, Jer. 29:11).
  • Our market worth (how much money we can earn)
  • Our social worth (how many friends esteem us)
  • Our ability to perform or accomplish tasks

How has God shown you that He values each individual equally?

  1. Your worth is complete in Christ, but it is not completed. Please search and be able to discuss at least two Scriptures that substantiate that your worth is complete in Christ, but it is not completed (see Eph.  2:10, Phil. 1:6, Rom. 12:2, 2 Cor.  5:17, Jer. 31:3).

How has God shown you that your worth is complete in Christ, but not completed?

  1. God’s assessment of your eternal value never changes (even if someone rejects you, or when—not if—you fail). Please search and be able to discuss at least two Scriptures that substantiate that your eternal value never changes (see Jer. 31:3, Jn. 3:16, Rom. 8:37, Jn.  16:7, Matt. 10:22).

How has God shown you that His assessment of your eternal value never changes?

  1. God never stops pursuing you and your children. Please search and be able to discuss at least two Scriptures that substantiate that God never stops pursuing you or your children (see Luke chapter 15).

Exercise 4-4:  If self-esteem comes from seeing a reflection of ourselves as we look at others, describe the kind of self-esteem that is possible when we look toward other Christians, including our pastor and other church members, instead of looking toward God?


Exercise 4-5:  If self-esteem comes from seeing a reflection of ourselves as we look at others, describe the kind of self-esteem that results if we fail to look toward God, i.e., fail to have daily devotional time with Him? What is your plan for devotions?

Fundamental Truths:

  • We lack self-esteem only because we believe a lot of things that are untrue (Schiraldi, 1993).
  • We cannot value our self if we do not spend time with the One (God) who values us in truth!
  • “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).”
  • “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir (Galatians 4:7).”

Exercise 4-6:  Evaluate how the above four truths apply to you as a victim of abuse. Describe how these truths apply to your personal self-esteem.

Hofstede, G. Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 2001

Hofstede, G., Hofstede G. J., Minkov, M. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (Rev. ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 2010.

Schiraldi, Glenn R. Building Self-Esteem: A 125 Day Program. Ellicott City MD: Chevron Publishing Corp., 1993.

Interdependence: A Biblical View Opposed by the North American Independent Culture

Culture is man-made, not God-made. Therefore, every culture neglects at least one or two biblical structures in their house of relationship. For instance, in the United States many males feel uncomfortable with intimacy and friendship. And almost all males in the United States feel uncomfortable with interdependence. They work alone in cubicles, staring at a computer screen that links them to coworkers around the world. Lacking intimacy, they seek acceptance through high productivity. Thus, they get promotions through independent thinking and personal initiative. At the end of the day, these same people drive in their single-commuter car to a single-family house in a gated or stockade-fenced community.

Guatemalan Indians  moving a house roof

Guatemalan Indians
moving a house roof

Although some ministers feel interdependent with other ministers and with their church staff, they sometimes neglect to build the foundation (friendship) or walls (respect) of the house. When people (including some mission agencies) share little more than a common desire to spread the gospel, their house of relationship looks like a roof without walls and foundation. Supporting a roof without walls or foundation takes a huge amount of manual labor. Eventually everyone grows tired, disagrees with the support methods, and starts arguing about their jobs, tasks and positions to support the load of the roof.

Instead of interdependence, almost every culture promotes one or more of the following four types of behaviors:

  • Dependence
  • Co-Dependence
  • Counter-Dependence
  • Independence


Dependence is seen as the need to be taken care of. The person acts submissively to prompt others to provide care-giving behaviors in return. With dependence, you give others the authority to decide your worth or value as a person. Their judgement of you determines how you see yourself. When they tell you something about your worth, you accept their judgement as authority. And if they tell you nothing about your self-worth, you suffer with low esteem because they neglected to give you any worth.

A few pastors live a life of dependency in which they depend on their religious leaders to give them worth as a person. More often, some church members live a life of dependency in which they depend on their pastor to give them worth as a person. In some cultures, the pastor insists on church members assuming a dependent role. In these cultures, a high percentage of church members learn dependency. Sometimes, the local culture undervalues Christians, and pushes them into dependent work roles with low status. For instance, Christians in Egypt are commonly pushed into an occupation as a garbage collector.


Co-Dependence happens when your self-value depends on making a helpful impact on someone else. You depend on a good reaction from others to provide you with a warm feeling of fulfillment. So with co-dependence, your sense of self-worth increases as others give positive feedback to you. With co-dependence, you value being valued.

Some pastors unwittingly seek co-dependence with their congregation and community. They want to perceive that others value their ministry, or that they somehow add value to others. When they see few results in the lives of others, they feel worthless (without value). But as they see positive results and positive feedback, their sense of worth increases. So they seek the warm feeling that results from a warm reception from others. As with dependence, this person seeks to get his or her worth from an inappropriate source.

Inevitably, pastors conflict with each other or with church members. When a pastor seeks to be valued, he or she tends to get discouraged. Burn-out results. Due to conflict, he or she starts asking, “If I cannot add value, why am I here? Why should I stay if I can’t accomplish anything good?” In contrast, the spiritually healthy minister works, not to obtain a good feeling in return, but simply because he or she loves God and loves people. The difference in motives may seem minor, but to God the difference is huge. God looks at the inside of our cup (motive) even more than the outside.

Jesus ministered because He loved others, not to get a good feeling in return. And this small difference in motives produces a huge difference in resilience. If I minister because I love others, I will persist because my love is never affected by the lack of positive response from others.

Just as pastors sometimes grow co-dependent, so do church members. Almost every pastor can recount stories about church members who quit teaching a class because they failed to see positive results from their labor. Sometimes they get discouraged because their class fails to grow. Sometimes they get discouraged because the class members actively conflict (fail to value) with them. Like them, missionaries in some parts of the world rarely see positive results. If they work because they love others, they will persist regardless the results. Those who seek a warm feeling in return for their work rarely persist very long. So the co-dependent motive to add “perceived value” possibly undermines more ministers and church workers than any other inappropriate goal. Whether working in a Sunday School class of 5 or a church of 5000, the co-dependent minister will eventually burn out. They minister with the wrong motive.

Like any other minister, I (Nathan) love to receive a warm response. But hopefully, I minister because I love others.

Reflection: When rejected, the dependent and co-dependent person feels hurt or revenge, but the spiritually healthy person feels grief (over the lost relationship). When rejected, which type of feeling most characterizes you?


With counter-dependence, the person rejects dependence on others to the extent that he or she actively rebels against anything that seems dependent. To prove the lack of dependence, the person purposefully chooses behaviors the opposite of dependency. For instance, a child may rebel against and break his or her parent’s curfew requirement simply to show that he or she is not dependent. Counter-dependence always shows rebellion and behavior opposing the expected norm. With counter-dependence, the person still defines himself or herself based on someone else’s expectation. But in this case, the self-definition depends on rejecting the expectations or inputs of others.

Pastors sometimes show counter-dependence when they intentionally reject inputs from their leaders or when they intentionally reject inputs from their local church. In effect, they set themselves up as a god (a big man) who needs no input from anyone else. These people tend to tell others that God told them to do this or that, so they reject the input of others.

With dependence, co-dependence, and counter-dependence, the person gets his or her sense of worth from other people. Thus, the person tries to get his or her worth from an inappropriate source. As Christians, God values us regardless the worth given by other people or by the culture. Jesus said that we will be known by our love. He never mentioned that we should be known by our perceived value.


Independence means doing what you want to do regardless the input from others (even if others want you to do the same thing as you do). In contrast to counter-dependence, the person no longer needs to avoid doing something in order to define himself or herself. With independence, the person chooses his or her course of action simply based on his or her personal desires and personal goals. The opinion of others ceases to matter or affect the person’s sense of self.

With independence, the person gets his or her sense of worth from himself or herself, not from God. They neglect to get input and influence from others. However, God speaks through fellow Christians and leaders. So those who fail to get input from fellow Christians and their leaders almost always neglect to get input from God. They tend to say, “God told me to do this or that.” However, they merely use God as an excuse for their independent behavior. Since they tend to work independently and with self-guided direction, they inevitably fail to reach their goals. They almost always blame others for blocking their accomplishments. With few accomplishments, their sense of worth suffers. They burn out because they base their value on self-perceived and self-defined success.

The North American and many western European cultures tend to value independence. Males form competitive relationships in which their efforts, especially relationships, reflect back on their ability to do things. In these relationships, emotional distance provides a measure of safety. Chadorow (231) notes that men learn to live with independence and self-sufficiency, and therefore learn to live without relationships. In the North American culture, the male identity exists in individualistic terms. Due to their upbringing, they have a deep-seated fear of interdependence. Therefore, many never develop skills for interdependence. They fear anything beyond a shallow friendship. For many males, interdependence means vulnerability. North American males generally dislike vulnerability. Males tend to avoid talking about emotional or personal relationships, especially with other males. Males generally fear the vulnerability that interdependence creates.

The culture of independence also affects relationships between ministers. Two couples from the same church agency arrived in a new city and met several times to establish ground rules for how they would work with a local church. When couple “A” later proposed several initiatives that conflicted with those ground rules, couple “B” objected and referred back to their earlier agreement. Feeling frustrated by the objections, couple “A” chose to ignore the objections of couple “B” and proceeded with their independent initiatives. By this, they effectively chose the North American model of independent competition instead of interdependence. Feeling invalidated at couple “A’s” response, couple “B” resigned from helping the local church. They remained in the city but switched to a different church agency that supported a different local church. Couple “A” asked for our help because they felt abandoned by couple “B”.

Each couple chose an independent lifestyle. Neither understood the factors that led to their independent behaviors. Each couple judged the independent choices of the other, but neither recognized their own independent behavior.

When the direct culture norm of independence goes unchallenged, it repeats itself throughout the minister’s career. In some cities, every minister works independently of the other. Few seem to realize that they remain bound by cultural values that interfere with interdependence. Thus, a secular independent culture sometimes governs outward behavior even when the Bible values interdependence.

Reflection: When rejected, the counter-dependent and independent person:

  • tries to act ambivalent.
  • tends to state that God has told him or her to accomplish something that does not depend on other people.

Does either response to rejection characterize you?

The Cultural Affect on Dependence

Almost every culture actively interferes with interdependence in favor of dependence, co-dependence, counter-dependence, or independence. Indirect cultures tend to use dependence and co-dependence. Authority figures in high power distance cultures tend to use counter-dependence. Direct cultures tend to use counter-dependence and independence. Regardless the culture, every person uses counter-dependence when they rebel against God—so every culture supports counter-dependence. All four of the above approaches to dependence fail to follow the biblical model of interdependence (caring for one another, motivated by love).

With all four of the above types of dependence, the person gets his or her sense of worth from an inappropriate source. The Christian’s sense of worth more appropriately comes from his or her relationship with God. God defines our worth. He demonstrated our worth by dying on the cross for us. When we self-define our worth or let other people or the local culture define our self-worth, we put ourselves and others in the role of God and minimize His sacrifice. We burn out.


  • Which type of dependence do the ministers in your church denomination most use?
  • Which types of dependence are common in your culture?


Interdependence requires partnering with others. Servant leadership is interdependent. Each person wants to help the other. Interdependence means applying our God-given worth and ability to work as a team, no person “lording” or trying to increase his or her status over the others. Interdependence means recognizing the unique gifts of others and including their gifts as an important part of a system—a team.

Whether positive or negative, the emotional aspect of interdependence affects our very being. “The concept of relationship refers to two [or more] people whose behavior is interdependent, in that a change in the state of one will produce a change in the state of the other (Kelley et al., 1983).” Interdependence means that each person depends on the mutual assistance, support, cooperation or interaction of the other. The definition of relationship includes interdependence. What distinguishes close from less close relationship, according to Kelley and fellow workers (31-37), is the degree of interdependence. According to Cooper (759), people in close relationships are “highly interdependent: they influence each other’s behavior frequently, their influence is far-reaching and strong, and it extends over time.”

We encourage you to put aside values that interfere with your ability to enjoy the mutual support and cooperation that interdependence provides. Of all factors that affect interdependence, shared meaning builds the strongest interdependence. For some ministers, work, education, nursing an old hurt, resentment, or retaining independence may seem more important. However, by definition, caring requires interdependence. It means stepping in the opposite direction from what almost every culture normally values.

To learn more about dependence and other issues that affect church relationships, please see Transforming Conflict: Relationship Skills for Ministers. Please click on the link embedded in the above title to order this book.

Power and Control: A Ministry Norm?

Article by Beth Davis, DMin.


Bernard Mayer (2000) notes that power is present in all communication. “We cannot choose to have no power. Everyone brings power to a conflict.” Power, control, and authority exist in every organization, and are needed for the efficiency and welfare of the organization and its members.

Since power abuse results from envy and jealousy, any person in any culture may try to apply abusive power. To further the personal power of a person, sometimes that person tries to steal the power of others, abusing a desirable organizational quality for the person’s self-serving purpose. Power is needed in every organization. But when people neglect the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Gal. 5:22) to further their power, it becomes abusive.

Power-based abuse is defined as any act that increases the status, dominance, authority, or identity of a person or organization at the expense of the status, dominance, authority, or identity of others. Most often, the abuse starts secretly without the input or permission of the victim. Thus, power-based abuse always happens at the expense of others, and usually without their permission or input.

The permission and input condition seems crucial. By joining an organization, I automatically give management permission to make many decisions that affect me without my input or consent. So an acceptable use of power always includes a potential for abuse.

Common signs that indicate a culture of power-based abuse in a church organization include:

  1. Hidden or secretive meetings that neglect to include input or permission of those affected by the meetings
  2. Input requested only as a means to gain acceptance from the members (the final decision has already been made)
  3. Bullying—acts that neglect justice or kindness in the pursuit of dominance and control
  4. Acts that ruin the reputation of others, steal credit, or spread rumors or gossip
  5. Acts that socially or financially isolate others
  6. Acts of manipulation instead of dialog
  7. Large amounts of energy spent on protecting or advancing the status of a person
  8. A wake of hurt peers and assistants (a lack of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Gal. 5:22)
  9. Dismantling—instead of building on the prior accomplishments of others, the power-based Christian systematically dismantles the achievements and organizational structures of those he or she replaces.
  10. Cronyism—acts in which the incoming pastor or authority figure automatically replaces previous staff members with personal friends

During uncomfortable communication, you might ask yourself, “Who is in control and power? Do I feel controlled? Is someone trying to take control or power away from me?” Often a sense of powerlessness drives miscommunication which eventually leads to conflict.

The issue of power and control served as a central issue affecting the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. John 11: 47-48, 53(NIV) describes the following:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

Thus, the religious leaders seemed even willing to take an innocent man’s life to keep their base of power and control.

John 12:42 shows an obvious power play by the leaders, Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.” When direct threats failed to slow His ministry, the religious leaders eventually decided to bribe someone and make false accusations in their effort to keep power and control.

A threat to quit almost always represents the issue of power and control. That is, a person intimidates through a threat to quit. The threat destroys any need for discussion or rational thinking. They would rather sacrifice the relationship than lose the argument. These threats show a breakdown in the relationship, including a lack of basic discussion skills. A threat to resign or quit represents one of the more common threats of some ministers. When threatened with this option, this author almost always accepts the offer rather than living under repeated threats.

When inequality strains a relationship, look for the iceberg of power and control. Some organizations try to openly eliminate this iceberg by requiring equality across the staff. Bernard Mayer (2000), however, suggests that the issue of power and control remains present regardless any requirement. Until we deal with the issue of power and control, the iceberg continues to undermine relationships. For instance, all ministers in one ministry agency received apparent equality by receiving equal pay. Since they received equal pay, power and control provided one of the few remaining means to show the status between each minister. In that agency, ministers fought more battles over power and control issues than fought by most military commanders. Possibly, more church fights happen over power and control issues than any other issue. Almost all financial disagreements result from a power and control issue. That is, who controls the money usually represents a bigger issue than the amount spent or the object purchased. In some churches, the entire tithe is paid directly to the pastor. This gives the pastor almost all the power.

The following myths sometimes result in power-based abuse in a church organization:

  1. Myth—Since power-based abuse represents normal behavior for business in secular culture, it represents acceptable behavior in the church. Truth—Christians look to the Bible to determine acceptable behavior, not culture or business norms. The Bible invites us to servanthood rather than ladder climbing. Jesus avoided power even when people in secular society wanted to make Him king. Instead, He modeled washing the feet of others, including the feet of the person soon to betray Him. Instead of abuse and insensitivity, the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37) invites us to mercy and kindness.
  2. Myth—If God allows power-based abuse, it must represent His will in that instance. Truth—God allows Satan to rule the earth and allows all types of sin in the world. The sin and carnality in this world never represent God’s will. Just as He allowed the tribes of Israel to worship idols, He allows men today to worship the idols of power and control, even as He grieves over their choice.
  3. Myth—Trying to argue against a power-based leader is unchristian. Truth—The Apostle Paul argued against the Apostle Peter’s position on dietary laws for Gentiles. Thus, the biblical example encourages discussion during a disagreement, not automatic surrender to someone in a position of power. Man-made rules which expect or require surrender ignore the example of the Apostle Paul. Paul showed that dialog often identifies a more godly solution. When a culture commands automatic surrender, the culture remains secular, and based in keeping the existing power structure. A position of power or authority rarely over-rules the need for dialog.
  4. Myth—It is acceptable for a leader to hurt others with power-based behavior because God placed the leader in a position of power. Truth—A leadership position may or may not represent God’s blessing. God allows carnal and sinful behaviors and goals, even by His followers. So some Christian leaders reach positions of power through carnal goals, and some reach positions of power due to God’s will. The pursuit of carnality never represents His will, but represents what He allows Christians to choose. Just as God allowed the children of Israel to worship false gods, God also allows carnal Christians to worship power.
  5. Myth—If a power-based person is doing good work, hurting others is acceptable. Truth—The behavior of the priest or Levite in the Good Samaritan story is a sin regardless of their good work or religious status. Matthew 23:23 sums up God’s desire, “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” Thus, working for God never justifies hurting others by neglecting justice and mercy.

The following suggestions give some practical ways to reduce power and control abuse in your ministry setting.

To reduce cronyism, consider the following strategies:

  • Limit the number and length of terms for officials.
  • Develop position papers that define cronyism as unethical, and provide common examples of cronyism.
  • Define cronyism as unethical in the denomination standard of conduct rules.
  • Teach continuation pastoral training courses that focus on ethics (and cronyism) in the secular and church culture.

To reduce power-based behavior at the organizational level, consider the following strategies:

  • Require newly elected leaders to participate in an introductory leadership course within their first two-weeks of office. The course would help elected leaders to set up moral and ethical boundaries related to their leadership role (e.g., handling of funds, gender boundaries, cronyism, property titles, fraternization, etc.) and help them replace secular leadership styles with biblical leadership styles appropriate to their office.
  • Develop position papers that clearly define power-based behaviors, and provide common examples of the behaviors.

To read more about Power and Control in the Church and in ministry settings, please see either of the following books:

1. Transforming Conflict: Relationship Skills for Ministers. Available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1475231350/. This book helps ministers prevent church discord even while enhancing relationships. This book helps people learn:

  • How to prevent and eliminate relationship obstacles
  • How to cultivate research-proven relationship skills
  • How to adapt each relationship skill to their ministry

2. Abusive Power: When Christians Hurt Other Christians. Available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1499386923/. This book helps Christians recover from abusive power-based behaviors.