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

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

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?

Counter-Dependence

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

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.

Reflection:

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

Interdependence

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.

fight

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.

Should I use medical science or prayer?

Question: Some of my minister friends say that they plan to ignore medical science and simply study the Bible and use prayer to prevent and recover from burnout. Which is right?

Answer: Several issues seem apparent in the above statement.

First, those who ignore medical science may be looking at the wrong issue. The question isn’t whether or not God will answer my prayers to protect me from burnout. Sometimes He answers prayers in a way that I expect, and sometimes not. That is His decision, not mine. God is not some cosmic butler who jumps to the whim of my every prayer. I pray continually, but I never control Him.

The important question is whether we should use medical science at all. Throughout life and ministry, I choose to use medical science in addition to prayer. Medical science has never invalidated my faith. God gives me everything, including medical science. The application of medical science merely represents rational self-care of the body with which He blesses me.

The bigger issue is whether or not I am willing to test God. While being tested in the wilderness, even Jesus refused to test God. Possibly we test God when we demand Him to heal us of a malady that we can easily correct with medical science. I sure do not want to risk testing God. Regardless my faith in God, I choose to avoid testing Him or risking the ministry to which He calls me.

Second, a huge number of factors affect susceptibility to burnout, and genetic factors are significant. So, two individuals exposed to the same stressors often react differently. You may be one of the fortunate few with a genetic resistance to burnout. However, are you willing to risk your ministry on that expectation? Is this something that is OK to risk?

Burnout results from the physical depletion of several chemicals in the brain. Medical research has revealed specific lifestyles that stimulate the brain to replenish those chemicals. Coincidentally, many of the burnout resistant lifestyles supported by medical science seem to promote the same lifestyles adopted in the Old Testament . So in this case, the Biblical examples and recent medical research seem to support each other. This isn’t a case of either or, but both are almost identical.

Third, I want to accomplish as much ministry work as possible. I can allow myself to grow susceptible to burnout by violating medical science, or I can make myself increasingly resistant to burnout so I can work even more and accomplish more. Personally, I love ministry and plan to do everything I can to enhance my ability to accomplish even more. Because I want to increase my effectiveness as much as possible, I choose to use the internet and a computer, restrict my diet to healthy food, build a strong social support network, build resistance to burnout, and pursue every avenue of technology and science possible that can increase my ministry effectiveness and longevity. And, I choose to pray continuously. How about you?

Rational self-care simply means that I choose to honor the science and knowledge with which He blesses me, and I choose to avoid testing Him. Anyone who says that I don’t trust Him does not really know me. I know (and God knows) that I still believe in Him and trust Him to keep me physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.

A close friend of mine died of a heart attack this year. A few years ago, his doctor prescribed medicine to control his cholesterol, but he refused to take it. Some would state that his days were numbered and “up.” Regardless, God let him choose to accept or reject medical knowledge. My friend’s choice possibly cut his ministry shorter than necessary. I miss him greatly.

I feel so honored to engage in ministry that I cannot imagine choosing to risk it. And as I write this article, I can’t help but reflect about and repent of the ways that I sometimes risk my calling. What are some ways that you risk your calling?

The book  “Rebound from Burnout: Resilience Skills for Ministers” provides a fairly detailed discussion about the lifestyles supported by medical science and the Old Testament. This well-researched book is available at www.createspace.com/3854604 and on Amazon.com. And because I want to help my younger brothers who use technology even more than me, it is also available on Kindle. (:

Please read our webpages on Burnout to learn more.