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.