I am the first to admit that I am an imperfect leader. I am an imperfect church member. I am an imperfect man. There have been times in my life where I have done or allowed some pretty dumb things in my life. So when I talk about codependent tendencies between church leaders and church members, I am not trying to raise myself up on a pedestal by pointing out the flaws of other. I am trying to bring to light something that I have both wrestled with personally and seen operating within some churches in the hopes that by doing so, it will bring a greater degree of health and fruitfulness to leaders and church members.
There is a difference between codependency and interdependency. The Bible teaches that we are to be interdependent upon one another. Unfortunately because we do not live in a perfect world and because of some of the baggage we carry around, interdependency is replaced with codependency. So let’s look at the definition of codependency, look at ways it manifests itself between church leaders and church members, and ways to break the cycle of codependency.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (typically narcissism or drug addiction); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of, or control of, another. In laymans terms, it means that one person is perpetually needy and the other person is perpetually rescuing the needy. When these two get together, it can be an unhealthy combination.
People who are codependent often take on the role of martyr; they constantly put others’ needs before their own and in doing so forget to take care of themselves. This creates a sense that they are “needed”; they cannot stand the thought of being alone and no one needing them. Codependent people are constantly in search of acceptance. When it comes to arguments, codependent people also tend to set themselves up as the “victim”. When they do stand up for themselves, they feel guilty.
The needy individual continues on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “rescuer.” They do not get better but in fact get worse because the rescuer enables them to continue in the lifestyle choices that are causing the neediness in the first place.
Codependent Tendencies in Church Leaders.
Many of us leaders answered the call of God to help people. We went out to “save the lost.” Part of our mission is in fact geared towards rescuing. However there is healthy rescuing which points people to Jesus and there is unhealthy rescuing that causes people to become dependent on us.
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
- A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
- A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time or be the only one “qualified” to do it.
- A tendency to become hurt and offended when people don’t recognize their efforts
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The codependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment and avoid confrontation.
- An extreme need for approval and recognition. This is usually shown by the need to always be the one in charge or the one who is God’s man of power for the hour.
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- A compelling need to control others
- Lack of trust in self and/or others. This is usually indicated by not letting people make mistakes or having to be involved in every aspect of the operation of the church.
- Fear of being abandoned or alone
- Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
- Problems with intimacy/boundaries. This is not just about sexual intimacy but having problems in allowing people to really be close to them.
- Chronic anger
- Poor communications
- Difficulty making decisions
Now before you go and evaluate whether or not your church leader has one of these qualities thus making them unfit, remember that we are all flawed and we all have areas in our lives that Jesus needs to heal. The problem lies with having a majority of these issues and allowing these issues to dictate or greatly influence how they lead or relate with people.
There was a season in my life where I seemed to be a magnet for the needy. It was shortly after going through divorce. I had been given a severe blow in my self esteem and level of feeling accepted. Once I realized what was happening, I worked on those areas and allowed Jesus to deal with those feelings of inadequacy. Once He did, the needy magnet was removed. I stopped feeling the need to rescue damsels in distress to prove how worthy I was as a man.
The Effect Of Codependency Between Church Leaders And Church Members
In a church, codependent tendencies may not be easily recognized because they are confused with “doing the job.” A church member calls the pastor in a crisis and needs assistance. The pastor responds and ministers to the parishioner. This is part of the job. The problem arises when A. The pastor rescues the person in need vs. pointing the person to the only one that can truly rescue anyone, and B. the church leader or pastor is getting their sense of self worth from rescuing this person.
The long term effect of codependency between church leaders and church members is a church filled with the perpetually needy and a leader who is no longer shepherding but rescuing. There are no other leaders or people ministering to others apart from the pastor and his spouse. There are no people released to fulfill their call of God on their lives because that would take away from the need the leader has to rescue. There are no other leaders accepted by the congregation because the pastor is their rescuer.
Breaking Codependency In The Church
Codependency comes from a broken heart. I don’t mean it comes from being a jilted lover. I mean it comes from having wounds in your heart. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted. The first place that both the rescuer and the needy will find freedom from codependency is by finding their worth in Jesus. When the rescuer realizes that they are neither commissioned nor accepted by God based on their rescuing, they can find freedom. When the needy realize that they are placing their trust in man rather than in God, they can find freedom. However this cycle must be broken by the leader. The needy are not going to realize they can find their needs met by Jesus until the rescuer stops rescuing them. The congregation will model whatever is modeled by the leader.
My dear brothers and sisters in ministry. When you rescue. When you place yourself in the position to be the one that people look to in order to get their problems fixed, you are in fact, being their savior. Is that what you really want? Find your satisfaction, job security, and reason for being in something else. Jesus is the only savior.