The Danger of Codependency Between Ministers and Churches

It starts slowly.

At first it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

It comes across as complimentary.

They need you.

They don’t know what they would do without you.

They wait for you to make important decisions or even to get things started.

Codependency is psychological state in which one party is dependent upon another party’s approval for his or her own self-worth. Sound familiar?

Codependent relationships run rampant in churches and in the heart and mind of ministers. Those who find themselves in helping professionals are particularly susceptible to this kind of relationship because their profession depends so much on interacting and engaging people. As ministers who are called to help lead and guide God’s people, while also living in a context in which churches are declining, combining ministerial positions, and forgoing benefits, the context is perfect for codependent relationships to form.

We find ourselves worrying about whether our congregations liked what we have preached, taught, or organized. We find ourselves worrying about how many likes or attendees our worship service or event will receive on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We find ourselves worrying about whether this year’s annual review will be good or bad. We find ourselves slowly and steadily worried more about what our congregations think than what God thinks about our ministry.

The danger of codependency is real in the changing context of what it means to be church. The church doesn’t need ministers who are going to people please their way through Wednesday and Sunday night responsibilities. The church needs leaders who are diligently spending time with God in order to hear a word from God and to share that word from God whether it’s a word of hope or a word of challenge. Isn’t this what we see again and again in prophetic literature? Did Jesus’ teaching curry favor with those in leadership?

When a congregation calls a minister, they are calling for God’s representation here on earth. They are calling someone who has identified and voiced a call from the divine to live a life that’s separate and distinct. They are calling someone to lead and guide them. I know too many ministers who have quieted that call and that still, small voice in their lives because “if I say that, then I’ll lose my job.” I’m not sure as those called by God we were ever guaranteed that this life would be easy or that we would always be certain that we had a job (at least that’s not my call has worked). If we share what we’ve heard from God while loving and caring for God’s people, then we are doing what God has called us to do.

If we aren’t and we are allowing ourselves to be swayed by the wishes and whims of congregations, then we are serving a codependent relationship, not God. As long as codependent relationship continue to rule churches and ministers, we should be concerned about the future of the church.

Let’s remember how God’s people in Exodus begged for slavery when things got tough in the desert. God’ people need a leader who will stand up and say, “Have you seen this food falling from the sky? Have you seen the cloud leading us by day and the pillar of fire leading us by night? We are not alone. God is with us, let’s keep walking into the unknown.”