Become perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect. So tells the words of the rabbi messiah to his students. While this is the noblest of aspirations, it helps sometimes to know that no one on earth has yet achieved this plateau of sainthood; especially when one may be called to question the failings of others.
It is often found that the human machine is a complex configuration to navigate. And while it is textbook knowledge that people who suffered from an addiction retain an addictive personality whether they are active or dry, it is another matter to see how the behavior plays out with one who is a leader and pastor of a church. The thing to be abundantly clear about is that although a substance abuser may be in recovery and remains dry, such a one may still carry an addictive personality trait that may in all things be a pendulum swing to the positive or negative, and with either values serving to reflect character.
Dry addicts also tend to have a codependent personality. So, when one happens to be the pastor of a church, surprisingly the codependency can become somewhat institutionalized. How does this play out? Yes, you guessed it. Such a one will tend to have a codependent style of overseeing their parishioners. One definition of a codependent person is, that “Someone who can’t function from his or her innate self, and instead organizes thinking and behavior around a substance, process, or persons.” (Darlene Lancer, Codependence).
Lancer, a confessed recovering codependent herself, explains that to understand this rare disorder, “One approach looks at the whole family and the family system, and found that dysfunctional family dynamics could contribute to codependency.” Is a codependent person most likely to be aware of the entangled web of destructiveness that results from the neurosis? No, not necessarily. Lancer explains further that, “Codependency is sneaky and powerful. You may not be aware that it is the root cause of problem in your relationship.”
Codependent pastors tend to be insecure, and always overly seeking to have the friendship and reciprocity of a certain cadre of their congregation. So, instead of being an overseer with a fatherly, shepherd-like conduct, they tend to seek out in their church those who they can befriend, and who will befriend them; and for that expect to have a “yes-man” loyalty as a result.
Those who gullibly succumb to the influence of this kind of shepherding are likely to fare well on the frontline of such leadership while others stand on a neutral ground -the neutral ones sometimes caused to feel uncomfortable, because over time they may be seen as, and ostracized as, enemies. Codependents need to control those close to them because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay.
The best clue that identifies this kind of leader is such a one’s stated preference to be addressed on a first name basis. One should be leery of some pastors who wants, or prefers to be addressed by their first name by parishioners. It is a sure sign that they’re not comfortable in the role and demands of a pastor, because such a role is emotionally and psychologically more than they’re willing or capable to take on.
Codependent pastors knowingly or unwittingly foster an atmosphere of mutual codependence when the neurosis is transferred through repeated and ongoing pastor/parishioner relationship where the main thing at stake is loyalty: the pastor being afraid of losing a member/friend, and the member not wanting to hurt anyone or betray trust. Codependent pastors, in sermons, tend to repeat over and over the same tragic life stories for the effect of drawing sympathy and bolstering the comfort zone, when what is really needed is for him or her to let bygones be bygones, and develop the sanctification that helps him or her migrate from fear to faith.
When codependency becomes mutual, the pastor/parishioner relationship begins to sway in the balance. And only time will tell before the frontline eldership, etc. will wake up from the mesmerism; and realizes something is terribly wrong. Then it is time to confront the pastor. Confrontation at this point is never very good, since the pattern of codependence will likely switch from passive to aggressive, and the member or elder will most likely leave.
Another trait of the codependent pastor is manipulation. The need to manipulate situations is an addict’s penchant; a ploy common to even the dry addict, apparently due to a need as in times past to procure and administer a quick fix any which way possible, and be able to mask the operation with skilful manipulation to make it look like a legitimate and run-of-the-mill action.
What often occurs with the codependent pastor is that when push come to shove in the ministry the same tactics used in the past to procure a quick fix to make him or her feel good, is likely to come handy in the present as a quick fix to make him or her look good -because that’s the personality trait. Looking good, by-the-way, has a double benefit, because when you look good you also feel good. Either way, the act can easily be identified as manipulation. This is what the codependent pastor is likely to resort to when serious fallout is imminent and he/she needs to save face.
But manipulation doesn’t always work, even when the wool is pulled completely over everyone’s eye. It sometimes backfires in simple or adverse ways. For example, in a mixed congregation, when someone is schemed and manipulated into a strategic office in the church it can be widely deduced as racism -a thing that threatens the harmony amongst the saints. But the pastor is really not a racist. What he or she has is a neurosis -an addictive and codependent personality; which needs to be dealt with through appropriate counseling and prayer.
And as the fallouts multiply and mount, the time that should be spent evangelizing and nurturing the flock is taken up by the pastor always watching his back and covering his track. This makes for a very tired pastor, and in some cases, a very frustrated flock. And soon the only thing that is sure for the future is burnout. He finds himself desperately short of leaders. Now, he’s not only worrisome, but he is also intrigued to find a fixer. He has two options: One, pray in faith and depend on the Lord to provide. Or two, come up with a scheme and manipulate it into a solution to the problem.
This is when bright ideas are likely to arrive. “What about having an assistant? Not just one ordained from the ranks, but a hired from the outside assistant for a new project, paid and properly called an Assistant Pastor?” is the way he or she is likely to surmise and plot. But there’s no budget for that, let alone how to sell the notion to the elder board. So, such a one knows she must scheme well. He must manipulate well, even if the proposition is tantamount to lying. But he must press on, because if this thing comes through this will solve the leader shortage for a while. He would have a new Assistant Pastor friend, a paid yes-man who would be yes, yes, yess-ing all the way to the bank.
But can this scheming and manipulating be so ironclad that the true intent escapes scrutiny? That is the question. Because there is a serious peril that it could backfire, and backfire grievously. Even so, for the codependent pastor, even a short fix is worth the try. Because, just like a quick fix in the past from a substance could make him or her feel good, this scheme in the present will make him or her look good for a while.
Does this kind of slick maneuvering disqualify the pastor from his office when he’s found out? Not necessarily. But there should be some standard of accountability in the church. There should be an independent elder board (that is to say, one that the said pastor does not have a vote on) to judge the matter carefully and prayerfully, and make the appropriate recommendation for counseling and recovery. Lancer also offers advice here by saying that “The first step to recovery is awareness.” The codependent leader should himself be aware of the problem, or should be made aware by someone who can advise him accordingly.
As mentioned above, the neurosis does not only affect the pastor’s health and well-being, but the flock as well; so that if the pastor’s condition continues unchecked the cycle of events will get worse and continue to the detriment of God’s people. Thankfully, as we know, the Sovereign Lord will not permit this to happen. In time, He always sends a message through an Elijah, Isaiah, or a Daniel; that the parishioners as well as the pastor may hear and be inspired to heed the message.