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Jan '05

The Theology of Codependency or Doing the Denominationally Impossible

“It is impossible to plant a church with any less than 5 leaders.” As I sat at a recent conference on church planting provided by “my” denomination, these words made me shudder. I could not believe what I was hearing. As I sat there and listened to “my” denomination I could not help but wonder what the heck Rick Warren was thinking moving to So Cal with only his wife and small child…He was two leaders short. What was Bill Hybles thinking…What was the Apostle Paul thinking…traipsing around the world starting

churches. And many times that irresponsible jerk would leave after like three or four weeks leaving a single pastor to take care of that church that was sure to die. [Note the Sarcasm]

I have been debating the future of my relationship with “my” denomination as of late. Not because I want to rebel. Not because I think the grass is greener. Not because I just want more freedom. The main reason I have been contemplating my future with “my” denomination is because I feel God has spoken to me regarding the church that I am about to be a part of planting. When he spoke I felt him say that our future work should be non-denominational.

This, however, did not sit to well with some of the leaders in my life. They were puzzled. “I’m not sure why you would NOT want to be “’Insert “my” Denomination here”’ when that has always been your history!” It was hard for them to conceive of beginning a church outside of a denomination.

Doing Things Differently…The Same Old Way
Why is it that all of my friends that are in fulltime ministry want to do things differently but continue to use the methodology of their denominations? I believe that for many it is a matter of denominational codependency. In a recent conversation with a fellow church planter, he spoke candidly about how he did not know if he was sure how to plant a church outside of a denomination. It was almost as if he had come to believe that it was impossible to plant a church outside of a denomination. This perplexes me. Why is it that we have a tendency to go back to old methods, models, and structures when we have such a desire to make a real difference? Is it the money that may or may not come with being a part of a denomination? Let’s look at the reality of the situation from a monetary standpoint:

The vast majority of people that I see planting new churches are under the age of 35. Many of whom have been youth pastors, associate pastors or both. For them they have never made a real salary. It is not the money that drives them. But when planting a church there is a tendency to look at where the resources are going to come from and have absolutely no idea how that is going to happen. Different denominations have different “policies” or “programs” to remedy this situation or at least give it a good start. In “my” denomination if you go through the multi-step process, pass the assessments, and gain permission from the right people, they will give you $20,000 if you are on your own and $12,500 if you are planting out of a parent church.

The Hard Numbers
So where does a church planter get his much needed resources if not from a parent church or denomination? This has been a question I have been wrestling with for some time. Last night God began to speak to me about the raw numbers:

  • If a person makes $50,000 per year (a reasonable salary for a senior pastor)
  • AND needs $400 per week for renting a facility to meet in (the average in my home town of seattle)
  • THEN the church plant only needs 59 giving units that will commit to $100 per month to keep this afloat. Infact if the pastor tithes his full 10% he alone will be giving over $400 each month. Thus eliminating 4 of the 59 units.

How hard is it to find 55 units that will give $100 per month…That depends on how many people you know, how well you know them and how much money they make and are willing to commit to.

If Not Mulah Then What?
So if money is not a good reason to continue the denominational conquest of the church plant scene, why do most young men (at least the ones I know) continue to look solely to the denomination they are a part of for “permission” to start a church? I believe it is because of codependency. When this idea first popped into my head I did a Google search on the word “codependency.” The second link was from a website on recovery issues. (http://www.recoveryresources.org/codependency.html) The site gave a list of common characteristics of codependency. Look at this list:

  1. 1. My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you
    2. My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you
    3. Your struggle affects my serenity. My mental attention focuses on solving your problems/relieving your pain
    4. My mental attention is focused on you
    5. My mental attention is focused on protecting you
    6. My mental attention is focused on manipulating you to do it my way
    7. My self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems
    8. My self-esteem is bolstered by relieving your pain
    9. My own hobbies/interests are put to one side. My time is spent sharing your hobbies/interests
    10. Your clothing and personal appearance are dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me
    11. Your behavior is dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me
    12. I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel.
    13. I am not aware of what I want – I ask what you want. I am not aware – I assume
    14. The dreams I have for my future are linked to you
    15. My fear of rejection determines what I say or do
    16. My fear of your anger determines what I say or do
    17. I use giving as a way of feeling safe in our relationship
    18. My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you
    19. I put my values aside in order to connect with you
    20. I value your opinion and way of doing things more than my own
    21. The quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours

I was struck by how many of these characteristics reflect many pastors’ relationships to a denomination. I am sure that not all denominations are this way but I was struck by how codependent we have become, at least in “my” denomination.

What would happen if we began to clean up the relationships we have with our denominations and demanded health in those relationships? How would the Body of Christ flourish if we were to remove the growth inhibiting policies, programs and pressures that many denominations exist to dole out? I am in no way anti-denominational, but I do want to ask some tough questions.

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