Week 44: Beware of Needing to be Needed – Part 1

Some spiritual leaders, not all, grew up under controlling, legalistic (spiritual or natural) parents when they were young Christians. Ironically, when they became older in the Lord, some or most looked to be under the same type of authority without realizing it. They also then, by the example of their spiritual leaders, became dysfunctional leaders themselves; because leaders produce fruit after their own kind. Apples reproduce apples. Oranges reproduce oranges. We reproduce what we are.

Therefore, children of dysfunctional, spiritual parents reflect the same dysfunction. It’s not what’s taught as much as what’s caught. Though they inwardly knew they despised the control, they perpetuated the same traits over their own spiritual offspring. Please understand, I rarely find a controlling leader (passive or aggressive) who does this intentionally. Many are unaware of it. They’re merely reflecting what was modeled to them by their spiritual parents. They come to believe it’s the right way to lead. But they’ll never admit that they’re “lording it over the faith of others.”[1]

Such leadership styles are rooted in tremendous insecurity. Manipulative leadership not only fosters insecurity, it fosters a great need in the leader to be “needed” by their sons and daughters in the faith. This creates an unhealthy co-dependency in themselves and in the lives of their spiritual children. Down the road, when the spiritual children enter their “teenage” years they either rebel outright against the parents, or stuff their rebellion for another day.

God designed every child’s body clock to begin pulling away from their parents during their teen years so as to become more independent in preparation for adulthood. If their parents (natural or spiritual) are fearful, legalistic, and controlling, this transition is met by their resistance and triggers rebellious attitudes and behavior in the child. Some teenagers rebel aggressively while others, who are passive-aggressive, suppress their anger until they can flee “the house” as early as possible.

Under manipulative parenting, once the child “gets out,” it won’t change the fact that they’ve been trained by osmosis[2] in an unhealthy environment of co-dependent parents who “need” their kids for their own sense of worth, value, and identity. Their co-dependent need then makes co-dependent, insecure children who were so controlled by their parents they become controllers themselves of—something or someone—to escape from being controlled.

When they do escape, they inadvertently transfer their co-dependent allegiance to another co-dependent, dysfunctional, authoritative figure and fall into the same snare. It’s self-deception. The new leader promises to take them to new heights of spirituality, position, and/or entitlement, until one day, the co-dependent son or daughter wakes up to realize they had jumped from one spider web into another.

After this happens several times during their Christian walk, they’ll eventually become spiritual orphans, no longer trusting in any authority. They must take back control of their own lives and so they lock down, hole up in a cave, and stay detached from the body of Christ altogether. Or they might start their own community of followers and repeat the same folly they themselves had run from. They’ll create their own little group of co-dependent children who “need” their leadership.

Due to their resolve to never be controlled again by dysfunctional leaders, any true and healthy authority that comes along will be met with great suspicion. They’ll remain accountable to no one, not realizing they’re leaving themselves exposed to Satan’s deception without any support or protection. They’ll also abuse people in the same way they’ve been abused. They’ll reproduce after their own kind, and never get the kind of help that could set them free.

In the end, they’ll lose most of the people they once controlled over the years, and be left with very few authentic friends. They’ll grow into bitter, unfulfilled saints who had never reached their full potential. Many of these broken leaders leave the church altogether, some perhaps the Lord, because they trust no one, not even their own ability to discern between truth and error.

This is one of the many reasons I write leadership blogs. I want to equip new converts and future leaders with this understanding to protect them from falling into the trap of co-dependency.

Only the Lord is worthy of our dependency. His example of leadership is what we should look to and follow. He demands nothing of anyone, but invites us to follow his lead and obey his commands—if we choose to do so. He never attempts to manipulate or shame us if we don’t. His invitation always remains open, and his love is still freely given when we return as prodigals. His is an “open-handed” leadership style which fosters the greatest type of loyalty…a loyalty given without fear of wrath or disapproval from the one we’re loyal to—himself.


[1] 2 Corinthians 1:24

[2] Osmosis: the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.

Posted on February 19, 2017 in Leadership

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