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Beware of Independence!

Due to my upbringing and culture, I tend to equate maturity with independence. A child – or so the thinking goes – is dependent on its parents, but an adult should not need to depend on anyone. I don’t think I am alone in this belief. As evidence, consider the Zimbabwean aversion to asking for help. In a recent talk by the Education Officer at the American Embassy, Zimbabwean students were encouraged to ask for help should they run into problems whilst studying in America. American students – we were told – are comfortable with asking for help; Zimbabwean students, however, are not. Interesting!

Over the years, I have taught a course designed by Willow Creek Church, aimed at helping Christians understand God’s design for them in the Church. One of the sessions emphasises the importance of interdependence. The body metaphor Paul uses to describe a healthy church implies that God
intends Christians to be interdependent. When I am dependent on another person, the reliance flows one way. When I am interdependent, reliance flows both ways. So for example, you might rely on me for Bible teaching, but I may have to rely on you for leadership or hospitality. It is possible to survive as an independent person, but you will only thrive as an interdependent one.

Therefore, since God’s design is for interdependence, I must learn to rely on others just as they learn to rely on me. However, without fail, I find that people struggle to accept God’s pattern for interdependence. Some dislike depending on others. Some do not want to be depended upon. There are many valid reasons and explanations for such sentiments. Nevertheless, the body will be dysfunctional as long as we ignore God’s pattern for interdependence. Not only will independence stunt the church’s corporate growth, it will also stunt your personal, spiritual growth.

At this point, I must be frank and admit that interdependence goes against my grain. Having been convinced, however, that interdependence is God’s design, I have become more intentional about it. I seek to serve the body with the gifts God has given me, but I also position myself to receive God’s grace through the gifts God has given others.

Perhaps the best stimulant of interdependence in my life has come through a small-group initiative we have at Harvest Church called Focus61. My Focus group is made up of seven other men, committed to meeting together regularly for the purposes of support, accountability and above all growth. We call our groups Focus groups because we want to help one another remain focused on what is truly important in our lives as Christian men. The number 61 reminds us of Isaiah 61, which was quoted by Christ when he declared the mission on which He would remain focused throughout His ministry.

A Focus group is best described using a climbing metaphor. When negotiating treacherous sections of a climb, mountaineers rope themselves together and climb as a team. At any given moment, one climber is roped to a spike which is driven into rock. Since the team is roped together, each man is directly connected to the next and indirectly connected to the rock. Hence, if one man slips, the rest can arrest his fall. If the burden becomes too great for the team, the spike will hold them all.

This is a good picture of interdependence.

Living in Zimbabwe and growing Christ-like in the process feels like mountain climbing. It is dangerous, exhausting, exhilarating and challenging all at the same time. Though most of the time, I just feel exhausted! Be that as it may, I need to climb with others, men who will catch me when I fall, expose my blind spots and encourage me, bringing their perspectives and experience. And I must do the same for them, using the unique gifts and design God has given me to serve the team. By keeping our lives anchored to Christ and roped to the team, we will make it to the summit.

I hope that this brief sharing of my experience will encourage you to take steps towards interdependence. At present, you may be with Simon and Garfunkel as they sing, “I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries”. Or perhaps you don’t want to be an island yourself but are quite happy for your family unit to be an island. I can relate. But God never created us to be islands. If we want to thrive; if we want to mature as individuals; if we want to grow as a church, we must conform to God’s pattern of interdependence.