DEPENDENCE IN PASTORAL WORK AND THE CHURCH AS INSTITUTION (IN THE MIND)

DEPENDENCE IN PASTORAL WORK AND THE CHURCH AS INSTITUTION (IN THE MIND)

Frederik B O Nel, SAAP Conference, August 1998

1       Introduction

Pastoral work as a dynamic activity takes place within the sphere of religion, and in terms of the Christian religion, within the realm of the church. The church is not only a theological construct or a physical institution, it is an organisation with different shapes and forms all over the world. The church is also an “institution in the mind” of people (Carr 1997:158), meaning that people have different ideas about and mental images of what it is supposed to be. People also project their own desires, hopes and expectations upon it. In modem society, many who do not officially belong to the institutional church will nevertheless approach a minister in times of need when death, disaster or crises occur. (Churches in the UK, for example, experienced a marked growth in attendance after the death in 1997 of Diana, the former Princess of Wales) .

This paper explores the hypothesis that:

Pastoral work is in a double bind with regard to dependence. It has to deal with the “normal” dependence projected onto all caring and counselling entities, as well as an additional amount of dependence that is projected onto religion and onto the church as an institution (in the mind).

1.1      Point of departure

This paper has a definite point of departure and makes certain assumptions that are not necessarily discussed in detail.

1.1.1    the church as an institution in the mind

An institution is understood to be more than just a clearly defined organisation. People often have ideas and fantasies about institutions in their minds that may be realistic or unrealistic; and they also project their own fears and ideals onto institutions.

Despite the fact that there is no exact parallel between individuals, groups and institutions  (Halton 1994:11), there is some connection between individual human psychic processes and institutional processes (cf. Obholzer 1994:169). Groups and institutions, like individuals, often function consciously at one level and unconsciously at another.

1.1.2    The importance of systemic thinking

Individuals (as systems in themselves) are part of other systems. Individuals do not function in isolation, but in interaction with other systems. A group of people (as a system) is more than a  mere collection of individuals. A group reflects the ideas of the individuals who are part of it, yet it also resonates with its environment and develops new ideas and images that are shared by the members of the group. A more systemic and less individualistic approach opens up new dimensions for pastoral work (Nel 1996).

1.1.3    This paper makes use of group dynamics

Group dynamics is the term used to describe psychodynamic phenomena in groups. Group dynamics  is  the application of psychodynamic thinking to systems. The individual is a micro-system, while groups are meso-systems and organisations macro-systems. One of the fathers of group dynamics is Wilfred Bion, who developed the ”basic assumption theory”. The researcher also introduces the reader to the oscillation “model” developed by Bruce Reed of the Grubb Institute. Reed uses Ken Rice’s and Eric Miller’s concepts of “primary task” and “boundaries” in his oscillation model. Rice and Miller worked intensively with Bion’s basic assumption theory in their consultations with organisations .

1.1.3.1   The primary task

The primary task is the task that “an institution or part-institution at any given time must perform to survive” (Miller 1993:17). The primary task of an enterprise is a function of its environment as well as of its internal structuring .

Reed connects the concept primary task to the idea of the latent function of the church (1978:146). He uses the analogy of bees, flowers and gardener. If you ask the bees what  they are doing, they will tell you that they are collecting food. If you ask the gardener, he/she will tell you that the bees are cross­pollinating the flowers. Reed (1978:145) says that “whatever the stated purpose of the local church, it is contributing in some way to the oscillation process, despite lack of awareness of both clergy and congregation” .

1.1.3.2   Boundary region

“As we have already hinted, we conceive ‘ministry’ as a boundary function: the minister operates as representative of the Church on its boundary with the rest of the world” (Miller & Lawrence 1993:107).

The emphasis on open systems leads to the development of another concept, namely  that of the boundary. An institution can survive only through a continuous interchange of materials with its environment. The boundary across which these materials flow in and out both separates the enterprise from and links it to its environment (Miller 1993:11). This boundary is not a line, but a region. The boundary region “may be seen as the location of those roles and activities which are concerned with mediating relations between outside and inside” (Miller 1993:11). Therefore, “survival is contingent upon an appropriate degree of insulation and permeability in the boundary region” (Miller  1993:11). The church itself, as a negotiated concept, and pastoral care and counselling as a negotiated idea, thus function strongly in the boundary region .

1.2      Dependence

It is a natural social process for human beings to be dependent on other people and things. Dependence is necessary and we as human beings cannot exist or grow without it (Carr 1997:88). Sometimes we look at persons, events and objects for support, encouragement and approval, and at other  times we look inside ourselves for strength, certainty and direction (Reed 1984). Dependence can become destructive; like all living things in nature it can be distorted, misshapen and diseased. This happens when an individual person or an institution (such as the church) or even an idea (such as the gospel) is treated as the sole source of gratification (Carr 1997:88), and when all responsibility is totally surrendered. It is fine for babies to be dependent on their parents, but for an adult, the surrendering of certain responsibilities is debilitating .

Looking to others is clearly the acceptance of being dependent. Looking to oneself, by contrast, is claiming the right to be autonomous. This is also a natural social process.

Different societies and cultures react differently to acts of dependence and autonomy. One should not underestimate the role culture and rituals play in people and groups forming (or acting out) dependence and autonomy. Cohesive cultures and powerful rituals certainly influence religious, family, social and political attitudes of individuals and groups.

1.2.1    Dependence and the church

But for the Church, the dependent posture is a reality that cannot be dismissed – without it, the Church as an institution could scarcely exist – which means it is something that has to be constantly dealt with (Miller 1993:107).

Any dealings with religion and with a church are presumed to be dealings with God. And however God is conceived, the pattern of that perception will be in some fashion dependent on it. However close He is believed to be in any particular relation to us (for example, that of father/child), God will always be beyond (transcend) us and greater (almighty) than ourselves (Carr 1997:185).

The demand on the church to cater for dependency is something that has to be discussed (cf. Miller 1993:106). It is important that the clergy understands that ministry is based on “a paradigm of dependency” (Carr 1997:213). The danger of dependence looms over all pastoral work actions. Not only is the person who is on the receiving end in danger of becoming dependent on the pastoral worker; pastoral workers themselves face the danger of becoming dependent on being available.

The church symbolises hope, security and continuity, with believers and non-believers “tum[ing] to their church as representing the possibility of control over events which they themselves cannot control” (Miller 1993:106). “It means there is inevitably an element of childlike dependency in the relationship to the Church, and thus to its representatives, in that to some extent they are being asked to solve the insoluble, cure the incurable, make reality go away” (Miller 1993:106).

The church is often seen as the “mother”, but seldom as a vibrant, young woman.  Ministry is founded upon a dependent attitude which is to be found in the regular, committed member as well as those who only occasionally make use of the offices of the church (baptism, marriage and funeral) (cf. Carr 1997: 213).

This problem is even more acute if we accept Bion’s theory that the church carries (represents) dependence in society.[1]

1.3     The church as an institution (in the mind)

The church as institution is a negotiated concept (Carr 1997:160). There is no agreed view of any church. It exists, like all other institutions , in the minds of people as well as a physical reality. The church can be described as having an “inline” and an “outline”. The inline represents the way the church leadership, authorities and members perceive the church. The odd shape shows that there is no agreed view of the church. The outline is composed of the hopes, expectations and fears of people, some of whom are members whilst others are not . (Diagram adapted from Carr 1997:161).

Pastoral workers function within the boundary region between the inline and the outline. They have to deal with the different ideas of those “in the church” and the fantasies that those “outside” the church have about the church. The pastoral worker has to bring together, within that boundary region, the ideas of psychology, sociology, philosophy and theology.

1.4     What do we understand by pastoral work?

Caring activities take place within a certain context. It is the connection between the caregiver and the Christian community that makes it pastoral care (cf Nel 1996:28). The term pastoral work in this paper therefore refers to all the caring activities of the church community. It includes counselling, mutual care and those caring activities that are often described as diaconal activities. The context for all these actions is either the church as physical institution, or the institution in the minds of those who approach the pastoral worker. The setting is usually the local church. This is not contradicted by the fact that some counsellors might work in public settings such as hospitals or prisons, or otherwise perhaps privately from a consulting room. No pastoral worker can escape the religious part or dimension of their work.

The idea of a “pastoral worker” is, in many instances, a negotiated concept, just as the church is, because it functions in this in-definable boundary region. The pastoral worker often  represents  both the irrational (God) and the rational (researchable knowledge) .

Pastoral work, more than many other aspects of the church, often entails care of those who are not involved with and committed to the church, but who hold what can be called a “common religion”. The pastoral worker thus functions strongly on the boundary between church and environment.

2       Bion’s “basic assumptions” theory

The theory of basic assumptions uniquely links irrational and rational processes in the individual and in the group (Carr 1997:89).

The priesthood … is the W group (Workgroup – FN) most experienced in dealing with baD … (basic assumption Dependency – FN) (Bion 1961:122).

A Church is liable to interference from dependent-group phenomena, and the Army  suffers  a  similar liability from fight-flight group phenomena (Bion 1961:156).

Wilfred Bion made a major contribution to our understanding of unconscious processes in groups. Bion discerned that groups of people function, in principle, like an individual. He took the basic discovery of the unconscious as well as some allied ideas and related them to group behaviour (Carr 1997:86). These ideas were developed further, enabling a better understanding of the functioning of institutions. His understanding of group mentality as being more than just the aggregate of the individuals involved, is important for a systemic approach.

There are two main tendencies in the life of a group. At a conscious level there is the “work-group” mentality where a group (or institution) works towards its primary task and  is concerned with reality (cf Bion 1961:127). At a subconscious level there is often a tendency to avoid work on the primary task for a variety of reasons (such as the avoidance of pain, conflict anger, anxiety and so on), which Bion (1961) termed the “basic assumptions” mentality. In basic assumptions mentality the group’s behaviour is directed at attempting to meet the unconscious needs of its members by reducing anxiety and internal conflicts (Stokes 1994:20). Bion (1961:62-67) distinguished three basic assumptions: dependence, fight/flight and pairing.

The explanation of certain phenomena must be sought in the matrix of the group and not in the individuals that make up the group. Time-keeping is not a function of any part, in isolation, of the mechanism of a clock, yet time-keeping is a function of the clock and of the various parts of the clock when held in combination with each other. There is no more need to be confused by the impression that a group is more than the sum of its members than there is to be confused by the idea that a clock is more than a collection of the parts that are required to make a clock (Bion 1961 :132-133).

This ” basic assumptions” reaction is not only visible in groups but also in bigger institutions. Bion suggested that each seems to be associated with particular institutions in society. Bion’s own British cultural setting is clearly visible when he connected the “pairing” “basic  assumption” with the aristocracy (Bion 1961:137). He connected the fight/flight attitude with the army and the dependence attitude with the church (Bion 1962 :136) .

When the group is working on the basic assumption of dependency, it behaves as if the group  has met “in order to be sustained by a leader on whom it depends for nourishment, material and spiritual, and protection” (Bion 1961:147). Such a group is often hostile to any scientific method because it acts as if power flows from the leader (De Board 1978:39).  The problem is that the assumption dependency defends the group successfully from reality so that no learning takes place, no independent thoughts are allowed and it stifles any co-operative work. The tendency is for the members of the group not to desire a relationship with each other, but with the leader.

Pastoral work takes place in different contexts. The influence of the group is in some instances more visible than in others. People will easily recognise the influence of the group during a youth camp, but may ignore the group dynamics on a visit to a bereaved family, or during a home visit. The growing interest in cell groups in the church makes it even more important to deal with group issues.

Even those individuals who go to see a pastoral worker do so from within a broader context. All individuals are part of other systems. Family therapists emphasise the importance of systemic thinking and that individuals are connected to numerous other systems. The pastoral  worker seldom deals only with the issues of the individual seeking help.

3       Reed’s “oscillation” model

Human development does not take place in a lineal progression from dependence to autonomy,  but through a cyclical process (cf. Reed 1984:3). Reed’s oscillation model can be of specific importance to pastoral workers. The link between oscillation and religion can be stated by saying that religion is a corporate activity which provides a ritual setting for some  of  the modes of the oscillation process (Reed 1978:50). To understand the oscillation process it is necessary to understand that Reed combines systemic thinking with psychodynamic thinking in his model.

“As individuals strive to work out their destiny they are inevitably reflecting and  representing others, so that parts and wholes cannot be considered in dependently” (Bruce 1996:10).

3.1      Regression to dependence

The psychodynamic concept of regression plays an important role in Reed’ s understanding of the oscillation process. Reed understands regression as something which can lead to functional or dysfunctional behaviour and makes use of the paediatrician/ psychoanalyst/ child psychotherapist Winnicott’s work to explain that the regression to childhood dependence is a “normal” part of the adult life cycle (cf. Reed 1996:2).

Both regression and dependence can be states of mind and a way of thinking rather than  overt behaviour. The different modes described here refer to more than just the physical situation, but mostly to mental states or ways of thinking that include conscious and unconscious processes.

Regression is a response to various stimuli. It can be a  situation in which the individual feels he/she does not have the resources to meet a challenge, either because of the magnitude of the challenge or the depletion of their own resources (Reed 1978:34). It can be the environment that facilitates  such a  response, such as for example a church worship service or a counselling session.

Reed distinguishes between creative regression and defensive regression. In creative regression the individual or group of individuals is able to use the condition creatively. It means the person stays in contact with reality and is able to take the risk of placing himself/ herself in the hands of another, whilst drawing on unconscious memories of absolute dependence with good or positive endings. Defensive regression leads to a (temporary) state in which the individual hands over all responsibility for his/her welfare to someone else and is relieved from all anxiety. It also includes a state of mind in which the demands for attention and gratification can never be satisfied. In psychotherapeutic terms it can be described as the “impossible attempt to return to the innocence of infancy” (Reed 1978:38).

In his later work Reed (1996:8) describes regression as:

“… a shift from (the) outwardly focused activity and thoughts, characteristic of a  planned and regulated life style, to inwardly unfocused or chaotic thoughts and feelings detached from external realities.” This shift can take many forms and can be the response to a crisis or a deliberate decision. It  is a feature of “normal” human growth and development.

Dependence is a state of “in-needness”, which compels us to reach out to others (Reed  1996:5). It forms the basis of human relations – love, trust, hate, greed, generosity, power  and so on. Human society in all its different forms – family, community, church, work – is derived from the “commonality of in-needness” (Reed 1996: 5). This is not the same as “having needs”. The latter is a yearning for something or someone which can only be gratified for the time being and is influenced by culture, class, status, age, health, beliefs and so on.

Reed defines “dependence as a state of mind deriving from in-needness” to demonstrate  that dependence is not necessarily a state of helplessness (Reed  1996:6)  and  that  the  opposite  of dependence is not independence (Reed 1978:32). The tendency to become more individualistic (and independent) in Western society is not a move away from dysfunctional dependency. A state of dependence can lead to different types of behaviour – functional or dysfunctional – for both the individual and the group. It can lead to stagnation, retardation and sterility or to development and growth.

3.1.1    Realisation mode

This is the actual outward behaviour of a person or group, expressing inward feelings in the specific context where persons or groups relate to and with one another to achieve things and satisfy their in-needness. This mode shows things as they are and what really goes on. This is the outworking of the prior modes of the oscillation process (Reed 1996:18).

This can be a very creative state and can result in the writing of a poem or an opera; running  a business or a home; pastoring a congregation; waging a war, and so on. It can also be a destructive mode in which people and groups generate the darkness which destroys some of the beautiful things created by them.

3.1.2    Regression to extra-dependence

This symbolises the inward withdrawal of a person or group from engagement in their habitual round of activities (Reed 1996:11).  It may be due to a situation in which the individual  or group feels lacking in resources to meet a certain challenge because of its magnitude or because of the depletion of their own resources. It may be because of a conscious or unconscious decision to regress, to thereby find the freedom to re-enter and re-examine past experience and to “unfreeze” certain experiences. Regression may be the result of the regression of the other systems around an individual or group. It must be remembered that the oscillation rhythm is widely spread and “the individual’s rhythm of oscillation is partially synchronised with that of others in any group or community” (Reed 1996: 21).

If it is a functional regression, the individual or group will act with a certain measure of responsibility, while in a dysfunctional regression everything and everyone is blamed for the circumstances. There is a failure to own feelings and to acknowledge guilt and shame. A person  is often unlikely to go to church in such a situation but relies on others to go to church on his/her behalf

As groups and individuals become aware of the erosion of boundaries and the crumbling of inner worlds, they will react and rely more on external help. Thus a move to extra-dependence occurs.

This is experienced differently both by individual people and groups. High expectations, created by previous experience play an important role. Those who have previously had positive experiences of relying on externals, who have experienced caring from others, will not be afraid of this regression to child-like dependence and will utilise the occasion to reflect on their feelings and their behaviour. When there is a low or nil expectation, there is a feeling of horror and of falling into a pit. The only way to deal with this extra-dependence is to dull any sensibility with drugs, superstitions or endless quests for holy grails (Reed 1984:5).

The above may sound very deterministic. This is not the case. Often, something unexpected occurs which radically changes the attitudes of people and groups towards the transition to  extra-dependence: such as making a new friend, or joining a church.

3.1.3    Extra-dependence (Reed 1978)/ identification mode (Reed 1996)

This is where the individual or group is experiencing dependence on something external. It could be a person (leader, parents, pastor, spouse), an idea, a dogma, a myth or an object.

In this phase those who are dependent feel secure, safe and are able to play, dream,  imagine and idealise (Reed 1984:3). In this phase followers often trust their leaders, and in religious terms, people have feelings of love and awe for their gods who protect them.

Reed (1978 & 1996) did excellent work on church worship relating to this phase. A functional  dependence would mean that a person is able to worship whole-heartedly without  losing his/her sense of distinctiveness. Dysfunctional means losing the ability to distinguish between the symbol and that which is symbolised in worship. A person then resists any changes in the worship pattern, often leading to a type of fundamentalism that can end in fanaticism.

Reed (1996:29-31) discusses the identification between us and God and between people in a worship service when the boundaries become blurred (between oneself and the other and God) and how that can help to reconcile us with God and with others, and in reconciling the bad and good parts in ourselves. What is necessary is to move beyond that identification mode and to move to the reality phase.

3.1.4    Transformation to realisation

The extra-dependence mode is very necessary because it can help with changes in attitude and behaviour. It is also vital to recognise that much of it is symbolic, as in worship. A person or group can only move to greater wholeness if the extra-dependence or identification mode helps them afterwards to engage more fully and resourcefully with the demands of life and does not encourage a flight from this world.

Dysfunctional religion can cause people to feel weak, without assurance of forgiveness and frightened before an omnipotent God whose goodness only reinforces his/her own quilt. This can often lead to a misplaced type of religiosity in which a person is superficially, on the surface, very committed to the church (reinforced by applause from the pastor), or to a form of sectarianism where the church is never good enough. This is often visible in a type of understanding in which people confuse the Kingdom of God with the Church .

The transformation phase should prepare us for a transition towards greater autonomy or realisation. In religious terms it means that we should be aware that we are called to act with responsibility, with the authority given to us by God and with the power we receive through the Holy Spirit.

3.1.5    Realisation or intra-dependence

Individuals or groups have to draw on their own resources to face their everyday existence. The feeling is of being on one’s own. This dependence-on-internals or intra-dependence is a mental state , which draws on the inner world of a person or group even if the physical situation denies any autonomy .

A worker may be dependent on his employer for a job, but may at the same time be a shop steward for his union in the same job. The worker may be fully dependent upon the employer for the job, but  may at  the same time be involved in setting certain conditions for his workplace. By acting as a leader for other workers, he/she must rely on his/her internal resources. Another example would be that of a political prisoner who defies his/her physical circumstances (jail) by continuing to propagate his/her cause from jail.

3.2     Overview

Human beings are constantly part of a process of fluctuating dependence. The above exposition is an oversimplification of a much more complex process. In practice, all stages overlap and there is no ideal process to discover. People experiencing one stage are in systemic terms doing it on behalf of those experiencing the other stages. In people’s  everyday  life the distinction between dependence and intra­ or extra-dependence is often not very visible. The feeling of being a member of a collective in extra­ dependence shifts to a feeling of being an autonomous individual or that of a group in intra-dependence. In reality, the boundaries are not always so clear-cut and a move to greater intra-dependence may be very confusing. Often merely an erosion of the boundaries between “me-ness” and “other-ness” is experienced.

4       Dependence and pastoral work

All caregivers and counsellors will continuously experience that things are projected onto  them and that they are the targets of careseekers’ needs for dependency. This is an inherent part of being human.

Reed’s hypothesis that religion contributes in some way to the oscillation process in society, whether functionally or dysfunctionally, consciously or unconsciously, is important for pastoral work. According to Reed (1978:149), people who seek care from the church’s resources or accept care from the church are already in some regression (pro-gression?) to extra-dependence. They already carry all the anxieties and feelings that go with it.

4.1      It comes with the territory

Pastoral workers, by the nature of their position with regards to the church, experience these projections to an even greater extent than caregivers who do not work in a religious setting. Firstly, the pastoral worker represents the church, an institution about which people have many fantasies and which is known to carry dependency for society. Secondly, the pastoral  worker represents Almighty God. The danger that the caregiving process could be hampered is therefore very great indeed. It becomes vital that the pastoral worker, especially, should take care to acknowledge all these projections and deal properly with dependence.

Pastoral work takes place within a religious setting and most often the immediate context is that of the local congregation. Those who come to the pastoral worker come as members of the church, even if it is only in their minds. The same is true of those whom the pastoral worker visits in a hospital or prison. They accept the presence of the pastoral worker because they see themselves as religious to a certain extent.

4.1.1    Projective behaviour is more prominent in intimate groups

One of the prevailing models of the church is that of the family, “that home of powerful  projections” (Carr 1997:57). It is important to realise that the emphasis so many churches place on  the  family metaphor carries a certain risk, especially if the church family is seen as being enmeshed with a lack of freedom for individual members to develop their own , independent thinking.

4.1.2    The context in which pastoral work takes place

Pastoral workers, especially ministers and other caregivers in the church, often work in a less structured setting than that of, for instance, a counsellor or therapist with a consulting room. This puts pastoral workers in even greater “danger” of unexplored transference occurring, obscuring what they are doing (cf. Carr 1997:55).

The concept of boundaries can be very important for pastoral workers in dealing with dependence. The pastoral worker is a representative of God (the Kingdom) and of the church as an institution in a very specific way.

“The minister, as he goes about his job as a representative of the Church on the boundary with the rest of society, has a great deal of hope invested in him. He is asked to show dependability and reassurance, while recognizing at times that within the Church and within himself there is much uncertainty and confusion” (Miller & Lawrence 1993:106).

It is important for both the pastoral worker and the careseeker that this boundary position is maintained. The encompassing tendency of institutions exaggerates this tendency towards  dependence (cf Miller 1993:20). Although some degree of dependence is realistic, the pastoral worker, in representing the Kingdom of God and the church, all too easily assumes power and authority beyond his/her boundary role. The careseeker tends, all too easily, to surrender power. Uncontrolled dependency on the pastoral worker presses the latter to feel omnipotent and omniscient. It amplifies the feeling of not-knowing and not-being-able-to-do in careseekers, and of burn-out in counsellors.

Pastoral workers, and more often ministers, believe that they must be available at all hours of the day and night for parishioners. It is well known that pastors often, when asked what is unique about the care they offer, say it is that they are available day and night.

4.2      What direction to go?

4.2.1    Be aware of the “institution in the mind”

Pastoral workers should be well aware that they function within a certain context and situation. People often come to the church, as a religious organisation, to (unconsciously) satisfy their dependency needs. Religious institutions also go through phases of dependency and autonomy.

4.2.2    Carer, counsellor and “manager”

As “manager”, the pastoral worker does not only facilitate the careseeker’s attempts to solve his/her problems, but facilitates the process of oscillation between intra-dependence and extra-dependence. Often, the pastoral worker colludes with the careseeker’s attempts to project his/her extra-dependence needs onto him/her, instead of steering the care seeker towards intra-dependence .

As “manager”, the pastoral worker should be aware that dependence is a reality which  interferes with the pastoral process when ignored. Yet dependence, like a firebreak, is necessary, and  the  pastoral worker must both allow it and contain it.

Containment is only possible if the pastoral worker is in touch with his/her own feelings.

The pastoral worker also goes through phases of extra-dependency and intra-dependency. This means the pastoral worker must be aware of his/her own oscillation process and where in the process they find themselves at any specific moment. The pastoral worker must also be aware of projections, transference and counter-transference taking place and related to themselves or that are placed on them by others.

4.2.3    The church as institution’s role

The church plays a part in the way society deals with its fears, angers and losses. The church as institution and its representatives (in this case pastoral workers) play a part in peoples’ oscillation process. To put it crudely – people use the church. They need it as part of their oscillation between inter- and intra-dependency .

In times of sorrow and crisis, many people turn to the church (pastoral workers) or religion for comfort. The way pastoral workers deal with these careseekers is important. If the church tries to keep them in an extra-dependent state of mind, it may find that, eventually, the normal oscillation process will cause them to move on, often with resentment towards the church or religion and what it stands for – much like a teenager who discovers his/her own independence.

The pastoral worker should help those who tum to the church or religion in times of crisis to  work through this process. Reed (1978: 149) describes it as follows:

The work needed is to convert the input (regression to extra-dependence phase – FN) into an output (transformation to intra-dependence – FN) by controlling the regression in the extra-dependence mode, and facilitating the transition from extra-dependence.

(Diagram adapted from Reed 1978:148)

4.2.4    Think holistically

Make use of liturgy, rituals and available programmes such as that of the church year to help people to discover their own oscillation process.

Most pastoral workers are also actively involved in their local congregation, either as a minister or a lay worker. Congregations and churches also go through this oscillation process and the church year has a built-in cycle which confirms and enhances a move to greater or lesser extra-dependence or interdependence. This should be kept in mind .

“The problem of the leader [of a dependent group -FN] seems always to be how to mobilize emotions associated with the basic assumptions without endangering the  sophisticated  structure  that  appears  to secure to the individual his freedom to be an individual while remaining a member of the group. It was this balance of tensions which I previously described in terms of equilibrium between group mentality, group culture, and individual” (Bion 1962:78).

The pastoral worker also has the task to facilitate the local congregation in becoming one of  the systems which influences careseekers. The liturgy, sermons, ways of worshipping and general functioning of the local congregation in all its actions, all play a role in members’ lives  and enhance certain stages in the oscillation process. In our Reformed family in South Africa, there is often little sensitivity to the church year and the symbolic values of the sacraments. But the church year could help to facilitate a process of intra- and inter-dependence.

4.2.5    Make time-limited appointments

Pastoral workers, and especially ministers, are notoriously bad in setting up time-limited appointments with congregants. Appointments that do not, in advance of or at the start of a session, specify a time limit enables the development of an unhealthy dependency relation. Burn-out among  pastoral  workers  is  a  common phenomenon and there are many reasons for it. One of these is that pastoral workers find it difficult to regulate and limit the time that they are available for other people’ s problems (cf Wessels 1997).

4.2.6    Think systemically

Learn to think systemically and to ask questions about the church’s primary task.

It is important to understand that pastoral work does not take place in isolation. It is not  only the pastoral worker and his/her belief system, or only the pastoral careseeker and their belief system, but also that of the overall system of the church as an organisation that influences the process of pastoral care and counselling.

“Ministers of the Church, then, have to receive, this dependency. Sometimes they get stuck in a paternalistic posture; sometimes they are able to help their parishioners both to recognize the dependency and to discover their own resources and capabilities” (Miller 1993 :1 07).

5       Conclusion

As a full-time minister and later as tentmaking minister, the researcher has observed over the years that it is often those people who are not regular churchgoers who “demand” the most time in pastoral care from him and who make the most appointments to come and see him with problems. There can be many reasons for this experience and it may also say more about the researcher’s style of ministry than about the care-seekers. One possible interpretation of this is that dependency plays a role. It would seems that regular churchgoers may to some extent develop a dependence on God through the church service and liturgy, while non-churchgoers need to make use of the pastor as a representative of God to depend upon. This interpretation is confirmed by elders, who often report that those in the ward who are less involved in church activities often demand more pastoral attention.

It would seem then as if dependency does play a role in the church and that pastoral workers should be aware of it. Bruce Reed helps us not to become negative about dependency, but rather to be aware of it as part of the life cycle that all people and institutions go through. It is important that pastoral workers should think about how to make use of the “dependency” factor in a positive and creative way, so that people would experience a deepening of their faith, which would enable them to become increasingly able to take responsibility for their own lives and to become involved in the lives of other people.

6       Bibliography

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Carr, AW 1997. Handbook of Pastoral Studies. London : SPCK

De Board, R 1978. The Psychoanalysis of Organizations. A Psychoanalytical Approach to Behaviour in Groups and Organizations. London: Routledge Publishers

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Stokes, J 1994. The Unconscious at Work in Groups and Teams: Contributions from the Work of Wilfred Bion, in Obholzer, A & Roberts, V (eds), 19-27

Wessels, S 1997. Julie hoor mekaar nie. Pretoria: CB Powell Bybelsentrum

 Dr Frederik B O Nel (August 1998)

[1] Bion developed his theory in the post-Second World War “Christian” environment of Britian. The church is the symbol for religion as such.