Discussing Needs and Human Social Fabrics

Over the last month my friend Chris and I have been carrying on a dialogue regarding a number of issues related to group and social constructs within the Kingdom of God through the use of the Shapevine Community. It has been particularly in lightning for myself as I have been trying to picture these thought process in my own life and that of the Expressions Community. Recently I have had the hope of continuing this dialogue here in Just Wondering… so that we might begin sharing this conversation with others who might like to join in and contribute to some of the thought patterns. Over the past few weeks I have found Chris to be full of wisdom and although I at times struggle to connect my own thoughts to the social processes we have discussed, I hope we have developed a friendship to which we each can learn from one another as we explore each others characters and passion to serve the community and Kingdom of God.

Bridging from the last post Chris left on Shapevine this is our continued conversation:

Here’s my best attempt at putting these things on paper. I teach this stuff, but always face-to-face, relying on body language to tell me when something I’m saying isn’t making sense. So, I'll do my best here, and you can let me know if you have any questions.

What I'm hoping to share with you is a paradigm shift that I believe is fundamental to the "power-with" social structures presented in my writings on missional community and which I contrast to "power-over" social structures. These concepts may seem minor and ineffectual to you at first, and that's okay. It took me 10 years from the first time I heard this stuff, until it completely "clicked" and when it did, let me tell you, my life has been turned upside down in the most wonderful ways that I could only explain as key to the work of incarnational ministry. I’m honored that you would allow me the space to offer this gift to you. It will take a lot of words for me to get it out there, so I understand if it takes you a while to respond and I once again thank you for bearing with me with this long-winded explanation. I hope you find it engaging!


One of my very wise friends once said to me that everywhere you go in the world, you will see people playing one of two games: The first game is called "Who's Right and Who's Wrong?" It's a game that we all know. And as we all know- it’s a game that never ends well. The game is based on the idea that if you want to instill change in another person, for your benefit or theirs, you use tactics of punishment, reward, shame, duty, coercion, judgement, manipulation, and guilt to get the other person to think like you and submit to your wishes. We all know that's not a very fun game. This game is also called the "power-over" game, because the person that overpowers the other is the winner.

The second game is also a game of power. But in the second game, the power distribution is cooperative/collaborative rather than competitive. It's called "How Can We Enrich One Another's Lives?" This game is based on the idea that it's much more enjoyable and authentic to give and receive freely rather than from coercion. It's also based on the idea that if we are able to collaborate in the midst of conflicts and get to the root of what we are needing in that moment, we can come up with ways to enrich everyone's life without anyone getting the short straw.

To understand these two games, it's necessary to understand three basic components that are at the core of our humanity: • needs, • strategies (to meet needs), and • emotions (which indicate needs).

I think that we can both agree that, as humans, God created us with some basic needs:

Physical needs such as: air, food, movement/exercise, rest/sleep, sexual expression, safety, shelter, touch, and water.

Needs for meaning such as: awareness, celebration of life, challenge, clarity, competence, consciousness, contribution, creativity, discovery, efficacy, effectiveness, growth, hope, learning, mourning, participation, purpose, self-expression, stimulation, to matter, understanding, honesty, authenticity, integrity, presence, play, joy, humor, peace, beauty, communion, ease, equality, harmony, inspiration, and order.

Needs for autonomy such as: choice, freedom, independence, space, and spontaneity.

Interdependence needs such as: connection, acceptance, affection, appreciation, belonging, cooperation, communication, closeness, community, companionship, compassion, consideration, consistency, empathy, inclusion, intimacy, love, mutuality, nurturing, respect/self-respect, safety, security, stability, support, to know and be known, to see and be seen, to understand and be understood, trust, and warmth.

And finally, our spiritual needs- to be in relationship with God, and to contribute to other's relationship with God.

Quite simply- when our needs are being met, we are thriving as human beings, fulfilling our basic nature as God created us. When our needs are not being met, we wither away and die.


Everything we do in every moment of our lives, is an attempt to meet a need within us or another person. Think about it, what have you ever done that wasn't in some way trying to meet a need? Even in our most unproductive moments, we are often trying to meet a need for rest, relief, or safety.

The way that God created us is elegant and beautiful. Since he gave us needs, he designed our bodies with a technology that tells us the state of our needs at any given moment. And that technology is our emotions. Emotions are like the dashboard lights on a car that say "check engine." They indicate the state of our need's metness and unmetness and move us to respond.

There are a whole series of emotions that come up when our needs ARE met, such as: affectionate, amazed, amused, blissful, calm, cheerful, contented, elated, enthusiastic, exhilarated, free, friendly, glad, grateful, happy, hopeful, inspired, interested, joyous, loving, moved, optimistic, peaceful, refreshed, relaxed, satisfied, serene, thankful, thrilled, warm, wonderful, etc... just to name a few.

There are another series of emotions that come up when our needs are NOT being met, such as: afraid, aggravated, agitated, angry, annoyed, anxious, bored, broken, concerned, confused, depressed, detached, disappointed, discouraged, exhausted, fearful, frustrated, gloomy, heavy, horrible, hurt, jealous, lazy, lonely, mournful, panicky, passive, sleepy, uncomfortable, uneasy, upset, withdrawn, worried, etc... again- just to name a few.

The problem is that our emotions are vague at best, and we may decide to take actions that don't meet the needs that are causing the emotion. For example, we feel lonely, because we have a need for connection, so we decide to turn on the TV and it seems to pacify the lonely feeling. Success! (or so we think) We then develop a habit of going to the TV whenever we feel lonely, only to wonder why we are more and more unfulfilled with each passing day and that lonely feeling becomes a constant, dull hum in the back of our minds which we can never entirely escape.


The key is to realize the difference between needs and strategies. Spending time with our best friend is not a need, but a strategy to meet the needs for connection, acceptance, affection, appreciation, etc... Smoking cigarettes is not a need, but a strategy that meets the need for comfort, while sacrificing the need for health. How we dress, how we talk, what friends we choose, what job we work at, what kind of car we drive, our political opinions, the books we read, lifestyle covenants, how we choose to invest our time and money, these are all strategies we come up with to meet needs. The power of distinguishing the two is that once we start to see our needs, and the needs of others, we can begin to find strategies that are purposely attempting to meet them, rather than arbitrarily pacifying emotions, or doing things because it’s “the right thing to do” or because we “have to” or “should” do something based on the demands or expectations of other people.

The realizations that I have made with needs, emotions, and strategies is significant in and of itself when it comes to being able to consciously thrive in the world, but there are further implications of this as well. When we realize that most of the world relates on a strategy-level, we might begin to realize that this results in not only our own unmet needs, but it is the cause of nearly all relational conflict. We approach people often by evaluating their strategies and determining if they are right or wrong. Then we face the decision of whether to confront their "wrongness" with our own "right" strategies. At that point, they have the choice to either submit or rebel. To submit, they would acknowledge that they are wrong and that you are right. To rebel, they would refuse to align with your strategies in favor of their own.

(As an illustration- Ask yourself if you really want your wife to do the dishes because it’s “the right thing to do”, and therefore do them out of obligation, or because she sees it as an opportunity to enrich your life and hers, and therefore does them with joy?)


Some additional thoughts to chew on:

Hearing a "please" or a "thank you" in every difficult message

Everything people say and do to another person can always be boiled down to a "please" or a "thank you." Those pleases and thank yous are always connected to a need, and if we have the eyes to see it, we can connect to any action or word and see it as an opportunity given to us to enrich a life, or an appreciation for an opportunity taken that did enrich life. That is a world of a difference from the right/wrong game that approaches every word and deed as a chance to manipulate through reward and punishment.

Selfishness / Selflessness / Self-FULL-ness

One of the big misunderstandings of "needs consciousness" is that it is selfish. That couldn't be further from the truth. Strategy consciousness is in fact the paradigm where we find the dualism of selfishness and self-lessness. Selfishness is the attempt for a win/lose situation and it is the same as rebelling. Self-lessness is also attempting for a win/lose situation and it is the same as submitting. In both selfishness and self-fullness, the goal is win/lose, but the outcome is always lose/lose because it sets up a "my needs vs your needs" schema, which denies the "winner" of the opportunity to enrich the "loser's" life.

The alternative is "self-FULLness." Self-fullness is to attempt a win/win and it is the same as humility. Not the self-deprecating type of humility that is promoted in many churches today, but true, biblical humility, which is simply a full acknowledgement of what we are: human. Not God, but human. No less, and no more. Needs are one of the most powerful characteristics of humanity, because every one of us has the same needs, and no matter how different our strategies all might be, at the root of it all is a human with human needs. Needs are cross-cultural, cross-gender, the same for children as for adults. The only people that don't have needs are dead people.

The difference between us humans in regards to needs, are the metness or unmetness, and aliveness or dormancy of those needs. A child, for instance, still has a need for sexual expression, but that need is dormant within them. Someone who is struggling for survival, lost in the wilderness, has a need for play just like the rest of us, but at that moment, it is not what's most alive for them. For some people, the need for a relationship with God is dormant, but it is still there, and sooner or later will rise to the surface.

With regards to truth

Another misunderstanding of needs-consciousness is that it is relativistic in regards to the truth. This also, could not be farther from reality. Both the right/wrongers and the needs-conscious people believe in truth. The right/wrong thinkers attempt to over-simplify truth into two broad categories of right/wrong, good/bad, etc... The need-conscious people want to know what needs were met or not met in a particular situation. They recognize that most things deemed “good” have negative consequences and most things deemed “bad” have at least some positive consequences, and they want to have full information, and not an over-simplified generalization of the truth.


My definition of power is “the ability to unleash resources to meet needs.” The more money we have, the more resources we have to meet needs for shelter, food, and certain forms of play and comfort. In this way, money is power. The more friends we have, the more resources we have for support, comfort, empathy, connection, etc... In this way, having friends is power. The more education we have, the more resources we have for understanding, empathy, contribution to others, etc.... In this way, education is power. Money, friends, education,.... these are all resources to meet needs. When people fix their eyes on one particular way of making money, and don’t see the vast world of opportunity, they don’t have much power. When people put all their relational needs on one person, they are limiting their relational resources and therefore, don’t have much power. The way to empower people is to simply help them become aware of the needs they are trying to meet. When they take their eyes off of those limited number of strategies and resources, and become aware of needs, they can then see that the world is full of vast resources to meet their needs, which then opens up worlds of opportunity that can make creative, win/win strategies more possible, thus giving us peace on earth (or at least that’s the idea).


In Summary

When we ask ourselves what’s wrong with a situation (like some of the situations you have described to me), we might rely on our gut to tell us, we might rely on the WWJD question or Bible verses taken out of context, we might rely on what will best avoid conflict with our spouse or friends, we might rely on what feels best in the moment, we might rely on what will make us most popular, the list goes on and on of ways that we come to know what to do with a wrong situation. And very seldom do all these voices ever agree, so be prepared for confusion.

When we ask ourselves what needs are and aren’t being met in a situation, all we need to do is get in touch with our needs, the needs of other people, and the needs of God and ask ourselves what needs are most alive for us all in the present moment, and if we can think of a better way to meet them if they’re not being met, and celebrate if they are!

So, whenever anything is troubling us, we can ask ourselves what’s wrong and how to make it right (if we want to be confused) or we can ask ourselves what needs aren’t being met (if we want to have the clarity to live authentically, effectively, and intimately with ourselves, others, and God.)

Well.... as much of a mouthful as that was, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! I tell you- I could write a book about this stuff. There really is a lot more. But I’m gonna stop there so I don’t overwhelm you with more than you can chew on.

Let me know what you think and if this resonates with you or not, and if you have any questions I’d be blessed to hear them!

Best regards, Chris