Leading a Healthy Church Culture - Lesson 1

Introduction to Leading a Healthy Church Culture

This lesson on Leading a Healthy Church Culture explores the definition and importance of church culture, characteristics of a healthy church culture, and the biblical foundation of church culture as a family, a body, and a flock. The lesson also delves into diagnosing the health of a church culture, including identifying symptoms and root causes of an unhealthy culture and assessing its overall health. Finally, the lesson covers cultivating a healthy church culture by prioritizing relationships, creating a safe and welcoming environment, nurturing spiritual growth, empowering and equipping the congregation, and celebrating and honoring God's work.

Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Lesson 1
Watching Now
Introduction to Leading a Healthy Church Culture

I. Introduction

A. Definition of Church Culture

B. Importance of a Healthy Church Culture

C. Characteristics of a Healthy Church Culture

II. Understanding the Biblical Foundation of Church Culture

A. The Church as a Family

B. The Church as a Body

C. The Church as a Flock

III. Diagnosing the Health of Your Church Culture

A. Identifying Symptoms of an Unhealthy Church Culture

B. Identifying the Root Causes of an Unhealthy Church Culture

C. Assessing the Health of Your Church Culture

IV. Cultivating a Healthy Church Culture

A. Prioritizing Relationships

B. Creating a Safe and Welcoming Environment

C. Nurturing Spiritual Growth

D. Empowering and Equipping the Congregation

E. Celebrating and Honoring God's Work

V. Conclusion

A. Recap of Key Points

B. Call to Action

Class Resources
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the importance and characteristics of a healthy church culture, the biblical foundation of church culture, diagnosing the health of a church culture, and cultivating a healthy church culture through prioritizing relationships, creating a safe environment, nurturing spiritual growth, empowering the congregation, and celebrating God's work.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the characteristics, importance, and dangers of a healthy church culture, how to diagnose and address unhealthy church culture through biblical leadership and communication, and how to cultivate a healthy church culture through developing healthy practices, prioritizing spiritual formation, establishing healthy leadership structures, and encouraging a culture of grace and forgiveness.
  • You will gain insight into how to lead a healthy church culture by learning about the importance of healthy leadership, building healthy relationships, establishing healthy structures, and implementing healthy practices.
  • In this lesson, the class discusses a fictional case study called "The Shadow of a Leader," which describes the decline of a Christian leader named Dr. Robert Avella, who became obsessed with power and control over time, causing damage to the ministry and losing trust in his team, as they reflect on the early and later stages of his leadership.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the challenges and pitfalls of leadership, particularly when leaders lose focus on their spiritual values, become driven by fear and control, and lack accountability and community support. By understanding these factors, you can recognize and address toxic leadership in various contexts.
  • By engaging with this lesson, you will gain insight into the complex dynamics of power and control in leadership, the prevalence of misused power within the Christian church, and the critical importance of fostering accountability and community to maintain a healthy balance of power.
  • This lesson explores Jesus' unique leadership style in the context of the foot-washing event in John 13:1-17, highlighting principles such as leading from a secure sense of self, addressing the deepest needs of followers, and paying it forward through service to others.
  • This lesson teaches you about the significance of developing a Christ-centered church culture, including the exploration of culture's components and the positive and negative aspects it can have within a church setting. You will also learn about the role of leadership in building a healthy church culture, adapting to change, and overcoming challenges.
  • This lesson provides insight into church culture by examining its components, revealing how assumptions and values impact products and practices, and discussing the importance of addressing these core beliefs and assumptions for lasting change.
  • This lesson examines assumptions and worldviews in church leadership by comparing different mental constructs and their influence on leadership values and roles, while also exploring the machine metaphor's impact on organizational life and the new generation's response to this worldview.
  • In this lesson, you learn the importance of cultivating and nourishing people in a garden model of leadership, comparing it to the machine model, and discovering how various biblical metaphors shape the understanding of the church. Emphasizing core beliefs and values, you realize effective leadership focuses on following Christ and maintaining the right attitudes.
  • You will gain insights into the importance of leadership in creating a healthy church culture, including the role of leadership in setting the tone and creating an environment that fosters spiritual growth, discipleship, and healthy relationships. You will also learn about the characteristics of a healthy church culture, practical steps for building a healthy church culture, and the challenges and obstacles to building a healthy church culture.
  • By studying this lesson, you will gain knowledge and insight into the importance of creating a healthy church culture and practical steps for doing so, including the role of leaders in modeling and promoting a healthy culture, building relationships, developing a shared vision, fostering communication, and encouraging accountability.
  • You will learn about Jesus' leadership and the four pillars of Christian leadership, which are relationship, influence, follower potential, and common purpose. The lesson focuses on Luke chapter 5, where Jesus uses Simon's boat to talk to the people and then miraculously provides a catch of fish, transforming Simon's life.
  • As you go through the lesson, you will learn about the four primary handles for developing a healthy church culture, which are stories, rituals, symbols, and power structures, and how they shape the values that become the real values within a culture.
  • By understanding the importance of what we measure, we can determine what is significant to us. Measuring something objectively makes it valuable, while not measuring something can result in losing its importance. The example of churches measuring attendance and donations is used to highlight this point, and the lesson suggests that churches should also measure other important aspects like outreach, discipleship, and community service.
  • This lesson discusses how Jesus prepared his disciples to establish the church, and how his actions and values during his time with them set the groundwork for the culture of the church; you are encouraged to explore the principles Jesus instilled in his disciples by examining specific stories, such as the healing of the demon-possessed man and the clearing of the temple.
  • Learn to lead a healthy church culture by analyzing current values, identifying actual values, and creating a strategy matrix to establish and support desired values using four embedding mechanisms.

This course is one of many taught by Dr. Rick Sessoms. It can be taken as a stand alone course, or as a part of the Christ-Centered Leadership Certificate. 

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Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Introduction to Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Lesson Transcript

Well, welcome to this opportunity to learn together about leadership. We have the opportunity to join together in this time to learn together. I believe that all of us know more than any one of us about leadership. And so we have the opportunity to learn together. This will be a journey over these weeks. So I want to welcome you. And this first course is a series of four courses. This first course is entitled “Leading a Healthy Church Culture.” The course “Leading a Healthy Church Culture” is the anchor course of these four courses that we're going to be working through together over the weeks to come. The twofold focus of this course is, first of all, to explore together what it means to be a Christ-centered leader. And now when I say Christ centered, it probably brings a lot of things to your mind. We'll work through what that's all about as we go here and learn together what that implies. The second thing that this course is focused on is to explore together what it means to lead a Christ-centered church, or a healthy church as the title states.  We define a healthy church as one that is authentically applying Christ-centered values in all that they do. And so that's what we mean by saying ‘healthy’ and ‘Christ centered’ are synonymous in the language that we're going to be using in this course.  

Culture is central to our discussion, and as you see in the title, the culture of a church, I believe, is so very important. In fact, I believe the primary role of a 21st century church leader is to craft and to care for the culture of the church.  Let me say that again. I believe the primary role for a 21st century leader in the church is to craft and to care for the culture of the church. When they lead the church toward a Christ-centered culture, then other organizational issues tend to fall in line.  

Let me introduce myself, and then I'd like to have each of you introduce yourselves briefly and share with us just a bit about yourself and what you do for a living and something about your family, perhaps; I'd just like to get acquainted with you. Probably the couple of things to know about me is that first of all, I love Jesus. I've been following him since I was about 17 years old. I'm a lot older than that now.  And I love working with leaders. I get the chance to work with leaders in many parts of the world; I have been in about 40 countries around the world working with leaders over the years. I used to be a pastor, and I love pastors, and I believe that pastors have some of the hardest work on earth to do. Having been in their shoes, it's obvious to me that they have a tough job, and so I want to do everything that I can to support the local church because with all of its faults and shortcomings, I believe in the church. I believe that God has ordained the church to be the primary means through which the Great Commandment and the Great Commission are fulfilled. So I'm all about the church and all about those who lead the church, and I believe in the church with all my heart.

As I said, I was a pastor of a couple of churches and had the opportunity to see from the inside what that's all about. I have also been a missionary in Indonesia. My wife and I served there for a number of years. In 1994, I got involved with developing leaders and have been doing that sinceglobally as well as here in the States. So that's a little bit about me. As I said, this is going to be an interactive experience.  I believe that adults learn best when they're talking and when they're engaging. And I hope that we can laugh together. We may end up crying together, but at least laugh together, and we will learn through one another's experiences because that, I believe, is how adults learn best.  

So I'd like to begin with a couple of verses from the Scriptures.  If you need to turn to be able to see that, or if you want to look in your Bible, you're welcome to do that as well. It's Hebrews Chapter 13, verses 7 and 8. The verses say, “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Remember your leaders.  

We're not sure who wrote Hebrews, so I'll refer to the person as the writer. The writer here calls us, directs us, in fact, commands us to remember our leaders. This is a directive to remember the leaders in our past and perhaps in our present lives. You know, as I was thinking about this verse, it occurs to me that remembering is actually one of the spiritual disciplines in the Bible, even though it doesn't get a lot of press. Whenever you read something on the spiritual disciplines, you generally read about worship and prayer and Scripture reading and service and maybe even meditation and fasting and so forth, but remembering doesn't often make the list. And yet, as we look through Scripture, this thread of remembering is there.  

It starts there when God created the world; on the seventh day, he rested, and he said, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” So it's right there in the Pentateuch. And then we turn to Joshua chapter four, as the Israelites had just crossed the Jordan. You remember the story. Joshua had led them into the Promised Land, and just after they had crossed the river, God instructed Joshua -- you remember the story -- to appoint twelve men representing the twelve tribes of Israel and to go back to the dry riverbed and to take up twelve stones. And I can imagine those guys were pretty nervous -- when is this thing going to let loose upstream? But they did. They went back and they chose twelve simple stones, and they created an altar of remembrance there in Gilead just on the other side. And those famous words from Joshua chapter four and beginning at the end of verse five, “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribe of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you.  In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD.  When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.’” It's an opportunity to remember when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” You know, there were going to be difficult times ahead. This was the Promised Land, but it wasn't paradise. And so there were going to be times as time went on when they'd even want to maybe go back to where they'd come from. But they had to pass that simple pile of stones. And the children would ask them, Mom, Dad, what do these stones mean? And their parents would tell them again the story, remembering God's faithfulness to deliver his people.  

Of course, over in the New Testament, then, when we read in Jesus’ last hours with his disciples, he broke the bread and passed the cup. And the Apostle Paul in first Corinthians 11, reflecting on that, said as you take the bread and as you take the cup, remember; do this in remembrance of me, Jesus said. So there it is again. Remembering God's faithfulness is just threaded through the journey of the Scripture. It's a God-ordained discipline, and here it is again in Hebrews chapter 13; we’re to remember our leaders.  

You know, I was thinking a bit about this remembering issue, and I don't know about you, but for me, it's easy for me to remember the bad things that have happened in life. I remember the slights, the hurts, the disappointments, and there are those for all of us, and those are legitimate things, and some things we shouldn't forget or they may happen again.  But the reality is, God calls us to this discipline of remembering because it's a reminder that in the difficult journey of life that God has been faithful. He's been faithful in the past, he is faithful today, and he will continue to be faithful in the future. So what are we to remember about these leaders? What did the verse say? You tell me. What does it say that we're to remember about these leaders?  

I underlined that word ‘outcome’ [in Hebrews 13:7] -- that was not inspired, by the way, to underline that -- but I underlined that because that word outcome really stands out in this verse; as we think about what they said to us, we also are called to remember to consider the outcome of their way of life. That's such an important word because it helps us to focus on the long-term results of their words, their attitudes, the behaviors; what their behaviors over time produced, what was the sum total of their way of life. It doesn't just say consider their way of life, but it says to consider the outcome of their way of life.  

Condoleezza Rice wrote a book recently, and she made a statement in there that was really striking. (Of course, Condoleezza Rice was former U.S. secretary of state.) She said that “Today's headlines and history's judgments are rarely the same. If you are too attentive to the former, you will most certainly not do the hard work of securing the latter.”  A powerful statement.  In Connie Rice's book, No Higher Honor -- has anybody read that? It's just a really good book -- she mentions that in her office in the White House, they were allowed to have portraits of people that were their heroes.  Connie Rice had several former U.S. leaders on the walls of her office, and one of those leaders was a historical figure named William Seward.  

Not a likely choice, really, to grace the walls of most because William Seward was a U.S. senator, and he was secretary of state under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. And Seward was a dominant figure in the Republican Party in its formative years and was widely regarded as a leading contender for the party's presidential nomination in 1860. However, his outspoken opposition to the spread of slavery in the years leading up to the American Civil War most likely cost him the nomination. But perhaps Seward is known best for his purchase of Alaska. That may be where you've heard his name.  As Johnson's Secretary of state, Seward engineered a deal to pay Russia seven million dollars for what was considered at that time an ice box. When the purchase was ratified in the Senate in 1867, Seward was severely criticized. The decision became known at the time as ‘Seward's Folly’ Seward lost the nomination of his party in 1860 and was excoriated for purchasing Alaska seven years later. But his convictions displayed a resolved long view that changed the fate and the face of the United States of America. His contemporary, Carl Schurz, describes Seward as one of those spirits who sometimes will go ahead of public opinion instead of tamely following its footprints.  

The defense minister of Russia recently visited Alaska with Connie Rice and said to her, “It's so beautiful. It reminds me of Russia.” And she said, “It used to be.” Seward did the hard work of leadership by attending less to today's headlines and more to history's judgments. And I think that's what the writer of Hebrews was getting at when he said consider the outcome, other way of life, the long view. Our current leadership climate expects coaches and pastors and CEOs and presidents to produce instant results. Nevertheless, the words penned by the writer of Hebrews still champion those like Seward.  Remember your leaders and consider the outcome of their way of life. Throughout the centuries, the long view has been the way to secure the future.  

And then somebody mentioned that we're also to remember their faith. But it says something more specifically about that. What does it say?  It says to imitate their faith. Why do you suppose that the emphasis here is on faith? If I had been writing this verse, I would probably have said -- given the way that I think logically -- consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their way of life. But that's not what it says; it says consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Their outcome was based on their faith.  

STUDENT 1:  Their outcome was based on their faith.  

Their outcome was based on their faith.  Unpack that a little bit. What does that mean?  

STUDENT 1:  What we tend to miss when we read this is the trials and tribulations that it took to get to that. In other words, their testimony, their outcome, came with a great deal of pain, suffering, sacrifice and surrender. You don't see that in these words. But to get there, you've got to get there through faith. You've got to believe in the Lord's Prayer that says not my kingdom and not my will, not my power, not my glory, but yours, Lord. That takes faith. And so here's a group of men who lived that, so their outcome was a testimony that they lived on something other than themselves. 

So the only way to get to that outcome is through the travail of faith, if you will, yeah. Any other thoughts? That's great. Any other? 

STUDENT 2:  On the outcome I think along the same lines; it's easy to read into that if you kind of just think of leaders and consider who they are and their way of life and their outcome, thinking it was successful? is what we would term success? But what that’s saying is outside of how we would measure success. It's their faith.  

Yeah, excellent. Other thoughts?  

STUDENT 3:  And it was that they spoke the word of God. So it wasn't something of themselves, some strength they had or some characteristic, but it was all faith.  

It was about faith. Without faith it’s really impossible to please God, isn't it? Yeah.  

The other thing that strikes me, and I don't know whether this is right or not, I don't know whether this is interpreting the text correctly, but the other thing that strikes me is that it doesn't say to consider their way of life and imitate their way of life because God doesn't want clones. And sometimes we look at leaders and we say, I want to be like him or I want to be like her. I want to, you know, clone that. A lot of pastors want to be like Rick Warren or be like Bill Hybels, or whoever.  But the reality is, God isn't into cookie cutter-type leaders. He's calling us to be ourselves, to live in our own skin, and to imitate the faith, because that's really what pleases God. And he has made us all unique, and he isn't calling us to copy one another, but to be the design that he's called us to be.  

So I get very excited about these verses, particularly the last verse here, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  I've heard this verse talked about, I've heard this verse preached about in countless sermons and countless seminars, but very seldom in context with the previous verse. And that's kind of odd, isn't it?  In the context with the previous verse, this statement expresses that Jesus is the ultimate leader. And his commitment to raise up leaders for his church has not changed. This mandate from Hebrews is my favorite biblical text on leadership -- some have called it the leadership mandate -- because it contains all kinds of hope. It contains that hope that cannot be dashed. It implies here that Jesus was the one who went before us, he is the one who is with us today, he is the same until tomorrow, and the one who is faithful to raise up leaders in past generations and will raise up leaders in our present generation, and that's such an encouraging message in today's world.  

You know, in my work with leaders, sometimes I get to see really good leaders, and sometimes I get to see not so good leaders, and sometimes I see the ugly behind the veil when it comes to leadership. It comes with the territory of what we do. But through it all, we have this enduring hope because the head of the church is still the head of the church. And as we think about this exhortation from Hebrews, he's calling us to remember our leaders who spoke the word to us faithfully, who lived faithfully, and to consider the outcome of their way of life, imitate that faith, and remember that Jesus is the same. He does not change. He will continue to build his church because he's promised to do that.  That encourages me.  I don't know about you, but it just pumpsme up every time I come to these verses, because of what they contain in terms of hope for the future of the church, because the one who calls us is faithful.


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