Leading a Healthy Church Culture - Lesson 2

Remembering Our Leaders

In this lesson, you will explore the characteristics of a healthy church culture, the importance of a healthy church culture, and the dangers of an unhealthy church culture. The lesson will also help you to identify the symptoms of an unhealthy church culture and address them through biblical leadership, communication, and conflict resolution. 

Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Lesson 2
Watching Now
Remembering Our Leaders

I. Defining Healthy Church Culture

A. Characteristics of a Healthy Church Culture

B. The Importance of a Healthy Church Culture

C. The Dangers of an Unhealthy Church Culture

II. Diagnosing and Addressing Unhealthy Church Culture

A. Identifying Symptoms of Unhealthy Church Culture

B. Addressing Unhealthy Church Culture through Biblical Leadership

C. Addressing Unhealthy Church Culture through Communication and Conflict Resolution

III. Cultivating a Healthy Church Culture

A. Developing Healthy Church Practices

B. Prioritizing Spiritual Formation

C. Establishing Healthy Leadership Structures

D. Encouraging a Culture of Grace and Forgiveness

  • This lesson covers 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, and importance 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.
  • 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.
  • This lesson covers Luke 5, gleaning lessons regarding Jesus' leadership and the four pillars of Christian leadership, which are relationship, influence, follower potential, and common purpose.
  • 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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Dr. Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Remembering Our Leaders
Lesson Transcript

Well, as we think about this exhortation from Hebrews, remember your leaders, we would be remiss if we just walked away from it now, and so I'd like us to remember our leaders. Stored in your memory bank are images of some leaders in your past. Even as we read this verse, you may have recalled one or two leaders or more that have had an impact on your life. Now, when I say the word leader, maybe the faces of some people emerge on to your mental screen, the face of a leader that you've known personally.  Maybe he or she is still living. Maybe that leader is a believer serving faithfully in the marketplace. Maybe that leader is a leader in the church or in business or in education or in the military, or what have you. Maybe this leader doesn't have a formal position or a formal title, but has influenced you personally and profoundly. As you think of that leader, do you have somebody in your mind's eye?  

I'd like you to think of the leader who has impacted you most profoundly. Who is that leader? Can you think about that? Now, maybe there's two or three or four, but I'd like you to zero in on one. Who is that leader? What leader comes to mind right now? And I'd like you to think about that leader and have that leader's image and name in your mind. And then I'd like you to think about this one question just alone for a second, and then I'd like you to share with your partner the answer to this question. What is the one leadership characteristic that was special about this person? What is the one leadership characteristic that impacted you so much about this person? It can be whatever. So who is the person? And what was it about that leader that had such a profound influence and impact upon you? Can you think about that for just a moment? … Well, let's take a little bit of time and share together, if you'd be willing to do that. We're called in the Scriptures to remember, and in so remembering our leaders, we are actually remembering Jesus’ faithfulness to us and to others. And so I wonder if we could share out loud just like the Israelites did. And sometimes when we do this little exercise in different parts of the world, I ask the participants to go out and find a rock, and we have actually built little Altars of Remembrance. There's actually a church in Kansas City now that has a whole wall of rocks because they do this exercise on a normal basis, and it's just an exciting thing to see. But I would like to write down what it was about that person that so influenced you, so who is it, and what was it about that person?  

STUDENT 1:  It's my mother, Sonya. 

Mm hmm. And what was it about your mother? 

STUDENT 1:  If I have to pinpoint one thing, I think it's her principles. 


Student 1:  Living by principles and passing them down. 

All right, thank you. The outcome of her living. Sure. 

STUDENT 2:  A man comes to mind whose name is Stan, and just perseverance and commitment to excellence. 

So perseverance. 

STUDENT 3:  My mother, and she was the religious leader of our family and just lived a Christ-centered life. 

Thank you. 

STUDENT 4:  I'm going to say several words and you can pick out which one you want. Randy, and he makes it safe for me to be who I am and for Christ to come out of who I am.  Part of that's playfulness with which He approaches it to make it safe; part of that's the kindness and the compassion; part of that’s tapping on the shoulder and calling, but it's that believing in or calling out Christ. 

Okay, I heard makes it safe to follow Christ.

STUDENT 5:  For me it was Scott ______ [05:35], who was a college pastor here a year ago when I was in school, and he was a great mentor and invested a lot in me and other people as well, and, yeah, he was really important to my growth. 

Okay, thank you, invested in you.  

STUDENT 6:  My ______ [06:04] pastor, and the word I would use is he was very authentic and just very real; his faith was authentic, and you knew he loved you because it was all consistent. 

Thank you. 

STUDENT 7:  A college roommate that was just confident in the scriptures. 

Confident in the scriptures. 

STUDENT 8:  ____ [06:38] and Mark were two guys who were convinced of the truth of the gospel and showed it. 

Thank you. Well, that's wonderful. As you look at those descriptors of the things that so impacted us in our lives from these leaders, what do you see? And what did you hear as you heard the names of people being… What patterns did you notice? What did you see? What did you hear? 

STUDENT 4:  Investment, somebody’s relationship. And so somebody spends time breathing into you, so somebody believes in you enough or finds you worthy enough to breathe into you.  

So committed to relationship, yeah, okay. 

STUDENT 6:  Committed to Christ, too.

Committed to Christ, yeah. 

STUDENT 3:  Someone who's consistent.

Consistency. Are those descriptors about skills or are they about character?  

STUDENT 4:  Like character. It's character because the skills would be how they do it, how they go about doing that.

It's interesting. I asked the question, what was it? It was an open-ended question, what was it? And as I've done this with probably 50 groups over the years in country after country, around the world, it's consistent that what people mention are the character traits of people almost all the time; they talk about who that person was.  They believed in me. They loved me. They were people of character. They were people of perseverance and consistency and all those types of things that you have just mentioned. That doesn't say that for leadership it's not important to learn skills, but those things that most impact us about leaders is all about the character, is all about who they are and how that comes out on a consistent basis to us. The other thing that I noticed, and as you began to name the people around the circle, how many of those people that you named are famous people?  

STUDENT 3:  Well, President of the United States is up there.  

Well, we won't talk about that… How many of them are famous people? I didn't know any of the people you mentioned. And again, as I do this little exercise with people all around the world, it’s the same.  I would say that at least 95% of the time, people mention people that have profoundly impacted their lives that nobody else in the room even knows who they are. Now, that to me is the most exciting part of this whole process, because it says to us that God is faithful, and he is changing the world. You know, we have on the pedestal these high profile leaders, these famous leaders, and that's not to criticize them, because they have their place.  But the people that are really impacting the world today, folks, is people like you and me. It's the people in the trenches. It's the people that that live and breathe beside us each and every day. And I just get so emotionally excited about this, these verses when I think about this and go through this little exercise because the reality is that's what it means when Jesus said he's faithful today just like he was yesterday, and he will be tomorrow. He's raising up leaders in our lives that have impacted us, and guess who he's going to use to impact others. Those in this circle. That's what this is all about. He is faithful. He is continuing to raise up leaders like you, like you, like me, in order to impact, literally to change the world. That's how it happens. And as I said, the high profile leaders have their place, but it's really about the people in this room that have the opportunity to have that kind of impact and influence.  

I'd like to just take a moment and share my own story. I was in seminary. I went to Columbia Biblical Seminary in South Carolina, and I had graduated from Bible College, and in Bible College I'd taken theology and Bible and all these pastoral courses, and I applied in my denomination to go into the pastorage. And I wrote to all the districts in the nation in my denomination and didn't get one letter in response. So I'm not sure what that was about, but I didn't know what else to do, so I went to seminary.  The second year in seminary, I was just really so fired up and I wanted to share all this stuff with somebody, so I convinced a little church that was about 70 miles from the school to take me on as their pastor. They needed a weekend pastor.  There were 45 of them. They were farmers, and they were sitting out in the middle of a cornfield, their church was, and there were 45 of them, and I was in seminary studying infralapsarianism and the sovereignty of God and all this stuff, you know, I was taking Greek and Hebrew, and I was fired up and ready to go; you know, I just had to unload this thing on somebody. So I showed up at this little church and began to preach, and I figured out a way to preach four times every Sunday, and so I preached during Sunday school and then in the morning service and then during training union at night and then again in the evening. And I started in John chapter one, and I started sharing with these farmers the Greek and the Hebrew and exegeting these verses, and I was going to it, and I was sharing with them the best theology that they'd ever heard in their lives. And so the church over a period of weeks grew from 45 to 35 and then from 35 to 25 and then from 25 to 15, and then finally it got down to six people, and I didn't know what was going on; I had no idea what the problem was. I was just, you know, the less people were there, the more I screamed, and so I just kept giving it to them.  

You know, I was a weekend pastor. I would go to school during the week and then my wife and I would get in the car and drive to the church on the weekends and we'd spend the weekend.  So during the time I was at school, during the week, unbeknownst to me, they got together, and they decided they were going to have a revival in this little church. And so they invited an evangelist that was a great big guy, and he had been WWF wrestler at one time -- you know, the World Wrestling Federation thing -- and they invited him, and he didn't have any teeth, and he didn't have any education, but he began to preach to these people, to share the gospel with these people, and people began to come to Christ, and they kept coming to Christ, and the revival went from one week to two weeks and then from two weeks to three weeks. By this time, I looked at this, and I had no idea what in the world was going on, so I resigned from the church and decided that I didn't want to be a pastor; I didn't want to be involved with church ministry at all.  

Well, because I resigned, they invited this guy to be their pastor, and in order to be their pastor, they had to become a Baptist church rather than a Methodist church, if you can believe that. So they did that. The church began to grow, and they had to add on all that, you know, to my great sadness, all this was happening. Anyway, I went back to school and was to finish my last year in seminary, and I decided at that point that I didn't want to be in ministry at all, and my wife and I decided that we were going to go to graduate school, and I was going to get a counseling degree, and I'd been accepted to go to Trinity in Chicago to get a counseling degree.

By the way, that would have been a horrible mistake because Tim knows I'm not a counselor. But anyway, you know, I was getting ready, and my wife was graduating from undergrad, and I was finishing the seminary, and we had just graduated, and we were just about to pack our truck to go to Chicago, to move and go to graduate studies, to study psychology and counseling, when my phone rang.  It was a pastor that I'd never met before; somehow he got my name from some other distant person, and he called me. He was looking for an assistant pastor. He lived in York, Pennsylvania.  

Now, mind you, I had grown up here in the Raleigh area and had gone to school in Georgia and then in South Carolina and literally had never traveled north of the Mason-Dixon Line my whole life. And so he called from Pennsylvania, from York, Pennsylvania, and he said, “I'm looking for a youth pastor. Are you interested?” and I said, “Nope.” I said, “I don't have any interest in being in the ministry.” He said, “Are you sure?” I said, “I'm sure.” He’d heard about what I'd been through, interestingly enough, and he said, “I think you're ready to learn.” and I said, “Brother, I'm not interested.” He said, “Look, would you just be willing to come up to visit the church? There's nothing to lose.” You know, I was a poor seminary student, and he was going to give me a free weekend, good food and all this, so I decided to go. And during that weekend, he said something to me -- David Muir's his name -- he said something to me that was to change my life.  He said, “Rick, if you'll come here to be assistant pastor at our church, it won't be so much for what you can do for the church, but what we can do for you.” And I can never tell that story without getting emotional, because that experience transformed my life, and it's why I do what I do today, because as I went to work with this pastor, he invested his life in me.  

He had three years of Bible college education. I had this seminary degree (didn't bother him!), but he poured his life into me. He loved me. He was a disciplinarian; man, he would kick my - - - in the right place when I needed it, but he always loved me, despite my mistakes. I’ll never forget the first sermon I preached. He pulled me in his office and he said, “You had all the right tools, you did all the right exegesis, but what exactly were you trying to say?” But that was the kind of relationship that we had. We pushed brooms together. I learned to serve with him as we built on an addition to the church, and so on. I have gone on to serve in various capacities around the world, as I've told you, but in so many ways what I do today is a debt of gratitude for David Muir. Several years ago, David had a stroke and he was in a wheelchair, but when I called him on the phone, he was just beaming, talking about the young man that he was mentoring at that time. He was still doing it, and although he never left Pennsylvania in his life, he impacted the planet through people like myself.

And so that's the power of remembering leaders and God's faithfulness in our lives. So thank you for letting me share that. David passed away about two years ago, and it was just amazing to see the number of people that came and were sharing their gratitude for this man that never traveled outside of Pennsylvania. I remember, he went to Mexico one time and got so sick, he said, “I'll never travel again.” But his life literally changed the world because of the people he invested in. So I thank God for these memories of people in my life. So it's a great thing to remember; it's a great thing to remember God's faithfulness and what he's done for us in the past.

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