Leading a Healthy Church Culture - Lesson 4

The Shadow of a Leader - Case Study

The lesson reviews the fictional case study called "The Shadow of a Leader," which tells the story of Dr. Robert Avella and his journey as a leader. It highlights challenges faced by leaders in the 21st century and how Christ-centered leadership can help address them. The story begins with Dr. Avella being celebrated for his 20 years of successful ministry and being ordained as the President of the Grace of God denomination. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Dr. Avella's leadership style had changed over the years. Initially, he was a team player who inspired others with his vision and encouragement, but later, he began to suffer from Big Boss syndrome and became increasingly controlling. The story shows how the misuse of power and a lack of trust in others can lead to a decay in morale and loss of talented staff members. 

Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Lesson 4
Watching Now
The Shadow of a Leader - Case Study

Leadership in the 21st Century Church

I. Case Study: The Shadow of a Leader

A. Introduction

B. Celebration of Dr. Robert Abela

C. Dr. Abela's Successful Ministry

D. Dr. Abela's Ordination

E. Rise of Dr. Abela to Presidency

F. Charge to Awaken from Slumber

  • 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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The Shadow of a Leader - Case Study
Lesson Transcript

So we've been talking about remembering our leaders, and we've moved from there to discuss some of the challenges in the 21st century of leading that I believe that Christ-centered leadership addresses, and we'll get to that in a while. Before we do that, I'd like us to launch into a case study called “The Shadow of a Leader.” This is not a true story; it's a fictional story, but you may recognize some of the characters as we go along. I’ve asked Tim if he would read this for us.  Let's follow along as Tim reads. 

TIM:  The shadow of the Leader.  “The crowd listened attentively as the program began. This celebration was organized to recognize Dr. Robert Avella and his 20 years of successful ministry. In addition, Dr. Avella was to be ordained as the President of the Grace of God denomination in the country of Acadia. Praise for Dr. Avella was deserved in many ways. Dr. Avella had been a young, gifted Christian leader. He had been a consistent voice for integrity and change in the church and in his community. He had founded the Fishers of Men Ministry, FMM, as a ministry of equipping church leaders to reach their own people. Everyone rose to their feet as Dr. Robert Avella was announced as the new President of the Grace of God denomination. The charge was given for all to awaken from their slumber and make the Grace of God denomination in the shadow of a great leader.  No one in the audience would disagree with the impact of Dr. Avella’s ministry. But one person was overheard to say, “If Fishers of Men Ministries is shadow, then the Grace of God denomination is in trouble,” a cruel assessment, looking back.  Few would say that Robert, as everyone had called him in 1990, was the same person who was on the platform in 2010. Mary and Sergio, the only two members of the original Fishers of Men Ministry Team, left the celebration and talked about how Robert and FMM had changed. The first years of FMM were exciting. At the time, Robert was 45 years old. He’d grown up with a father who ruled with an iron hand.  Because Robert was adventurous, he often was harshly punished as a child. In fact, he could never forget his father's most often used words, “You fool, can't you do anything right?” Robert was also ridiculed by others when he was growing up because of his intelligence. He could still remember times of great loneliness and rejection. When he became an adult, he was driven to make a difference. When the opportunity came, he started FMM.  Even though he now enjoyed a great deal of success, there was always a nagging sense of self-doubt and insecurity. Early on, Robert was a team player and inspired others with his vision and encouragement. Churches welcomed FMM's evangelism training, which proved ideal for those who were eager to reach their friends for Christ. As FMM grew under Robert's leadership, he was invited to travel and teach and in the process became a sought-after conference speaker. It wasn't long, however, before the early signs of big boss sickness began to appear. At first, no one seemed to notice. There was no objection when Robert took a large office. After all, this is common among church leaders in Acadia, as is the privilege of a car and a driver. Mary and Sergio could not help remembering, however, that Robert had previously lived a humble and simple life.  Also, no one seemed to think it strange when Robert spent less time with the FMM team. As pressure on his time increased, the spontaneous prayer times gave way to weekly chapel sessions always led by the director, who by now was always addressed as Dr. Avella. The difficulty of seeing Dr. Avella without scheduling an appointment should have been a danger sign. In fact, a policy was put in place restricting access to Dr. Avella. As Mary and Sergio discussed the past, they agreed that they should have been more forthright with Dr. Avella, who seemed to change after the embezzlement took place. Looking back, they could see how he had lost all sense of trust in others and willingness to delegate.  He instituted a policy insisting that he approve all ministry and financial decisions. This action resulted in many delays and many lost ministry opportunities. Instead of encouraging new ideas and initiatives, Dr. Avella no longer tolerated deviation from his directives. Those offering a different opinion, both staff and board members, suffered in many ways, ranging from loss of face to being fired. Morale began to decay in all the departments at FMM.  Promising young leaders left as quickly as possible, hoping to find an atmosphere that offered more acceptance and support. It was then that Mary and Sergio realized that their original sense of community with their friend and brother probably was lost. Mary and Sergio were forced to conclude that Dr. Robert Avella had fallen guilty to misusing the power of his office. It had become a means for self-fulfillment and advancement. Both agree that fellow Christians, including the two of them, did not help this struggling man of God as he was distracted from Christ-centered leadership and received more and more expressions of worldly honor.”

Thank you, Tim. What I'd like to do is have you divide up into groups of three and discuss those three questions at the bottom of the page. How would you describe Robert Avella's early leadership? How would you describe his later leadership? And perhaps the most important question is the last one. So divide up your time so you make sure and get to the last question. What explanations can you give for some of Robert's actions as a leader? And there are clues throughout. But I wonder if you three could gather, and we’ll take about 8 minutes on this, so you'll have to move pretty quickly, but just kind of rehash the story a little bit and then jump into those three questions, if you would. Maybe we'll take as much as 10 minutes, but work through those, please, if you would.

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