Leading a Healthy Church Culture - Lesson 6

Discussion of the Movie Clip

In this lesson, you will explore the dynamics of power and control in leadership, particularly in the context of the Christian church. You will learn about the experiences of people who have encountered power imbalances in various settings and how these imbalances can lead to a toxic environment. The lesson also delves into the epidemic of misused power within the Christian church, examining the role of human nature in this phenomenon. Finally, you will discover the importance of accountability and community in leadership, emphasizing the need for leaders to invite feedback and truth-telling from others to maintain a healthy balance of power.

Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Lesson 6
Watching Now
Discussion of the Movie Clip

Lesson: Discussion of the Movie Clip

I. Reflections on Power and Control

A. Experiences with Power Imbalances

B. The Impact of Leadership on Subordinates

II. The Epidemic of Misused Power

A. Prevalence in the Christian Church

B. The Role of Human Nature

III. Accountability and Community

A. The Importance of Truth-telling

B. Inviting Feedback from Others

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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Discussion of the Movie Clip
Lesson Transcript

So the power and control can be disguised, can’t it, in a very calm, almost spiritual tone that actually breaks the spirit of people and destroys people in the process. So, reflections, what do you think about what you've heard over these last minutes regarding Dr. Avella and Nurse Ratchet? Is it depressing? Does it discourage you? Is it reflective of what you've experienced and what you've seen, not just in leaders, but in Christian leaders? Is this an overstatement? What do you think? 

STUDENT:  I think that, you know, the ground rules get changed. You know, you try to address something like this, everybody here is voting for it, but there's a bigger ____ [00:58] that was not obvious to them.  I think I've experienced that before, when I was trying to bring something to someone and then find out there’s a whole other segment of these _____ [01:13]. 

STUDENT:  The goalposts are just constantly moving, depending upon the women in control of the leader.

STUDENT:  It was like he wasn’t in control ____ [01:38]. 

STUDENT:  It's been my experience in a couple of different work settings and just thinking about – I’m stretching it – I’m thinking where that iciness comes from is when the leader doesn't really care about the people, that she cared about her roles first and what she wants first, then that kind of cuts off the employees sort of at the knees, and their voices aren’t heard, and their strengths are squelched.  

STUDENT:  You asked if it was depressing, well it is depressing, if that's where this chapter ends. This is not the end of the chapter, it is not the final chapter, and so it is something that we as leaders need to be cognizant of, because it's very, very typical that there can be a disconnect between somebody who is part of the team and now is elevated above the team, and any time you've got a power imbalance, you've got a power broker, it's an unhealthy thing for that entity, and so I think we as leaders need to be consciously cognizant of that so that we create those accountability factors that minimize that possibility of happening where one person is the power broker and is feeding all the folks down below. 

Three simple statements to finish this segment. Misuse of power among leaders is epidemic today, and I want to emphasize that this is true in the Christian church, and particularly true in the evangelical church. We have created a power culture that is very, very toxic and carries with it a lot of harm in the evangelical church today, for a lot of reasons that I won't go into theologically, but it is particularly true within our own ranks, and it seems to be growing, particularly in the majority world, that where we've exported our brand of Christianity in those contexts.

Secondly, church leaders are typically unaware when they misuse power. I think that Dr. Avella, back to the conversation awhile ago, he would not have described himself as an abuser of power. He would have simply been --probably if he's typical -- most of the time, he would have simply seen himself as being faithful to his calling and pursuing the mission to which he was committed. So as I work with leaders around the world, we have created an atmosphere where, again, we have connected this spiritual leadership with positional leadership, and oftentimes these people find themselves, as Jim has said, sometimes being expected to speak for God, at other times assuming that that's their role and privilege, and so they move into a place where they're using ‘God’ language and are not even aware when they're misusing and abusing power. And it's a big problem. 

And thirdly, the solution:  The only solution that I can suggest is that leaders must give access to others who can tell them and will tell them the truth. This is all about community, but it must begin with the leaders. Part of the difficulty is that when we've connected spiritual leadership with positional leadership, those with position that also have spiritual power or wield spiritual power, or the misuse of spiritual power and the misuse of positional power, often move themselves into a place where they simply will resist others that come trying to provide help, whether it's a Mary and Sergio, as in our case study, or otherwise, and it's the rare person who will take the risk of speaking into a person like that because of the risk of being rejected or fired, or whatever the case may be. So as I work with leaders and as you move into leadership roles in your life, be aware that the ball is in your court to initiate the relationships that are going to keep you in community so that you can have that court jester, if you will, to continue to speak into your life from the outside, that has the access, that has the authority to speak in such a way as Jonathan spoke to David. So I'm just curious about those three statements.  Questions, comments, disagreements, thoughts? How do those strike you? 

STUDENT:  I wouldn’t say misuse of power among leaders is epidemic today; I would just say it’s part of human nature that has been going on since man was first created.  The fall created polarization, and from that comes those who have power and those who don't, and has been abused all along. How does the phrase go? Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. So I don't think it's anything new. We're more cognizant of it today. We're more aware because of the technology that we have that connects us around the world. So I can look at somebody abusing power in Africa. I can look at somebody abusing power in San Francisco. I can look at it here locally. 

Good. That's a very good point. And you're absolutely right. Misuse of power is part of the human condition and has been since the fall, for certain.  

I suppose what I should emphasize here is that we have created within our evangelical context an unusual situation, at least from my perspective, where power is being misused in the name of God, in a new way, simply because the evangelical church has been very good at raising leaders, putting leaders on a pedestal, in effect; we have our heroes, and some of those have been faithful, but many have not; they've not been able to handle that power. So I think the evangelical experience over the last 60, 70 years now has proven to be a context where, unlike some of the other church traditions of the past, we have tended to create egos. We have tended to create these personages, these personalities, and many of them not just a pope, but many popes, if you will, so that we're creating these kingdoms, if you will, called local churches.  Our whole megachurch movement has created this sort of momentum that is, as I said, being exported literally into India and Africa and all over the world. So it is in that sense that I'm speaking about being epidemic. Does that makes sense? 

STUDENT:  Oh, yes, and I concur with you wholeheartedly. I think the challenge in today's church is if I was building a house, it's a whole lot easier than for me to renovate a house because I've got to deal with what's there. We in the Christian church today are dealing with a lot of folks who don't want to hear the Christian message because they were damaged by Christianity somewhere, and so why would I choose another thing that's going to hurt me, versus I can go out and have fun here, whether it's drinking, whether it's relationships, whatever it is, fame, power, whatever it is, I'm not going to get burned again by Christianity. And so, yeah, I think that we have a whole world now where it's easy to elevate our Christian leaders into godlike creatures that they aren’t. 

STUDENT: Can I just ask the question, is this what you're saying, are you saying that the sin that's been since Adam of power and abuse has been rampant, that we in an evangelical culture have called that Christian? 

Yes, that's what that's what I'm saying. Yeah, we have put a label on it. We’ve branded it spiritual. 

STUDENT:  A lot of that is the lack of humility that God ____ [11:15] consistently in Scripture, said it was one of his favorite ____ [11:20] the fact, that Solomon could have anything, asked for wisdom in order to take care of the people ____ [11:29] that was so pleasing to him. We missed that humility is about being about others but ended up being the strong person that can represent God’s voice.  

STUDENT:  So at the same time, we were created sort of to be leaders, but it's been polluted because of a broken relationship with God. 

And broken relationship with people.  Yeah, but I think she said it so well we've branded ‘Christian’ in so many ways, which is the ultimate danger, isn't it?  

STUDENT:  Especially when we have felt so good about it that we've taken it to the _____ [12:23]. 

Yeah, there's a history to that, and I'll just divert just a second and talk about that because it’s in a book that we've written, a colleague and I.  After World War II in this country, there was a sense of triumphalism where some of the most well-known Christian ministries began not long after World War II, the Billy Graham Association, Bill Bright with his campus ministry, and so forth, and it's interesting that Billy Graham started the Billy Graham Crusades, interesting word, and Bill Bright began Campus Crusade for Christ. Those were militant words because we wanted to conquer the world. Does that make sense? So these ministries -- and they did great things; I'm not taking away anything from those ministries -- but it created a culture within evangelicalism because both of those ministries are very evangelical oriented, and then with the advent of the church growth movement in the 1980s out of Fuller Seminary and so forth, where there was this emphasis that bigger is better; the more people we can reach for Christ, the millions and millions, the larger our organization is, the better it must be, and the more effective it will be at reaching the masses for Christ, as you follow this line of reasoning. And so what that created in the process was the need for these leaders to be on the top of the heap of these massive organizations. And along the way we have tended to Christianize some things that that are not necessarily Christian, but have done it in the name of God in order to continue this triumphant mentality.  Again, that's not to say that all that’s bad; there are some wonderful things that have come out of that generation. But the reality is we have begun in the last 20 to 25 years paying a heavy toll as a result of the culture, not the fruit, but the culture of the Christian organizations that that era produced.  Does that make sense?  

So that's a little bit of the background, the history of how we've landed where we have within the evangelical movement. Questions, comments, thoughts? 

STUDENT: That whole megachurch has removed that later stage for the access. You’ve got layers and well, I'm not close to him, but I'm hoping this person's close to him, and the accountability, you're not a part of it, but you’re just sure it's there. But are you sure it's there?  

STUDENT:  So we're branding the business corporation model as a Christian movement.

Yeah. And it's interesting that I've heard a colleague of mine make a statement that, and I think it’s true, that in every culture around the world, the Christian church has adopted the power motif of that culture for their pastors, so that in the Indian context, pastors tend to function like a little guru. In Latin America, they tend to function like little communist bosses. In America, they tend to function like little CEOs, to your point, and in China, they tend to function like strongmen. In Africa, they tend to function like tribal chiefs. And so it's that dominant power motif that we have adopted from the culture right into the evangelical church, because it is the perception of how we become successful and how we reach more people as a result.

So these are some of the trips and pitfalls along the way as we look at the need for relooking at what really is Christ-centered leadership in today's world. Well, in order to address that question, I'd like to take just some time together, and I'm going to ask, as you think about this previous session, I'm not going to take time now, but those that are watching this online and then as you have time, as you're alone, I wonder if you'd reflect on this question:  Assuming that power and control can be destructive, what tendencies might cause you to misuse power or to seek unhealthy control? I know that I have tendencies in that arena. I think that we all do. So, as we all know that power and control can be harmful, then what is it within you and what is it within me that can cause us to misuse that power or to seek unhealthy control in our lives? And I'll leave it to you to reflect on that subject in your own time.

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