Leading a Healthy Church Culture - Lesson 9

What is Culture? Values and Assumptions

In this lesson, you'll gain an understanding of church culture and its components: products and practices, values (core beliefs), and assumptions (worldview). You'll learn how assumptions determine values, which in turn determine products and practices. To change a church culture, it's important to recognize and close the gap between stated and real values, as well as address the core beliefs and assumptions that drive them. Focusing only on products and practices may lead to temporary changes that revert when pressures arise. Examples are given to illustrate the relationship between the components of church culture, such as mission planning and the role of the pastor.


Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Lesson 9
Watching Now
What is Culture? Values and Assumptions

Lesson: What is Culture? Values and Assumptions

I. The Components of Church Culture

A. Products and Practices

B. Values (Core Beliefs)

C. Assumptions (Worldview)

II. The Relationship between Components

A. Assumptions determine Values

B. Values determine Products and Practices

III. Changing Church Culture

A. Recognizing and closing the gap between stated and real values

B. Addressing core beliefs and assumptions

C. The danger of focusing only on products and practices

IV. Examples of Church Culture Components

A. Mission Planning

B. The role of the Pastor

  • 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
What is Culture Values and Assumptions
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:01] So then let's go one step deeper and let's talk about values. That's a little bit difficult for you to see. But just below the waterline or right on the waterline is what we call values. And you can write beside that word core beliefs. Core beliefs. The values are those things that we really do believe. I was starting to talk about my own church. If you walk in the front door of our church within about 20 feet, you'll see this huge thing on the wall that has a list of values. And those values include the Word of God and prayer and integrity and outreach and fellowship and, you know, down the line and beside each of those, there's a Bible verse or two. And those are the stated values of the church. That's not what I'm talking about here. We're talking about the actual values of the church. It's interesting that as you look at values, because values are so, so important. If you go from one church to another and were to ask people, what are the values of the church of your church? Many of them would go down the list I just gave you. And yet what? Why is it that so many that churches are different from one another? Well, the reason is because the values that we really do embrace and when we talk about core beliefs, we're talking about those beliefs that pervade every aspect of our community and collective life. Let me say that again. When we talk about values, we're talking about those beliefs that permeate every aspect of our community and collective life. So when we talk about somebody says, well, worship is a value of our church. Well, if the only place that you do worship is on Sunday morning at 11:00.

[00:02:04] Worship may be a feature of your church, but it's not necessarily a value that makes sense. So that worship then becomes. If worship is truly an actual value or real value, then it tends to permeate every aspect of who you are and what you do and how you react and. And how you how you function. Questions about that, please. Please. I ask if you have questions because these are very, very important concepts to grab the. The point here is that is that every culture has both healthy values and some unhealthy ones. And the reality is, is that most churches have a set of stated values, whether written or not. And then they have a set of real values. And there tends to be a gap between the stated values and the actual values that make sense. And so what? So this word values again, is a negative isn't is a neutral term. Whenever we hear the word values, we tend to think positive. But the reality is, is all of us, as in as individuals, as well as collectives in a culture. We have values that we can tend to have, values that are positive, and we can tend to have values that aren't so positive within the same group of people. And part of becoming healthy is recognizing and beginning to try to close that gap between the stated in the real values. So the real values are worth closing the gap on. Yeah, that's right. That's right. Or if these are the values that you want to have, then somehow we we try to make some journey toward those. Exactly. How are you doing so far? You following this so far? All right. Well, let's go down a little bit deeper and let's go to the level of assumptions.

[00:04:15] Way down in the. Belly of the beast in the core of a culture is what we refer to as assumptions. Some people call this worldview. The reason that I've not used the word worldview is simply because sometimes when you say world, you everyone if if you if you begin to talk about worldview, then mind right. And yours is wrong. Okay. We talk about assumptions because every culture has a set of assumptions. Those assumptions. Write this down. Those assumptions are in the form of mental constructs in our minds. They're in the form of pictures. The reform of images. And that image defines for us what we perceive as real. So the image. That is very deeply embedded in every culture is a perception, a a mental construct of that which is real. This is also what separates one culture from another, because while one culture perceives this mental construct as real, another culture does not share that same metal construct that makes sense. And so this is this gets touchy when it comes to church. But we're going to talk about some examples. But but this assumption thing is way down at the bottom. And oftentimes we don't even think about our assumptions. And and we but they're there and they're the very the very core of the culture. And and and yet we we probably function most of our lives without even thinking about them, because they're they're so bedrock and so foundational. It's kind of like my home that which is probably more most important to my home is underground is that which is built upon. I never see that which is underground. But boy, something happens to that. It's it's I'm in trouble. So those are those are some of the components. Now, here's how this thing works.

[00:06:43] Our assumptions determine our values. And our values determine our products and practices. But here's the problem. In most cases, when churches try to change their culture, when they see something that they like to improve about the culture, what do they do? Change the products and practices. Exactly. They focus on changing the products and the practices. And here's the problem that if you're dealing with the price and price, you know, you change the structure of the board or you you change the furniture or, you know, you, you, you. And there's nothing wrong with those things. Please, please understand. But but, but what happens is that if we've changed those things, but haven't addressed the core beliefs. And particularly if we haven't addressed the assumptions, what's driving those beliefs and what's driving those prices and prices? What happens when the pressures on. When the heat's on, we will revert right back to the old products and the old practices because nothing has changed and the assumptions and the values left. And the reason that we use the the iceberg is that which is underneath the water. That which the Titanic could not see is what sunk the Titanic. It's it can be perceived as dangerous. But at the very least, it's critically important to understand these issues of assumptions and values, because that determines how we practice and what our products are. So let's talk about a product or a practice of. The Chapel Hill Bible Church. Name one mission planning. Mission planning. Okay. We tried to develop relationships. We tried to empower folks here to send them out on mission trips. We build relationships. So it's intentional about mission. So you're intentional about missions. So there's a mission strategy, there's a planning, a very intentional approach to the mission.

[00:09:06] What's the core belief that's driving that practice and the product as well? What's the core belief? What's the value that's driving that? Can you identify that? The gospel message. What about the gospel message spreading in? Spreading it. Keep going. What? What? So what? Great commission. But so what? Who, what? What difference does it make? Do you really believe it? Okay. You really believe what? Okay. The gospel message that that Jesus Christ came for the lost right is pressing this. Maybe that's obvious to you. That's painfully obvious. But you have a mission's planning because you're convinced that people need the gospel message, right? Right. Okay. Now, let's go deeper. That's the core belief that's driving the practice, practice and product. What is the mental construct? That's way down here. That's driving that core belief. Maybe the assumption that missionaries or missions in general is the best way to spread the gospel? You know, because we couldn't think, oh, it's, you know, a huge TV network is the best way to spread the gospel. So we would invest in missions, planning and spread investor money in satellites or something, you know. That's the assumption that missionaries on the ground and that's that's very good. Let's keep going, though. Let's let's drive it even further down, because that's that's still the and that's the value level. That's the core belief level, because you're you're dealing with conceptual framework still there. Think about an image was the image that's driving that sense that people need the gospel. Let's just just this is not complicated. Gosh, that pops into my head is heaven and hell. Exactly. Exactly. Heaven and hell. Okay. We have this image in our minds that ultimately there's a place to be with God and there's a place to be separated from him for eternity.

[00:11:14] I share that view with you. Okay. I've given my life to that. But that is a mental construct. That this culture collectively shares. That the folks over in Iran don't. Do you follow that? That's what distinguishes culture. And that mental construct is everyday driving those values. And those values are driving the products and practices. In that exciting. It can be, particularly if you see something like what we're talking about here. But let me turn to a negative one and I'm sure this doesn't happen in your church, but the pastor stands up on Sunday and says, God told me that we need to we need to build a new sanctuary. So let's get it done. And people don't say much. Now, what's going on there? That's a practice. That's something that's happening from a pulpit. You've heard about this kind of stuff, I'm sure doesn't happen here, but you've heard about this kind of stuff. What's the core belief that's that's below the surface that's creating the arena within the culture for that practice to take place. What's happening? You tell me. Are you talking about the sense of authority there of the one who says God has told her? Yeah. You tell me. What's what's the core belief? I mean, you've heard about this. What's happening? What's the core belief within that collective? That gives rise to a pastor standing before a group of 500 people and saying, God's told me this pastor knows best, and that we would actually listen to him and not laugh at him if he said that. Okay. So so there's a there's a core belief that this pastor is somehow speaking for God, has a special hearing from God, special hearing from God. Now, that's the core belief. That's what allows that kind of an arena to take place.

[00:13:22] Would you agree with that? At least that's the pastor's core belief. Okay. But somehow, to allow that to go on, there has to be and there has to be an accommodation of that. When you say wants it to last longer than they would have to. Right. But this is happening all over the place. I mean, you know, I take it to places. It's happening right as we speak. So underneath that, then as we think about the mental construct, what's the mental construct that's creating that believes this? Creating the practice was the construct among this collective. You kind of alluded to it a while ago, speaks to the pastor who's the head of the church and God to God's the church. Well, that that too. That, too. You'd have to say that one of them is that God speaks to some, but maybe not another. This person has a special channel to God. This person is special. Now. You may not see that as a positive thing, but I can tell you that there's thousands of churches who do. It's kind of like a moses kind of thing. Exactly. Exactly. And so this person has a special relationship with God that would allow this view that he speaks to us for God, which allows him to stand in the pulpit and say, God's told me, you see where we're going with this? So we don't stop then and think about these assumptions and these values. Very often we just see the products and practices. But in order to really evaluate what's going on within our culture, it's important to drill down and say what's behind that practice. If it's healthy, great. If it's not so healthy, the first thing to do is to ask the question, What's the core belief among us that's driving that? And then what's the mental construct? What's the what's the image? What's the assumption that distinguishes this culture that's driving that? To to to work itself out in our collective experience.

[00:15:40] Are you saying we're we're to question these products on that basis to say healthy Is that what you're. Well, I'm saying a couple of things and we're going to get into this. But all I'm trying to do right now is to is to define the components of culture. But, yes, there are. And I started by saying that in in in our look at values in that later on tonight, we're going to be looking at the reality that that there are values both healthy and unhealthy in most every church, at least in every church I've ever encountered and consulted with and been part of in the whole thing. I mean, this is not a criticism of anybody's church. It's just the reality. And and so there's. But in order to really begin to understand how do we deal with this, it's it's more than just changing the products and practices. Because, again, if we just try to deal with it on that level, in fact, it's interesting, the people that are going through MBAs today and I don't know if anybody is going through an MBA, but typically the teaching in MBAs is if you want to change a culture, go change the products and practices and you see what's what happens is that and the way they do that is we change the structure, we change the people that are around the board, you know, table, or we change the who reports to whom or, you know, we change the chairs basically, and whatever. Those are all products and practices and they're what they call secondary mechanisms of organizational culture. And we're going to talk about primary embedding mechanisms earlier. That's technical language. But the point is, is that every culture has both positive and negative products and practices, and they're driven by values and way below that, below the waterline or the assumptions or the worldview.

[00:17:42] And that's why it's called a worldview. It's a view, it's a mental image of what's real. And and so in order to address it, in order to begin to look at it, it's important to to see what's behind these things. And it can be a healthy thing or it can be an unhealthy thing. But it's it's a helpful thing to go through a process of saying, well, what is it about our church is healthy and what's unhealthy and why? That's that's why we've we have to have these kinds of conversations.


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