Leading a Healthy Church Culture - Lesson 11

Machine vs. Garden

In this lesson, you will explore the role of the gardener or leader in the garden model of leadership. You will discover that the focus of this model is on cultivating and nourishing people, rather than simply managing them like machines. You will compare the assumptions and attitudes of the machine and garden approaches to leadership and learn how these perspectives impact both leaders and the people they lead. Additionally, you will discuss various biblical metaphors for the church, such as the vine and branches, body of Christ, bride and bridegroom, good shepherd and sheep, and living stones and temple. Finally, you will delve into the core beliefs and values that drive effective leadership, such as following Christ and maintaining the right attitudes and posture.

Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Lesson 11
Watching Now
Machine vs. Garden

Lesson Number: Machine vs. Garden

I. The Role of the Leader in the Garden Model

A. Cultivation and Nourishing

B. Focus on Care and Growth

II. Comparing Machine and Garden Approaches

A. Assumptions and Attitudes

B. Impact on Leadership and People

III. Biblical Metaphors for the Church

A. Vine and Branches

B. Body of Christ

C. Bride and Bridegroom

D. Good Shepherd and Sheep

E. Living Stones and Temple

IV. Core Beliefs and Values in Leadership

A. Following Christ

B. Right Attitudes and Posture

  • 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. 

Recommended Books

Christ-Centered Leadership at Work: Called to Serve on Mondays

Christ-Centered Leadership at Work: Called to Serve on Mondays

Jim DeVries, a successful entrepreneur, and Rick Sessoms, an acknowledged leadership educator, join together to challenge existing and potential leaders to impact our...

Christ-Centered Leadership at Work: Called to Serve on Mondays
Leading with Story: Cultivating Christ-centered Leaders in a Storycentric Generation

Leading with Story: Cultivating Christ-centered Leaders in a Storycentric Generation

Eighty percent of the world's people--including seventy percent of Americans--are storycentric communicators; that is, they prefer to learn and are most likely to be...

Leading with Story: Cultivating Christ-centered Leaders in a Storycentric Generation

Dr. Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Machine vs. Garden
Lesson Transcript

I think the point is that the role of the gardener, the role of the leader, if you will, is where we want to focus.  The role of the leader in a machine model is production, is to oversee and ensure production. In the garden model, the role of the leader is cultivation, and production is God's work.  You can't scream at a seed and make it grow. You can't tighten down on a seed and cause it to flourish. There's a cultivation, to use a more feminine term, a nurturing, that is critical in a gardening motif that's so very important, and again, I've said this two times before, but it's not that these guys aren't concerned about the rice production; they're concerned that it produces rice, but it's about what they perceive their role to be in this, and it’s to care for the rice; it's to care for the living entity and to do everything they can to ensure its growth, but ultimately, it's God's responsibility to bring the produce, to bring the result. You're looking at a verse of scripture there? 

STUDENT:  Back in Genesis, we go right back to the beginning, when he said God formed the man from the dust of the ground, and breathed in his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. So we're talking about gardens and growing the life in living beings. And he said the Lord took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. The King James’ says to tend it. So if the church is a garden, our job is to work it and to take care of it.

So if that's true, let's compare just a moment between the assumptions of a machine approach to leadership, how a machine approach tends to view the collective called the church, and how the garden approach tends to view the church or the collective.  

The machine: Now, this comes from a guy named James MacGregor, who taught the X theory and the Y theory of organizational life, and it's basically a way of seeing, and we’re using the words machine and garden as mental images or metaphors. The first is that people don't like work and try to avoid it, that's the machine mentality, the approach, and in the garden, people view work as a natural part of their lives.  

People are not motivated in a machine; a machine is not motivated. It constantly takes something from the outside to get it going. In the garden approach, people are internally motivated to reach objectives to which they're committed.  

Thirdly, people have to be coerced, threatened to get them to reach objectives. People will pursue common goals when they're encouraged.  

Fourthly, people avoid responsibility in the machine way of looking at things. People will seek and accept responsibility under favorable conditions [garden]. People lack energy to solve problems [machine]. People have the capacity to be innovative in solving problems [garden]. People are dependent on the intelligence of the leader -- that's a big one [machine]. People are bright and will excel when trusted to do so [garden].  

Why is this important? It again comes back to how we view people is what we tend to believe about them, and what we tend to believe about them is how we tend to treat them. That is the assumption that yields to values, that yields to practice. And there's one other issue here.  How we treat people is how they'll tend to act. So there's a self-fulfilling prophecy in this. If you treat people as a machine, they will tend to function as a machine. If you treat people as a garden in a garden motif, they will tend to function on the right side and the left. Now, these are a bit of, you know, forced categories. There is a continuum, of course, between these, and I don't mean to say that if you treat everybody as a garden, they're going to excel.  We are fallen creatures, and we do tend to lean toward the Adamic nature. But the reality is that as leaders, if we see people from that garden motif and view this as a living thing that is made in the image of God, these people that have been entrusted to us, then it deeply impacts what we believe about them, and it impacts how we behave and how we function as leaders with them.  

What do you think about that? I’m interested in your thoughts.

STUDENT:  I think some of this philosophy is creeping back even into the business world, and in my job, the CEO happens to be a Christian, but a big thing he talks a lot about is meaningful work and trying to eliminate meaningless work in people's daily work days, because believing that given the proper conditions, you know, people will work hard in their jobs; it's like they have some meaning to what they're doing. They don't have to crank down on those people.

It's interesting that the secular world sometimes in some ways is ahead of the Christian world.  We've done some writing about Starbucks, for example. Starbucks leader Howard Schultz says, “We don't sell coffee; we sell a culture.” And it's really about these kinds of issues that are important to him. I don't know whether he confesses to be a Christian -- I have no idea -- but some of the way he works, quite frankly, looks more Christian than some of our churches. The guy that runs Zappos, I can't remember his name now, but there's a deep humility in him, and he works with geniuses. But there's a humility and just a rising to a different level because of the way he treats the people within the company, a fascinating study. So there are entities out there like that that sometimes are lessons for us.  Now, their motive often is different, but nonetheless, their way of going about doing what they do looks pretty good at times. Other thoughts? 

STUDENT:  I was just thinking through in my mind some of the different metaphors that Scripture uses for the church.  You're using this garden approach, which I think is very powerful when you think of, in that same line of the garden metaphor, like Jesus as the grapevine, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  I prune that vine and God’s tending that vine, and we can't produce fruit unless we stay connected to the vine, and certainly part of that, Jim mentioned the body metaphor, the different parts of the body. And then I think of the marriage metaphor of the church, Christ is the bridegroom and the church is the bride. And then the Good Shepherd metaphor with Jesus being the Good Shepherd, and we’re the sheep. And another one is, oh, the temple, with living stones, a temple God dwells in, living stones and Christ the cornerstone. Just so many metaphors, and they’re all alive, all the metaphors, not machine oriented.

All living things. Yeah, thank you for that.  That's very good, very helpful. 

STUDENT: Another one is adoption, too, talking about family. 

STUDENT:  I think, too, what they have to say in that example, why things turned out where they were about a sense of working together in unity and common goals were encouraged, and when they're made clear, to be convinced that it’s the right purpose, the central purpose, the value, and that that's clear there's not just this one leader going down this route without really clarifying what that goal is. I was looking to see if you had that on there, the sense of the clear goal is well communicated. 

So I have basically submitted to you that the garden motif -- and the word garden is not that important -- the fact that it's a living thing and the role of the gardener or the person responsible to lead in these contexts is cultivation, or nurture, and God is responsible for the fruit or the production, as opposed to the leader being responsible for production and then the people, or whatever it is that gets the job done, become cogs in the wheel. And those are two very, very different models. The machine model did dominate so much of our thinking in both the secular world as well as the church in the latter part of the 20th century, and that is changing, and it’s changing somewhat because there's a pressure on the church to think very differently, to think more organically about its role in the world. But there are some issues that we still face along this line.

Well, if this is the case, and if this motif of garden is acceptable, then let's move up a notch, and once we've got this mental image in place, then what kind of beliefs and values, core beliefs, will arise out of that set of assumptions? And I want to submit two thoughts to you that may seem very simple on the surface, but I'd like for us to talk about these. One is that Jesus taught that effective leadership has more to do with learning to follow him than learning to command or supervise. That doesn't mean that commanding and supervising aren’t important; it simply means that when we're following Christ, then we will tend to lead well, and there are lots of implications there.

Secondly, effective leadership depends more on right attitudes than on mastery of certain skills.  

Let's talk about those two statements. Do you buy those two statements? What do you think?  

STUDENT:  You mentioned the word posture, which is, I think, a real important word for a leader, and I feel like usually you can detect a little bit about a leader, as far as their motivation, you know, this idea of being able to follow him not because of his ability to command and supervise, or mastery, but instead because of their posture towards their goal that they have and towards others, in the sense of God being one that they're also accountable to.  

STUDENT:  I am convinced that, you know, leading a successful organization, if you're a leader and trying to treat others you're like the smartest person in the room and like you're in control, then you're probably going to have a pretty lousy organization because the best and most successful people are the people who find a way to surround themselves with effective people and allowing them to do what they do best, and so that whole posture thing, if you're just kind of keeping the people down and staying in control, keeping everybody in line, then they're not going to flourish as people, and you're not going to see what they're capable of, and so one of the biggest things is getting out of the way and letting people run and seeing what they can do. And those are the people that have been successful leaders, I think. 

STUDENT:  Well, nurturing them, too, giving them the skills they need. 

STUDENT:  I'm thinking both of these statements reflect the two Bible sections that we started last week on. One is the one in Hebrews 13, that effective leadership has more to do with learning to follow him than learning to command. And he talked in 13:7 about remembering your leaders; consider the outcome of the way of their life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. If your leader is clearly founded, and they're living that faith, that's a whole lot better person to follow than someone who says ‘do as I do’ sort of thing. So I think that reflects it. In John 13 about washing the feet, effective leadership depends more on the right attitudes. Here's one who's a servant leader. That's the attitude, not the mastery of some skill. Washing feet didn't take him going to college for four years to learn how to wash feet; he took up humility before his God the Father. 

That's excellent. Good synthesis. 

Well, I'd like to suggest that we do an exercise. Could we have from Jim over this group and from Brant over this group? I’d like you guys to meet for about six minutes, and I'd like you to come up with the answer to this question, and I'd like it to be just three points. How would the church in America be different if our leaders truly embraced these two statements? How would the church in America be different? Good or bad? I mean, if the issue is that we would be worse off, then say that. But how would the church in America be different if we as leaders, the leaders of the church, were to embrace these two principles? Spend six minutes together and then see if you can agree on three bullet points, and I'd like to hear your bullet points when you're done.  


Log in to take this quiz.