Leading a Healthy Church Culture - Lesson 16

Primary Handles (Part 2)

This lesson talks about the importance of measuring things and how objective observation of something makes it valuable. It also discusses that what we don't measure can lose its importance. The lesson gives the example of how churches measure attendance and donations every Sunday, which makes it important. The author suggests that if churches want to emphasize other things such as outreach, discipleship, and community service, then they must find ways to observe and measure these things.

Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Lesson 16
Watching Now
Primary Handles (Part 2)

Lesson: Primary Handles (Part 2)

I. The Importance of What We Measure

A. The Significance of Measuring

B. The Power of Objective Observation

C. The Importance of Understanding What We Measure

D. The Negative Impact of Not Measuring Something

II. Examples of What We Measure

A. Measuring Attendance and Donations

B. The Importance of These Measurements

C. The Value of Measuring Other Things

1. Measuring Outreach and Evangelism

2. Measuring Discipleship and Spiritual Growth

3. Measuring Community Service and Social Justice

  • 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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Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Primary Handles (Part 2) 
Lesson Transcript

The fourth area is what we measure. Now, this is a little bit tougher to get your arms around, but it's so important. Let me try to unpack this. Again, this is descriptive. What it basically says is what we measure, what we objectively observe, is what becomes important to us. In fact, the converse of that is it is important to understand that if you don't want something to be important, to be valued, just stop measuring it. Now, if you come in to church on Sunday morning -- I know in my church, and this is typical, so again, it’s not necessarily criticism, but I open the bulletin, and on the back page of the bulletin are two pieces of information that are measured every single Sunday. What do you suppose those are? How many were there the previous Sunday and how much money came in. So, noses and nickels. It's easy to measure those things, right? But guess what becomes important in terms of the church. It's how many people are there on Sunday morning and whether or not we're making the budget, and it's not that those things are necessarily unimportant; that's not my point; but if we want other things to be important, if we want them to be valued, we must figure out a way to observe them, whether or not they're happening, to give an objective criteria for whether it's actually taking place, without it being too much a machine, absolutely.

But take, for example, integrity again. When we talk about integrity, we want integrity to be part of the church. We want spiritual maturity to be part of the church. Those things are tough to measure by any standards, aren't they? But I want to say that if we haven't figured out a way to objectively observe whether those things are happening or not, then we run the risk of defaulting to those things that we do measure when we're under pressure. Does that make sense? That's the key point. And so you don't have to measure it, but don't expect it to hold up under pressure if we haven't figured out a way to measure it.

STUDENT:  ____  

I’m sorry? Well, let me give you an example. I'm glad you asked. I went to work for Trans World Radio in November of 2000, and at that point, the organization was looking for leaders. In fact, they had gone through a process of selecting their next CEO president, and because the choices were so slim from within the organization -- the man who became president was a fine man -- but the choices were so slim that the first mandate that the board gave the new president was to launch a leadership development program within Trans World Radio Global, and so I was the first person that the President Elect, this guy from the U.K., hired to do that, and when I took the job, I started to ask questions, and there was no track to run on; it was just about developing leaders, so I asked what kind of leaders? And there was no answer for that. And how are we supposed to do that? Well, there's no answer for that. And so it was a blank slate, a totally blank slate when we started, and I thought, you know, I was going through some of this stuff and had learned some of these things in the program that I was in at Regent University at the time, and these things were rumbling in the back of my mind:  What we measure is what we value, what we measure is what we value, what we measure is what we value… And I was looking at this and thinking, well, we've got nothing, and so we're supposed to be developing leaders. So, the first thing I did was I spent about -- well, let me back up -- There was one of the key executives in Europe. He had heard a talk, and he had said, well, let's start using the term ‘servant leadership’ within Trans World; he liked the term, and he was an influential person. So, he said, let’s use servant leadership, and I said, fine, whatever you want to call it, so now let's figure out what do we mean by servant leadership? 

So, I spent about a year and a half working with people all over the world to identify what is the definition, and we came up with seven key elements challenging the process, inspiring a shared vision, some of the things that Kouzes and Posner have taught, some of the things that we put together from a Christian multinational nonprofit, and so on, and so on and so on. So, we came out with this grid for understanding what servant leadership is, and even at that point, we were thinking, well, big deal. We now have this definition, and I was thinking, well, now people will start jumping through the hoops; they'll start wanting to be this kind of a leader. It didn't happen. And so we were about two years into this process, I was scratching my head, and this was still ringing in the back of my mind: We are what we measure. We are what we measure. Measure determines values. If you want it to be important, you’ve got to figure out a way to objectively observe it. So, I said, okay, so what we began doing is we began putting together a survey, a simple survey that was 42 statements, and it took these seven criteria for being a servant leader, that we called it at the time -- I would call it Christ-centered leader today -- but it took these seven criteria, and it created six statements that began to unpack each of these seven criteria, and the statement was simply made, and then there was a lacquered scale from 1 to 10 that somebody looking at the leader, whether it was the leader, him or herself, or somebody else who was observing the leader could mark off this person is not like that on the one extreme, or this person is always like that on the other extreme, 1 to 10. 

Now, it was not perfect; it had a lot of holes in it, and we constantly improved it over the years, but we began to use this, and we worked out a process where all of our leaders eventually started to go through this. It was a volunteer thing, but as it began to get traction and get a good credibility within the organization, we began to use it, and it was what we called a multi-rater analysis tool with a 360-degree process, so that the person that was the leader took it on him or herself, and then three or four other people would do an assessment of the leader as well, and then we'd sit down, and we'd unpack and explain the results, and so forth. When we objectified what it means to be a servant leader, one of the issues had to do with developing character, and so if you're going to develop character, you've got to be a person of character, the issue of integrity. 

So, if you're interested to see the questions, I'll be glad to show them to you. But what we began to see when we began to use that tool was we began to see the emphasis and the importance of servant leadership begin to rise in the organization worldwide, and today, if you were to go into Trans World Radio, I'm happy to tell you that servant leadership is alive and well within that organization. The culture has shifted, and it wasn't just because of the measurement, it was some of these other things that were going on as well, but the fact that we figured out a way to measure whether it was actually happening raised the bar. What we discovered in the research that I did in leadership development is developing ways of measuring is actually a leadership development tool in and of itself. It's a powerful tool because it helps people understand where they are on the radar. So, this process of measuring is so very, very vital, and particularly when we're in the crunch. Thoughts? Comments.

STUDENT:  Yeah, that’s been my experience in so many other things, not just leadership, but anything that you want to improve or any number that you want to improve, to start paying attention to it, and you know, just the fact that you've never paid attention to it, and then you suddenly start paying attention to it, it’s going to improve – 

It's amazing, isn’t it. 

STUDENT:  You don’t even have to, you know, change anything yet.

STUDENT:  Without a vision, the people perish. 

Yeah, that's right. 

STUDENT:  You don’t make a plan, you fail. I mean, if you don't make it a  --

STUDENT:  Let's say we as a congregation say that our priority, our goal, is to reach those who have never been exposed to Christ. Well, if that's what our goal is, then we need to have some sort of measure to say that we're accomplishing that. Otherwise, who knows how we're getting there? If we say we're a culturally diverse congregation, and yet all we see every week is a very monoculture, are we really succeeding? How are we measuring what we say is this is where we’re putting our –

That's precisely the point. Great, great examples. 

STUDENT:  But sometimes people get squeamish, measuring things in church and they say like, well, this is how many unreached people we've reached this week, and I mean, yeah, it's a good thing, but it's kind of, you wonder, is it manipulating behavior in some way, are we kind of cheating the system to bring up our numbers? Are we are we shallow because, you know, oh, you're just another person? And we're checking off a box here and all right, and then you move on with your day or -- it's a weird thing in church to count, at least in this church, to measure things. 

STUDENT:  How do they know that our motivations are pure? We know that our motivations aren't pure; at best, we have mixed motivations as sinners. I mean, so as much as we don't want to be a business model, there's still that sense sometimes. 

STUDENT:  It would be a very interesting thing if we had in our bulletin, okay, we're 28% nonwhite Caucasian, you know, and oh, it went up to 30%!  We're going more diverse, well done! Well, I mean, to measure something like that would be – 

The interesting part of this conversation, Sam, is it is interesting what the church is comfortable with measuring and what we're not comfortable with measuring. It's not the fact that we're not comfortable with measuring; we are comfortable with measuring, but it's what we have become comfortable with measuring, and this, again, is simply descriptive, and you can take it to the bank. What you measure becomes what you value. 

STUDENT:  Usually what we can take to the bank is what we measure. 

Yeah, that's right. 

STUDENT:  What we measure ties into also what we reward or punish; they’re very interrelated. 

Right. Very interrelated. 

STUDENT:  And one of the challenges in the church is we don't share what we're measuring, so I may be measuring how many youth are coming to youth group this week, and you may be measuring how many pastors came to my Sunday school class this week. So, we're all measuring things, and a challenge for a church is if we're measuring different things, and we're competing in some of that interpretation and we don't have a shared understanding. 

That's right. Competing stakeholders. No, that's crucial, what you're saying, very true. 

STUDENT:  I have values that I'm interpreting one way. You've got values that you're interpreting another, and we're colliding over them. 

So, that can become confusing, can’t it? And bewildering. Yeah, that's the role of leadership again, is for leaders to make those kinds of parameters so that we're getting on the same page. 

STUDENT:  But I think a tendency that we might tend to have is to focus on the easy things like the numbers. I remember at one church I went to, they would put roses for the people who had made a decision to follow Christ that week, but the tendency was to focus on how many roses were there rather than some of the more intangibles, like the stories or the ways that God was working through the church to reach some of these people, and the avenues they were taking, and I think some of the more interesting ways to measure things are more of the intangibles and how we're developing character once again, rather than simply things that we can measure infigures like attendance or those who have been saved. 

STUDENT:  It’s the product versus the relationship. 

STUDENT:  That's right. 

Well, when I was working again in spiritual formation in the college, boy, people really have a hard time when you begin talking about measuring spiritual development. It's one of those sacred areas in some people's minds that’s off limits, and we are charged with being pharisaical, or whatever the word is, when we move in these categories, but the simple principle is if you don't measure it, you can pretty well assume that those things that are measured will take precedence within the culture. That's all there is to it. 

STUDENT:  The word measuring implies like a statistical measure. You could say if we don't assess it or if you don’t –

Objectively observe it –

STUDENT:  Or change it in some way, because you may not be able to put a numerical value -- you can try to come up with some scale like you did with leadership in your questionnaire, but if you don't gauge it in a particular way –

That's a great point. So, it's not always quantifiable. But there has to be a way to objectively observe whether it's going on, whether it's happening.

STUDENT:  Measurement, remember, is a tool. It's not a means to an end. We don't want to stop the measuring; we won’t say that our goal is to memorize 100 verses or memorize this thing, and if we stop just when we've memorized it, but it hasn't changed our ministry, hasn't had an impact, and we haven't had growth, then that tool that we use for that relationship we have, if we just stop there…

Schein calls it an embedding mechanism. Same thing. The primary embedding mechanism of organizational culture we called a handle in the little book that we've written called “Culture Craft”that I was supposed to bring to you guys, and I forgot, so I'll bring it next week. But we call it handles. 

STUDENT:  One of the constructs that's been helpful to me as I worked at measuring is to recognize that there are process measures and then there are outcome measures, and most people default instantly to the process measures because they're easier to measure, to count. 

Like how many trainings have you done?

STUDENT:  Right. How many classes have you offered? 

How many people have you shared the gospel with? 

STUDENT:  Exact right, exactly. 

And those are good, by the way. 

STUDENT:  Yeah, but the tough one to get your handle around -- the field of education struggles with this all the time -- is how do you measure the outcome? Yeah, those are the challenging ones to really get a handle on because you can count how many people are in class. It's very difficult to count how many people have become educated or transformed, or their character has grown. 

STUDENT:  But you can walk in one church and then walk in another and say, okay, well, this one is significantly more mature theologically, or whatever way we want to describe it. You can tell the differences and compare things, but it's sort of, you know, how much better, or how we…? you know, so you want to be able to come up with some way of gauging and paying attention to these sort of outcome measures, but the fact that you can say like, okay, our theological understanding as a congregation, we want that to be a deeper thing. Okay, so you can say you can measure the process. Okay, how many classes did our congregation attend? Or you can say, well, there's some other outcome way of measuring that, but just the fact that we're paying attention to it and working our way to measure it, that is, we're putting forth the effort; we’re paying attention to that, and as a result, we're going to see growth. I mean, like it took you a long time to actually come up with the way to measure leadership growth, but you were developing leadership in the organization through that whole process.

Trying to. Yeah, yeah. But it did take a significant leap forward because of what you said previously, which I think was a very important statement, is the very fact that you're measuring it somehow, almost mysteriously, it begins to take a higher level of precedence within the collective. It's just a fascinating phenomenon that happens.

STUDENT:  Which part it ties in with our responsibility, as you said earlier, for the cultivation; God is responsible for the outcome. 

That's right. 

STUDENT:  Our call is the cultivation, and if we can use measurement as a tool to help us with our cultivation, not ‘did we close the deal?’ 

Yeah, good point. Well, let me share the fifth one, and then I'd like us to look at how Jesus dealt with these five handles. This one may not surprise you either, but it's how our leaders respond to crisis. Boy, that's a big one. Leaders can carry on for quite some time when waters are smooth, when things are going well, and the organization just carries along. But when the crisis comes, when there is a personal crisis or a personnel crisis or a financial crisis, or some kind of crisis that hits the church, that's when everyone's radar goes way up, and they're watching the moves that the leader makes, and in those moments, whatever happens, how that leader or those leaders respond in the crisis moment drives the values deeply, embeds the values deeply within the church culture. And if you think about how the leaders in the church that you're involved with have responded to critical moments over the last year or two, and then you think about how those are reflected in the values that people -- again, we're not talking about the ones that are written; we're talking about what people actually value within the church -- you'll begin to see the connections very, very succinctly. Does that make sense? 

These are a bit discomforting, aren't they? They leave us feeling unsettled, at least they leave me feeling unsettled as I think about my own leadership and the culture that we're attempting to build in our ministry. We get focused on a lot of other things, but these are so critical. I think I began in this session some time ago when we were talking, that the primary role of a leader today is the creation and the nurture and the monitoring of culture, and these are the primary handles that that takes place. Now, we talked about primary embedding mechanisms. These are primary handles. There are secondary ones. There is structure. There are symbols, your logo, how you create your worship space, for example, all those symbols and things that we use to remind us of who we are. Structure, church structure, is a secondary. The furnishings, how we arrange the furniture, etc., etc., etc. The problem is that sometimes churches get those secondary issues in the place of the primary ones, and we get the cart before the horse, and it doesn't do a lot of good. What happens in the best of cases is the secondary ones actually roll out from the primary ones.

I've been in Christian organizations where in five years they've changed the structure five times or three times in order to try to change the culture, and the reality is all they're doing is rearranging the chairs. It feels good for about 90 days, but then something just collapses back in because these issues have not been addressed at near the same level of seriousness. Have you experienced that? 

STUDENT:  We're not getting to the values or the assumptions, and we're just putting a different icing on the cake. 

Somebody says like putting lipstick on a monkey. And that's a good image, because it’s the same monkey, dressing it up a little bit, it’s the same monkey, and that lipstick will wear off. But as we begin to drill into these five, we begin to see. And by the way, and we're going to look in just a few moments, but as you think about your own church culture, you won't really have to tell somebody that is acquainted with these five primary handles, if they were to walk into a church and spend any time there, they wouldn't have to be told what the values are. The answers to these five questions, the responses to these five issues, will uncover the truth about what the culture is really all about. That can be good news. It can be not such good news. 

STUDENT:  Rick, are these primarily handles that have to come from a positional leader rather than a leader who's leading by influence? How can you do some of these things if you're not in a position to say this is what we're going to measure as a church? I wonder, is it only from a positional position that you can? 

I think that's a great question. There is always the struggle that if I'm not in a position of making decisions about these issues, then I’m limited in terms of how much I can affect this, and quite frankly, as we have talked a lot with younger leaders that are in traditional organizations, this has been one of the struggles. The way that I would say it is that all of us, in order to be Christ-centered leaders and addressing these in a sense becomes a buffer, if you will, between the people that can tend to be above us in positions of leadership and those that we have been given responsibility to lead, and that really is about what it is to be a Christ-centered leader. As you think about how Christ led, he was the buffer, in many respects, between those that held the authority and the power and those that needed God, and he became that buffer. It took him to the cross, quite frankly, but the fact of the matter is that in every case, if we are willing to exercise our role as that buffer role as Christ-centered leaders, that by God's grace, we're going to lead this way with the people that God has given us responsibility to influence and have leadership with, regardless of what people up the chain and up the line may do. I believe that oftentimes we have a lot more capacity to address these things than we may think.


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