Lecture 15: Primary Handles, Part I
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Course: Leading Healthy Church Culture
Lecture 15: Primary Handles, Part I
A. Primary Handles
We have talked about assumptions and we have dealt with values. Where I would like to go at this point is to talk about primary handles for developing a healthy church culture. These handles originated from a researcher by the name of Eger Schdin who is found under educational culture and leadership; you will find that he is one of the premiere researchers in the field and has been for many years. He talks about primary embedding mechanisms of organizational culture. These are the mechanisms that whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we want them to be or not are indeed the mechanisms that are by reality the way we deal with these handles. How the organization deals with these handles determine the direction of the culture and more specifically determines the value that become the real value within a culture. We often have a set of written values and a set of official values and what happens as we look and evaluate our culture from perspective of these primary handles, we will see what the real values of our cultures are. So these handles are both an evaluation tool as well as a tool for strategy.
What They Teach and Model: The first handle that is critical, has to do with what our leaders teach and model. That may seem very intuitive to you. There was a survey done among two hundred and fifty thousand leaders some years back. It asked what the major things people were looking for in their leaders. Out of all the responses, the top three things people are looking for in leaders is 1) confidence; they want to be sure that these leaders know what they doing. Then there is 2) inspiration of others; they want leaders to inspire others to move beyond. But the number one thing people are looking for non-hypercritical leaders; the simply word is 3) honesty. This is the number one thing that people are looking for, honesty. The follow up question is how you can tell whether the leader is honest or not. It is not in what they say, but what they do. So, we are looking for demonstrated honesty, not just spoken honesty. We all know that if you are not modelling what you’re teaching, then whatever your teaching is, it becomes suspect. There is a common understanding of that.
But it also says model and teach; sometimes if we are trying to address a culture in bringing a new emphasis within a culture or a new set of values in a culture, we could be doing somethings as leaders that could seem really weird and out of place. If we don’t provide the interpretation of what we are doing, then it can often be misinterpreted. Sometimes you will see Jesus with the disciples perform a miracle or do an action and he will turn to his disciples and ask whether they understand what he has done. John 13 is a primary example of this in when he washed their feet. This was something so outside of their culture where the master stooped to wash their feet. There needed to some explanation that went along with that because it was so counter cultural to the way they functioned. So it is about what our leaders model and teach. Obviously you need to model what you teach, but leaders need to teach what they are modelling so that the two become seamless. But what I have often seen, leaders with good intentions come into organizations wanting to change the culture but don’t spend enough time communicating what it is that they are trying to do and it can be misinterpreted. It ends up costing everyone. This is one of the five primary handles. If you look at what the leaders are modelling and teaching within the organization; this is a major clue of what the values are going to be within that organization and within that culture, regardless of what is written on the wall.
Audience: A good example of that was church this last Sunday where a powerful sermon was preached. The preacher that just finished up got back up to do the benediction; giving glory to God instead of taking the glory ourselves. That was a critical moment of knowing what to say. Another person: modelling and teaching require relationships. If you are modelling your behavior, you have to have a relationship with somebody who is observing it. To have demonstrated models or teachings, you have to have a relationship with people. If I have an audience of five hundred people, I and give them a wonderful message, but that is not a teaching.
C. Allocation of Resources
Okay, now the second handle; how we allocate our scarce resources. Every Christian organization that I know about, every religious organization that I know about, perceives that they have scarce resources. We would like to have more resources as I would imagine that this church would like to have more resources. I know that our organization would love to have more resources than we have. The only religious organization that I know of that feel they have enough is the Vatican. I was in India recently talking to the director of a major Christian organization. It was interested to hear from their perception of how poor they were and their need of funding. So, we all perceive that we have these scarce resources, but how we deal with those scarce resources; whether we like it or not or whether we want that to be or not; whether we preach something altogether different. The reality is in how we deal with those scarce resources, this communicates volumes to people. I have been involved in a number of organizations that have talked about the values for people and to develop people. But when it comes to the year-end budget cuts, sometimes the first thing that gets cut is the cost of developing people or the retreats or whatever. Sometimes, this is what is required, but when we do cut those resources, it communicates what the organization truly values. It is not just about money; it can be about personnel or equipment or space. It can be about time allotment; it can be about a lot of different things. Whatever we consider to be resources, they are particularly scarce; those things that aren’t set, those things that we have to scramble for. How we take, as leaders and then allocate those resources makes all the difference in the world in terms of what our culture perceives as a true value.
Audience: it can go back to the creeds; a leader can say that this thing is really important to us but you don’t allocate any funds for it. Another person: it also depends on how you define resources; my resources are my tools. If my belief is that my people are my resource, then that is where I am going to put all my limited resources.
So, resources are more than just money; it is a lot of different things. What are some ways that Jesus used his resources? He had time, this is a critical resource. He wasn’t choosey as to whom he spent his time with. He accepted all people and chose to spend his time with people, not just preaching and teaching. Jesus went to the very bottom as far as people were concerned. Jesus prioritized his time with his father and with his disciples, the twelve. He could have done so many other things as people were pulling at him to do healing; he didn’t heal everybody, did he? He was an equal opportunity Savior. The reality is, he spend a great deal of time with his disciples, particularly as he drew closer and closer to the cross. Audience: if I were to try and bring about major changes, I would do two things: I would leave a great impression, a lot of miracles and I would go to the top of the hierarchy, but Jesus did the opposite. Jesus didn’t have limited resources; he had all power, all wealth at his disposal. He had available to him legions of angels, but he rarely used any of that. He limited himself; he sat all of that aside. He raised people from the dead, so he did use some of his power. So, he limited himself in the resources he accessed; perhaps part of that was to teach what he really did value. If he had limitless resources, it would have been difficult to really see what was really important. Jesus chose not to have a lot to do with money as such. Through this, he was showing us what true value was. In paying tax and the money from the mouth of the fish; Jesus demonstrated that this wasn’t a big deal.
D. Behaviors we Reward
The third primary handle has to do with the behaviors we reward. What behavior in the church do we truly reward and what behaviors do we penalize? In many churches, there is the statement oftentimes that we champion integrity, for example, the spiritual disciples. But in churches that I know about and also Christian organizations that I have been part of, more often than not, the people that are rewarded are the people who have access to resources and know how to work the political system. Whatever we reward, whatever behavior we truly reward and whatever behavior we penalize will drive the values within the culture, regardless of what we preach or what we have officially written. We unintentionally reward behaviors that we don’t mean to. The sad part is, whether we intend to communicate or not, we still communicate. I was with a CEO of a large Christian organization one time and he was being blasted and criticized within the organization because of an action he took. He told me that he didn’t mean for it to be interpreted that way, but it didn’t matter what he intended because the people could only observe that person’s behavior. It is the rare person that will ever come to that type of person at that level and ask what they actually intended. It is the behavior that is observed. And whether we intended it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we even want it to be that way or not; the behaviors that we reward and the behaviors that we penalize drives the values deeply within any culture and reality.
Audience: if I reward some behaviors, especially when a person is successful; my assumption is that success is what God wants; financial success or worldly success. That worldly success can help God’s kingdom.
E. Addressing Assumptions
It is so difficult for us to actually address assumptions. The best that I can hope to do with this course is to address the value level and hope that we can deal with some of those assumptions and begin to ask what is really going on. These are addressing the value’s level and as we look at these, these are not prescriptive, they are descriptive. Whatever we do with these is going to determine the culture of the organization. That is the descriptive part. So, how do we reward people in the church? What are some of our reward systems? When I was growing up and attending Sunday school, we would often get a star for attending for a year. Beyond that, what are some of the reward systems that are useful? Sometimes, it is what we highlight in our general gathering. When I was vice-president of spiritual formations at college, my responsibility was chapel. When I got there, they were doing all kinds of things during the chapel service that weren’t chapel. I said to them, this is what chapel is and this is what chapel isn’t. Can you imagine the push back that I got? It seemed like a simple statement, but it was because we were going to reward somethings in chapel and highlight some issues and not highlight others. This is true in the church; whatever is in that place where we all come and gather, whatever gets attention in that moment typically becomes a more highly valued issue. Audience: we reward certain activities or efforts. So, this is the attention by leadership to the people. It is where leaders apply their energy and attention.
It comes back to resources; it is where we spend our resources. It is time, it is money and personnel; it is all of that, the values of what we live. The things that people care about are rewarded. We also reward people based on promotion. They may start as an usher and eventually they end up as an elder in the church. These are ways that we reward people; who we reward and what basis we reward has to do with the organization way of hiring, firing, promoting and retiring people. That can be in a volunteer organization or an employee based organization. This will tell you a lot about the standards that are used in this will tell you a lot about what the organization values.