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Lecture 1: Introduction to Leading Healthy Church Culture
Course: Leading Healthy Church Culture
Lecture 1: Introduction to the Course – Hebrews 13:7-8
We are told to remember the faithfulness of the Lord in our lives.
Welcome to this opportunity to learn together about leadership. We have the opportunity to join in this time to learn. I believe that all of you know more than any one of us about leadership. So, this will be sort of a journey over the coming weeks. This first course is concerned with leading a Healthy Church Culture. This is the anchor course as such. Its two fold focus is to explore what it means to be a Christ centered leader and we will work through the meanings associated with this. The second focus of the course has to do with what it means to lead a Christ’s centered church or a healthy church as the title suggests. We define a healthy church as one that is authentically applying Christ centered values. In addition, culture is central to our discussion. I believe the primary role of a 21st century church leader is to craft and care for the culture of the church. When this happened then other organizational issues tend to fall in line.
Let me share with you some things about myself. Well, I love Jesus and I’ve been following him since I was seventeen years old and I love working with leaders from many different parts of the world. I’ve been to about forty different countries around the world working with leaders over the years. I used to be a pastor and I think that pastors have some of the hardest work on earth to do. Having been in their shoes, it’s obvious to me that they have a most difficult job. I want to do everything that I can to support the local church. With all of its faults and short comings, I believe in the church and believe that God has ordained the church to be the primary means through which the great commandment and commission will be fulfilled. So, I am all about the church and those who lead the church. It was in 1994 that I got involved with developing leaders and I have been working in that area ever since that time. This is going to be an interactive experience as adults learn best when they are talking and engaging in conversation. I hope we can laugh together but may end of crying together. We will also learn through one another’s experiences because I think that is how adults learn best.
B. Hebrews 13:7-8
First of all, a couple of Scripture verses, Hebrews 13:7-8. ‘Remember your leaders, those who have spoken God’s Word to you. Think about the impact of their lives, and imitate their faith. Jesus, the Messiah, is the same yesterday and today – and forever!’ We are not sure who wrote the Book of Hebrews and so I will refer to that person as the writer. Here, the writer directs us to remember our leaders; this is a directive that we should follow. Remembering is actually one of the spiritual disciplines in the Bible even though it isn’t talked about that much. In regards to spiritual disciplines, it usually has to do with worship and prayer and Scripture reading and service. It may even include meditation, fasting, etc. But, remembering is often included in this list. And yet, as we look through Scripture, this thread of remembering is there. It starts in Genesis when God created the world and on the seventh day he rested. And he said, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. So, it is right there in the Pentateuch. Then in Joshua chapter 4 where the Israelites had just crossed the Jordan; Joshua had led them into the promise land. Just as they had crossed the river, God instructed Joshua to appoint twelve men representing the twelve tribes of Israel and then to go back to the dry river bed and to take up twelve stones. They chose these twelve stones and then created an altar of remembrance there at Gilead just on the other side. Those famous words in Joshua chapter 4 verse 5. ‘Each of you must pick up a stone on his shoulder with which to build a memorial, one for each of the tribes of Israel. Let this serve as a sign among you, so that when your children ask in times to come, what do these stones mean, then say to them that because the waters of the Jordan were cut off, these stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.’
It is an opportunity to remember when your children ask you about these stones. This was the promise land but it wasn’t paradise. There will be times when they might even want to go back to where they had come from. When ask, their parents would tell them the story of God’s faithfulness to his people. From the New Testament, when we read in Jesus’ last hours with his disciples where he broke the bread and passed the cup. Paul in 1st Corinthians 11 reflected on this; he said, ‘as you take the bread and as you take the cup remember this; do this in remembrance of me.’ Here it is again, remembering God’s faithfulness. This is threaded through in the stories of the Scriptures; it is a God-ordained discipline and here it is again in Hebrews 13:7-8. We are to remember our leaders. It seems to me that it is easier to remember the bad things that have happened in life. I remember the slights, the hurts and the disappointments; all of us have experienced this. But the reality is God calls us to this discipline of remembering because it is a reminder that in the difficult journey of life, God has been faithful. He has been faithful in the past and he is faithful to today and will continue to be faithful. So, what are we to remember about these leaders? We are to consider the outcome of their way of life. That is such an important word because it helps us to focus on the long-term results of their words, attitudes and behaviors. What these behaviors over time produce, what is the sum total of their way of life. It doesn’t just say to consider their way of life but it says to consider the outcome of their way of life.
Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State made a statement in her book recently saying that today’s headlines and history judgements are rarely the same. If you are too attentive to the former, you will most certainly not do the hard work of securing the latter. This is a powerful statement. She mentioned that her office in the White House had portraits of several former US leaders she considered as her heroes. One of them was a historical figure named William Stuart; not a likely choice to grace their walls as he was a US Senator and also Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnston. Stuart was a dominant figure in the Republican Party. He was considered leading contender for the presidential nomination in 1860. His outspoken opposition to slavery leading up to the American Civil War most likely cost him that nomination. Of course, he is known best for the purchase of Alaska. He engineered a deal to pay Russia seven million dollars for what was considered then an ice box. When the purchase was ratified in the Senate in 1867, Stuart was severely criticized. The decision became known as Stuart’s folly. He lost the nomination of his party in 1860, but he purchased Alaska seven years later. His convictions display a long resolved view that changed the fate and face of the United States. His contemporary, Carl Shirts, described Stuart as one of those spirits who sometimes will go ahead of public opinion instead of him tamely following their footprints. The Defense Minister of Russia recently visited Alaska with Connie Rice and said that it reminded him of Russia. She replied, ‘it used to be!’ Stuart did the hard work of leadership by attending less to today’s headlines and more to history’s judgments.
C. Our Current Leadership Climate
I think that was what he was getting at, ‘consider the outcome, the long view.’ Our current leadership climate expects coaches and pastors and CEO’s and presidents to produce instant results. But Hebrews still champions those people like Stuart, remember your leaders and consider the outcome of their ways of life. Throughout the centuries the long view has been the way to secure the future. We are also to remember their faith; it says to imitate their faith. Why do you suppose the emphasis is on faith? If I had written this verse, I would have said something else, given the way I think perhaps, like to consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their way of life. But that isn’t what it says, instead it says to consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Their outcome was based on their faith! What does this mean? We tend to miss the trials and tribulations that took to get to that point. Their testimony and thus outcome came with a great deal of suffering, sacrifice and surrender. You don’t see that in these words, but to get there, it must be through faith. You have got to believe in the prayer: not my kingdom, not my will, not my power, not my glory but only yours, Lord. That takes faith. So, the only way to get to that outcome is through the travail of faith? It is saying that it is outside of how we would measure success. It wasn’t from their own strength as such, it was about faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. I don’t know if I am interpreting the text correctly but it strikes me that it doesn’t say to imitate their way of life as God doesn’t want clones. Sometimes as we look at leaders, I want to be like him of I want to be like her. A lot of pastors want to be like Rick Warren or whoever. But God isn’t into cookie-cutter type leaders. He is calling us to be ourselves, to live in our own skin and to imitate the faith because this is what pleases God. He has made us all unique and has never wanted us to copy one another, but instead to be what he wants us to be.
D. Jesus Christ is the Same Yesterday, Today and forever
I get very excited about this verse, particularly because of what the last verse says, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!’ I have heard this verse discussed and preached in countless sermons and seminars, but seldom in context with the previous verse. Within context of the previous verse, this statement expresses that Jesus is the ultimate leader. Jesus’ commitment to raise up leaders for the church hasn’t changed. This mandate from Hebrews is my favorite biblical text on leadership. Some have called it the Leadership Mandate because it contains all kinds of hope; it contains that hope that cannot be dashed. It implies that Jesus is the one who went before us; he is the one who is with us today and the same until tomorrow. He is the one who is faithful to raise up leaders in our present generation. This is such an encouraging message in today’s world. In my work with leaders, sometimes I see really good leaders and sometimes I get to see not so good leaders and sometimes I see the ugly part behind the veil that comes to leadership. It comes with the territory in what we do. But through it all, we have this enduring hope because Jesus Christ is still the head of the church. Hebrews is calling us to remember our leaders who spoke the Word to us faithfully and who lived faithfully and to consider the outcomes of their way of life and to imitate that faith and remember that Jesus is the same; he doesn’t change, he will continue to build his church because he has promised to do that.