Several years ago, I observed a leadership situation in which the primary leader’s home was falling apart. At the same time, the church he was leading was becoming increasingly fractured.
The apostle Paul wrote two letters to a younger man named Timothy. Timothy was like a son to him, but as a leader he was coaching to help the increasing gatherings of God’s people flourish. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul advises him to make sure the people in leadership are managing their families and households well because if they don’t, they probably won’t be able to care for the church well (1 Timothy 3:5).
During my time at that troubled church, these words became more and more clear to me. I watched my friends struggle in their marriage as they tried to “manage” the dysfunction and brokenness that was increasing between them. What was happening in their family reflected in our church.
This is how culture goes. The culture of leadership often determines the culture of an organization. It begins with leaders individually, but how the leader establishes the culture, determines the way of the organization.
When my family and I started attending Journey in late 2015, I started reading Love Well to know what we were getting into. Jamie George, the author and the founding pastor of Journey, tells the story of the church’s humble beginnings as he parallels the course of his marriage. What he displays so eloquently are the parallels of two institutions that are young and naive but brimming with dreams and vision and struggling with how to get there. The book was so vulnerable and personal that when I saw Jamie and Angie at church, I felt uncomfortable. It was as though I knew too much about their personal lives!
The more involved I got at Journey through small groups, serving and eventually joining the staff, the more I noticed that vulnerability and truth-telling are simply a part of the culture. You can show up with your brokenness and garbage on the table and still be welcomed to sit.
This began with Jamie and Angie. Journey was cultivated by a set of leaders who loved them through their darkest days and has manifested into a culture where people feel safe to be there and courageous enough to move a position.
From the weekend teachings to workplace camaraderie to the staff’s social media posts, your church’s staff and volunteers cultivate everyone’s experience. Strong team culture can foster growth, attract great talent, and, most importantly, help your church live out its calling in the Kingdom of God.
A toxic culture does the opposite. It harms relationships, fragments the church, and prevents Kingdom work from getting done. Culture is vital to the flourishing of any organization. The most effective church leaders are engaged with their people and paying attention to nurturing a healthy leadership culture.
The reality of this is that our churches will only be as healthy as our leaders are.
So, to evaluate your own church’s culture, first, take a good hard look in the mirror. What do you see? How healthy are your leaders? What are the relationships like among your staff? Is there a culture of fear or love? Is it safe to fall? Is it safe to fail? These questions will help you as you begin this conversation.
About the Author
Suzie Lind is the Spiritual Formation Pastor at Journey Church in Brentwood, TN. Suzie’s primary role is to help people embark on their spiritual path with God and others during their time at Journey. She helps people navigate into Villages, leads the movement of women and is part of the teaching team.