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Challenging and Improving Toxic Culture – Part 2


by Beth Ehlert: In our previous post, we began a discussion about improving toxic culture. We defined two significant terms to help us understand where we may stand as leaders–transformational leadership and transactional leadership. Now, let’s dive into more detail as we unpack this vital issue in church culture.

It Starts With You.

If you want to see a toxic culture change, be the type of leader who is continually learning and adapting to things not only inside yourself and the church but in the culture of the community as well. Consider how to bring others along with you on the journey. As a pastor, begin seeing your staff as partners in the process, rather than employees.

Consider the APEST model in Ephesians 4. Some are called to be Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. Know where it is you are in your understanding of your specific calling and contribution to your organization and also value the contributions of other leaders. Your leadership team should ideally have people who represent different roles for the church to be healthy and multiplication-minded.

Know Yourself.

Strengths: What strengths do you bring to the transformational process of your church?
Weaknesses: Are you a cultural transformer? If not, find someone who is!

Recently, I walked through the central office of a multi-site megachurch in my community. As I toured this office, what I saw gave me so much hope for the future of this church. I was able to meet and engage with the pastoral team, all of whom have very different functions with regards to APEST. As they worked through issues and wrestled together over what was best for their congregation, I saw them stop at various times to pray and ask the Spirit for direction. My hope was to see this trickle down to their teams.

Know Your Team.

Each person on your team has unique talents, passions, and spiritual gifts. Do you know what they are? Do you know how to most effectively utilize the plethora of resources God has placed on your team? Encourage those on your God has called you to lead to develop and mature these unique attributes continually.

It may start with you, but having a healthy team is foundational to a captivating culture. Are there members of your team who seem disengaged? Find out why. Pursue safe, open and transparent conversation, and pray for the wisdom and discernment needed.

Is discipleship happening within your teams? Do you see mentoring happening? As I walked through the church I mentioned above and saw such health in leadership; I wondered whether I would see this same culture amongst the teams there. As people huddled up working on various projects, I noticed that at times they would just stop what they were doing and pray together. It was such an encouraging, positive experience to see the way the leadership culture (remember, it starts with you) informed and shaped the team culture.

Know Your Organization.

Your organization has a culture, good or bad. It also has a history, certain assets and liabilities, and specific traditions. Proceed in changing your organizational culture with intentional, small changes that ultimately lead to a more significant impact.

The church I’ve mentioned in this post did not always have such a healthy culture. In the past, they had a lone ranger-style leader who ultimately became addicted to his own power and influence. That made a significant negative impact on my community. It has now been a little over four years since the difficult decision to remove this leader from his position of authority. Positive change is happening, but the church had to be a bit delicate about it especially at first because of the history and traditions that had developed over time due to this leader’s bad habits.

Deep Change

Many organizations require really deep change. The majority of transformational leaders never get to experience the cultural change they seek in their own lifetime. (Think of Abraham Lincoln’s story). Are you willing to work through the change required of you, even knowing you may never get to see the end result?

Think about Moses. He went through so much to get the people of Israel to the Promised Land, but he never got to enter it. He knew he wouldn’t be able to go in, because of his temper and his killing of a man in Egypt. But knowing he wouldn’t be allowed to go in did not stop Moses from leading the people there.

Where are you willing to lead people, even if you don’t get to experience it with them?

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