June 5, 2019

Culture Champion – Episode 96 | The Unstuck Church Podcast (Part 4)

Culture Champion

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4 Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate (Part 4)

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Today we’re capping off a podcast series I have really enjoyed. If you’re just joining us in this 4-part series on Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate, you really need to go back and listen to those previous three episodes. All of these roles are critical to your role as a senior pastor, and more importantly, to the overall health of your churches.

  1. Vision-Caster (Part 1)
  2. Spiritual Leader / Teacher (Part 2)
  3. Leader of Leaders (Part 3)
  4. Culture Champion (Part 4)

This fourth essential role—being the primary champion of culture in your church—is the most recent I’ve added to the list. But I’m convinced it’s crucial. Culture really does start at the top of an organization. And if the senior leadership team is preaching and teaching values and practices that the senior pastor does not exhibit, there’s going be a disconnect. Tension is going to rise on the team.

Amy said it well in our conversation:

Culture is a set of behaviors that defines what the team does, how they behave, what they value. I really don’t think you can leave that up to chance, hoping team members will figure it out.

Amy Anderson

It’s the senior pastor’s responsibility to set the tone for the team and lead the church by example. When this is done right, not only do you shape the culture of the team, but you all also shape the culture of the entire church.

In this episode, Amy and I discussed:

  • Why the senior pastor must be the primary champion of culture at the church, and how he or she can own that role
  • Why if you tolerate things that are contrary to your culture, you really won’t have a culture
  • Where I most commonly see lazy leadership in ministries, and how it creates “cancers” that ultimately get the team stuck
  • The process and the payoff for defining culture, and then modeling, teaching and coaching it
  • Why “aspirational behaviors” don’t belong in your team culture definition today, and how you can start moving the team towards future ideals while working with the culture you have now
Culture is a set of behaviors that defines what the team does, how they behave, what they value. You can't leave that up to chance, hoping team members will figure it out. #unstuckchurch [episode 96] Click to Tweet If you tolerate things that are contrary to your culture, you really won't have a culture. #unstuckchurch [episode 96] Share on X If somebody doesn't sin u0026amp; they get the job done, church leaders tend to accommodate them, even if they don't meet culture expectations. The challenge is—it's usually around culture that cancers form on a team. Leaders, don't get lazy here.… Share on X

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Amy: 00:00 Culture is really a set of behaviors that defines you know, what the team does, how they behave, what they value and I just don’t think you can leave that up to chance, hoping team members will figure that out.

Sean: 00:11 Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. This week on the podcast, we conclude our four-part series on the Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate, focusing on the senior pastor’s role as a builder and protector of culture. As you listen to this week’s podcast, you can join the conversation with us by using the hashtag #unstuckchurch and posting your question or comment on your favorite social media channel. Connect with Tony, Amy, myself, and our Unstuck team and get your ministry specific question answered. Also, if you haven’t yet, make sure to grab the show notes as you listen. You can find them at theunstuckgroup.com/episode 96 and make sure to subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox each week. You can get one email with all of the info, including the leader guide, our resources and bonus resources we don’t mention during the episode. You can sign up by going to the unstuckgroup.com/podcast. Now, here’s the conversation on the senior pastor’s role in culture with Tony and Amy.

Amy: 01:13 This week we’re concluding our series on the Four Things a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate. And once again, Tony, before we dive into this last area, let’s recap where we’ve been the past three weeks.

Tony: 01:23 This has been a fun series for me, Amy, thanks for engaging the conversation with me. In the first three episodes, we talked about vision-casting, we talked about teaching, we talked about leadership, and really I feel like I’m in the last message of a series at the church and you’re just catching the punchline today. So if you’re just showing up for whatever reason for the last time today, you really do need to go back and listen to those previous three episodes at a minimum in this series because really all of these roles are critical to your role as a senior pastor, but more importantly to the overall health of your churches. I hope you’ll be willing to do that. That brings us to this final area, this final role that the senior pastor can’t delegate.

Tony: 02:14 And that’s being the primary champion of culture in your church, and a culture we have learned through the years, it really does start at the top of the organization. If the senior leadership team is preaching and teaching values and practices that the senior pastor does not exhibit, there’s going to be a disconnect and the tension is going to rise on the team and it’s going to be you’re not walking your talk basically is what’s happening here. So, it’s the senior pastor’s responsibility to set the tone for the team and lead the church by example in this area. It’s important because when this is done right, not only do you shape the culture of the team, but you all also shape the culture of the entire church. So, Amy, here’s the deal: This area of culture I know is critical to the staffing and structure component of our Unstuck Process, and you’ve been interviewing me about the previous three roles that senior pastors can’t delegate, but because of your experience with this area, I want to turn the tables. Today I want to talk to you about shaping culture in our churches. So let’s just begin with that foundational question: “How does a senior pastor become the champion of the team’s culture?”

Amy: 03:37 Great question. By the way, you know this, Tony, when we work with different churches, this idea of culture is so real. You walk into a church team and instantly you get a vibe of what their church culture is like, and it can be so different from another team and another team week to week. It’s these distinctive pieces that really define it; the culture, they might not seem radically different, but I can just tell there are certain people who would or would not fit in that culture based on the experience with it. So, I think the first thing is a senior pastor has to do to champion the culture is actually to go through the work of defining the culture. You know this when we work with churches, we take them through an exercise called culture shaping behaviors. The whole experience is to help them think about what are the distinctive pieces about our team that define who we are. They can be called values, but I know that you and I found way too many churches had these core values on their websites and it really has zero impact to honestly what their culture was like. They had a lot of permission to play in them, right? Like we pray and we’d say, well that’s really good because you’re a church. But that didn’t necessarily define by being distinct though.

Amy: 04:59 Your culture is really a set of behaviors that defines, you know, what the team does, how they behave, what they value. I just don’t think you can leave that up to chance hoping team members will figure that out.

Tony: 05:11 So don’t miss this – I think this is key to this whole conversation. Rather than focusing on what we value, we want to shift, and it’s a slight shift, but it is a shift, we want to focus more on how do we behave, how do we act together, how do we engage with each other? And what we’ve learned is that actually is more telling when it comes to the overall culture of the organization. Amy, can you give a specific example of maybe one of the better cultures? I mean, we work with a lot of great churches and there are a lot of great cultures. We also run into some unhealthy cultures. So rather than camp on what’s not healthy, let’s talk about one of the healthy team cultures we’ve seen.

Amy: 06:03 Sure. We worked with a great church in your great state of Georgia, and this was a team that, boy, the whole time I was on site with them, it was just, it was a joy – it was humorous, they had huge challenges, but it almost added to their smile and their laughter. When we went through this exercise with them, let me just share with you the five team values that came out of this.

Tony: 06:25 So wait a second. I mean normally when we’re talking about the bad stuff in churches, we talk very generally and we don’t name names, but in this case, we’re talking about something positive. So I think we should actually go on the record with who this church is.

Amy: 06:41 All right, love this team. It’s Eastridge Church in Covington, Atlanta. Hello, my friends out there, if you’re listening today, I know they’re faithful podcast listeners. Their four exec leaders we’re just an amazing team and they set an amazing culture and they have this huge vision and I have no doubt they’ll move it, and part of it might because as you hear these culture behaviors, you might know why. The first behavior, there’s five of them, they said we have real relationships with one another that are honest and sincere. So there’s an undercurrent value thereof authenticity, but you know what, those four guys live it out. I could see it while we were there and that tells me that organization won’t tolerate anything that’s not real. They expect one another to be honest with one another. The second one they said, “we’re never satisfied with the status quo. For us, good enough is not good enough.” So there’s this hungry aspect to who they are. Just three more: The third one, a team win is more important than individual success. And you know, Tony, they bled this the whole time when we were working with them. You could just tell their mindset was if you win but the team doesn’t, that’s not a win. So this value of teamwork was perfect.

Tony: 07:56 What I appreciated the most as it relates to that particular behavior is how the senior pastor was modeling that. It wasn’t just a surface talk from the senior pastor, “really? It’s all about me?” I mean he was modeling this for the rest of the team, too. It comes through in his leadership

Amy: 08:16 Definitely. The fourth one, they said “we’re humble enough to know that we don’t know at all and secure enough to ask for the wisdom and help with others”, and that’s that teachability thing. Again, I saw it demonstrated as they leaned into one another, trying to make great decisions through the planning process. Then the last one is really this value of laughter – “We choose to be joyful and have fun in our journey together.” That’s what they were doing honestly. They had some big challenges to overcome and they could see the mountain in front of them and they did it with a smile on their face, not a fake one! They were choosing to be joyful in the journey together, and the whole time I was with this church, you could just hear laughter in the meetings and so it tells me, who would fit on this team and who wouldn’t. You can start to get the shape of who that is. I love how you leaned into the senior pastor there. It starts with him, but the team that he is around, they have just picked up on that culture and also live it out.

Tony: 09:13 All right, Amy, so it’s one thing to try to define the culture that you want to have on your team. It’s a completely different thing than want to try to live that out. So once you define the culture, then what?

Amy: 09:26 So once you define the culture, I think what’s really important is you work with your communications department to create some great signs that you put on your walls and then make sure you get it on your website.

Tony: 09:39 Amy, obviously you’ve picked up the part of our culture that embraces sarcasm. That’s why I fit so well. I’m suspecting that’s not what actually what we need to do.

Amy: 09:55 No. The next thing you have to do pretty simple. I mean it starts by modeling it. I think the reason we’re talking about this team is that those four leaders model everything that I just said – It’s how they live. It’s what they do. It’s what they expect of one another. It’s innate in them. That’s what’s made them such a great team over the years. So when they actually named them, they stood back and even their team was like, “That’s what you all do. That’s who we are.” So modeling is the first one.

Tony: 10:22 I can’t overemphasize how important it is for the senior pastor. And again, Scott on the team there, a senior pastor, he’s living out those behaviors. Then that starts to shape the culture and then he’s making sure those key leaders around me immediately around me, they reflect those behaviors as well. Otherwise the rest of the team is not going to catch it, and certainly, the church is not going to catch it either.

Amy: 10:50 Interesting you say that. I don’t mean to go negative, but there’s a church I’ve worked with many years ago now, but their leadership team modeled these things. I think their leadership team actually came up with these things, but the senior pastor did not. He agreed with them that they’d be a good thing, but if you really watched what he modeled, it was not congruent with the behaviors that this team had pulled together. So that’s not a healthy culture.

Tony: 11:19 All right. So, once the culture is defined, you begin by modeling it, then what?

Amy: 11:24 Then you have to teach it. It goes back to the visioning of it. You need to keep it in front of the team. You need to talk about it. When I say you, I mean the senior leader. Senior leaders, again, you can’t delegate the ownership for culture. They need to hear you talk about it, preach about it, share it with the team. Monthly staff meetings, by the way, are really a great way to do this. Churches often asked me what, what’s an important piece of the staff meeting? And while sharing information is an important part of it, I think bringing back the culture and vision-casting around that is something that just says staff team members, we need to be reminded of who we are every once in a while.

Tony: 12:04 I just want to emphasize here, not having too many behaviors that you’ve identified as being critical to the culture because I had an example, and again, I’m not going to name the organization, but in this case, if I did, everybody listening would know it. I was at a gathering and the leader of the organization was talking about their new values as a team and started to rattle off these values and I thought, well, this is interesting because the values he’s talking about aren’t the values that are on the wall in the room that we’re in. So the reason why he didn’t know them I think is not only because the values were new, but there were 13 new values on the wall. And so, they may be values, but what you want to do is try to narrow down so that you’re talking about the core behaviors that you’re expecting to see in your team that way, not only does everybody hear them more often, but everybody knows them in their heart and they’re starting to live them out.

Amy: 13:05 I really appreciate what Craig Rochelle said and he’s got a great podcast from a couple of years ago, it’s a two-parter, but he talks about the values being memorable and portable. I think those are good litmus tests. So can people remember them? On your team, can you remember them? And then if you can remember them, then they’re portable, then you can take those with you wherever you go. So yeah, 11, 12, 13 that’s way too many.

Tony: 13:31 That’s right. So you talked about you have to model it, you have to teach it then what?

Amy: 13:35 Then you have to coach it. This is kind of I guess a management principle that I have always lived by, but the first part of it is what gets noticed gets repeated. So I think you need to, as leaders, catch your people living out these values and celebrating it. It’s so much more memorable. People really own it when they are praised for living out the values that they’ve stated. So what gets noticed gets repeated. Celebrate at your staff meetings, who lived out one of your values. Tell a story about it. It will create more people who want to be like that. Then, of course, the other side of it is if it’s not what gets noticed gets repeated. I will talk to leaders about you also get what you tolerate. When it comes to culture, people who skew a little bit, like they may agree that we should be honest and sincere and sincere, but they’re not being honest and sincere. It’s up to the leader to move in on that because if you don’t move in on it, really what you’re doing is you’re tolerating that behavior. If you tolerate things that are contrary to your culture, you really don’t have a culture, if I can say it that way. Have you seen that Tony?

Tony: 14:43 It’s just lazy leadership. Honestly. When you expect something, and the deal is in churches, I generally see churches do a good job of holding people accountable for performance. They hold people accountable just for kind of character integrity issues. If somebody does something immoral there will be accountability for that. Where I see leaders getting lazy though is when it comes to the culture and if somebody doesn’t, you know, doesn’t sin and they get the job done is whatever, wherever they are with their personality and their behaviors, they’ll accommodate that. The challenge of course is it’s usually around the culture that the biggest cancers can form on a team. So leaders, you just can’t get lazy here. You need to celebrate when you catch people doing it, but you can’t tolerate it when people start to live outside and behave outside of the lines when it comes to the culture that you’re trying to create. All right, Amy, that’s the process, but what’s the payoff if we define the culture and then we do the things that you just talked about, model, teach and coach the culture. What’s the win? What’s the payoff for the teams that do and the senior pastor specifically that lead well in this area?

Amy: 16:05 Well, when each person on the team embraces and lives out the shared set of essential behaviors. then the team begins to reflect those behaviors and that ultimately shapes the culture of your entire ministry, not just staff but your entire ministry. So a couple of payoffs from that. Number one, everyone’s pulling in the same direction. You know, we have this identity in who we are as an organization and we’re all pulling together. And because of that, I believe Tony, there’s just this increased unity on the team; I’d maybe even say pride, but I don’t mean pride in a negative way, but they’re really unified around this is kind of what defines us and everyone’s living out of those same expectations and they’re approaching ministry in that unified way. One of the big payoffs I think, and this is again because I live in a lot of staffing and structure review, but it really provides clarity on who fits with this team and who doesn’t fit with this team.

Amy: 17:01 So you mentioned character chemistry – overall competence in a role. It’s really interesting. Leaders will often have like there’s something. You can sense their pause when they’re telling me about this team member. After we go through the staffing structure review, more often than not, there are one or two people where culture is really the issue that’s causing the leader to want to work that person off of their team. So this clarity comes, we know who doesn’t fit, and then we also know who does. So when we’re hiring, we can use these cultural behaviors in the interview process to assess who’s going to be a good fit now and in the future on our team.

Tony: 17:45 Amy talk to us a little bit about the difference between what’s really a part of the culture that you’re embracing and living out and compared to maybe aspirational aspects of the culture you want to create in the future. Can, as you’re working with a team, do you allow them to go to aspirational?

Amy: 18:05 That’s a really good question. Actually, one of our team members, I worked with one of the teams from one of our consultants and at their church, it was really kind of funny to all of us as we went through the culture-shaping behaviors. They already had their behaviors defined and so I was like, great, let’s see how they’re going. Are they red, yellow, green? Like are we really living them out or green? Not Perfect. Are we yellow, red? Well all of them came out red.

Amy: 18:32 Why do we think that they’re all red? And it came out of a process they had done a year or two earlier where they weren’t happy with who they were, so they had defined basically a set of aspirational behaviors that they all wanted to become. So when you have aspirational behaviors, you’re really not defining your culture. And so I don’t know if you do Tony, I don’t let people put in aspirational ones, but I do think you can revisit your values as you’re becoming more of who you want to become as an organization. This is really about defining who you are as an organization. Would you agree? How would you answer that?

Tony: 19:12 Very much so; This is where I hate to say it, but as a leader of my team and the organization that we’re building here, when I see something in our culture that I don’t like, I have to be willing to look in the mirror because honestly, whatever that is, it’s probably coming out of how I am operating. In fact, I think it was Sam Chan that I heard suggest that the culture of any organization is usually a reflection of the top five leaders in that organization. So if you get a whiff of anything in your organization that you just kind of causes you to flinch and kind of step back and think, well, wait for a second, how did that get there? You really ought to look in the mirror and honestly from experience, sometimes you don’t like what staring back at you, but it really is the culture. It begins with a senior leader. So if it’s something you love, celebrate that, but if it’s something that causes you to pause, that may be an indication, probably is an indication, that there’s a shift that needs to take place in your leadership first.

Amy: 20:26 So Tony, you’re the leader of an organization. Let’s have you talked to the leaders that are listening to the podcast. What do you think are some first steps that these pastors can take when it comes to their cultural behaviors?

Tony: 20:39 This is one of those areas that you just need some time away. By away, you don’t necessarily need to get off-site, but you need to pull away from the day-to-day of ministry with your key leaders. If you want a collaborative team, you need to begin by collaborating in how you’re defining your culture. Don’t hole up in a room by yourself and try to come up with defining your culture, you need to pull your team together and work through this together. I do think if you were to step back and look at the people on your team now that you think are adding and helping your team win, and they’re the great performers, but they’re the folks that are really raising the level of health on the team,

Tony: 21:30 Think about those people and then try to try to identify what are the behaviors in those top performers, those top players on your team, and brainstorm that list with your leadership team. You’ll end up with a long list. I mean, you may have 20, 30 different things on that list, but I would challenge you, and I know Amy, you practice this as well, try to widdle down all of those behaviors to maybe four or five at the most. Three, four or five, just those essential behaviors that are really distinctive about the top people on your team. Then try to try to define; put it into an action sentence: how you identify those behaviors in other people. Then once you have that list and you have those kinds of clarifying statements that really describe those cultural behaviors that you’re trying to embrace in your team, you just hinted at it.

Tony: 22:31 I think it’s always wise then periodically that just step back and evaluate how are we doing as a team in each of these areas. Is it, is it red? Is this area something that the warning lights are going off because we’re just not seeing this in our organization? Or maybe we’re seeing the opposite of what it should be in this particular area. Is it yellow? We’re seeing some hints of healthier, but there’s still some room for improvement or is this green? I mean we’re just seeing examples time and time again of our staff team living out this cultural behavior. Periodically, this is what leaders do – they evaluate. Are we seeing the results that we expected from the strategies that we’re engaging?

Amy: 23:19 That’s really good. Well, I agree, Tony, this has been a great series. Hopefully, it’s been helpful to the senior pastors out there. Any thoughts as we conclude this?

Tony: 23:29 You know, again, as a senior leader of an organization, I know the weight that you’re experiencing as a senior pastor, and there are constantly things coming at you; flying at you, and they’re trying to divert your from the things that are most important. It’s funny, 12 years ago I wrote the story about killing cockroaches. It’s probably been more than 12 years now. It’s hard to believe how fast time flies. But I was sitting in my office one day, and this was when I was still in local government, I was a city manager, and this woman comes flying into my office and screaming because she found a cockroach in her office and I don’t know what prompted me to do this, but I just pushed away from the desk, walked across the building and proceeded to kill the cockroach.

Tony: 24:19 So here’s what happened in the years since then: I would come home from the office and Emily would look at me and I would just have that look on my face like I just had a horrible day and she would, she would start to ask the question, “Tony, did you have to kill cockroaches today?” What she was referring to is all really all of those urgent things that keep flying at us; the challenges, the problems, and the key thing here is sometimes what’s most urgent, sometimes that current challenge, sometimes that current problem that you’re facing isn’t what’s most important to the overall health and direction of the church that you’re leading. And so I just want to make sure periodically you step back and assess where you’re investing your time. Are you investing in vision-casting because it can’t be delegated to anybody else? Or are you investing in leadership because it can’t be delegated to anybody else? Are you invested in teaching in your organization because it can’t be delegated to anybody else? And Are you investing and being the champion of the culture that you’re trying to create in your organization because it can’t be delegated to anybody else. I’m pulling with the senior pastors. If you’re listening, I want you to be a better leader but my big challenge to you is that you focus on these things, these roles that you can’t delegate to anyone else.

Sean: 25:50 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, help us get the content out by subscribing, giving us a review and telling your friends about the podcast. As always, if you’d like to learn more about how we’re helping churches get unstuck, you can visit us at, the unstuckgroup.com. Next week we’re back with another brand new episode. Have a great week everyone.

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