Shaping Culture: Values & Vision

Personal development is always important. As I recently reminded our congregation, there is always a next level for us to pursue. As a pastor, I try to focus part of my own development in ways that will strategically impact our church. This summer I am taking part in “The LIFT Project” with the Willow Creek Association. (I encourage you to find out more about LIFT.) The course I am taking right now is about Shaping Culture. During the course I will be sharing some of the things I learn and apply through the reading, videos and personal interaction.

Culture is vital to a church. It is the foundation of the life and expression of the local body. Some cultures are healthy, while others allow for and even invite danger to the church. Pastors and church leaders have to be aware of the power of culture and be diligent in shaping the culture.

I am three weeks into a seven week course. Thanks to the way the material is presented through online video and downloads, I am catching up after missing the first week due to vacation. Because of this some of the material is blending into one immense lesson that is really challenging and forcing me to look at things in a different way. I want to share one piece of this that I shared with our online discussion group recently.

As leaders, especially in the Church, we talk about vision a lot. You must have a vision. Without a vision the people perish or become uncontrolled (see Proverbs 29:18). So the pastor or ministry team leader or church lay leadership have to come up with a vision. It must be biblical, memorable and catchy. And then it is “Accomplish the mission or bust.”

In most churches the result is “bust.” Conflict arises. Some people want the church and their own lives to stay the same despite the vision or mission that was drawn up and presented to them. Others want to throw out every slice of heritage for the modern and contemporary. People leave. Finances disappear. The pastor moves or is removed. After a time of searching, interviewing and voting, a new pastor comes in. And do you know what happens? The cycle begins all over again.

One of the reasons for this destructive cycle is that we have focused so much on vision that we do not understand and embrace the role of values.

New pastors often enter a new ministry with their vision for their new church and community packed in their briefcase. In many cases people in the church want the pastor to have a vision for the church and the community. But what happens when that pastor is done setting up his office and gets to work? Within their first year they change the leadership team, bring in new staff, change curricula, organize special speakers and activities, all based on the vision that they brought into town with them. This is how we have tried to shape culture in the past: Strong Leadership + Compelling Vision = Positive Change. Yet the number of churches locked in the cycle described above prove that this equation hasn’t worked out too well.

What ensures the success or failure of a vision? Values. The values that shape a culture will ultimate lead the organization, not the vision that has been set by even the strongest of leaders. The values of the organization have to be discovered, evaluated and aligned to Scripture and the unique call of the individual local church before a vision is crafted. Otherwise the vision is put forth prematurely and its fate will be uncertain at best.

As we look into the values of our church or organization, we shouldn’t be surprised to find good and bad values at work. We are, after all, quite human. Even in our churches, some of our underlying values may be flat out wrong and selfish. They may have lead to pastors and members leaving the church on a regular basis. But some of them are genuine, biblical, and can lead the church to a new level.

We must grab hold of the significance of values. Until we do our visions will be packed up and moved from church to church, and we will do more damage than good every time. Let’s bring the Word and power of God to the root of our lives, aligning lives to the values of God. Then we will be ready to accept and work towards a vision. And we just might be surprised by how smoothly it goes.