Culture = the shared values, goals, attitudes and practices that characterizes any organized group of people.
Culture identifies what is important to a body of believers, reflecting the vision, values and purpose of the assembly. A well-defined culture promotes momentum, creates unity and provides stability.
With culture, everything rises and falls on the leadership. Leaders provide more influence in shaping a church’s culture than any other factor and the senior pastor/leader is the key player when it comes to establishing culture.
3 ways leaders shape culture:
1) Leaders shape culture through personal influence.
All leaders must embody the culture in which they are endeavoring to establish. Culture is always established within the leadership team before it can be effectively established in the congregation. Once there is unity of culture in the leadership team you can begin to cast the vision of culture to those following. Remember that establishing culture is a marathon and not a sprint.
2) Leaders set direction and cast vision.
The focus of the congregation on its future and direction is vital to the success and health of the ministry. The vision of the church must be well defined and consistently emphasized. Not with long wordy explanations, but with short concise statements that embody the culture of the ministry and speaks to who you are as a people. The skillful use of language and terminology is a powerful tool. Language impacts the way people think and behave, what they value, and ultimately what they begin to believe. It is the belief in the vision that the leader is after and being creative in how you cast vision and set direction shapes culture faster and more effectively.
3) Leaders equip the saints and hold God’s word in the highest regard.
Ephesians 4:11-12 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ
The purpose of 5-fold ministry is to equip the body to do the work of the ministry. Not all leaders are 5-fold ministry gifts, but all leaders are called to help equip the saints. Great leaders shape their church’s culture in ways that reflect obedience to the Word of God. The most powerful way to shape or change a church’s culture is through teaching what God’s Word has to say about the church. Associate pastors, team leaders and department heads should be knowledgeable in the Word, emphasizing what is spoken from the pulpit and inspiring the flock to run with the vision of the house.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In order to change the behavior of a church, the values of the church must first be changed. To change the values of the church, the beliefs of the church must be changed. The most effective way of addressing people’s deeply held assumptions and wrong beliefs is to teach God’s Word. Many people will not change what they believe simply because the pastors and leaders believe it. They must be shown from the Bible why they need to change.
Great leaders always demonstrate to the people that the change they are proposing is rooted in scripture. This helps them recognize the need for change and see that the authority to demand that change goes beyond the influence of the pastoral leadership and comes directly from God.
Developing a culture where the Word of God is final authority is the only solid foundation to build upon. Taking time with your leaders to help define the culture of the house will produce much fruit in the future.
Don’t be rushed into defining your culture. Have leadership meetings to discuss ideas and hold it up as a prayer target. Visit other successful ministries to experience their culture. Read books on church culture. Give a survey to the faithful, active members of your congregation and get their feedback. Allowing these people to have a voice develops influence. You don’t necessarily have to follow their suggestions, but allowing them input gives them a sense of belonging and importance that makes them feel like they are a part of the process and an important part of the ministry.
3 important questions to help you define your church culture:
1) What do you care most about as a ministry or congregation?
The truth is, you can’t care about everything. This doesn’t suggest that there are some things you actually don’t care about, but helps you understanding that each ministry and every local assembly has a specific role to play and a specific mission to accomplish. Your church/ministry is a part of the body, not the whole body, and each part needs to focus on, and emphasize the things that God has assigned to you specifically. Clearly defining God’s assignment is the foundation upon which culture is established.
Here are a few questions that will help identify what is important to your culture.
- What has God put on your heart and the heart of the leadership team?
- What are you passionate about?
- What keeps you awake at night because you feel something must be done?
- What ministries are currently thriving and effective?
- What ministries are non-negotiable?
2) What are you doing about what you care about?
What you do is an expression of who you are. Selecting what ministries you do and don’t do plays a major part in setting the culture. It’s not enough to say “we have a heart for the homeless,” what are you actually doing about it?
James 2:18-20 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
Culture is an expression of your faith, a reflection of your beliefs. What you do, and don’t do, from missions to local outreach, to how you embrace first time guests, to developing leaders all plays a significant role in shaping your culture. You don’t need to tell visitors what your culture is, they experience it. What you do from the parking lot to the pulpit shouts culture.
Every ministry will find its own cultural expression. Culture is impacted by things like age demographic, location, and ethnic mix. Also, style and preference play a big part. Is your church more casual or formal? What is your style of worship? Don’t worry too much about these factors, they will develop naturally. It is what you do about what you care about that sets the culture.
3) How do you do ministry?
It’s a given that churches do ministry differently. Leadership style, theology, ministry priorities, finances, etc. will naturally cause the leaders to practice ministry a little differently from church to church. How you do what you do sends a message about who you are.
Every church should strive for excellence in ministry in every department, from the cleaning team to the worship team to the leadership team. Excellence is simply doing your very best with every task, every function, in every area, and every department. Your best is only your best until you can do better.
If you are starting a ministry you may have all the responsibilities, from cleaning the toilets to preaching from the pulpit. This doesn’t excuse you from excellence. You should give Christ your best in every situation and if you start with this attitude it will be easier to acclimate others to a culture of excellence as they come on board.
Colossians 3:23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,
This has a huge impact on culture. Excellence, as with most things, begins and ends with leadership. Leaders should regularly be asking themselves, “Can we do better?” As more staff and volunteers are added and more resources become available the level of excellence should evolve and become more apparent.
Excellence is a mentality that requires constant training, emphasis and maintenance. People can easily slip into the “it’s good enough” mentality. This shows a lack of understanding about what they are doing and why they are doing it. A congregation will never rise above the level of excellence portrayed by their leaders so it is your responsibility to model excellence in everything you do.
When culture is healthy and well defined, it prepares you for growth and success in ministry.
3 things that happen with a well-defined church culture:
1) Evangelism will increase.
People will love being there and talk to others about the amazing church they attend. It creates a desire within the body to invite others to get involved. Your church will become attractive to the community and make it easier to fulfill its vision.
2) Spiritual growth increases throughout the body.
People flourish in the place of their assignment. A strong culture creates a sense of belonging and inspires people to get involved, taking ownership of some portion of the ministry. This allows people to develop and use their gifts and talents causing growth and strength in the individual. In turn, this develops strong, healthy relationships and edifies the body as a whole. One of the most rewarding things for leaders to witness is growth and health of their followers. This is what makes leadership exciting and rewarding.
3) It attracts great leaders.
Up and coming leaders will join themselves to the ministry. This creates a pool of leaders to mentor and disciple which will prepare you for future growth and additional ministry outreach.
Question: Can you define the culture of your ministry right now?
Question: Who sets the culture of a ministry?
Question: What systems need to be in place in order to define your culture?
Question: What is happening right now in your ministry that does not reflect your culture?
Question: Is excellence in ministry a focus of the leadership?
Question: What areas of ministry can you do better with minimal effort, and why aren’t you doing it?
Question: What changes need to take place within your leadership team?