Healthy Church Culture

I’m listening to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast from last month and hearing some great stuff I wanted to pass on. He’s talking about organizational culture – the way a group/organization expresses values/vision. It’s the way things are going, the way people are feeling/acting/reacting, the way we do things, attitudes… “This is who we are & how we do things.”

We can say whatever we want in describing our vision, but if the culture of our church or ministry doesn’t support what we say is important, then even the greatest statements have very little real value. For example, I say the highest priority for our student ministry is to ‘reveal God to students’. But if the culture of our ministry doesn’t lend itself to eye opening moments and conversations where God is held up to be noticed, then there’s not much hope that we’ll actually be revealing God to students. So we need to make sure we’re consistently showing students where to look for God and helping them learn to recognize Him when they notice what He’s doing around them.

Every organization has an organizational culture & the leader is responsible for shaping that culture. Are we just operating by default or are we purposefully shaping our culture? The longer a leader has been in an organization, the more responsibility they carry for the culture of that organization. They also become less aware of the culture of the organization. This is why the ‘new guy’ notices things that no one else may notice. Too often, we are just doing things because that’s what we’ve always done and we stop noticing the broken tiles and screeching hinges and horrible signage to which we’ve become accustomed. The problem is those blind spots may be hindering our ability to accomplish what we’ve set out to accomplish.

Healthy cultures attract & keep healthy people, so the culture of an organization impacts the long term productivity of the organization. Who wants to work in a place where co-workers hate their jobs, shoddy work is passed on to the next department to clean up, and the proverbial floor is made of eggshell? I know I don’t. It’s de-motivating. A good worker who wants to be productive can only stay in that kind of environment for so long before they either begin to hate themselves as they slowly resign to wallow in the slop… or leave to be a part of a more productive team. In some cases it may be possible for the worker to begin to reshape the culture around them, but unhealthy cultures are very slow to adapt to change, so it’s a rough road… This is no different in the church. People who have gotten serious about accomplishing the mission passed to us from Jesus won’t be able to hang around very long in a church where not much is happening to further that mission.

Some indicators of unhealthy culture:

  • Lots of drama – There always seems to be some big issue to deal with that’s not really a big issue. Small things are consistently blown out of proportion, but the underlying issues are probably not dealt with at all. Lots of elephants standing around everywhere, but everybody’s pretending they’re not there.
  • Inward focus – The organization spends most of its focus/energy on itself. Questions like “What do our people want/deserve? What do we owe our people?” are given precedence over matters of outward mission.
  • Sideways Energy– There’s seems to be lots of motion, but not really any movement. People may feel like they’re spinning their wheels without getting any traction… Lots of bull, but no buck – it may look good, it just doesn’t accomplish anything.

When we think of the church, we don’t always think in terms of organization/leadership, and it may even be a little uncomfortable to talk about the church this way. The church is a different kind of organization, where the leader is the servant, where top-down strategy was flipped over when the “head honcho” got off his throne and picked up a cross. And while we are a living, breathing Body with Jesus as our head, we still function organizationally. We can benefit greatly by shaping healthy cultures in our churches and ministries.

Maybe it’s time we learn to “be still” instead of spinning our wheels – to wait for God, listen to Him, then do what He tells us to do…
Are there ways we need to shift our focus away from our own members?
Could we cut down the histrionics if we’d deal with the underlying issues that are causing people to grumble at the slightest annoyances?

Let’s get healthy.

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