Every Church Operates by a Set of Values

All churches and organizations have values that apply to their entire community. In this blog, for simplicity of focus I’m going to speak to church values, but these ideas can apply to any organization. Some, maybe most churches have never taken the time to identify their values. They have their belief statement and maybe a vision and mission statement, but they don’t know specifically what their actual values are. Others intentionally created values so they can post them on their website, but they are not the real values that the church or organization lives by. These kinds of values are something the group aspires to embrace, but they are essentially wishful thinking at the present.

Operating Values Create the Culture

If a value is a true operating value and not just an aspiration, then that value drives how we live and act. The real values that are operating in every church or organization are more powerful than a sermon on Sunday, the weekly programs, the policies enacted and the people who lead. That’s right, I’ll stand by that statement. You see, values are core to what creates our unique culture and that culture will win and rule the day every day. Maybe you have heard the famous statement – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” For example, if you preach that we should be actively engaging with lost people not a part of any church, but everything you do as a church is for the church members – you’ve not just sent a mixed message but the value, not the sermon, will teach your people what they are to value.

What are Core Values?

Our core values are the foundational motivations for what we do. They provide our inspiration as non-negotiable guiding principles. These become the “die for” beliefs we will never sacrifice. They inform our decision making and shape what we say “yes” or “no” to. They influence, shape and characterize everything that happens in and through our organization. They give our community it’s unique “flavor” and in our context, collectively sets us apart from other churches (not better, just different). These values remain constant, even though our vision will grow and our staff, strategies, plans and programs will change.

In a church context, values are in addition to,  serve, and are subservient to our Statement of Belief, as well as our Vision, Mission and Ends. The leadership team lives by these values and applies them literally on a daily basis in decision making, HR matters (hiring, terminations, role changes, performance improvement plans, etc.), programming, and more.

Creating Your Core Values

One person can’t create your group’s core values. This is a group effort and a multiple group exercise. It will take time. We recently updated our values. It had been fifteen years since we identified them. Over time, our operating values had actually changed a bit and needed updating. It took us just over six months to do this well. Don’t be in a hurry! Being accurate is more important than being fast. This is a spiritual endeavor. Take time to pray before and during the process. I believe God has created each local church and organization in a unique way and we should attempt to discover and clarify our unique cultures.

Here are some clues to help you discern your unique core values. The key is that you are looking first for what your actual operating values are that you live by. It is okay to add a few “aspirational” values, but if you do, know you have to do the hard work to change the culture to embrace the not yet real value.

One way to discover your operational values is to think about how your members, both long term or new attendees might answer this question: “I’m here, and I stay because we value this or that.” Or how they might finish this statement: “This is what I love about our church…” You can also consider some recent hard decisions you’ve made that were not popular or easy, but your team knew they were right. What were the values that were at play? Look at how your key leaders use their time and how you spend your collective budget. The numbers don’t lie! How you use your time and money is a powerful statement of what you value.

Two Examples of Values

Here’s two of many examples of church values. Don’t even be tempted to copy them, you need to figure out your own unique values. The leadership team at our church (Pantano Christian – Tucson, AZ) just updated our core all-church values this past year. We have posted these on our website (About Us – What We Believe). They are part of our documents that define our church “DNA.” We use them in our introductory Discover Pantano class that helps people decide whether they would like to be an All In Partner at our church. In May, we are going to do a six week teaching series called This Is Pantano where we’ll look at the biblical basis of each and how we can live these out.

We are unapologetic grace givers.

We are all broken, incomplete people in need of God’s grace. We meet people where they are and generously give away the grace we’ve freely received.

What matters most is loving people to Jesus.

Loving God = Loving People. Everyone has value and matters to God. We pursue those who don’t know Jesus to help them write a new life story with him.

Kingdom first.

Being kingdom first drives us beyond our own church community. We strive to join God wherever He is at work. Church is who we are wherever we are.

Radical generosity reshapes our world.

As a kingdom-first church, we share our resources and people selflessly.

The Bible transforms how we live and who we become.

The Bible is our primary source for transformation. We move beyond information to practical and relevant application.

Connected people are changed people.

Community is essential to connect with God and others in order to be transformed.

And here’s The Code from Life.Church:

We are faith-filled, big thinking, bet-the-farm risk takers.

We’ll never insult God with small thinking and safe living.

We are all about the capital “C” Church.

The local church is the hope of the world and we know we can accomplish infinitely more together than apart.

We give up things we love for things we love even more.

It’s an honor to sacrifice for Christ and His church.

We wholeheartedly reject the label mega-church.

We are a micro-church with a mega-vision.

We will do anything short of sin to reach people who don’t know Christ.

To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to do things no one is doing.

We will lead the way with irrational generosity.

We truly believe it is more blessed to give than to receive.

We will laugh hard, loud, and often.

Nothing is more fun than serving God with people you love.

We always bring our best.

Excellence honors God and inspires people.

We are spiritual contributors not spiritual consumers.

The church does not exist for us. We are the church and we exist for the world.

We will honor Christ and His church with integrity.

If we live with integrity nothing else matters. If we don’t live with integrity nothing else matters.

Leadership, consciously or unconsciously, is often thought in terms of the leader as a kind of hero! The leader must win the day. When he or she does, they are recognized as the hero.  

This heroic view of leadership adds huge pressure to the already challenging task of leadership. Heroes must win! It also leads to the temptation for a pastor to be seen as a celebrity or superhero. Celebrity status comes along with being a hero. Heroes love to hear people say; “We couldn’t have done it without you.” There’s so much pressure on the hero – just watch any superhero movie!

I was recently listening to a podcast by Donald Miller and Andy Stanley (Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – 1/2/19). You might know Donald Miller as an author (Blue Like Jazz, Building a Story Brand, etc.) and the founder of Story Brand. Miller has created his ministry and writings around the idea of stories. In the podcast, Miller talked about the basics of all stories and the key main characters in a story. Let me share some of his insights and thoughts on the story motif:

In any great story there is a hero, villain and guide. Think of the original Star Wars movies – Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Yoda. Test it out on the newer superhero movies or just about any story. The villain is the worst in the story. The hero is the second “worst!” Why would we even think that? He’s the hero and that means he’s should be thought of as, well…. the hero! But the hero creates the story because it’s a story of the hero’s failings, doubts, struggles, and temptations. The hero almost always hurts good people on their journey to a rebound and final victory.

But there’s no rebound or victory without the guide who helps the hero overcome his shortcomings and “win.” Think Yoda! There’s no mistaking that Yoda is a kind of spiritual master guide who understands the light and dark sides of the Force.

I’ve discovered in myself at times and in many leaders the mistaken idea that we are to be the hero in the story that God is writing through us. It’s one of the greatest temptations of being a leader. If we do well, we are tempted to see ourselves as a hero. Others will see us as the hero. That offers the temptation to be the celebrity. It all feels good!

Some leaders, right from the start, seek to be the hero and will manipulate life to fit that. For others, the hero role sneaks up on them. The hero role shows up in various forms of pride. The hero-leader is often the first and last to speak. The hero-leader thinks they have to have all the answers and solutions to all the problems. Hero-leaders tends to be focused on how they are performing and struggles to read the room well. Heroes always are looking for validation, attention and position. Heroes are often over-extended, worn out, tired, and empty because the hero has to save the day for everyone and in the end, they think it all falls on their shoulders. Pride is always the greatest temptation and downfall of the hero-leader.

True leaders are more of a guide than a hero (but don’t call yourself Yoda!). The very nature of leadership according to Jesus and the whole New Testament is that of being a servant leaders. A servant leader is about one thing – the success and well being of those they are serving! A leader who is servant first is looking at how he or she can help everyone else be successful. Servants are more in the background than always being in the foreground. Behind the scenes, they want to make others the heroes who, in fact, win the day!

There were people in Jesus’ day that wanted him to be the hero. They wanted to make him king (John 6:15). They wanted a human Messiah-king to heroically overthrow the Romans (The Triumphal Entry). Except he does everything to keep from being the traditional human hero. Yes, he is God. He was present at the creation of the universe. He knows all, is not hindered by time, space, or anything. He has all the abilities of being the super superhero! Yet, he humbles himself to become a servant (Philippians 2:6-8). He goes from sitting as king of the universe to take on the position of a lowly human being. He is a leader, he’s just not looking to be made king or hero. He was never about status or honor.

Jesus practiced his leadership by preparing twelve apostles to change the world. Jesus was more a guide than being one trying to be the hero. He gave his life to launch a movement to save and change the world. He even told his disciples that they would do greater things than himself (John 14:12-14 – this idea always blows me away). He promised to send back the Holy Spirit to do what?…guide us! At the end he gave us the great commission because it was others who would do that work with and through him.

Be honest with yourself. What are you seeking? What’s your view of being a leader? Who are you really in your leadership role? Are you seeking to be the hero or intentionally choosing to be the servant who guides others to success? Who, right now, are you investing in to be better, successful and effective? Who are you guiding and mentoring? These are foundational and sobering questions. Hero or guide?

This blog is an admission of my struggle. I don’t write this as one who is consistently victorious over this frustration. It’s a daily challenge for me. I’m pretty sure it is for you too. What’s this difficulty? It’s ministry, which is really ironic for those of us who feel called to it.

You see, for any of us called to ministry, it’s so easy to focus on the what and forget the who. The “what” I’m talking about is the ministry itself. It is always in our face. It demands our attention 24/7/365. There is always the urgent…emails, calls, texts, hospital calls, counseling appointments, people crisis, an unhappy church attender, staff and volunteers who need attention. Oh, and Sunday is coming! Then add to that the car that needs attention, the room that needs painted and more importantly, our spouse and family who really needs some of our time and attention. The “what” is overwhelming and it can’t be ignored for very long.

In the midst of the urgency of all the ministry stuff, we easily miss who it is centered around. The “who” is Jesus. We get so busy working for Jesus we forget how important it is to just be with Jesus. We assume we can get with him later. We want to spend time with him. But we also know he’ll wait, and he will.

The challenge we face is whether, on a consistent basis, we make the Ministry or the Master our priority. You already know which gets most of your attention. What I’m writing is nothing new to you if you’ve been in ministry for any length of time.

I love the story in John 21. When I was in college, I did a major paper on this chapter in my Gospel of John class. It has always captivated me. You know how it goes. Peter denied Jesus three times. Then after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he finds Peter and his buddies fishing and invites them to breakfast on the shore. During breakfast Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. There’s no missing what’s going on here. Jesus is restoring his relationship with Peter. In a powerful way he allows Peter to reaffirm his love and Jesus is telling Peter that he forgives him and loves him in spite of his failures. What grace!

After each time Peter says that he loves Jesus, the Lord invites him to do ministry. “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” He’s telling Peter to be a shepherd of the church. Jesus has things for Peter to do! You see, a restored relationship with Jesus will restore real and effective ministry. But notice what comes first! The relationship. It never works the other way. It’s not who or what, but who over what.

Then after the failures are put behind and the relationship is restored, Jesus reminds Peter what is perpetual focus is to be. While he’s to do ministry, his focus is not to be on the ministry. He is to follow Jesus. In fact, he made this emphasis twice (John 21:19, 22). Our focus, our first priority, our only priority is to follow Jesus…day in and day out. We follow where he leads us. Wherever!

Is ministry the master or is Jesus the Master? Does the ministry direct your life or is Jesus directing what you do and where you go? Does he direct you to spend time with your family and for yourself along with ministry, or does ministry dictate your how you use your time and effort?

It’s hard to distinguish when we are following Jesus or ministry. I think it’s possible that if we were really following Jesus and not the ministry, we might leave our church ministry and do something Jesus wants us to do. Or, if we are really following Jesus, we might stay in our church ministry even though we’d rather quit! If we were really following Jesus, we might take a risk that could get us fired or for sure would get some folks upset at us. If we really followed Jesus, we’d find that every day would be a life giving adventure, not a taxing one that drains us. If the who comes before the what then we’ll ask Jesus what following him looks like today…and we might be surprised!

I’m convinced from experience and from the Word that if we made Jesus the priority in our life over the ministry, we’d be healthy and full…no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. Don’t get so enamored and engaged in the what that you forget the who. Let the who form and shape what the what looks like (What a sentence!). Let the who set the pace of the what. Let the who fill you when the what tries to drain you.