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.

Don’t End in a Dark Cloud

This has been another bad season for church leaders. Some 300 priests in Pennsylvania were identified as having sexually abused over a 1000 children. Do an internet search for Bill Hybels or Willow Creek Church and you’ll read about the allegations of sexual misconduct and sin tied to the abuse of power and more. It is a very sad story of how a man who did so much for the church and the kingdom over the years, ended his ministry in a dark cloud. When the first news of the allegations appeared, Hybels denied them and only admitted to misjudgment. Frankly, when I first heard what he did, I called it “stupid”. From his own admission and from the allegations, he apparently invited women alone into his hotel rooms; had dinners one on one with women; traveled with women without their husbands; and more. Of course more is alleged to have happened that goes beyond just stupidity to outright sin, but just what he admitted to was more than dumb.

The World HAS Changed

We live in a #MeToo world. I’m actually grateful for this movement. For too long, too many men (including priests and pastors) have used and abused women and children. The core message of #MeToo is that we need to insure honor, respect and protection for all. The heart of #MeToo is that all people, especially women and children, must be listened to when they are violated or feel that they have been. But honor, respect and protection must have policies and processes that create a culture and systems that actually makes those values real and lived out. The failure at the Willow Creek Church was that the leaders at every level didn’t listen to and truly investigate the allegations.

Don’t Be Stupid

So I titled this blog – Don’t Be Stupid. I’m not just being blunt, that idea comes from Ecclesiastes 10:1-3 (NIV). It says:

As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,

   so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.

The heart of the wise inclines to the right,

   but the heart of the fool to the left.

Even as fools walk along the road,

   they lack sense

   and show everyone how stupid they are.

It only takes a “little folly” to ruin years of ministry and service, and damage our organizations. When we lack wisdom and common sense, we’ll only show others how “stupid” we are. Don’t be stupid! What does that mean? We’ve created policies and procedures at Pantano Christian Church to protect both ourselves and others. We keep reviewing them to make sure they protect all parties. Let me just introduce you to what we do and why.

Protect Yourself!

First, as a leader (in church or in the business or the non-profit world), you must protect yourself. There are two levels to this. The most basic level is to protect yourself from sexual temptation. This requires more in depth attention, so I’ll address this in another blog. Then, you have to protect yourself from unnecessary allegations. You can’t stop anyone from making an allegation at any time for any reason. But there are some things you can do to limit the reasons for someone to assume the worst and if an allegation is made, to protect yourself.

Here’s what I (we) do. I will not meet (meals, meetings, counseling) with or travel with a person of the opposite sex alone. I will meet with a woman as long as other people are present or I’ll meet in a setting where I can have a private conversation, but only in my office or space where there are open windows and other people in the immediate office area. I won’t allow myself to be in church bathroom if it is only me and another boy. If I find myself in that situation, I walk out. In counseling with the opposite sex I won’t share any of my own experiences or past struggles with sexual matters. I’m a hugger, but I’m very careful in how I hug a woman and only in a public place. I won’t put myself in a situation where someone can make an allegation and I (or the church) have no way to defend myself. That’s the world we live in! Don’t be stupid and protect yourself!

Yes, some of these “rules” make travel, meetings and greetings more difficult. I’ve even been criticized for following these principles. But these policies allow for me and others to have private conversations with the opposite sex – just not in a compromising context. And should an allegation come, I’ve at least attempted to protect myself. Too few churches, organizations and businesses have these policies. You can see our policies in the Resource section of the Leading Edge website.

Protect Your Staff and Volunteers

Second, you have to create an environment that protects your staff from any form of abuse or harassment. Abuse or harassment of any kind will not be tolerated at our church. It must be a safe place for all. We will do all we can not allow physical, sexual, emotional or spiritual abuse to exist and persist.

We have a clear policy on this. We have every staff member read and sign that they have read and agree to the policy. Every year in an all staff meeting I review this policy and remind everyone that we find any kind of abuse or harassment unacceptable. Further, I tell the staff that if they ever experience this they must first confront the person doing the harassment or abuse unless they truly fear physical harm. They have the right to express that they are uncomfortable in any situation. If the employee feels they have not been heard or the issue isn’t responded to well enough, or there is retaliation, they have the right to go to the next level of leadership all the way to the church board if needed. In fact, I beg them to take it to the appropriate next level. I want my staff to be responsive. Finally, we are just beginning to set up a group who will be able to receive and process any allegation against a staff person or key volunteer leader.

I shared these ideas and more at a lunch during the last Global Leadership Summit that we hosted at Pantano in August. You can watch the video here. Don’t be stupid! Protect yourself, your staff and your volunteer leaders as well as your whole congregation.