Five Ways to Change a Culture in Your Church

Over the past year, I have found my mind drifting toward how cultures develop in organizations–especially churches, but organizations in general.  This came to my mind on Saturday.  I participate in a Colorado Rapids Discussion Page on Facebook (the Rapids are our local MLS soccer franchise).  We had a great win in Toronto this past Saturday, so many of us took time to chime in and give our thoughts.  In my sharing, I did three things that violated some unexpressed, unwritten rule.

  • I posted a picture of Rapids player Drew Moor’s fall late in the game.  (Someone responded: “Oh, no!  Are we going to post pictures from the TV now?”  O-K.)
  • A few hours after the game, I posted a question about next Saturday’s game against San Jose. (“Can we just enjoy the win for a few hours before thinking about the next game?”  Sure, why not?)
  • Lastly, a thread arose about Edson Buddle’s 99th career MLS goal.  Buddle makes a lot of money for a Rapids player, causing some fans to question whether his paycheck matches his production.  So, I posted a just release article featuring Buddle’s comments from the Rapids website.  (“Um, Matt, most of us read the Rapids website.”  Figured that, but it was just released, didn’t think you all saw it,  and was pertinent to the conversation. )

Exasperation Station.

Lest you think I camp out on this site, this all took place in a span of about 15 minutes.  I finally said in exasperation, “I’ve gotta start writing down and keeping up with these unwritten rules.”  (Many agreed.)

I share this to show that each home, each organisation, and each church has a culture filled with unwritten rules.  Those on the outside coming in like what’s presented–until they get inside it and find so many rules that are a ‘given’ to that organization, they make a quick choice as to whether to leave or conform.

Most inside those organizations do not realize the extent to which this culture lives and moves and has its being.  It’s built–not intentionally and not quickly, but slowly and methodically over time.  With a lack of intentionality and focus, a culture/mission drift takes place.

But also taking place is a number of unwritten rules lurking in the corners of the mind and heart–and likely somewhere in a classroom or parlor or food pantry.  When violated, unwritten rules become spoken principles.  Though unwritten, they are written on the writing tablets of our hearts–chiseled in, impossible to erase.

Every pastor sees this in his church.  Every church sees it in their pastors.  All of us have our ‘givens,’ but those ‘givens are not always understood or shared.

So…

What do we do?  What are some ways to begin change in the culture of the church, moving it from a Great Complacency to a Great Commission Missions Hub?

  1. Prayer.  Only God can change hearts.  I never could change one–neither can you.  Praying in love for your church not only works to change the church, but works to change you.  Some prayers are prayed only with the object of someone else’s change taking place, but all the while not seeing change needed in your own heart.
  2. Proclamation—persistent, consistent proclamation—from the Scriptures.   The mistake most young preachers make (and this young preacher made elsewhere) is coming in with their own unwritten rules or assumed understandings from Scripture that they assume their church holds.  So they want to jump from A to F without first hitting B, then C… .  F could be biblical and necessary, but we must teach and lead so they see it from Scripture and not simply as another ‘thing’ the pastor wants to do.  Mission, vision, and passion for the Great Commission must permeate all we do, say, and even think!
  3. Patience—lots of pastoral patience.  Change won’t happen in 15 minutes.  Not even your sermon happens in 15 minutes.  When Paul told young Timothy to teach with “all patience,” this means that we roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of making every minute, hour, day, week, month, and year must systematically and methodically move toward a biblical and missional purpose and vision.
  4. Pastoral modeling of said culture.  If I preach and teach toward a certain culture, but I fail to model it in my own life?  Hypocrite, thy name is Pastor.  I must drive and thrive in a Great Commission Culture in my own heart.  My heart has to be my primary missions hub.  When hearts are changed, then cultures change.  But, pastor, it must start with you!
  5. Loving others, both inside and outside the church, in Jesus.   I meet people who are very hard on those in the church, all the while being evangelistic outside the church.  I also meet people who feel very at home with their church family, but very judgmental and condescending to those outside the church or Christ.  Romans 12:9-21 gives us a principle to love one another, both inside and outside the church.  When hearts are changed by Christ, he pours in His love in us to care for others and share the truth of Christ with others.

I was told by another pastor that it often takes 3-5 years to overcome the direction set by your predecessor.  This is less about the predecessor and more about pastors staying longer in their churches than the average 4.5 years.  I’ve been at my church for just under 2 1/2  years.  My prayer is to have a zero behind that 2, making it 20 years.  By that time, I’ll be 60.  Time will tell if God will keep me here that long, but that’s my aim.

Even so, prayer, preaching, patience, pastoral modeling, and providing love to those inside and outside the church.  That’s a start!

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Categories: church, church attendees, church growth, Church Life | Leave a comment

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