One of the things I heard again at the leadership conference I went to in Hull was to remember the importance and power of culture. Dreams and visions are great – we need to set a destination, but we also have to let people know how to do what they should to to be part of who we are. We cannot afford to lose our corporate identity.
If the senior leaders of a church, a movement, a group do not set the culture – others will. And the people who will are the offended, the brash, the ungodly, the pain-filled and the divisive. It’s hard work to keep setting culture but it has to be done. You have to continually tell people what is expected and how you behave. You have to celebrate the heroes of your culture – people who embody what you are and your corporate culture.
I want to try and do two things at once in this series on culture. One I want to write about why culture is important and teach about how to build a culture, and secondly I want to let people know about our culture at Tree of Life and why it is important to us. At the Tree we have 7 cultural maxims that underpin who we are. It means that in a fit of carnality we still have something that is Spirit-inspired to confine and help us!
Our first cultural maxim is “Full of the Word, Full of the Spirit, Full of the Nations, Filled with Love”. That is the four pillars of our church. They are there to define us. So when it comes to inviting guest speakers we ask if they line up with our maxim. There are certain speakers I will never invite to the Tree – they are not bad, they are good speakers, but they don’t help us build our culture.
Culture is what protects a church from splits, culture is what makes church a happy place to be, culture is what stops us being offended. It is such a powerful force. And the first statement about our church is FULL OF THE WORD.
So we are deliberately building a church that is full of the Word of God. So our preaching is central on a Sunday, the Word is central in our Living Churches, we have two conferences a year for hearing the Word, we support and give to Bible Colleges, and have our own internal Bible School. The Word is so important – it is vital to us living by faith and knowing God.
Now there are voices in the church that don’t want to be a church full of the Word. They might not express that like that, but their actions and values bely that. They want the preaching to be shorter. They won’t attend the conferences. They never open their Bibles on their own time. They do not want to be full of the Word. They won’t ever believe the Word over their experience – if they feel sick, they live sick; if they feel offended, they live offended. It’s just their feelings and experiences, and never faith.
Now what do you do when people come and their culture is not your culture. This is the key point of today’s post.
Firstly, of course it will be the case. Why? Because they are new. You cannot expect someone to develop instantly what you have spent years learning. Bible College students sometimes struggle with this – they spend three years studying the Word and getting revelation, then they get frustrated that people don’t get it after they have preached one sermon! So be patient. Work with people where they are.
Secondly, on the other hand, we cannot mollycoddle people. Our job is to equip the saints, and feed the sheep – not herd the goats! Our ministry is to make disciples. We have to inspire and challenge people. We have to be non-negotiable.
So imagine after church someone comes to you (that’s a good thing, it’s when they go to everyone else that you have problems – but that’s a lesson for another post) and says “I think you preach a bit long on Sundays”. They may coach it in different ways “A few people said that you preach a bit long on Sundays”, “You would keep attention more with a shorter message” or whatever.
So what do you do? You have to empathise with them, you have to understand they are still finding out that the best way to live is FULL OF THE WORD. Show grace and be kind.
But secondly, you don’t change. You keep preaching the Word. You keep standing up for the Word. You put a stake in the ground and you make a disciple. You explain why the Word is so important and you stick to your guns. You are the leader. You cannot allow other people to sew their cotton patches on your silk vision. You cannot come down to their level, you can only reach down and pull them up to yours.
If you don’t know what culture you are building, stop what you are doing and start to dream about what kind of people who want to lead and want to pastor. You then have to articulate what kind of culture you want. Then you have to pray and look at how to implement and develop and protect that culture.
It’s the same process Jesus did with the disciples. They wanted to call down fire from heaven, and Jesus says “You don’t know what spirit you are of”. They had a great idea, but it wasn’t a God-idea, it wasn’t going to build the kind of church Jesus wanted to build. There are times as a pastor, you have to say “You don’t know what spirit you are of”. And lovingly and firmly show them the way forward.
More as we move forward!
In His love,