- Values are the underlying assumptions and beliefs about what is important, that guide our decision making and our behavior. They are what’s important to us as we seek to achieve our purpose, fulfill our mission and realize our vision. They are a big part of a church’s CULTURE.
- Values are worth discovering and prayerfully examining. Everybody has them. Every church has them. Churches are typically as un-self-aware of their actual values as individuals are.
- Churches receive their values from God’s word, God’s Spirit and from God’s people. Congregations which have long-tenured pastors – especially long-tenured founding pastors – usually have values which are very close to the values of the pastor.
- Values make our churches unique; they give them personality. One hundred churches which belong to the same denomination will likely have the same doctrinal beliefs but they will have one hundred different personalities because of their values.
- Vision and values – where they are actual and not just aspirational – are forever wedded to one another. Where values are genuinely known, vision can be seen by projecting the values out into the future. I like to imagine putting a church’s values on an overhead projector (yes, they are still useful) and projecting them out onto a wall which represents the future. Examples: A church that values seminary-level Bible knowledge will have a vision, a dream, of becoming a church full of Bible scholars. A church that values evangelism will dream of becoming a large church full of people who have been won to Christ through that ministry.
- A church which has an actual (widely held) vision or dream for the future can discern it’s values by walking back its vision from the future to the present. Examples: The church which dreams of having a big, beautiful building values…big beautiful buildings. A church of two hundred which wants to be a church of two thousand values numerical growth. Churches don’t always express their dreams in terms of a vision statement; sometimes their dreams are heard in casual conversation or expressed as goals (individual pieces of an overall vision).
- Writers like to differentiate between:
- Actual values – The ones we really have, as seen in our actions, as contrasted with
- Professed values – The ones we don’t have but think we have, as contrasted with
- Aspirational values – The values which we don’t have but think that we should have
And then there are:
- Core values – The things that matter most to a church, the values at the core of our being: integrity, honesty, compassion, obedience to God, as well as
- Ministry values – Values which govern how we do ministry: people over programs, evangelism over perfection, quantity over quality, saving over giving, etc.
- Discovering a church’s actual values is important.The process of assessment – “getting real” regarding our condition as a church – is an important step on the journey to vibrant health. In the letters to churches in Revelation two and three, Jesus fast-tracked the assessment process by telling seven churches – in no uncertain terms – what their true condition was. In each case the believers in those congregations needed to face the truth about themselves – and their values – as a step to becoming healthy. A good group study would involve searching for the values which the churches were commended for and the values which the churches were rebuked for. Do this right now if you’re doing this exercise as a leadership team.
In my observation, churches are as unlikely to be aware of their actual values as individuals are. The human capacity for self-deception is remarkable:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind…” Jeremiah 17:9,10a
In my first experiences with strategic planning I made the mistake of simply asking church groups what their values were, by way of “church values audits.” After a few of these attempts I concluded that these exercises are a waste of time (I’ll share an exception below). It’s not that the good people who filled out the surveys were being consciously dishonest; they simply listed their aspirational values as their actual values. Sadly, folks who haven’t shared the gospel with a non-Christian in a decade will say that they place a high value on evangelism and people who never welcome newbies on Sunday morning will claim that they value demonstrating Christ’s love to church guests.
“The values of any organization control priorities, provide the foundation for formulating goals
and set the tone and direction of the organization.” Lyle Schaller in Getting Things Done
9. Church values can change. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they can’t, then sanctification – spiritual growth – is impossible, and ministry to God’s people is useless. The New Testament concept of “godliness” in particular, seems to be all about conforming our values to God’s values. The godly person values what God values. Consider:
- In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus tells us to not make the mistake of valuing material wealth.
- In I Corinthians 1-3 we see that the Apostle Paul was perturbed with the Corinthian Christians because their values hadn’t changed much (see especially 3:1-4) in five years. Paul’s expectation was that the new believer’s values would change over time, increasingly conforming to God’s values. See also Romans 12:1-2.
- When the book of Proverbs tells us (4:5, 4:7, etc.) to “get wisdom” it’s telling us to place a high value upon that important commodity.
- In Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” Paul is telling us to choose to value unity.
- In Philippians 3, Paul tells a congregation that they should “go for” maturity in Christ with great passion and they should pursue this along with others who share this important value.
- Peter’s “crave pure spiritual milk” passage (I Peter 2:1-3) is telling us to adjust our values.
- Peter’s “add to your faith” passage (II Peter 1:5-9) similarly is telling us what to value.
- Can you think of more “values adjustment” verses or passages?
“A church’s theology is best seen in its actions, not on its papers.” RD Dale
As above, you will only waste everyone’s time if you simply ask church members what their congregation’s values are. Years ago, church consultant Dennis Baker told me that he had figured out how to “tease out” a church’s actual values. Over the years I have, similarly, discovered some effective ways to uncover actual values:
- Ask a few great questions. The right questions will reveal values, provided that you don’t tell those being surveyed that you’re actually trying to discern their values. Samples: How do you invest your time in this church? What do you really love about your church? What do you dislike about your church? What might persuade you to leave this church? Name one or two changes which would make this church better. What do people get into conflict over in this church?
- Ask people to choose the values that matter most to them from a list of “mostly good” values. Give people a couple of pages of potential values and allow them to choose no more than five which are most important to them. Here are a few examples: Thrift (let’s save as much money as possible), Generosity (let’s give away as much money as possible), Stability (let’s stay the same), Flexibility (let’s adapt ourselves continually to reach the lost), Control (let’s keep a tight ship), Creativity (let’s allow our volunteers to use their imaginations), Reaching the lost (let’s pull out all the stops for evangelism), Building up believers (let’s get everyone to maturity before we expect them to evangelize). Contact me for a sample list.
- Ask for the observations of an outsider or an insider/outsider. As fish aren’t aware of the water they swim in (or so they tell me), church members are not aware of their values. But outsiders can see them. A church consultant, denominational leader or an interim pastor can examine: How does this church spend its funds? What gets prayed for at this church? What gets talked about in the corridors of this church? What gets announced and promoted at this church? What value-revealing decisions have been made at this church? How does this church spend its time? What do these church members debate and get into conflict about? How does this church make decisions? What kind of effort gets rewarded and honored by this church? What kind of persons get “platformed” (honored or literally put before the church from the platform in the worship services)? What kind of people are asked to speak or preach? Would the church rather see the building well-preserved (neat and clean) or well-used (by numerous community groups)? What kind of persons are added to the church staff – or asked to leave the church staff?
- Do a journey (or history) wall. A journey wall involves a group of 20 to 40 church attendees prayerfully mapping out their congregation’s history during a two-three hour session together. The church’s biggest events (founding, hiring of pastors, completion of buildings, etc.) are mapped out on a twenty to thirty foot long piece of “table paper” on a wall. In succession, participants add post-it notes representing good, bad and ugly events in the church’s history. Besides being a cathartic experience, the journey wall exercise is a values clarifying experience. Before the evening is over, the group gleans lessons learned from the journey as well as the values that are clearly evident from the church’s history.
- Do a pastor search survey. My interim ministry coach and friend Tom Burris taught me this. I gave a group of church leaders a fairly typical survey designed to ascertain what people are looking for in their next long-term pastor. I did not tell them that I was actually having them take the survey because it would reveal a great deal about what the church valued. I’m sure you can imagine this: a church which wants a “deep” Bible-teaching pastor values Bible knowledge, a church which wants an evangelistic pastor values evangelism, a church which wants a care-giving, counseling pastor values its own personal needs. Contact me for a great sample.
- Expose and explore the church’s actual values as a leadership team. You do NOT need to put these on the back of the bulletin (they may not be pretty).
- Once your group has agreed on the church’s actual values, ask them to evaluate these values in light of Scripture. Does your church need to repent of its values?
- Celebrate together any good, Biblical values which your church truly embraces.
- Choose good values with which to replace some of your congregation’s poor values.
- Will Mancini (Church Unique) suggests coming up with a “demonstrated by” statement for each of your aspirational values, such as, “We love lost people and this is demonstrated by our willingness to go out of our way to listen to and care for the unbelievers whom God places in our lives.” “At our church relationships matter and this is demonstrated by our zeal for apologizing to one another and approaching one another if we are unsure about a relationship with a brother or sister in Christ.”
- Use your good pre-existing values along with some Biblical aspirational values to help formulate a church vision, a collective dream for the congregation which you believe God wants your church to become. See #’s 5 and 6 on the first page, above.
- Determine as a church to be consistently intentional about having good, Biblical values. Schedule your church to monitor its values on an ongoing basis.
- Explore together as a strategic planning team what can be done to replace poor values (example: an inward focus) with good values (example: an outward focus): Possibilities could include:
- A sermon series through Philippians could be used to promote the Biblical value of joy, replacing a church’s long-standing value of “holy grumpiness.”
- Pastors, elders and staff will embrace the Biblical value of disciple-making, changing their priorities to demonstrate a willingness to engage unbelievers in bridge-building relationships.
- Elders will change their building use policy from one designed to protect the building to one designed to share the building with community groups.
- A ministry can be formed to do pastoral care of church members as a team instead of expecting the beleaguered senior pastor to do all the people-care.
- Church members with a gift for evangelism will no longer be asked to serve on committees. They will be “turned loose” to engage lost people and they will be honored for their work.
- A candle will be lit or a rose presented in a vas on the church platform every time an individual makes a profession of faith in Christ through the ministry of the church or one of its members.