Culture is a unique part of every country, organisation, business, family and Church in the world and it doesn’t take long, when spending time immersed in these places, to sense whether the culture is healthy. For the purpose of this article we will focus in on Church culture and when observing Church culture, it is worthwhile considering what makes a culture healthy and how a culture develops.
I’m sure many people reading this would have visited a Church that they immediately connected with, but on the flipside of the same coin, we can probably think of that memorable visit to a new Church, where we were left sitting on our own as the regulars gravitated to their usual friends and we felt like we had leprosy that we weren’t aware of until that moment! Two separate Church visits can be like chalk and cheese, but what happens at one Church to make it a pleasant experience, that doesn’t happen at the other Church leaving you not wanting to go back?
Craig Groeschel from LifeChurch says that “Culture is a combination of what we create and what we allow.” In other words, healthy culture doesn’t happen by accident, but an unhealthy culture can if we allow it to. We can define a desirable culture and talk about it, but if we allow regular unhealthy habits to occur our culture won’t end up being what we are trying to create, but rather it will be shaped more by what we allow. So, what are some ways we can build a healthy culture?
1. Look to Christ
When I think of a healthy Church culture, it is one that is hungry for God and passionately embraces people from every walk of life with selfless service and unconditional love. A healthy Church is a people who radiate God’s love and when pre-Christian people encounter us they should feel the warmth of Christ through us. We can dream up things we want in a healthy Church culture or we can save the trouble and take Jesus at His Word. When asked what the Greatest commandment is Jesus responded by saying “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” Any healthy Church culture will take seriously the words of Christ and these two pillars must be the starting point for any healthy Church culture. Show me a healthy Church and I will show you a Church of passionate praise, humble worship and prayerful pursuit of God. I will also show you a Church marked by grace, filled with compassion and determined to reach the lost, feed the hungry and love one another.
2. Communicate the culture
A healthy culture won’t happen by accident, so as leaders we must communicate the culture every opportunity we get. We shouldn’t make the mistake of communicating the culture once and assuming everyone got it and will now live it. Bill Hybels says that “vision leaks” and similarly culture is only created when it is consistently communicated over and over again. The Lead Pastor of a Church can communicate a culture, but it’s only when that communication culminates in shared values and shared communication that a culture really develops. A leader once told me if you feel like you are communicating something too much, it is probably just enough and so try and see every catch-up, every conversation, every announcement and every message as a chance to communicate culture! If you are a leader consider how you can contribute to communicating culture.
3. Live the culture
One of the greatest criticisms of Christians is that we are hypocritical. It is hard to deny the truth of that because most of us will readily admit that we regularly fall short of our own expectations, let alone God’s. One thing I’ve come to realise in recent years is that people aren’t looking for people who are perfect, they are looking for people who are real. Jesus said of the Pharisees “do what they say, but don’t do what they do because they don’t practice what they preach”. I certainly hope that people wouldn’t say the same of us! If we want a culture of love for God and love for one another, the critical thing is that we draw on the Holy Spirit to help us live it. People aren’t attracted to what we say, they are attracted to who we are, and as Christians we are ambassadors and representatives of Jesus to the world around us. What could be more attractive than that? I once spoke to a guy who was in a small group and he told me he wasn’t going to go any longer. The reason he gave is that it seemed to him that all of the other group members “had it all together”, with the implication being that they weren’t being real. I knew him well, and as a result knew the things that were happening in his life, but I suggested that if I didn’t know him that well I would look at his life and assume that he had it all together. I challenged him that if he wanted a different culture to the one he was experiencing that he should live the culture and be the change! The best way to shape a culture is to live a culture. We live in a consumeristic culture that has seeped its way into Church life, but as leaders we should focus more on creating culture and less on consuming it.
There are many things to say when it comes to creating culture, but hopefully these are three simple steps to get us started.
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