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Core Values Create Culture, Doctrine Doesn’t

Core Values Create Culture, Doctrine Doesn’t October 17, 2017Leave a comment
church core values

Every church has core values. Whether they are written down or not, there are beliefs and behaviours that are encouraged and others that are discouraged. Back when I was a student pastor, I led a group of twenty-somethings. The group was a great bunch, but all seemed to struggle with the same issue. I knew I needed to engage with it so I began to investigate why this behaviour was so common and to see what the root causes were. At the same time, I began a teaching program to try to educate the group to see if a lack of knowledge was the culprit. I discovered during my teaching sessions that the group all knew the right answers and could tell me what I wanted to hear. They did so with sincerity – they believed what they were saying. But none of them had made a connection between what they said they believed, and how they behaved. The issue wasn’t anything to do with a lack of teaching. It was something else. I had, for the first time, stumbled upon the importance of the power of culture, which we can often see through our church core values.

Core Values Unlock The Power of Culture

Peter Drucker once said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He was referring to the reality that any strategy is subservient to the organisational culture. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, or plan to do. If you don’t have a culture that is in alignment with the goals of the strategy, then its impact suffers. No matter what our church core values, our culture might actively be working against our plans and goals.

The same principle is true with church vision. No matter how inspiring or motivating your vision is, if you do not have a culture comprised of church core values derived from the mission and vision, then your culture may even work against the success of your vision. Organisational alignment is key in harnessing the power of culture.

Core Values and Doctrine are not the same

Many churches have a statement of faith, doctrine statement, or a statement of beliefs. This document could be called many things but is, in essence, a list of theological beliefs considered central and non-negotiable. Various factors influence this statement – denomination or affiliation, and history, are two of the major ones. In effect, anyone looking at the church can see what it does and does not believe about certain key issues of the Christian faith. The church up the road and the church down the road will also have their own statements, which will differ, even if they are referring to the same topics. Doctrine statements provide us with a picture of what churches believe about beliefs.

Yet, doctrine statements do not create culture. They may have an influence on it, but a belief and a value are not the same. A belief is an intellectual conviction that we hold to be true and correct. A value is a moral conviction that we embrace and use to determine what is right, good, and best. Beliefs and values are connected because values are based on beliefs. Both can influence behaviour, but values must, because by nature they are outwards-focused. Our stated church core values are only true values if they manifest themselves in behaviour. Beliefs shape how we see the world, but do not need to manifest in action to be genuine.

For example, I have a belief that two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ physically died and rose from the dead. This belief shapes how I see the world. But how does this manifest in action? Yes, I am a Christian because of it. But what day to day actions result from this belief? In contrast, I have a value for mercy. I believe mercy to be important, but I value it so much it changes how I live my life – I seek to have mercy as a quality that characterises every aspect of life because I know it to be right, good and best. Core values are girded in beliefs, but don’t stop with an intellectual agreement – they have hands and legs too, showing themselves in action and in movement.

Core Values Provoke Cultural Development

Doctrine statements reveal what we want people to believe, but do not speak into how people should live. That is what our church core values do. One value, on its own, does not create a culture. Culture is the sum amalgamation of all our values. It results from the actions, lifestyles and behaviours of the people within an organisation. Those actions, lifestyles and behaviours are based on beliefs but have manifested because of values. That is why the Apostle Paul writes his letters in the New Testament the way he does. The first half of his epistles focus on beliefs, but the second half focus on behaviours. He is seeking to guide the recipients by giving them good beliefs, and good behaviours, using values to understand the connection.

Right beliefs without the right behaviours lead to hypocrisy, and right behaviour without the right beliefs is legalism. Values, and therefore culture, is the connection between the two.

Culture Impacts Vision

You may have a great doctrine statement with good, strong, biblical theology. Excellent! But does that automatically guarantee people act the right way? No! Some will, for sure – but that is more to do with their personal culture than the church culture. Having a core values statement is an essential document your church needs because you can use it to encourage the behaviours to create a culture that will serve your vision. If you don’t have a values statement, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a culture. It means you have a culture that you have not tended to. Like a garden overgrown with weeds, some of the fruit that is present won’t be good. Some fruit will. Some fruit will take up space. Space that could be utilised more profitably.

The organisational question is this: what fruit do you need? What fruit do you want? What are you going to do about cultivating the culture you need to serve your vision and reinforce your strategy? You already have a culture in place. A doctrine statement, on its own, won’t change anything. An intentional culture is essential for a healthy church.

Part of my Church Health Assessment focuses on church core values and culture. It measures cultural health and reveals where culture is strong and weak, as well as showing the strategy a church can take to develop its culture to one that services its vision. You can find out more about the Assessment process here.

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