Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Changing the Cultural DNA of Your Local Church

Pastors are called not merely to grow a church by developing programs. They are, instead, primarily called to architect a church culture that aligns with the values of Christ. Working in collaboration with God and the leaders of the local church to architect a culture is pain-staking and time-consuming. Usually the fruit of cultural architecture doesn’t bloom through the ground for 3-5 years, the average tenure of pastors in America. If this is true, too many pastors resign from their local church too soon.

I was privileged to be a part of a local church that turned a significant corner toward becoming a vibrant movement. This church which was, for a long time, known as an insular holy huddle became a part of the 1% of churches whose growth came from conversion. In fact, as the church tripled in size more than 50% of its growth came by way of conversion not transfer. Energy once devoted to pot-lucks and hymn-sings was re-assigned toward feeding the hungry, housing the poor and helping the addicted. This church, once known nationally as a racist flock, became one of the most multi-ethnic churches in its community.

Programs didn’t change the cultural DNA of this church. So, how can a pastor partner with God and lay leaders in architecting a kingdom-aligned culture? Glad you asked. Here’s the journey one local church made in the quest to become a culture congruent with Christ:     

-Pray it: When a ship gets off course for many years, it takes a miraculous act of God to redirect it. Significant change in the cultural DNA of a local church will not happen unless the people fast and pray, not just for the healing of Aunt Sally’s bunion, but for the empowering of the Spirit upon the church. Frequent prayer gatherings (concerts of prayer, vigils, 40 days of prayer, retreats) can cultivate the soil of the church for the rain (and reign) of Christ which brings cultural change.

-Communicate it: The local church I reference above focused significant time on preaching and teaching from Luke 4:18-22, where Jesus describes the anointing of the Spirit for the sake of the marginalized. Communicating cultural values through preaching, teaching, testimony, and small group curriculum is imperative. This allows the church to wrestle with the biblical and theological foundations that undergird their cultural transition.

-Embody it: What the leadership team embodies and values, in word and deed, will determine the cultural DNA of a local church. It doesn’t matter what the vision plaque on the wall states, if the elected, appointed, and hired leaders in the church do not embody the values of a culture congruent with the character of Christ, positive cultural change will not happen. For example, if you want to become a church that cares for the poor and addicted but the leaders never spend time sharing life with the poor and addicted, cultural change will be unlikely.

-Budget it: Cultural change in the local church happens when the church puts its money where its mouth is. So, if the church says it values the poor but it quickly decides to upgrade music equipment instead of helping a single mom with four kids pay her electric bill, does it really value the poor? If the church wants to become a culture of global generosity but decides on a new, and unnecessary, projector while postponing the adoption of a village in Africa, the cultural change it longs for will not happen.

-Schedule it: The church calendar says a lot about the culture of a congregation. Lots of churches want a culture of care for the “lost,” (a term they should not use if they want to actually reach the lost), yet their calendar is void of any intentional contact with people who are lost. They reserve space on the church campus for the Christian Business Men’s Association and the Senior Women’s Bible Study, but don’t allow groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous to corrode the church carpets. Make room in the calendar and on the campus for the culture God seeks.

-Recruit it: Take your time hiring, recruiting, electing, equipping, encouraging and empowering the kind of people who value the kind of culture you believe God is calling the church to embody. That culture-transitioning congregation described earlier hired an ex-convict to be one of her pastors. It made complete sense for a church that wanted to foster a culture where “captives were set free.” As you fill positions in your church, avoid the warm body syndrome that simply seeks to find someone, anyone to fill the gap. Instead, take your time and prayerfully select people whose values align with the culture God is calling the church to embrace.

When all of the dots above connect consistently for 3-5 years, culture tends to happen. Connecting these dots demonstrates to God that we are serious about becoming the church he is calling us to be for the sake of the world. And, when we do our part God will show up for “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron.16:9).  

Consider sharing this with your leadership team and discussing the following questions:
-In which areas above are we hitting a homerun?
-In which areas above are we striking out?
-How can we maximize our strengths and address our weaknesses to foster the kind of culture that is congruent with the Christ’s values?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tips for Camp and Conference Speakers

I just returned from speaking at a camp in Iowa. Over three days I spoke six times. I’m exhausted but rejuvenated. Go figure. As I reflect on this most recent ministry adventure and previous speaking opportunities at camps and conferences, there are several insights I wanted to get “on paper” while they’re fresh in my head. I am blogging my thoughts to initiate a conversation with other camp/conference speakers, especially those with way more experience at this sort of thing than I have.

·         Pace yourself with cat-naps: The amount of energy it takes to deliver a passionate message to people expecting a life-giving word from God through you is substantial. If you speak more than once each day, the exhaustion is even more severe. A 15-30 minute nap once or twice each day, especially an hour or two before you speak, can replenish your energy reserves.  

·         Take opportunities to minister outside of the speaking events: Public speaking, though exhilarating, is energy-draining and gut-wrenching. However, despite the fatigue, look for the chance to counsel and pray with people outside of the speaking events. Your most significant ministry impact may occur in those one-on-one meetings.  
·         Take your family with you: Even though your primary ministry will be to those who attend the event, perhaps you can invite your family along for the adventure. Of course, you cannot do every activity with your family that they would like for you to do because of the time you will need to counsel and pray with people, as well as to prepare for speaking. It’s important to communicate to your family your time limits and primary focus, but taking them with you allows for ministry memories and a mini-vacation of sorts.

·         Internalize the message early in the day: Most preachers have their own particular ritual for internalizing the message for delivery. If you don’t, try waking up an hour or two before breakfast and begin internalization early. This will give the message more time to simmer and, during delivery, come out of the speaker fully cooked.

·         Express public appreciation to the group and her leaders: Sometimes the camp/conference speaker comes across as an arrogant expert, God’s gift to the unclean masses. Humility goes a long way in getting a hearing and receiving a future invitation. One of the ways the speaker can express humility in an authentic way is to appreciate the group and her leaders with a few thoughtful sentences beyond the typical “thank you,” “you’re a great crowd,” and “what a good looking bunch.”