Tag Archive - behavior

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Leaders are the Culture

Everywhere I turn it seems like people are talking about culture. Team culture, staff culture, and organizational culture. How to build a healthy culture and how to avoid a toxic one. But what about the culture at your church? How do you know what your church culture actually is and how can you change it if you don’t like it?

A church’s culture is determined by the defining set of values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of the Sr. Leadership Team. This could be the Sr. Pastor, the Staff Team, a Board, Deacons or a group of Volunteer Leaders depending on the size and nature of the church. Another way to say it is, show me the top 3-5 decision makers or leaders in your church and I’ll show you who your church is going to be and the culture you’re going to have in a couple of years.

Culture is something that is usually unnoticed, unspoken, and unexamined in churches. As a result, few churches ever take steps towards intentionally defining and building a healthy culture; instead it usually happens by default.

It’s common to see churches fall into ruts and get stuck in the familiar traps of, “just preach the Word,” “just reach people,” or “just build disciples.” The problem is building a healthy culture in a church; particularly a healthy leadership culture is never “just that easy.”

While every church already has a culture, most of them “happen on accident.” As the leader you have to create the culture. And here’s a truth about culture you may have never thought about before…

Leaders are the culture

Their behaviors, their attitudes, what they allow, what they address, how they approach people, the decisions that they make, how they dress and carry themselves, how approachable they are, the list goes on and on. All of this tells people how to behave.

This is why I can play a name association game with you, and by saying Jeff Bezos you automatically think about Amazon. Or if I say Mark Zuckerberg you think Facebook. Or if I say Steve Jobs you think Apple.

This is because over time every organization takes on the personality of the leader. This is how the organization takes its cultural cues. Some leaders understand this and are wise and intentional about it while others lead without thought as to how their behavior is building or eroding culture.

Because leaders are the culture at your church, the easiest and fastest way to change the culture at your church is to change the leader at your church.

Change the leader, change the culture

Obviously, a new leader is a leadership change and will result in a change to the culture. But I’m more so referring to the leader themselves changing and growing. This is why everything gets better when the leader gets better.

If you’re the leader at your church and you want a better culture on your team and at your church, than change and be a better you. Pay close attention to the culture of your church because it is a mirror for you and your leadership, and after all you are the culture.


Posted in Leadership

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You Get What You Tolerate

I talk to church leaders all the time who dream about how they wish their church were different. But I rarely talk to church leaders who are willing to take action and do something with all of that wishing. Just like in parenting, any relationship or social construct, in church leadership you get what you tolerate. If you tolerate bad behavior, you’re going to get bad behavior.

Inaction is Equivalent to Action

By doing nothing you’re actually doing something. Everything person, church or organization is led by intent or neglect to be where it is and where it’s going.

Hope is not a Strategy

Hope is not a strategy. It doesn’t matter what you hope will work or what you wish would work. It only matters what actually will work. And nothing works until you do.

Take Personal Ownership

If you don’t like the way things are in your church today and you’ve been a part of the leadership team for more than 3 years (less than that and you can blame the prior administration) than most likely it’s because you’ve allowed it to be what it is. You’ve tolerated bad or sloppy behavior and it’s become institutionalized in the culture of the church. Take personal ownership of it, admit it, apologize to your team for it, and then stop tolerating it.


Posted in Leadership

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6 Things Your Church Should Know about Core Values

Left to themselves organizations…including churches, drift. It can happen to the best of us if we’re not careful. As organizations and churches grow they naturally become more complex. There are more assets to allocate, more people to manage, decisions seem to have greater consequences than did when you were smaller and more nimble, and those decisions seem to just keep coming faster and faster. It is easy to become consumed with the business of running the church. But just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re taking ground.

Core Values are the guardrails of any organization or church that is taking ground. They are the core beliefs that drive how the people in the church interact with one another and the church as a whole behaves towards others outside of the church. They are the grid that filters our behavior to ensure that our activity is actually getting us where we believe God wants us to go.

So here are 6 things your church should know about core values.

1. Values aren’t real until they’re lived out in the church

There’s a big difference in most churches between what they say they value and how they behave. You can write anything you want to on a sheet of paper, you can train the staff and volunteers on it, you can distribute it on a slick promotional piece to the church body, you can even teach about it in the weekend services. But until it’s lived out it’s not a value, it’s an aspiration.

2. Keep the List of Values Short

If you value everything then you don’t value anything. There must be a few nonnegotiable hills that you’re willing to die on that drive the behaviors you’re looking to create. For a lot of reasons, I encourage churches to try to keep the list of values to be no more than 5.

3. Don’t Copy Values

Unless you want to be a clone, don’t copy values from other churches. Take the time to discover the unique personality of your church and what God has uniquely put in your heart as the leader. Copying values from other churches simply doesn’t work. You have to be you.

4. Hire and Fire (Staff & Volunteers) based on your Values

When team members or key volunteers demonstrate values that are contradictory to the values of the church either coach them up or lead them out. As you recruit volunteers and staff to join you allow your values to drive the recruitment. Because, you become who you recruit.

5. Articulate your Values

You’ve got to do the hard work of wrestling these ideas to the ground in such a fashion that they can be articulated in a clear, concise, and compelling manner. If your value statements can’t be sent out using twitter then they’re too long. If it doesn’t inspire or move people towards action it’s too dry.

6. Prayer and Doctrine aren’t Values

Prayer, evangelism, discipleship, outreach, core doctrines of the faith and the like aren’t values. They’re assumptions. If anything they’re permission to play values. Those basic values that allow you access to the room. I’ve listened as church leadership teams say they value outreach. Outreach doesn’t make a church unique, it’s the common behavior of any person or church that is following Jesus. Values are core and compact identity issues that make your church distinct from others.

 So what else would you add to the list? Leave a comment I’d love to hear your input!

Photo Credit: krissen via Compfight cc


Posted in Leadership

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The Baby Elephant Principle

Some years ago when I was in Africa on a short-term mission trip my wife Lisa and I had the opportunity to take an additional day to spend in Masai Mara, a famous game reserve that spans the boarder of Kenya and Tanzania. We got to see all kinds of animals in their natural habitat. We saw lions with their cubs, rhino, giraffes, hippos, and more. It was literally like something right out of National Geographic. But surprisingly some of the most incredible animals to watch were the elephants. These were a far cry from those circus elephants from my childhood. These elephants were larger than life powerful animals that trampled a path as they walked through the brush and knocked over trees, and broke branches. They were spectacular to be around. The largest living land animal, the average adult male is 10-13 feet tall at the shoulder and weighs between 10-13 thousand pounds. To get your head around just how massive these animals are, get this, their molars (their teeth) weigh about 11 pounds each and are 12 inches long! Their tusks weigh between 50-100 pounds and are between 5-8ft long! These are massive and impressive animals.

And when I think about those elephants that I saw in my childhood at the circus it’s almost comical that one of these grown massive, powerful 10,000-pound elephants could be tamed and chained to a little stake in the ground. What happens is when the elephant is young the trainer will drive a metal stake in the ground and chain the baby elephant to it. Unable to pull the stake out of the ground and lacking the strength to break the chain the baby elephant eventually gives up. It grows accustomed to the stake and conditioned to believe it can’t break free. In adulthood when the elephant is literally thousands of pounds, and has the strength to push a railway car, the trainer can still chain that elephant to a small stake in the ground to contain this giant powerful animal. All because it’s been conditioned to believe it can’t break free.

3 Questions to Ask about how Your Past is Affecting your Present:

1. What behaviors and practices does your church need to break free from that worked when you were smaller but are restricting you from moving forward and are keeping you stuck?

2. What ministries were effective at one point and breathed life into the church years ago but are now limping along and take energy to prop up?

3. What Staff Members were the right person at the right time some years ago, but have since hit a lid and need to be shifted into another role or off the team?


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation

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Defining the Leadership Culture at Your Church

Organizational Culture is the squishy stuff that is often difficult for even the most experienced leaders to clearly articulate. But just because it’s difficult and forces you to have uncomfortable conversations, face the brutal facts, and do the hard work of mining out the best ideas doesn’t mean it should be avoided. In fact the best leaders have a crystal clear picture of the behavioral norms that both reflect and build the desired culture in an organization. If you plan on perpetuating your culture you’d better be able to clearly articulate it and get others to see it…after all as Peter Drucker famously said…

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker

Every organization has a culture – attitudes they want adopted, values they want championed, beliefs they want instilled and behaviors they want reproduced. Leaders are the cultural architects of any organization.  Eventually every organization takes on the character and priorities of its leaders.  As a result, leaders need to become intentional in creating culture.

At Sun Valley Community Church, there are a few things that make our staff culture unique.  There is a way of operating and a way of treating others that we expect from those who are in leadership.  We have been working diligently to try to capture them in a few memorable, clear statements. We’ve gotten it down to 7 clear and concise statements (with further explanation that’s been added in) that we believe capture the essence of our culture. Don’t be confused, these are not the same thing as organizational values. These are staff norms, distinctives, and behaviors that both reflect and build a desired culture. I’m not posting these here to copy or to mimic. You have to discover and be true to your unique identity as a leader and organization. However I am posting these here as an example and to hopefully encourage others to do the hard work of clearly defining and articulating your own culture.

#1 LeadershipWe choose to love first and lead second, but always do both.

The Bible describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).  He knew when to be compassionate and when to be bold and he used the perfect mixture of both for any/every situation.  Jesus was the perfect man and the perfect leader.

We are not so fortunate.  Most of us lean to one side or the other.  Some are primarily grace givers, while others are truth tellers.  Grace givers believe the best about everyone.  They take people at their word and believe in a God of “second chances.”  However their weakness is that their trust is sometimes unfounded and at other times they don’t delve into problems and get to the root issue.  As a result, people may feel accepted but because of an unwillingness to confront obstacles to growth, they never become the leader God meant them to be.

Truth tellers have a different perspective.  They believe that “the truth will set you free” and so they willingly and consistently point out opportunities for improvement and change.  You never have to worry about knowing what is on the mind of a truth teller.  They are forthright and honest in conversation, whether confrontational or friendly.  However, very often truth tellers miss the relational side of ministry and as a result are seen as insensitive, abrupt and harsh.

At Sun Valley we expect our leaders to learn how to lead others with both grace and truth.  We believe that truth is best received when there is a strong foundational context that “we want something for you, not from you.”  We train leaders how to say the hard things in caring ways. Relationship is a key to receptivity. High trust paves the way for high challenge.

In our culture, the order of grace and truth matters.  Truth is spoken in the context of relationship.  When people know they are loved, accepted and respected, they will be more receptive to much needed change.  We also choose never to stop with only love.  It is never loving to leave out the truth. Love does what is best for the other person no matter what they get in return.  We love first, lead second, but always do both.

#2 RiskWe have a big God, so we take big risks and trust Him for big results.

Nothing is impossible for God.  He has commissioned His church to reach the world with the Gospel.  Therefore, God designed the church to be on the offensive in its dealings with the world.  In Mt. 16:18 Jesus states, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The only thing that can stop the church is the church.

And yet many churches take very few risks to reach those who are far from God.  Instead they house themselves in comfortable buildings and focus their resources on making the already convinced more comfortable.

This is not God’s plan for the church.  At Sun Valley, we encourage our staff to try big things to reach more people.  The world is rapidly changing which means methods need to change.   Leaders in the Sun Valley culture will experiment.  We are not afraid to try things and make mistakes.  We also understand that “new” is not necessarily better, “effective” is better.  We have high trust in our leaders.  This high trust leads to high expectations.  So we expect our leaders to key in on results.

Therefore when resources are limited and results are expected, evaluation becomes vital.  We evaluate everything, consistently trying to improve “what is,” to make it what “it could be” and “should be.”  We hire leaders who are willing to try new things and expect them to become “masters of midcourse correction.”  We have a big God, so we take big risks and trust Him for big results.

Yes…I know this is a long post…skim the highlights if you’d like. But I’ve put it all on here to help provide some kind of model for those interested in intentionally building a culture at their church. Keep reading if you want to learn more.

Continue Reading…


Posted in Leadership