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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.

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Posted in Leadership