Pastors are not merely called to grow a church. They are, instead, primarily called to architect a church culture that aligns with the values of Christ the King. 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 architecting 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 for its racist leanings, 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 the church 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 put on their signage and literature if they want to actually reach the lostJ), yet their calendar is void of any intentional contact with people who are disconnected from God. 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 the power of God invades a local church where all of the dots above connect consistently for 3-5 years, cultural transition happens. 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?