Chances are you have a very well thought-through mission and vision.
And that’s fantastic.
But have you ever thoroughly thought through the culture of your organization?
Here’s why that matters:
Your mission and vision determine the what and the why of what you do.
Your culture determines how your organization feels and behaves.
And, in most cases, your culture trumps your mission and vision. Often without anyone saying a word or even realizing it, you can undo a great mission by having a terrible culture.
If you’ve ever struggled with why a compelling mission and vision haven’t taken you further, maybe it’s time to look at your culture.
The truth is simple: A bad organizational culture will kill a great organizational mission.
Yes, You’ve Left Great Missions Behind Because of a Bad Culture
You’ve already left great missions behind because of bad organizational cultures.
You went to a home design store that had the exact product you needed, but you left because the staff didn’t care or because the owner treated you poorly.
You avoid a certain location in a restaurant chain you otherwise love because the staff always get your order wrong and the restrooms are rarely clean.
You didn’t stay long at the company you first worked for after graduating, not because it wasn’t in your field (it was), but because you really didn’t like the people you worked with.
None of these problems are really mission or vision problems. At their heart, they’re cultural problems.
And if you think about it, you probably have a few places you visit regularly not because you even like the mission or vision, but because you like the culture?
Ever go to a coffee shop or favourite restaurant when you weren’t all that hungry, just to hang out? Miss your college days because you loved the people you were with? I sometimes go to my favourite bike store even when I’m not buying anything because I love the vibe and conversation (and even the smell). That’s culture.
Your problem often isn’t what you believe as an organization, it’s how you behave.
(By the way…because culture problems are often people problems and sin problems, the phenomenon is wider than just church. So even if you don’t work in church, some of these signs might seem uncomfortably familiar.)
Here are 5 signs your culture needs to change:
1. You judge the culture around you, rather than love the people in it
For some strange reason, most of us in the church today are known for our judgment more than our love. This is almost criminal, as Jesus said that the defining hallmark of his followers should be love.
It is impossible to judge someone and love someone at the same time. Certainly, you can discern that there are issues. But to judge is to put yourself above someone. (I would cite scripture here, but I think we all know the Bible couldn’t be clearer about not judging outsiders).
Somehow we’ve flipped it. We let people on the inside off the hook and judge people outside. And then we wonder why our church isn’t growing and why our church is serially unhealthy.
Many churches aren’t growing because people judge more than they love. It’s human nature to gravitate to people who accept us (this explains everything from gangs to clubs to friendships), and I believe the point of the cross is not judgment but salvation through Christ.
If you lead a Christian church, your mission is to reach people, not judge people.
Even if you love people, someones Christians have this weird habit of behaving in ways that are just…strange.
When there is a significant gap between how you talk to people in the grocery store and how you talk to people in church, it’s a sign you might have a cultural barrier that new people will find hard to surmount.
I realize people have traditions, but sometimes these traditions get in the way of the mission. If nobody can understand what you’re saying because you speak in Christianese or some kind of insider code, well, how do you expect people to feel a sense of belonging before they read your book of code (which by the way, nobody bothered to publish).
I don’t want to have to convert people to my culture. I’d rather see them converted to Jesus.
When you need to convert people to your culture before they convert to Christianity, your mission is at risk.
3. What you think is contemporary, isn’t
Of all the lies we tell, the lies we tell ourselves are the most subtle and deadly. Far too many churches make a lot of changes to how they behave and declare themselves ‘contemporary’, when the truth is they just sound traditional in a slightly different way to outsiders.
If you’re trying to be a contemporary church (and I realize not everyone is), get some outside feedback as to whether people who don’t go to church really connect with your culture and style. The fact that your ‘people’ like it simply creates a self-perpetuating community.
4. You handle conflict poorly and indirectly
Conflicted churches rarely grow. And, unresolved, sustained conflict will kill almost every organization’s mission in the long run.
Ironically, churches should be the best at resolving conflict. Often, we are the worst, despite some incredible biblical instruction on how to do it.
If your church has years (or decades) of continual infighting and never resolves conflict directly, just one question: why would anyone join you?
5. You have a justification for every bit of criticism you receive.
Sometimes people love their not-very-effective culture.
Churches that are great at never changing their defective culture often have a handy justification for every suggestion for improvement that comes their way.
In fact, often that justification comes with a bit of arrogance toward the dummies who ‘just don’t get us’.
Sadly, a closed and mildly arrogant attitude will often shrink a group until it becomes a closed minded ‘us against the world’ kind of attitude. That’s too bad. Because Jesus died for the world too many church leader resist.
No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.
Becoming a leader was a great challenge for me. My first responsibility as a leader was as class president. My second was fatherhood, my third was team leader on several campaigns abroad while serving my country. I was blessed to have been raised by a leader in my home. LT. Cornell Johnny Pratt United States Army. Under his grooming I found excuses to rebel. It was uncomfortable learning how to follow not knowing in doing so I was being prepared for great responsibility.
“There’s an ego looking for a place to inflate,” my mom would whisper to me as my siblings entered the room, a prophecy that unfortunately soon proved itself to be true. “The long, dark corridor of life narrows at the end./ And those whose ego grow too tall will have to learn to bend.” I miss my mom who ultimately was the stronger vessel in our home due to all the humility she showed while ministering her faith in Christ to a Islamic domineered home.
I. A place of leadership is a place of honor
Imagine the honor of it. From what may have been two million people 12 men were chosen. One dozen, from two million. Surely, the crowd roared for each name called, the way sports fans cheer for their heroes, the way political rallies yell the name of their candidate. They had a cheering base of more than 150,000 to a man, and the sound must have thundered across the valley.
Moses called them, one by one. Shammua, Shaphat, Caleb, Igal, Hoshea (or Joshua), Palti, Gaddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, Geuel!
Their heads held high, these 12 men chosen as leaders for God’s people, were honored for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of integrity, and a lifetime of courage. The applause must have been sweet to many of them, if not every one of them.
We already know the rest of the story, how 10 out of the 12 would fail miserably in their leadership role. Only Caleb and Joshua would lead with courage and God-led conviction. Before we get to the failures of the 10, however, focus on the truth of the honor. It is a great honor to be chosen as a leader among God’s people.
When Paul briefed Timothy about the qualifications of deacons, he said – If a man serves well as a deacon, he earns an “excellent standing.” (1Timothy 3:13) The phrase for “excellent standing” means, “A step above.” The leader, who would be a deacon or a pastor in a church, is not exalted over the Christians he serves. Instead, he is simply pulled out of the group, like these 12 leaders in the wilderness, and placed in the spotlight. He is given a small step stool so all who are near can see his example. It is as if God says of this leader: “Here’s the example of what it means to be a Christian. Here’s one we will use as a model.”
There is great honor in being selected as a model for God’s people. The danger arrives when a leader wants all of the honor, without taking all of the responsibility.
II. A place of leadership is a place of great responsibility
This is the cost of leadership. This is where the great leaders earn their place in history.
For the generation of God’s people on the edge of the Promised Land, there was never a bigger crisis of leadership than when their 12 leaders were given the responsibility of spying out the land. They were to seek out the land, come back with the reports, and then issue the challenge of faith to all the people. Two would be up to the challenge, but 10 would wilt under the heavy load of responsibility.
Be careful to note this: All 12 of these leaders were courageous, and all 12 took courageous action in the beginning. They slipped into the land of the enemy, managed to live for some time in a dangerous place, and they even stole some prime produce from land owners who were surely protecting their crops. All 12 came home safely, and the entire dozen completed the first portion of the task given them. They had been good spies and had full reports of what they had seen.
However, the responsibility of this group was not simply to spy out the land. They were not chosen to be geologists, real estate agents, or agricultural surveyors. They were chosen to be leaders of God’s people, charged with giving God’s people God’s message. Whatever godly leaders are charged to do, eventually their responsibility is to be faith-driven leaders.
That’s where this group failed. Instead of reporting faith, ten of these leaders would eventually report of the fear they felt. Only two gave the challenge of moving forward in faith. When the people sided with fear instead of faith, their opportunity to live inside the Promised Land vanished.
A place of leadership is a place of tremendous responsibility, for a leader’s faith is on public display. The responsibility of a leader to live in that faith is a great weight.
III. An effective leader does not let problems stop the promise
When the people listened to the ten frightened spies who made a case for fear, instead of the two leaders calling them toward faith, God wanted to destroy them all. Had God done so, the entire exodus from Egypt would have been wasted. The promise of the Promised Land would be delayed by centuries. The nation of God’s people would be destroyed, and God’s reputation, therefore, would be greatly damaged. This was no small problem.
Moses made his best case before God, desperately trying to ward off a deadly, righteous anger.
Amazingly, God relented. Instead of destroying the nation, God only destroyed a generation. Forty years later, Joshua and Caleb would lead the children and grandchildren of this experience into the Promised Land. They would do so only because Moses did his best to not let a problem stop the promise.
If you’re going to lead, you’d better comprehend the truth. There will always be problems along the way. The problems come, and the problems go. Moses might put it this way: Today they complain about manna, tomorrow they’ll complain about quail. One day it’s a problem of thirst, the next it’s a problem of idolatry.
Leaders learn that problems look very large in the present, and very small from the distance. Effective leaders simply refuse to let something that looks so large block out the big picture. If Moses had forgotten the priceless value of God’s promise, his people would have died in the dessert. An effective leader simply cannot let a temporary problem – no matter how large – block the promise of the goal.
Colonel George Washington Goethals, the man responsible for the completion of the Panama Canal, had stifling problems with the climate and the geography of Central America. Driving rains, incredible heat, and deadly disease were problems that never left his task. But his biggest challenge was the growing criticism back home from those who predicted he’d never finish the project. The voices of the critics appeared to be the biggest problem of all.
Finally, a colleague asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer these critics?”
“In time,” answered Geothals.
“When?” his partner asked.
“When the canal is finished.”
IV. The most important quality a leader must have is faith
Moses was humble, he was compassionate, he was consistent. But most of all, he was a man of great faith. The writer of Hebrews said the greatest mark of Moses was that he believed God, and that he led God’s people by faith. History’s summary of this great leader’s life was that he was a man of faith. (see Hebrews 11:23-29)
Moses had been a consistent man of faith among a people who had been consistently faithless. When God listed his complaints about the people, He said they had tested him ten times (see Numbers 14:22). How could people who had escaped Egypt, walked safely across the dry floor of the Red Sea, and eaten miraculous food doubt that God was with them? Had they not seen the Tabernacle, and the fire that glowed over it at night? Could they not remember the plagues that struck Egypt at Moses’ command?
Don’t be too hard on the people surrounding Moses. The disciples of Jesus had trouble walking across the bridge of faith, even after the Resurrection!
The followers around Jesus who were about to see the Lord ascend into heaven had seen the healing of countless sick people, the restoring of sight to the blind, and the raising of the dead. They had seen the crucifixion and the resurrection, and had reflected on the prophecy concerning the Messiah for more than a month. They had been with their resurrected Lord on multiple occasions, and could see him at that very moment. But just before Jesus gave his last instructions, Matthew records these words:
“The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted.” Matt 28:16-17 (HCSB) It seems unbelievable. How could they see all that they had seen, and still doubt the power of God?
The end truth is that faith is a tough quality to have, and that if a person is going to lead God’s people, he or she simply cannot lead without faith. You must believe, without doubting. You must be able to believe, and then act confidently upon those beliefs. Perhaps that is why Jesus looked at those struggling, doubting disciples, and then simply said … “Now, go into all the world …” Jesus called his leaders to a faith-based action, just as he does today. You may still have some doubts, but the instruction still comes, loud and clear: “Go!”
What a gift God has given us in the stories of the Bible. While we might be squarely in the middle of a crisis, a problem, or a great challenge, the record of God’s people before us reminds us of the course of action we must take, and of the great reward for the leader who holds fast to the challenge of faith.
When God issued his judgment against the people, he also issued his rewards:
Joshua had the privilege of leading a new generation across the Jordan River, through the crumbling walls of Jericho, and into the Promised Land. Caleb lived a long, vibrant life, and saw the passion of his faith greatly rewarded. Both men outlived every grumbler, complainer, and naysayer around them. They became the only two names we remember from the original 12 leaders who spied out the land. The rewards of leadership are priceless.