A great honor any leader has, especially a pioneering leader, is establishing the culture of a community. I remember in the early days of pioneering IHOP-Atlanta I was struck with the thought, “I don’t have to build anything I don’t want to build. God is giving me the opportunity to establish culture in our community in the way He leads. What a huge privilege!” From that time til now, developing and stewarding our culture has been a necessary, continual focus. I have found that ministry culture is a product of several components.
1) The heart of the leader & leadership team
Perhaps the greatest contributor to the culture of any ministry is the heart of its leaders. It’s been said, “We teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are.” I have found in over 20 years of ministry this axiom is true. Those closest to you will emulate your strengths AND your weaknesses. As a leader, it is therefore critical, that you tend to your heart before the Lord above all else. If you are going to reproduce what’s inside, your key focus needs to be making sure what’s in there is something you want reproduced. I’ve marveled at Paul’s confidence in calling the Corinthians to imitate him. The truth is whether you tell them to or not, they will. Whatever you are at heart will be reproduced in your community. As leaders we need to feel the weight of this truth. I’m not trying to burden us in a negative way. I just want to emphasize that our personal walk and lifestyle will set culture more than just about anything.
2) The messages that are preached
So much of the way people live and think is a direct result of how we instruct them. Culture is therefore strongly influenced by our main messages. A proclamation platform gives you the most consistent opportunity to communicate culture in the broadest way. Whatever your values are, they must be communicated regularly from your platform. Often leaders desire to have a certain culture in their community, but because they are unwilling to change their messaging they are not able to shift the culture. For instance if you desire to have a culture that functions from the first commandment, you must preach messages that emphasize the first commandment. Often leaders feel the need to motivate people to action and therefore preach messages that focus on the second commandment. As simple as this may sound, you must preach the first commandment first if you desire it to shift your ministry culture this direction. This is true for all the values you desire to develop in the culture of your community.
3) The values that are practiced
Notice I said values that are practiced. Often I see churches that have a certain value set but they don’t actually live their values. Values that are not lived are just nice ideas. They won’t cultivate anything in your culture. Instead if you don’t practice your values, you will unintentionally communicate insincerity. This is tough, but it’s true: Your community is not who you believe you are. It’s not even who you say you are. It’s who you are in practice. The distance between who you say you are(values) and what you actually do(praxis) is, at best, the level of your immaturity or, at worst, the level of your hypocrisy. Ouch…I know. I’ve had to grapple with the disparity between who we say we are and who we really are at IHOP-Atlanta many times over the last decade. Each time I’ve had to return to the Lord, remember who He’s called us to be and ask Him for grace to correct our course.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but components that I have found that are critical to establishing and stewarding culture. If you’re a leader, I encourage you to be the greatest example of the culture you’re trying to set. And once that’s landed proclaim and practice the culture.
What are some other components that you have seen that are important to establishing culture?