CULTURE REIGNS……The critical battle between Culture and Values


I recall participating in a seminar set aside by a church where a group of its leaders came together to identify the values of the church. The group, seated around tables, were led through a day where the end product of identifying its key values was achieved.

Much has changed in that church since that day and I daresay that there would not be many who would now remember the list of values that were agreed upon that day. Further, It would seem that there was little attempt to communicate those values to the church at large, as life in the church has steadily deteriorated with the passing of time.

On reflection, I have jotted down the following insights from that experience.

  • Values are behavioural norms.
  • There are real values and aspirational values.
  • Real values are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of an organisation’s actions. They serve as its cultural cornerstone.
  • Aspirational values are those that a church desires to succeed in, but currently has failed to achieve or has lost along the way.
  • Some of a church’s real values are in fact aspirational values.
  • The culture of a church is reflected by the shared real values. It is a pair of glasses through which people see life.
  • Developing a culture is more than just having a set of values and a vision statement.
  • The success of implementing new steps and strategies will be determined by the degree to which the underlying culture will support the initiative.
  • People are ultimately loyal to culture, not necessarily to strategies and leadership initiatives.
  • It is possible to talk the talk without walking the walk.


  • A church can take great pride in its evangelical and missionary doctrines and traditions, whilst its real values deny any sense of outward focus. In reality, the culture of the church is inward looking, members have not been effectively trained to share their faith and new Christians are a rarity. Numbers have been steadily decreasing and if this trend continues, the future of the church has a limited lifespan. The occasional newcomer who attends a worship service is overlooked after the service as long time attenders gather in their normal friendship groups to catch up with the latest in-house news or talk about the good old days. Culture will always triumph over aspirational values, doctrinal statements and traditions of the past.
  • There is an expectation that the paid staff are there to serve the many needs of the members, rather than equip the members for the work of the ministry and the development of leaders to expand the ministry and mission of the church. The stated value of the priesthood of believers remains in doctrinal form only, in reality a long held aspirational value. Deep down there is a belief among some members that they pay the pastors to do the work and that the culture of the church places a higher value on “professional” ministers. Therefore, the members remain immature, dependent and demanding. The growth of the church remains static because there is a limit to the number of members a pastor alone can shepherd. As the church advances in age, its numbers gradually decline because culture will always triumph over doctrine and aspirational values.
  • The church was birthed in a movement of prayer and prayer was always referred to as an important building block in the life of the church. However, with the passing of time and establishment of a debt free property and a sizable congregation, the priority of faith inspired prayer diminished. Although prayer is held as an important value in the life of the church, in practice it has been dying a slow death for some time. The culture of prayer that drove the church is now a value that was lost along the way, even though it is still held in high regard. Stories of the pioneering days characterised by powerful prayer meetings are still frequently shared. But again, present day culture will triumph over the traditions of the past.

So how can we ensure that the desired values of the church align themselves with the culture of the church?

The following are a few thoughts.

  • Ensure that those elected to senior positions in the church are living lives that model and reflect the doctrines and the desired values of the church. It all starts with the leaders.
  • Ensure that the senior leaders’ job descriptions are Biblically based and built on the values of the church and that there is an inbuilt accountability that guards these values.
  • Beware of the danger of drift and remember that to maintain a Biblical culture takes consistent focussed effort and teaching.
  • Develop an Equipping the Saints program that sees all of the life of the church lived out in an integrated Discipleship Pathway. Eliminate programs that no longer serve any valid purpose. Make sure the church’s resources are focussed on the primary purpose of making disciples.
  • Culture and strategy go hand in hand. There is a need to define the strategy and to ensure that the culture supports it.
  • It doesn’t take a large percentage of people to change a culture, just a small percentage of committed people. The communist revolution in Russia gave evidence to this.
  • Finally, show me your life and I will show you your real values.