Your Values Articulate Your Difference
The accelerating rate of change means a vision is only helpful for 2-3 years. That means, organizations, including the church, need to be reinventing themselves every 2-3 years to continue to thrive. While those statistics may give us reason to pause, a vision serves an important role. A vision can give us a lens to make decisions, guide our activities, and encourage us to live in new ways.
Our mission, on the other hand, defines who we are and guides us toward living our purpose. It’s not merely the footer on our websites or a poster on our entrance walls. It’s our central guiding purpose.
But there is another organizational lens that I believe sets the church apart from other organizations. Today, I want to invite you to consider what the church values.
What Makes You Weird?
During a recent continuing education event related to coaching, the presenter asked a simple question that may have caught me off guard. Instead, it intrigued me because it was the title of the session. The question is: What makes you weird?
Specifically, I’d ask, “What makes the church weird?” As much as it pains me to say, speaking words of hope is weird right now. Unconditional love is weird right now. Loving God and loving our neighbors is weird right now. Degrading others in words and actions has somehow been normalized. It’s not weird. It also doesn’t reflect the greatest commandment.
If you’re saying, “I don’t want to be weird.” I’ll go out on a limb and say, “It’s going to be difficult to be a Jesus follower.”
What do you worship?
Allow me to ask the above question in a slightly different way, “What makes the local church you lead and/or participate in different from other organizations?”
You might say it’s worshiping Jesus. That certainly should set us apart. But as soon as I made that note on my paper, the presenter asked this question: What do you worship?
I confess, I laughed, and then my heart sank to my toes for a moment. I recognized how quickly Jesus can be removed from our worship focus. In subtle and overt ways, we worship:
- church buildings
…just to name a few.
Think about this question in a nuanced way.
What gets all the attention? Again, yes, Jesus should be the focus. But, I’ve experienced far too many congregations where issues, personalities, the building, or money get the focus.
What is unique about the church?
As the conversation about values unfolded, I began to consider the most unique and weird thing about the local church. Why? It’s what gives us a unique perspective for advancing our purpose. It is what shapes the church culture and in turn, it shapes us as followers of Jesus.
Our values are codified in the way we do things. When we really probe the question of uniqueness, we’re considering the values we embody.
Values point to what we believe and how we work together. When we can articulate our values, we know what makes us unique. When we know what makes us unique, we know how we’re animating our mission in specific ways. Those ways may be perplexing to some. But they make the church you lead and call home unique.
I’ll ask again, what is unique about the church? Compared to other organizations, the church is:
- Primarily volunteer driven
- Focus on Jesus
- Sunday worship (prayer, scripture, message)
- Bible – ancient text is our guide
- There are others, but I’ll stop there.
Your Unique Difference
What makes you weird? Or if you prefer, what makes you unique?
Whatever it is, it’s one way people connect with you. For example, I’ve known and been a part of congregations with a deep focus on children.
What made them unique wasn’t the focus on children, but that everyone invested in children. The women’s groups made their mission focus on kids; the small groups served as Sunday School teachers and Vacation Bible School volunteers. The students had ministries that served children. The adults without kids often were active the entire Sunday morning participating in worship, attending a class, and finally serving in Children’s Church. It was weird because this multi-generational church not only loved kids, but loved families and lived in ways that embodied that value.
I will always maintain that there is more that unites us as followers of Jesus than divides us. However, our values can differentiate us. Our values are a way people relate to us. Our values help us identify our unique contribution to a community and the kingdom of God.
What does your unique difference say about what you value?
Questions to Consider
I encourage you to have a conversation with leaders in the church about the following questions:
- What makes you weird or unique?
- What do you worship?
- What do you have zero tolerance for around here?
- When do you risk it all?
- What phrases or slogans do you always hear?
- What stories get told again and again?
Then, test these values against the life and ministry of Jesus.
Allow me to briefly explore questions 3-6.
What do we have zero tolerance for around here?
I really want to say we have zero tolerance for injustice in any form. But, it is aspirational, not actual. If it were true, we would not simply be talking about injustices or even advocating for justice, the church would incorporate it in everything we say and do. We do have zero tolerance for child abuse and financial impropriety. Perhaps there are others.
Consider what you have zero tolerance for? What does it say about what you value? Does Jesus embody this value?
When do we risk it all?
Do you risk it all for the love of God we know in Jesus? If that’s too much of a stretch, do you risk sharing the love of Jesus with the people in your community?
Here’s the reality. Most of us are risk-averse. We play it safe. The challenge is that risk-taking is where we step out in faith and demonstrate our values. It’s also where our values are most visible.
I can think of amazing leaders who put everything on the line seeking to live into God’s vision. When the church culture is aligned with a vision and leadership empowers others to do the work of ministry, they risk it all.
- When the vision is compelling, people risk it all.
- When we know our contributions matter, we risk it all.
- When movement and momentum are felt, experienced, and employed, we risk it all.
Do we risk it all to glorify Jesus?
You may be one of the leaders who put everything on the line at some point in the last two years. Some of those risks were fruitful, others were not.
I can think of amazing leaders who put everything on the line amidst tremendous pressure and with deep vision. There are saints who gave their life savings to make a ministry possible. The reality is this: I could probably share at least one story every week about people who are risking everything…as well as those who are risk-averse.
Consider when you risk it all. What does it say about what you value?
What are the phrases, slogans, or sayings we always hear?
A couple I hear often include: It matters where you start (thanks, Tim) and Love Jesus…and do something about it.
When I worked at Miami University, the motto was on the bottom of the letterhead (Yes, I’m dating myself with letterhead. This was in the late 1990s.) The motto of Miami University is: Excellence is our Tradition. But, the phrase we heard all the time and said all the time was: Tradition is our Excellence. The grounding force of the University’s traditions was evident everywhere.
Consider how these phrases, slogans, and sayings connect with or animate what you value.
Which story gets told again and again?
Is it the story of moving from one location to the current location? Is it a crisis that happened? A funny story that no one can forget? Is it a story of a merger? Life after a tragedy? You know as well as I do, that most of these stories have an element of truth but can often take on a life of their own throughout the years. Consider how these stories are shaping what you value.
Together, these questions can help us identify and articulate our unique difference. The weird thing about our organization gives us a unique perspective for advancing the purpose.
One Final Caution
Each of these questions points to what the church values. Our values can either be productive or unproductive. For example, the value of collaboration can generate innovation or the meetings to collaborate can distract from doing the work that needs to be done. Being a high-performance team can mean you have a motivated team or an overworked team.
In other words, you can do great things and terrible things with what sets you apart. Don’t miss that as you consider your values. Sometimes what makes organizations weird can do harm. There is nothing Christ-centered about that.
Our differences are an opportunity to bring a unique perspective to our purpose.
Our differences allow us to make a unique contribution to our purpose that no one else could make in the same way. Consider the above questions to help you clarify who you are. And, if you need a way to explore your values with the congregation and your leadership, reach out.
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