LeaderLines – from Hillcrest Baptist Church, Austin, Texas  Contact Tom Goodman, Pastor
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“Culture Creation”
by Tom Goodman
September 8, 2005

Watch out!
There’s an assignment cleverly hidden
within the paragraphs of this article!

As a Hillcrest leader, your most important job is culture creation.  Every organization has a culture—an assumed set of values and practices.  Have you ever heard someone speak of the “corporate culture” of the place where you work?  Every church has a “corporate culture,” too, and leaders preserve that group mindset—or renovate it.  Culture creation is the most important job you have at Hillcrest.

Angie Ward and her husband discovered the power of a church’s corporate mindset at their first church following seminary graduation:

A lot has been written lately about the church and culture; most of it, however, refers to the culture around a church.  Just as important is the culture within a church, the shared attitudes, values, and beliefs that define a church and shape its practices.
Fresh out of seminary, my husband and I began ministry at an established, 850-member church in a large city.  During the interview process, we were impressed by the church's forward-thinking mission and values, and we were excited to join such an apparently dynamic ministry.
As time passed, however, it became clear that there was far more bark than bite at that church . . . .  It took several years to realize that the problem was not a lack of resources, expertise, or a clearly worded purpose statement.  The problem was that the church's actual culture didn't reflect its stated mission.
As with any organization, a church's culture can be encapsulated into an "ethos," or a statement that summarizes its true guiding beliefs.  The ethos is almost never officially articulated.  It's something that is felt.  This ethos is often hard to define, but that doesn't mean it is any less powerful.  Ideally, the ethos of an organization should flow out of its purpose, but when it doesn't, the church's underlying culture can subvert even the best vision.
The ethos at our first church?  “Don't rock the boat.”  That seems to be a common ethos at many churches, but here are some others:
    o  We can find something wrong with anything.
    o  The world isn't safe, so we will protect you.
    o  Visitors are welcome to come back, if they really want to.
    o  Saved by grace but living under law.
These core beliefs are rarely articulated, but they have enormous impact on the health and effectiveness of a church, no matter what its stated purpose.
Culture takes a long time to create, and even longer to change.  But in any church, the first step toward creating a healthy culture is identifying the existing ethos, whether positive or negative.
I have an assignment for you.  I want you to define the culture or ethos of Hillcrest.  Write me back with a one-sentence or one-paragraph definition.  I’m going to collect these together and share them at our upcoming Leadership Summit—the positive ones and the negative ones.  I won’t use anyone’s names, so write under the freedom of anonymity!

Our annual Leadership Summit takes place on Saturday, September 24, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.  Childcare (up to fifth grade) is provided, and your Ministry Staff will be cooking a pancake breakfast.  This will be an important time to get aligned with where our church is going!

Don’t forget that assignment, now!  Take ten minutes right now to write me back with your view of the Hillcrest culture.


Angie Ward’s full article, “Discerning Your Church's Hidden Core Values,” can be found at  www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/churchvitalsigns/articles/082405.html.

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