My heart breaks with story after story of church meltdowns. As a follower of Jesus and an active churchgoer, it makes me sad and angry, embarrassed and even ashamed. As a pastor it humbles me, and if I’m honest, it scares me. The weight of such stewardship in the light of so many failures feels almost crushing.
There are too many stories of churches, pastors, and church leaders who make terrible mistakes with sex, money, or power. Too many examples of those who burn out, walk away, or despair. The fallout and pain to congregation members and the damage done to Jesus’ reputation is almost too much to bear. We know His bride, the church, can be anything but beautiful at times, and every institution has to reckon with its own sinfulness. But how do we learn from the failures?
Christ Community is NOT a perfect church. We are nowhere near immune to the disease of sin that can so easily infect any group of people. Nor would we ever want to sit on our high horses wagging our fingers at those who have very clearly messed up. We also don’t want to be guilty of those same mistakes or arrogantly believe it could never happen to us.
We want to be different.
This is not a statement of pride but rather an earnest prayer that God would protect us and that He would continue to show us tangible ways to foster that protection within our church culture.
These things include appropriate checks and balances between staff, elders, and congregation. It includes our clear reporting structure, system of annual 360 reviews, and built-in accountability and camaraderie as a multisite church. We could and should talk about our annual financial audit or our partnership with the outside institution Red Flag Reporting. All of it matters and all of it helps.
But none of it is ultimately effective unless there is a healthy institutional culture.
There is no set of systems, policies, handbooks, or bylaws that matter as much as a healthy culture. I’m not minimizing those other things—they are important and we spend a lot of time sharpening those areas. But none of those things will ultimately succeed in the midst of an unhealthy culture or unhealthy staff. So we spend a lot of time thinking about culture.
In fact, a few years ago we began a quest to identify the healthy aspects of Christ Community’s staff culture, not so we could pat ourselves on the back, but rather so that we could do whatever we can to preserve the good parts, and abandon the bad. We wanted to identify the things that are really hard to name—the hidden, often unseen realities, that make us tick. The things that are true now that we always want to be true, and become even more so in the future. The kind of stuff we want every staff person, in any place in the organization, as well our elders, congregant leaders, and volunteers to whole-heartedly embrace. What follows is a summary of years of work and countless conversations throughout every level of our organization.
We call them our cultural habits.
They describe the kinds of people we try to hire and recruit. They are the things that we work really hard to reinforce and celebrate through our all staff gatherings, new staff orientations, and ongoing reviews.
In fact, what follows is the content taken directly from some of our new staff orientation materials. That means these words were not written for you, although we hope and pray they help foster a healthy ecosystem that deeply enriches you and your experience of this church family.
We hope that by sharing these things with you it will increase your confidence in your church, even while acknowledging that we often fail to live up to these ideals. We hope that by giving you this window into our inner-workings as an organization, you see this as an invitation to join us in reinforcing a healthy culture, and as an opportunity to keep us accountable whenever we fall short.
This blog is part 1 of 2. Part 1 is an overview of why we believe this is so important and Part 2 consists of further reflection on our cultural habits. Thank you for taking the time to read, and thank you for taking the time to nurture a healthy culture with us.
Cultural Habits: A Staff Devotional for Christ Community
I love Christ Community. I have loved this church as a congregation member and as a pastor, and while she is far from perfect, there is something beautiful here worth cultivating. I think of her a bit like a tree.
In Jeremiah 17:7-8 we read: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” What an incredible picture of God’s people—we want that to be true of us too!
As long as I can remember, I have been amazed by trees. And when I find a good one—one that stands out—I can’t help but notice its beauty, wonder about its history, and its strength. I recognize it wasn’t created in an instant and want to preserve it and somehow increase its beauty.
Like a tree, Christ Community is years in the making, and we all now play an important part in sustaining her. While she belongs to God, and only He can make her grow, it is our privilege to cultivate her as best we can.
What follows is our attempt at a “gardening” manual, meant to provide a snapshot into the inner workings of our church, how all the various parts fit together, and the important role each of us plays. To get to the core of it, we have summarized this into these questions about Christ Community that must be answered: Why, What, How, and Who.
The Why of Christ Community
Christ Community exists because we believe the local church as God designed it is the hope of the world. This big WHY is built upon our five Core Values:
Cross: We believe the finished work of Christ on the cross makes it possible to enter the life we were designed to live.
Yoke: We believe we become the people God designed us to be when we are in the yoke of Christ.
Bible: We believe the Bible reveals God’s design for all of life.
Church: We believe the primary context in which we are to experience the life God designed is the local church.
City: We believe we are designed to give ourselves away in our neighborhoods, city, and world.
The What of Christ Community
In order to bring hope to our world, Christ Community has a mission that has been with us from the beginning.
We desire to be a caring family of multiplying disciples, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ.
This statement can be summarized with these key multiplyings:
Multiplying Churches | Multiplying Disciples | Multiplying Leaders
The How of Christ Community
At Christ Community we believe this mission can be accomplished by equipping our congregation to apply our core values to their “Monday” (everyday) lives. These applied values make up what we call the “marks” of a disciple. We believe a growing disciple of Jesus:
- Takes up their CROSS
- Puts on the YOKE
- Builds their life on the BIBLE
- Loves the CHURCH
Seeks the good of the CITY by
- Giving themselves away
- Sharing the gospel in word and deed
- Working diligently for the flourishing of all
The Who of Christ Community
At Christ Community we couldn’t accomplish our WHY, WHAT, or HOW without our WHO: our staff, volunteers, and congregation members. More important than any strategy are the cultural habits our people embody that fuel this mission. We summarize them like this:
We expect God. We stay yoked.
We take the mission seriously, not ourselves.
We remember names.
We are better together.
We are so convinced of the importance of healthy staff culture that we want to unpack what these five statements mean to us. None of us embody these perfectly, and we all fail at each of them from time to time, but these are the habits that have shaped us over the decades. These are the habits we strive to cultivate.
Go back to the metaphor of the tree. If Christ Community is a tree, these cultural habits—the WHO of Christ Community—are the conditions that enable this tree to flourish. Only God can make her grow, but these are the seasons, the soil, the sunshine, the amount of rain and nutrients that have led to health, beauty, and fruitfulness over the years. Our cultural habits are often the secret ingredients to our flourishing.
These habits are so important to us that we believe they are absolutely necessary for every staff member in every role. They are not optional. We can’t pick four out of five or start working on some of them later. All five are essential to flourishing at Christ Community —for the church to flourish and for the staff team to flourish.
As a result, we want to recruit and serve alongside people who embrace them. We want to train, coach, and equip ourselves to grow in them. We want to celebrate successes and provide accountability as we learn to embrace them more and more.
In short, we want to cultivate this tree, and that takes each of us.
We’ll take a closer look at each of these cultural habits in Part 2 of this blog.