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Nurturing a Healthy Church Culture – Part 2

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AUTHOR: Nathan Miller

May 11, 2022

To read Part 1 of this blog click here. What follows is a further explanation of our staff culture, taken directly from our new staff orientation materials, Cultural Habits: A Staff Devotional for Christ Community. 

 

We Expect God

 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Matthew 28:18-20

We have been called to take part in a seemingly impossible mission. In the face of satanic opposition, human rebellion, addiction, injustice of so many varieties, everyday human limitations and even our own enduring doubts, Jesus says “Go and make disciples.”

What hope do we have that we might actually be able to carry out this mission? The only reason Jesus gives that this is not an utterly hopeless mission is that the Almighty Son of God is here with us. He who is trustworthy has promised His presence.

And not just sometimes. Always. I love the word always. It leaves no room for exceptions. He’s always there watching over us, going before us, and guarding behind us.

Since God is always with us, then as we stack chairs or order print materials,He’s there. When we meet with that struggling couple, teenager, or coworker, He’s there. He’s working, mending, revealing, and moving. When we are organizing volunteers, He’s there. When we are preparing sermons, lessons, meeting agendas, or orientation material, He’s there. Whenever __________ feels hopeless or insurmountable, He’s there.

Always.

But do we expect Him? When is the last time you expected God to intervene?

 “He answered your prayer!”

It was early on in my pastoral role, and I had just met a guy who had been on the job hunt for about nine months. Over coffee, he shared his frustrations of emailing company after company and gaining little to no traction. I did what I could. I listened, and we prayed.

A couple of days went by, and on a Thursday morning, I spent some time in prayer for his job prospects. Transparently, there are times that I wrestle with whether my prayers matter at all. But I promised this gentleman that I would pray. So I did. And I texted him not long after that I was indeed praying for him. Then came his text response, “He answered your prayer! I got the job.”

 

I wasn’t expecting that. Really, it’s painful to admit, but I wasn’t expecting God. And years later, that gentleman is still working in the same place and still attending Christ Community. He’s reminded me often of that day, the day God surprised us both. And we’ll never forget it.

At Christ Community, we want to be a place where we aren’t surprised by God, but a place that expects God. A place that prays with anticipation. A place that works at our various responsibilities and callings, knowing He is watching over us and intimately engaged with us. A place that takes bold steps of faith, not because of how great we are, but because of how great our God is.

So whatever position you hold at Christ Community, let’s anticipate our God who is with us to do the impossible through us. Indeed, let us expect God.

However, we can’t just muscle up this sort of expectant perspective. It must be trained by the Spirit. Here are two helpful steps to cultivate this kind of expectation:

Hear God. Ask God to speak to you in His Word daily. If we come to God’s word asking for God to speak to us, and we experience His Spirit meeting us there, it trains us that God does indeed engage us right where we are.

Remember. Journal, write down, store, and share the stories of God’s intervention. Whether it’s an answer to a prayer request or a clear moment when God went before you in your work, write it down in a notebook or even on a random piece of paper and then keep it in a place for regular review. But don’t stop there. Share with one of your colleagues at Christ Community what God has done. Seeing the surprise on other’s faces will encourage both of your hearts.

We long to be a church expecting God. He’s here,

We believe, God help us in our unbelief.

 

We Stay Yoked

 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I never tire of meditating on the paradox of the yoke.

On the one hand, the image of the yoke is one of work. Plowing a field in the heat of summer, side by side with a master. The yoke brings with it the expectation that my life should produce the fruit of the one to whom I am yoked. We all come to work wanting to produce, to accomplish, to serve the mission of Jesus.

On the other hand, before Jesus ever asks anything of us—to serve Him, His Church, His mission—He offers us rest. Gentleness. A burden that is light.

How can both be true?!? Or, in the words of Frederick Dale Bruner:

 

A yoke is a work instrument. Thus when Jesus offers a yoke he offers what we might think tired workers need last. They need a mattress or vacation, not a yoke. …But Jesus realizes the most restful gift he can give to the tired is a new way to carry life, a fresh way to bear responsibilities.

A church and its staff should embody a culture that is both hard-working and at rest. Both productive and content in our callings. Longing, yet restful souls. 

The way we do that is by staying yoked to Jesus. We recognize that before Jesus ever asks anything of us, He offers us rest. For our physical bodies. For our spiritual lives. We believe Jesus wants us to experience the fullness of life, physical health, spiritual vitality, and emotional health. We do not work for a church, we work on ourselves—yoked to Jesus. A Jesus who does not load on us burdens of unrealistic expectations, demand that we are everywhere, with everyone, at every time. No, Jesus just wants us yoked to Him.

To experience this rest, we must enter His yoke. We do not just wait and hope for Jesus’ promise of rest. We enter His yoke by following the same practices that marked His life. We practice the Sabbath (take a day each week away from our work). We take time to get to a quiet place to pray. We remember that our physical bodies are a part of our spirituality. We fast and celebrate, rest and exercise. These spiritual disciplines give us the framework of the “…new way to carry life…” We practice the disciplines as the way to enter the easy yoke of Jesus, so that we can thrive as whole people as we serve the church and care for our families and friends.

Then, from that place of soul restfulness, we go to serve His church, with Him, alongside Him, for Him, secure in His kindness towards us.

How restful are you in your work? How light is your burden when you put your hand to the plow to go to work? How peaceful is your soul in the midst of your work?

Do not forget. Jesus does not burden you with unrealistic expectations. His burden is light. His yoke is mercy. Forgiveness. Grace. Peace. That is why His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

 

We take the mission seriously, not ourselves

 

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

1 Peter 5:5-7 

I honestly can’t think of a more miserable person on Christ Community’s team than the person who can’t laugh at themselves. And I’m not talking about a little smirk and chuckle. I mean a full-on belly laugh, tears down your face, laughing at yourself in a meeting kind of thing. Maybe this is weird to say, but it is one of my favorite things about serving with this church.

We don’t do this because we are being silly. It is our constant reminder that while we work hard on our God-given corporate mission and take that mission seriously, we never take ourselves too seriously. It is truly a way we “humble ourselves,” as Peter put it, before an all-powerful and good God who doesn’t need us to accomplish anything, but lovingly invites and empowers us anyway. We do it because we are confident that while we are deeply loved and cherished by God, by His people, and by one another, we are replaceable. Humans come and go. The mission of God stays the same. This should not strike us as belittling or discouraging. It is a profoundly humbling and freeing truth we cling to! 

Of course, a humble view of ourselves isn’t the only way we practice this habit. We work hard to make things better, seeking out honest, but loving, feedback, because we aren’t striving for our glory or reputation. We want the mission to thrive for His glory! We only say “me” and “my” when we are owning our mistakes or failures. We only say “we” and “our” when we celebrate our good ideas and successes. We do our best, together, to follow God’s lead as He has revealed it in His Word, never projecting our visions or goals onto Him for our own agenda. No job, task, problem, or person, is “too small” or “too big” for our attention. We take our basin and towel and serve as Jesus taught us.

We aren’t perfect at any of this, mind you, so that is why we need to be able to laugh at ourselves. But with God’s help, this is part of the culture we try to build. We have a wonderful, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, mission from God. It is of utmost and eternal importance.That mission is as serious as serious gets! But we want to be humble enough to know that sometimes God does His best work despite our weakness, our frailty, our sin, and our half-baked ideas. That fact brings a smile to my face. How about you?

 

We remember names

 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” 

Isaiah 43:1

Remembering names is not simply about knowledge, but love. I might remember where you live, when you graduated from high school, what your greatest childhood fear was, and how allergic you are to tree nuts. But none of that will have any real impact on you if I can’t remember your name. A person’s name carries great importance. Names aren’t just utilitarian titles that help us categorize one another in our memories. Names convey a sense of worth, value, and identity. That is why remembering names is a keystone habit that we believe cultivates a culture of compassion, empathy, and grace.

There is something powerful that happens when you are talking to a stranger at the park about the weather and then you finally get to a point where you exchange names. Just as a child enters the world and is given a name because she has worth, there is something about learning a person’s name that causes their worth to be birthed within your mind and heart at that very moment.

At Christ Community, we value the habit of remembering names because we believe it is a catalyst for creating a caring family. We live in an increasingly impersonal world where we are known less and less and where we know others less and less. The church may very well be one of the last institutions and communities where people can truly be known, seen, heard, and loved in very personal and dignifying ways. And it all starts with remembering names.

This habit is not just the irreducible minimum of love. It can be an ignition switch that begins the good work of seeing and treating people with the God-given dignity they possess as image-bearers. It is the launching pad of hospitality and vulnerability. It is a small yet profound way of telling someone you care for them and you see them in the beauty of their humanity, despite their brokenness.

So let’s make every effort to learn and remember the names of our co-workers. Let’s see those we work alongside as people to be known and loved before we see them as anything else. Maybe that means reorienting the relational category of our staff team to be more like family. What if we treated each other like cousins, not just co-workers? But don’t stop there. As we think about Sunday mornings, try to implement practices and tools to remember the names of people you meet at church. Put this habit into practice everywhere you interact with humans. Keep a note on your phone with the names of people you meet in your neighborhood, the gym, your kid’s school, your archery class, wherever. Personalize the people and places where there is so much impersonal interaction. Remember the name of your server at a restaurant. Refer to the customer service rep on the phone by his name. Learn the name of your mail carrier. Odds are his mother didn’t name him Buckaroo.

When we remember names and make it a central part of who we are as a church, we will not only find ourselves growing in love toward others, but if done well and with great intentionality, it will be reciprocal and cyclical. Love begets love. And when we love people by name we find ourselves emulating the very God who has shared His name with us and has called us by name.

 

We are better together

 

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it…. Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Genesis 2:15, 18 CSB 

You were never meant to work alone.

Is that the first thing that comes to your mind when you read Genesis 2:18? It was not the first thing that came to my mind for much of my life. I thought about humans needing community. I thought about the reality that Adam, by himself, couldn’t fill the land with other humans.

But when you read verse 18 in the context of verse 15, you see first and foremost that what the first human is incapable of doing alone is the WORK of working and watching over the garden.

The triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is Relationship and Community from all eternity, did not design you to work alone. In the beauty and mystery of the tri-unity of God, all three persons of the Trinity participate in the work of creation, redemption, and new creation. As creatures made in the image of this triune God, we are designed to work together.

Whether designing graphics, meeting with students, editing copy, writing sermons, recruiting volunteers, fixing broken toilets, or fixing broken spreadsheets, you and I were never meant to work alone. We are better together. That isn’t just a platitude. It is an inescapable, unavoidable truth woven into the very fabric of reality.

Being better together looks like valuing teamwork and collaboration even when it feels like it is slowing us down— and it will almost always feel like it is slowing us down— because usually it is. But we believe the result will be better. Why? Because we all bring different perspectives, gifts, experiences, insights, and backgrounds. We are impoverished as an organization when we neglect or diminish the ethnic and gender diversity God has created —for His glory and our good. We were never meant to work alone.

Being better together looks like choosing trust rather than suspicion when there is a gap in the facts. We work from a foundation of trust. When something goes wrong, when our expectations aren’t met, we choose to believe the best about our co-workers rather than the worst. Why? Because suspicion divides and isolates us, and we were never meant to work alone.

Being better together doesn’t mean that we never need time for deep, focused work as individuals. Far from it! In fact, that sort of work is vital to meaningful collaboration. But it means that even those times of deep, focused, individual work are in the service of what we are doing together.

Being better together means we’d rather go down with the ship together than escape on a lifeboat by ourselves. Why? Because we aren’t just committed to the mission or progress or efficiency or getting things done, we are committed to each other.

And we were never meant to work alone. 

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