So far I written 3 blogs about culture and I think I’ve got a couple more to go after this one. It’s something I‘ve thought about and continue to wrestle with because I was part of a team where the culture was unhealthy. And I contributed to it. It’s quite humbling to realise you have responsibility as a leader for unhealthiness in a church. Especially unhealthiness that leads to people being hurt. These things happened years ago but I will carry the lessons for the rest of my life.

Sometimes as leaders we lie to ourselves. We do all we can to protect our image as good leaders that we fail to face reality and make the changes we must to actually be good leaders. In this case I failed to listen to a steady stream of people over a period of years who told me that things weren’t right. Eventually it was my wife who was saying things weren’t right.

I’ll always remember when I asked in our staff meeting, ‘We’re talking about changing things but what are we changing from, what’s our culture now?’ It was the first time we had actually talked about culture and the answers were revealing. ‘We’re driven’. ‘We’re legalistic’. ‘We’re duty bound’. This was the first time we had examined our culture and it was too late.

The thing with culture is the ease we leave it unexamined. Culture can be like water to a fish: everywhere and unquestioned. I’ve been part of many groups that focus on doing things rather than doing things from a place of examined culture. Which is crazy because it’s easy to do. I think we don’t take a ‘culture inventory’ enough because we are scared of the results. But I never want to leave the discussion of culture too late ever again.

Examining culture is as simple as asking some questions to your team:

  • What do we celebrate?
  • What kind of mistakes do we celebrate?
  • What do we tolerate?
  • What do we get upset about?
  • What do we talk about most in staff meetings?
  • What behaviour do we correct? Is it mostly skills, techniques, attitudes, theology, values or loyalty?
  • What is our win? What do we measure?

It’s so easy to have slogans (like serve and encourage). It’s so easy to have a mission and vision. Having a culture is given. But having a healthy culture built, maintained and examined that is consistent with your stated mission and vision is not.

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