The Advantage: 2. How Do We Behave?

We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.

Once a congregation has determined why it exists, it can begin to answer how it and its members should behave. You see, purpose defines values.

Now, especially in church, it’s tempting to say that we have several dozen values, and we likely really do. But you can’t emphasize everything, and if you try, you’ll wind up emphasizing nothing. Knowing your purpose is what allows you to escape the trap of treating all good ideas as equally important — that is, not important at all. You just can’t emphasize everything.

Lencioni divides values into several categories.

First, there are core values, which are non-negotiable. In churches, these would certainly include doctrinal commitments. If like most Churches of Christ you practice weekly communion because you believe God has so instructed us, well, you’re going to practice weekly communion regardless of how it affects your attractiveness to visitors. On the other hand, you might be extremely thoughtful about doing communion in a way that is sensitive to visitors.

But there will also be core values at another level. If your church is committed to campus ministry or orphan care or foreign missions, you may well treat that commitment as defining your purpose as a congregation and refuse to do anything that detracts from your core commitment to that particular ministry.

Then again, often there are hidden core values — that is, values you honor without realizing it. For example, your congregation may insist on its tradition of having monthly deacons meetings with the elders, even though the meetings are not helpful and even interfere with the effective working of the church.

If the deacons ask the elders to disband the meetings as counter-productive and the elders refuse, then quarterly deacons meetings are a core value, even though having nothing to do with the church’s purpose, even if actually injurious to the church’s stated core purpose.

Obviously, the Bible says nothing about deacons meetings, and yet we often find ourselves so tied to a custom that no longer serves a good purpose solely out of concern for the feelings of two or three men who enjoy the prestige they feel comes from the meeting.

Ask yourself what your congregation’s core values are — based on how you actually behave and make decisions, not what your mission statement says or your preacher preaches.

Next, there are aspirational values. These are values you wish you had but haven’t yet gotten into the DNA of the church’s thought and culture. In many congregations, evangelism would be an aspirational value, not a core value, because the church really wants to be evangelistic but isn’t really.

Now, you can see how helpful it would be to admit to yourself that your church had monthly deacons meetings as a core value (utterly non-negotiable) but does not have evangelism as one.

Indeed, any church that struggles with evangelism likely has a confused set of values — placing some things that should be trivial or long forgotten at the core and some things that to God are non-negotiable — such as evangelism — at the periphery — as mere aspirations.

Well, let’s be honest, it’s so much easier to hold those monthly meetings than to invite friends and neighbors to meet Jesus. It’s easier to do this year what you did last year, even if last year wasn’t that good of a year.

To kill the monthly meetings would mean hurting some feelings (although having the meetings already hurts lots of feelings).

Now, it’s not that you can’t do evangelism and still hold monthly deacons meetings. Rather, the point is that if you were to make a list of your real core values vs. your aspirational values, you’d find that your whole way of thinking about church is likely a bit skewed — and you can’t have but so many core values. We can only emphasize a few things. And one of the best ways to change a culture is to surrender a few sacred cows on the altar of obedience to God — rather than looking for ways to change while avoiding change.

Lencioni next discusses permission-to-play values.

Although they are extremely important, permission-to-play values don’t serve to clearly define or differentiate an organization from others. Values that commonly fit into this category include honesty, integrity, and respect for others. If those sound generic, something you’ve seen on virtually all of the values statements plastered on the walls of every mediocre company you’ve ever visited, then you understand the problem. Permission-to-play values must be delineated from the core to avoid dilution and genericism (I don’t think that’s a word, but you get the point).

In other words, if a church specifies that its values are “worship, service, and ministry,” it’s merely defined itself as a church, and separated itself from non-churches.

Finally, there are accidental values. Likely the monthly deacons meeting, it may have once served a very useful function, but over time, its usefulness declined, even becoming counter-productive.

Or the value may have crept in quite unintentionally. Some churches have as an accidental value “white members only” although the membership is not racist in the least. The fact that whites and blacks didn’t go to church together 50 years ago created an appearance and a silence expectation that the members would find repulsive if they realized it today.

These values are devilishly difficult to identify and often very counter-productive. To get rid of the ones that harm the church, they have to be named as such and intentionally overcome.

In the case of an accidentally “white members only” church, the church would need to plainly and clearly announce that it wishes to be mixed race, preach against racism, and intentionally reach out to minority communities in its city. It must declare “white members only” as sin and live like they mean it.

Putting core values to work

Once an organization successfully identifies and describes its core values and separates them from the other kinds, it must then do its best to be intolerant of violations of those values. It must ensure that every activity it undertakes, every employee it hires, and every policy it enacts reflects those core values.

This is the hard part. Suppose a church decides that its core values include racial diversity. If so, that decision will affect hiring decisions and the selection of ministry leaders. Would the church be willing to hire a black minister? Would they ordain a Hispanic elder? If so, they should plainly state exactly that to the congregation — to make plain that this value is no mere marketing slogan. It’s real.

You see, it’s easy to imagine yourself as racially tolerant. And you may well be. But does that mean you’ll take offense at decisions about who your ministry leaders are that reflect a silent racial bias? Will you call each other to account for a failure to live what you believe?

In short, some core values are good and need to be rigidly enforced. They define not only who you are but whom you wish to be. They should be named and placed before the congregation: This is who we are and who we will continue to be!

But there are these accidental values — values that may influence you more than the good core values — that often get in the way. And, of course, all accidental values have a constituency. Someone actually enjoys those meetings. Someone really does want to be all white.

And so naming them a false values — values that need to be removed — will be painful. But if you refuse to do the analysis and honestly assess who you really are compared to who you really want to be, you’ll not change, you’ll not be effectively, and you’ll wonder why that great new initiative never really got off the ground.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to The Advantage: 2. How Do We Behave?

  1. I once managed a business with three retail locations, a large distribution operation, and a production plant. Once, as a business exercise, I considered the following: “Tonight, I fire everyone here, including myself. Tomorrow morning, who do I rehire first?” The results were humbling. The first two people I put back to work were moderate wage salespeople who opened the doors every morning to waiting customers. Then, I had to get a couple of guys in my plant to start getting product loaded, and a trucker to make the expected stops. When I finally got to the point where I thought I needed to bring myself on board, I already had seven other people hard at work. I discovered in this exercise that my values really lay with the customers and meeting their needs.

    Our core values are easy to determine: what can we NOT do without? What is it that, if we had to let it go, would leave us “out of business”, or turn our organization into something entirely different? Those things, whether we want them to be or not, ARE our core organizational values. Values are not something to be determined, but existing things to be discovered and identified. If, once we discover them and identify them, we wish we had different values at our core, only then can we begin the difficult process of establishing new values.

  2. John says:

    Great point regarding the ACCIDENTAL VALUES, and I am sure that your progressive readers appreciate the example of the “white only church”.

    ACCIDENTAL VALUES become confortable. As much as we claim not to be chained to them we still agonize throwing them away. I liken it to my wife taking old sweaters and shirts out my closet, telling me to throw them away, and me hanging them back up again when she turns around. I haven’t worn them in years and they’re out of style; but, they’re familiar and comfortable.

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