My definition of church culture is simple. It’s whatever has been celebrated or tolerated so long within a church that it shapes the behavior and values of everyone within the church, usually without their awareness.
Few things scare me more as a pastor.
If you’re the pastor of an established church, you’re inheriting an existing culture. Your job is to celebrate what’s good about the existing church culture and to begin to confront the areas of that church’s culture that are unbiblical. Be careful: doing so has killed more than a few ministries. Go in with open eyes. You’ll need a lot of wisdom and patience. Church revitalization, in most cases, is more complicated than changing the practices of the church or adding new believers. It’s leading the process of changing that church’s culture to one that’s biblical and healthy.
This definition also scares me as a church planter. I bear responsibility for the culture that we’re creating as a new church, either by not celebrating the right things or by tolerating what needs to be confronted.
I’m especially concerned about what I tolerate.
How Dysfunction Becomes Culture
Dysfunction enters and shapes church culture easily.
- Someone enters a church and acts in an ungodly or unhealthy way.
- The pastors and elders of the church don’t confront the ungodly or unhealthy behavior by practicing the biblical commands to gently and patiently confront this behavior because it’s costly to do so.
- The ungodly or unhealthy behavior becomes normal within the church.
Pastors: I get it. Most of us hate confrontation. But our failure to confront will lead to sin and dysfunction becoming part of the culture of the church.
We are guardians not only of the current culture of the church but also of what the church is becoming. We are stewards of church culture. For the sake of those who will follow, we must not allow unhealthy or sinful behavior to become the culture of the church due to a lack of courage and an unwillingness to pay the price.
We Don’t Do That Here
One church I know uses a simple sentence to help shape that church’s culture: “We don’t do that here.”
Whenever someone engages in a behavior that’s opposed to the culture they’re trying to build, they simply say, “Hey, we don’t do that here.”
We don’t gossip. We don’t grumble. We don’t badmouth leaders. We don’t take passive-aggressive shots at others. We don’t spread disunity. We simply don’t do that here.
Do that long enough, and guarding the culture of the church becomes part of the culture.
We are stewards of the culture of our churches. We must safeguard its gospel doctrine and its gospel culture. And just as we’d confront false teaching, we must confront culture-destroying sins and unhealthy behaviors even though it’s costly and scary. “We don’t do that here.”
There’s so much at stake. We can’t fail at this task, not just for the sake of the current church but the future of the church we’re leading, and ultimately for the sake of God’s mission and his glory.