This morning in my Missional Next Generation class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary I taught students three basic steps to change the culture in your church. Changing the culture takes time: churches are more like an aircraft carrier than a jet ski. Changing the culture involves unique features in each church context: a country church where 75% of the members are related calls for different emphases than an urban church where no one is related outside individual families.
Still, certain steps can help any church or ministry within a church to recalibrate the culture. Here are three essentials:
- Communicate/teach well: It’s vital we teach consistently a vision centered on Jesus and what He has done on the cross and is doing through the church today. I know student pastors who began their ministry walking students through the great gospel Story for weeks to lay a foundation for the ministry to come. I’ve also met young adults who told me the only thing they remembered from their years in youth group were “don’t have sex and invite a friend.” What are we consistently communicating? What do you want those in your church to hold on to as most important–behavior modification, church attendance weekly, or following Jesus daily? Churches I’ve known with a culture of evangelism and healthy discipleship have great clarity of focus on the Word of God and following Jesus in all of life. I’ve read through the epistles of Paul more than once to note how much he speaks of Jesus and the good news, and it’s amazing how Christ-centered Paul is. His communication is focused.
- Model/exemplify what we teach: Paul said to imitate him as he imitated Christ. He told the Ephesian elders at Miletus they knew how he lived the whole time he was with them. He set a consistent example that matched his teaching. If you want your ministry to be evangelistic, you must teach the gospel well and teach practical ways to talk about Jesus to others. But if you also regularly give examples of your witness or attempts to share Christ, your example of witness is as powerful as what you teach. People listen to your words, but follow your example. Our high school minister at our church is in class this week. He shared how recently our student ministry had a night of testimonies of youth sharing their attempts to witness. That’s a powerful example to the ministry of what matters. Recently one of our young pros who leads a youth small group led a (former) atheist to Christ. When he told me, I had him share that with our group. Why? The power of example. What are the examples and models you share before your ministry?
- How you structure/what you celebrate: Here is the one we miss the most, and it may be most important. If you want your people sharing your faith but everything you structure in your church focuses on getting people into the building, there is a contradiction. If you want the big pile of youth coming on Wednesday to show up on Sunday, you have to structure your ministry to give attention to more than what’s going on Wednesdays. For example, almost without exception when I teach our young pros each week I mention something our pastor said in the sermon. Why? I structure that intentionally as a way of saying what goes on in the service matters (we are not a parachurch ministry) and I respect my pastor. I regularly speak of attempts to witness, which is both an example (number 2) and a way of structuring a regular focus on witnessing. Several times a year we have testimonies of mission trips because global missions is vital to our ministry; we teach this, we give these examples, and we structure our ministry to give regular emphasis to global missions. An important way to integrate this into your structure is to celebrate regularly–both spontaneously and intentionally–the things we teach and model. What you celebrate is what your people will imitate.
What do you teach? What do you model? How do you structure and what do you celebrate?