What is Culture? Values and Assumptions
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Course: Leading Healthy Church Culture
Lecture 9: What is Culture? Values and Assumptions
Let’s talk about values and especially core beliefs. Values are things that we really do believe. These can include things like the Word of God, Prayer, Integrity, Fellowship, and Outreach as in our church and beside each of these values there is a Bible verse. This isn’t what I’m really talking about here, but instead, I want to deal with the actual values. If you would ask any particular church what their values were; many would provide you with such a list as above. The reason why churches are so different is due to the values they really do embrace. And when we talk about core beliefs, they are those beliefs that pervade every aspect of our community and collective life. If we say that worship is a value of the church and the only time you do worship is Sunday morning, worship may be a feature of your church, it isn’t necessarily a value. If worship is truly a value, it tends to permeate every aspect of who you are and what you do and how you react and how you function. Every culture has both healthy values and some unhealthy values. The reality is that most churches have a set of stated values, whether written or not and then they have a set of real values. And there tends to be a gap between the stated values and the actual values. This word value is a neutral term and whenever we hear this word, we think positive but yet there can be a negative side of them and part of becoming healthy is the ability to close that gap between the stated and the real.
With the core of such a culture is what we refer to as assumptions. Some people call this a world view. The reason I don’t use it is simply because in talking about world views, the argument is that my world view is right and your world view is wrong. We talk about assumptions because every culture has a set of assumptions. Those assumptions are in the form of mental constructs in our mines; they are in the form of pictures, in the form of images and those images define for us what we perceive as real. As the image that is deeply embedded in every culture is a perception, a mental construct of that which is real. This is also what separates one culture from another; while one culture perceives this mental construct as real, another culture doesn’t share that same mental construct. This gets complicated when it comes to church and we will talk about some examples in regards to this. These assumptions are often at the very core of the culture, but we often function without even thinking about them because they are so foundational. It is like our homes; that which is most important is underground; yet, it is the part that we never see.
So our assumptions determine our values and our values determine our products and practices. But the problem is in most cases is when churches try to change their culture; they instead change the products and practices. If you are dealing with products and practices such as changing the structure of the board or the furniture; there is nothing wrong with changing these things. If we change these things but haven’t addressed the core beliefs and particularly if we haven’t addressed the assumptions that are driving those beliefs; when we experiences problems we will refer back to those old products and practices because nothing has changed at the assumptions and values level. The reason we use the image of the iceberg; that which is underneath the water is what can sink us. So, it is critically important to understand these issues of assumptions and values. This also determines our practices and products that we have.
C. Products and Practices
Examples include missions planning and strategy. So, what is the core belief that is driving this practice? It is the preaching of the Gospel message that Jesus Christ came for the lost. So, we are convinced that people need the Gospel message. This is the core belief that is driving the practice and product. What is the mental construct that is driving that core belief? What is the image that is driving this? The image is heaven and hell; we have this image in our minds that there is a place to be with God and a place to be separated from God for eternity. This is a mental construct that this culture collectively shares that other cultures don’t. This is what distinguishes culture. This mental construct is driving these values and in turn those values are driving the products and practices. A negative product can be where the pastor says that God told him that we need to build a new sanctuary, so let’s get it done; and people don’t say much. This is a practice, something that is happening from the pulpit. I’m sure that you have heard about these kinds of things happening. What is the core belief that is creating the arena within the culture for that practice to take place? There is a core belief that this pastor is somehow speaking for God or somehow has a special hearing from God. Yes, this is what allows this kind of thing to take place. There also has to be an accommodation for this. Underneath this as we think about the mental construct; what is it that creating the belief that is creating the practice? This person thinks that he or she has a special channel to God! This person is special. You may not see this as a positive thing but I can tell you that there are many churches who do think that this is positive. It is kind of like a Moses thing. So, he speaks to us for God; at least that is what is being portrayed here. We don’t stop to think about these assumptions and values very often; we just see the products and practices. But we do need to stop in order to really evaluate what is happening within our culture.
We need to understand what is behind that practice. If it is healthy, then that’s great; if it isn’t so healthy, you need to ask the question, what is the core belief among us that is driving this and what is the mental construct, the image, the assumption that distinguishes this culture that’s driving this? Should we question the products in order to stay healthy, a person asked? Well, I am trying to define the components of culture at the moment. Well, yes, there are healthy and unhealthy values in most every church. This is not a criticism of anyone’s church, but instead, it is a reality of the situation. If we try to deal with this on the level of products and practices and they are secondary mechanisms of organizational culture. We will talk about primary embedding mechanisms. Every culture has both positive and negative products and practices. These are driven by values and then by assumptions of different views, especially the world view. This view is a mental image of what is real and in order to address this, it is important to see what is behind these things. It is helpful to go through a process in regards to the church to determine what is healthy and unhealthy and why.