There are a few strengths that churches have over other organizations: we create new content every week, we regularly gather together, and our main “offering” is content. Every blogger or content director would love to have their audiences captive for an hour or two each week to hear what they have to say. We not only have that privilege, but we have the duty and delight to be the pillar of God’s truth.
We won’t make the habit of telling ordained church leaders how to do their jobs, but we will echo Paul’s charge to Timothy:
 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, (2 Timothy 4:1-3)
The center of our church ministry must be the exposition of God’s word. Events, groups, parties, and needs for volunteers must always be subordinate to the primacy of the Scriptures. From Calvin, “As a preacher, he could assume the center because he held in his hands that which was the center.”1 Before any other thing is communicated, let’s rest in and herald that which is the center of the faith and remember the main hub that our mission, vision, and values come from. From that foundation, we utilize every channel as effectively as possible.
If you haven’t embraced the other channels mentioned in this series, we can almost guarantee this one is familiar to you. Let’s expand some of the possibilities of the Sunday service.
Aubrey Malphurs said, “The basic tools of the cultural artist (leader) are story, symbol, shared experiences, space, and Scripture.”2 We’ll discuss this more in-depth later, but in saying space creates and communicates culture, he’s articulated a subtle but profound but simple truth: everything communicates something.
“The basic tools of the cultural artist (leader) are story, symbol, shared experiences, space, and Scripture.” – Aubrey Malphurs
Church buildings are a perfect example of this concept. Roman Catholic churches are covered with stained glass of saints and Jesus, holy water cisterns, and crucifixes. All of these things would be foreign to modern Pentecostals, who often have dark sanctuaries with fog and lights, projector screens, and chairs instead of pews with kneelers. The dark room would be a strange setting to medieval Christians who worshipped in buttressed stone cathedrals meant to cast their gaze to heaven.
It’s the privilege and challenge of leaders to consider how to use the space to physically communicate their values. This can be through placards with core values, the amount of light in a room, what is central in the worship space, and – dare I say – the interior design. Depending on who makes up the demographic of your area, this may not be a job best left to volunteers.
One of the clearest memories people have when they visit a church is of the people they meet (or don’t meet). Churches normally have the meet and greet section in their order of service, but is that the only time a visitor could interact with church members? We say no. If welcoming people well is the goal, there are many things that can be done to help them feel acquainted: parking lot attendants (even if it’s not a large church), greeters at the door, helpers who want to show parents where kids go, ushers helping them to their seats, etc.
Here’s a paradox: churches who instill in their congregation the value of hospitality don’t need a greeting time. Once the leadership has created a culture where guests are valued and visitors are wanted, it’s actually a sign of trust in the people to remove it. This helps people see that hospitality isn’t restricted to a few minutes in service; it begins when they see someone new. They can take it upon themselves to help those people feel welcomed and part of the family.
“Being supported by official leaders in official channels establishes the legitimacy and importance of any ministry effort.”
From the Stage
How do values and doctrines shape the culture of churches? By talking about them from the pulpit. Imagine a deacon or ministry leader promoting an event and trying to get people involved, but it’s never mentioned on a Sunday morning – they’re left to catching people in the lobby one-by-one. It’s not hard to predict how successful that will be. Being supported by official leaders in official channels establishes the legitimacy and importance of any ministry effort. So when there are artifacts (doctrines and values) essential to the identity of the church, they must be talked about during regular announcements and taught on from the pulpit.
Now, many pastors have done this and not seen real change in their church culture. We’ll concede that’s not just possible but likely. Here’s why: preaching on a core value one week a year will generally be ineffective. Once the identity of the church is solidified, then preached, the artifacts have to be “dripped” into the natural rhythms of the church. Some traditions value the historic confessions and catechisms of the church, so the pastor might preach on their importance but see no change in people’s use of them. In another scenario, the pastor preaches on them and starts using them in service every week. Which is more consistently teaching the value of the catechisms?
Here’s a cheesy one-liner to help remember this: most of what we learn is not taught; it’s caught. Our people learn more about what we believe by what we do than what we talk about. It moves from an ethereal idea to a tangible experience, and when those two come together, a conviction is formed.
“Most of what we learn is not taught; it’s caught.”
The drip can happen through announcements, mini-lessons on core values, telling stories about people embracing the essentials (community, evangelism, Bible study, etc.), sermons, and the songs we sing. This may frame the practice of dripping a bit: it takes consistency more than depth. That’s why weekly recitation of the creeds goes farther than a single sermon on them. Some of these exercises might take a minute or two, but the more they’re placed in front of the congregation, the more they shape and teach them.
- 1.Mathis, David, John Piper, and Julius Kim. With Calvin in the theater of God: the glory of Christ and everyday life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.
- 2.Malphurs, Aubrey. Look before you lead: how to discern and shape your church culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013.