Confession: I never played in sandboxes as a kid. I always thought they were full of ants or that cats had used them for unsavory purposes. Those factors considered, I decided sandboxes weren’t the place for me.
I do, however, like the idea of a sandbox. A well-defined perimeter, with total freedom inside. Dig, build, scoop – knock yourself out, just don’t go outside of the box. What I find interesting is that the boundaries are what that actually make the experience enjoyable. Without the tension of the walls, the sand would be a very not fun thin layer of coarse earth.
So too with core values. Organizations that don’t leverage the benefit of well-defined core values will fall flat. Even some articulated values do little more than feed the shredder.
This is because core values are inherently intangible. They are abstract principles that should become themes in a church’s discipleship efforts.
It’s not hard to visit a church two or three times and realize what aspects of gospel ministry are most prioritized there. Some churches focus heavily on Biblical teaching, while others prioritize evangelism over everything else. Even if unconscious, core values dictate the pattern of ministry in a church.
Leaders and Core Values
It’s up to leaders to reign in the ethos of the church. This means identifying unconscious beliefs and values that are contrary to the identity of the church and leading the charge to ingrain those values that define (or ideally define) the local church.
More broadly, it’s the job of ministers to take concepts and make them concrete.
This is obviously true in preaching and teaching. Paul wanted to make believers mature in Christ, so he preached the gospel. The goal of his preaching was to give them information that renewed and transformed their minds, so their actions changed. His goal was tangible but he called their response worship.
While Jesus is the epitome of God making the invisible visible, the Scriptures are full of God making the intangible tangible. The Exodus displays God’s favor in the judgment of the Egyptians. His presence shook the mountains and led the Israelites in smoke and fire. God saved three Jews from a fiery furnace and presented a fourth man’s figure in the midst of them.
The most consistent and regular means that we can see, taste, and touch are the sacraments. When Jesus commissioned the Lord’s Supper and Baptism as instruments of grace, he was establishing ever present reminders of his work on Calvary. The bread, wine, and water are meant to preach the gospel and give us something to hold as we trust in God’s love; they’re his visible words to us.
Making Words Visible
With that said, let’s consider how to make words visible. Our first stop is to define the term we’ve been using, core values. They are constant, passionate, and Biblical core beliefs that drive a ministry.
It’s often said that ideas have consequences – how much more our theology! Our thoughts about God are necessarily put into practice when we gather. The passion that God has given us for preaching, prayer, and sacraments (or evangelism or worship or or or…) shape what our gatherings look like. They become tangible, whether we’re consciously trying to make that so, or not.
A quick Google search would render dozens (if not hundreds) of examples of values held by churches or denominations. Many others may not have them explicitly listed, but their vision or “about us” pages reveal what is valued. For instance, the Presbyterian Church in America has a list of commitments that can easily be distilled to several core values: Scripture, leadership, family, Reformation, connectionalism, missions and church planting, and obedience.
The effectiveness of these core values all hinge on the stories we tell and the things we do. If any church, organization, or person glorifies and participates in those things that are opposed to their values, they’re seen as hypocritical at worst and lazy at best.
If we can learn to tell stories that reinforce what we say we believe, then the culture around us will begin to change. It will change because the picture of what the church should be will evolve and become more clear. Those stories will have a resounding effect that just a single word, “fellowship.”
Events then give people the opportunity to step into the church’s story, to play a role in it. Whether it’s a mission trip, a small group, or community fair, those are experiences that solidify the significance of core values in a culture.
Both of these initiatives, story and events, bring ideas to bear on life. They give us the chance to see ideas happening in someone’s life, then the joy of partaking in them ourselves. Leading with the goal of making concepts concrete matures a doctrine or belief from a thought to a hope, from a hope to an experience, and from an experience to a passion, a core value.
How It Shakes Out
Our Spokes Series shows about a dozen and a half different communication channels available to churches. That’s not all of them, but two can sometimes be overwhelming, so adding core values into the mix can complicate things more. To the end of helping you get started, here are a few ideas:
Video Testimonials – Video is supposed to take over the internet by next year; it’s estimated that 80% of all the internet will be video. This might explain why Johnny can’t read anymore, but that can be discussed later. It’s just a matter of fact that people want video and are willing to watch video. Another phenomenon is called social proof, meaning we trust reviews more than advertisements. Video testimonials bring these two things together and allow people to tell actual stories of how their lives have been changed or enriched by committing to the church’s values.
Graphic Posts – Video isn’t always feasible, or the right fit for a given platform, so enter the quote post. An engaging graphic highlighting a core value, plus a small explanation of its significance can go a long way. Be sure to include a graphic though! A picture or image can increase your interaction on a post significantly.
Conferences – Long form, immersive teaching sessions can be great refreshers or launching points for ministry seasons. They also have the flexibility to address individual or multiple core values; one conference may be broadly based on all core values, while another hones in specifically on family.
Sermons – If it’s not taught from the pulpit, it’s not important. The main way to feature an important shift is to teach on it. While leadership communication in the local church is much more than didactic sermons, it is absolutely not less than showing people what God’s word says about a topic.
Regardless of how you share and promote core values, be sure to develop a strategy to consistently communicate what’s important. If you have six, then each can be highlighted eight times a year; and four can be discussed once each month.
Consistency is more important than creativity when core values are becoming part of a culture. The process is similar to that of the catechumen; leadership communication is building a cultural catechism for the local church.