This past Saturday our Region again hosted Awakening, a ministry designed to help our smaller churches learn new ways of doing effective ministry. We offer Awakening at three different sites throughout the Region. This was the third of seven sessions, and it focused on helping our churches learn their core values, bedrock beliefs, and begin a visioning process. We worked through each of these with the pastors and lay leaders who are part of the Awakening team for each church and encouraged them to return to their churches and repeat the process with the entire congregation.
If you've read my books you know how passionate I am about a church having a clear, unifying vision. With such a vision a church is better able to minister with a sense of purpose, it can make decisions easier, it reduces conflict, it helps identify what should be included in the church budget and calendar and what things do not need to be included, it guides the pastor in his or her duties, and it encourages lay people to become more involved in ministry because the vision will have been shaped by their gifts and passions for ministry. Despite all these, and more, advantages of having a vision most smaller churches still cannot articulate any sense of vision for their ministries. No matter what they may claim, these churches are content to drift along with no sense of purpose and complain about the lack of anything happening in their ministries.
Any church, regardless of size, that is serious about wanting to enjoy a more effective ministry must have a God-given vision for that ministry and be willing to pursue that vision. Vision is not something that is determined by a 51 percent majority vote nor is it something that comes about as a result of consensus. A God-given vision must be discerned, a process that can take some time but one that is well worth it. An important part of that discernment process is identifying the core values and bedrock beliefs of the congregation.
Why is this so important? The core values and bedrock beliefs of any organization or individual shapes every decision they make. This is who the organization or individual is at their very core, and to deny their core values and bedrock beliefs would be to deny their identity. Jesus said that out of the abundance of our hearts our mouths speak. What is on the inside will eventually appear on the outside. The same is true of a congregation. Any vision that a church may have must be congruent with its core values and bedrock beliefs or it will be of little value becasue it will not be a true vision for that church.
The difficulty churches often have in determining its core values and bedrock beliefs is that they often want to list what they think those values and beliefs should be. I once had a church list "youth" as one of their core values until someone in the group challenged that by asking, "If youth is a core value in our church, why am I the only one here willing to work with the youth? Why do you all turn me down every time I ask you to help me with a youth project?" That led to some interesting conversations that the church needed to have but had avoided to that point. On the other hand I had another church include "cliques" as a core value. They recognized that it was a negative, but they also recognized it was true of their church. I appreciated their honesty and the discussion it created. Most of the churches I've worked with would not have been that honest.
Church pastors can lead this self-evaluation, but it is often better for someone from the outside to lead it. There is a process I use for this evaluation that I think is very effective. If you think this could be helpful to your church, please let me know.