Last night the church I serve began a vision discernment process by looking at its core values. The church is seeking new pastoral leadership, and this is an important time for a church to revisit its vision. Any time I lead a church through this process I begin with core values because any vision the church discerns must be congruent with its core values.
In my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community I write, "The core values of a church determine its decisions. The behavior, the attitudes, and the decisions made by individuals and groups are always determined by their core values." If you've ever wondered why a church made a decision it made it is because it was operating out of its core values. Those things we value most are seen in our decisions.
The challenging thing in the exercise is that people want to write down what they think their core values should be or what they believe the community thinks about them. Every time I lead this I have to ask, "Is this truly a core value the church has today or is this something you believe the church should aspire to become?" Sometimes people admit that their response was a goal the church should have. It's critical that the church understands its current core values because God's vision is going to align with that core value.
While speaking with a pastor recently he complained that he was unable to get other churches to assist their church in a food ministry to the community. His small church was very active in ministering to people with needs in their inner city. He was trying to get suburban churches in his denomination to assist them and was constantly refused. I explained to him that his church and those churches were all operating out of their core values. One of the core values of his church was to assist people who need help. That was not a core value of the churches he was contacting. I suggested he contact other inner city churches in his community regardless of denomination because he might find out they share the same core value his church has.
As businesses, as families, as organizations, and as churches we will consistently operate out of the core values we own. Some of those core values will be negative and will lead to results we may not prefer. If we identify negative core values we can begin to correct them, but if we never examine our core values we won't likely know what they are. We will just keep functioning the way we've always done getting the same results we've always got.
Last night, as every time I lead this exercise in a church, our time generated a lot of discussion. This is not a topic a church normally talks about or even thinks about which makes these discussions very helpful and important. In some cases I've seen some of these discussions become rather heated as people disagreed on certain core values others identified. Fortunately, that did not happen last night! But, even when it does happen, it's still a good thing because it often identifies something the church has tried to sweep under the rug, and it has limited their ability to do ministry in a healthy way.
What are the core values of your church? Once you identify them you will better understand who your church is, what it stands for, the ministries you value most in your congregation, and where you are going. That's good information to have.