Shaping Culture MessageMy father had a lot of sayings that he repeated to my sister and me. One he repeatedly said was, “anything worth doing is worth doing well.” I got the “Gress culture” through his stories and sayings. What stories and sayings are we repeating in the church? What culture are we nurturing? Unless culture is carefully and intentionally shaped and nurtured we will be in big trouble. Think plateau and decline, not to mention sinning by failing God’s command!

What happens to children when their parent’s attention is diverted from raising the children? The children learn that the parents are not interested! They learn that they can “follow their nose” and decide what is important by themselves! What a disaster! No caring parent would dare leave raising their children to chance. Thoughtful parents are intentional, focussed and sacrifice their wants and preferences to make sure their children get the message of what their parents think is most important.

In the same way, if culture is not carefully cultivated in a church then people will align their values, religious beliefs, assumptions and actions or inactions based upon their own (think sinful flesh) idea of what church is to be about. I can’t count the number of times I have talked to ministry leaders and heard them say that for many of their members or fellow members all they want is a nice worship service and maybe a visit when they are sick. Some stories I’ve heard tell of leaders of congregations not wanting to get any more new members because it would change things around here! Incredible!

Where did they get those ideas!? Who is to blame!? It would be easy to blame the society in general. It might be easy to scapegoat the previous pastor. But the deeper truth is that if you are a pastor (or a member/leader) and have been there for more than a few years then you are to blame. Does that sting? Perhaps it should. The longer you are there, the more you own the current issue or situation. I keep coming back to Dr. Henry Cloud who said: “You get (in terms of culture in an organization) what you create and what you allow (as a leader).” Often, what we assume and what we do or “teach” is so subtle and invisible that we are not even aware of it.

Unwittingly we often send the signal that we are all about providing a “product” for spiritual “consumers” and therefore teach that the church is not for disciple making but for making people satisfied and happy. To be sure, we definitely need to do our best and “serve” people with classes, programs and opportunities to grow and develop as believers. Yet how often do we “teach” that those classes an end to itself! Constantly! Miss a Sunday? No problem, we’ll be here next week!

A Negative Example:

For example, what happens on Sunday morning? Certainly we want good solid preaching and teaching of God’s Word in it’s truth an purity. Yet, because we don’t do “altar calls” do we then simply wrap it up with the closing hymn and that’s it? I hope not! Just because we “did church” that is not an end in itself! The same can be said about every event, Bible study and meeting. We ought not just check things off the “to do list” but everything must clearly be done with a bigger goal in mind, and that bigger goal needs to be clearly communicated over and over again.

A Positive Example:

I was recently at a church that put a notice on their screen after the sermon that said to text a specific word to them and a link will be sent to you for downloading follow up information for growing as a Christian. They announced an event for anyone who wants to know more about their church as a result of the services. Free food. Date given. They asked numerous times for people to fill out the information card attached to the bulletin and put it in the offering. The pastor said, “I want to get to know you” with just the right tone. When the offering came around he said “if you are 18 or older and you come with financial needs you can put your hand in the bucket and take out what you need with my permission” They announced about how to get baptized. There was a purpose to their worship. And the implication to anyone who was half paying attention: Jesus is the Savior! We want to get to know you because Jesus loves you and so do we. We are so serious about it that here are some concrete ways you can respond. Was the worship well done? Yes. Was it an end to itself? No way anyone would make the mistake of thinking that. I talked to the pastor a few weeks later. Yep, it was very intentional. It took a lot of work. No apologies. Not only were they teaching the newcomer but the existing member that we are all in it together to bring people closer to Jesus. That’s why we are here. Things are happening there. It’s not something you would think of skipping or missing.

Questions for all of us:

  • What messages are you sending (and what culture are you creating) by what you do or don’t do?
  • How might you be sending the message that Sunday morning or any activity or program is an end in itself? (And you can miss it if you don’t think you “need it”)
  • How is Sunday morning (and every other activity) helping people to connect the dots for for being and making disciples (and equipping them to do it)?

Raising children should not be left to chance! Leading a church also should not be left to chance! It is not an end in itself! That is just playing church instead of being the church. If church is worth doing, it is worth doing well. It is for growing disciples and making new disciples.

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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, or

Shaping Culture: What Message Are You Sending?

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