Get free email updates as I write new articles:

Change Your Culture Before Changing Your Structure


If you want to change the trajectory of your church or organization, you need to think about how to create a new culture before you begin creating chaos.

I believe that the Pastor of a church is the leader God has chosen as overseer and shepherd of the flock. Nowhere in Scripture, or sheep farming for that matter, do we find sheep setting the agenda either as a whole or in little committees of sheep. It is also true that there has never been a good dictatorial leader anywhere in history. But sometimes, because of our extremes, we establish systems that hinder and bottleneck our growth rather than supporting and sustaining it.

A church that sees the Pastor as a temporary hired hand and allows committees or boards to have the reins has a biblically flawed structure, but many good Pastors have gone down in flames battling for a new structure instead of understanding the psychology involved in how the system became broken to begin with. In other words…

  • Trying to break the established power structures threatens people who feel in control.
  • Losing control creates fear.
  • Fear manifests itself as anger.
  • Scared, angry people rarely make a good, healthy church.

So before the leader charges in, sword drawn, to renovate the established structure of the organization, it’s important for him to slow down and focus on the culture. How do you change the culture of a church?

Decide to Love People Where They Are

Pastor, if you don’t love people, you have no right to serve them as an undershepherd. So assuming you love your congregation, love them enough to get to know them, to listen to their concerns, and to grasp why they do things the way they do. Sometimes people leave when change comes. It’s too painful and the tension pushes them away, but a loving shepherd never glories in this but rather agonizes over it.

I’ll never forget how revolutionary it was the first time I heard the phrase, “hurt peoplehurt people.” It is out of pain that most people scramble for power and say things they shouldn’t.

Introduce a Better Way, a Biblical Culture

Nowhere in the New Testament is the church ever likened to a business. It is, however, likened to a body, a flock, a family, and a fellowship. At one church I served, we all pretty much agreed we didn’t like the “business” side of the church, but since our structure at the time demanded we decide on matters congregationally, we changed the name of our monthly meetings to “Family Meetings” instead of business meetings. We gathered to talk about “family stuff” and over time, everybody came to agree it felt much better to be a family than a business.

A biblical culture in a New Testament church involves love, grace, freedom, forgiveness, allowance for each other, and a heart for others. Anytime our culture deviates from these values, problems arise. So teach from the “one another’s” of the New Testament and the overwhelming preponderance of evidence in the Bible that disciples will be known to the world around them by their love and unity, not by their grip on being right at the expense of others.

How do you introduce a better, more biblical culture? Preach the Word. Use biblical terminology. Speak of grace often and love even more.

Celebrate Positive Changes, Especially Life Change Stories

Nothing is more motivating than a story, especially a story of victory. Moving to a culture of grace will almost always draw people into a place where God can heal broken people. Others will find it easier to share their faith and still others will discover that ministry they were shaped for. Tell these stories as often as possible. What we celebrate often enough becomes our culture.

At the end of creating a new culture, structures will change easily to fit the new norm. But even if not, the rewards of a biblical culture are worth the investment.

Photo by Jaret Benson.

The Pastor As a Motivator

What NextPastor, no one on the planet bears more responsibility for motivating a group of people than you.

W. A. Criswell, one of my own preaching heroes, defined preaching as “seeking to move a man’s will God-ward.” He went on to define teaching as “instructing that man in the will and ways of the Lord.” I agree with the late Dr. Criswell that both are the tasks of the local church Pastor, but it was his definition of preaching that captured my heart. At the end of every message, I want to issue a strong appeal to my congregation to do at least three things:

  • Consider the truth I have presented.
  • Understand the personal application of it.
  • Act on it.

Motivation is not the primary goal of preaching – seeing lives transformed by the gospel is. But motivation is near the top of the list of priorities in preaching. At the end of our expounding of the Scriptures, people need to know what to do with what we just said, and they need to be provoked to take action lest they be hearers of the Word and not doers.

Therefore, when I preach, I try to do certain things.

Connect the ancient text with the audience’s modern context.

This requires proper exegesis of the grammar of the text at hand, a growing and thorough knowledge of the whole counsel of God, and an understanding of the historical setting of the Word. But it also demands that we tune into the culture around us in order to construct the bridge from “then and there” to “here and now.”

Illustrate the truth from my experience.

My most impacting sermons are always those in which I become real and transparent with the audience, expressing my own struggles with the truth and the issues with which we are wrestling. This doesn’t mean I’m always bearing all the ugly details of my sins, but it does mean that I’m willing to openly display my struggles. It is in those moments that something changes in the room. People begin to connect, listen, and consider that perhaps they too have hope in overcoming these shared struggles.

Issue a clear call to action.

One of the most important questions to ask at the end of your sermon preparation is, “so what?!” Or to put it more gently, “what’s next?” And calling people to action is not reserved for the end of the sermon, I do it in the points of the message as often as possible. This means that each of my “points” is really a verb. It’s a “to do.”

Remember, the goal of Scripture isn’t to transfer information, but to instigate transformation, so make it clear and make it motivational!

ReWritten: Exchanging Your Story for God’s Story

ReWrittenA year and a half ago, I met Bruce and Heather Moore. I had somehow caught wind of their story and was so inspired that we invited them out to California to attend Saddleback’s leadership conference. Bruce had served on staff at two different suburban megachurches, but God had called he and Heather into a new ministry venture leading a dying church. Their new congregation in downtown Tampa had one year to live, and over that year, God worked a miracle through their leadership and began authoring a new story for Christ Fellowship.

Bruce and Heather are sold out for the gospel’s sake, and God keeps using them to lead others to Jesus. NavPress wisely approached them about writing a new book called ReWritten: Exchanging Your Story for God’s Story. I read the manuscript early on and loved the concept. I wholeheartedly endorsed it and want to do so now that the book is going to be released to the public.

Here’s an excerpt from the book…

Your life matters. It matters a great deal.

Truth be told, life will never be satisfying until you know who God created you to be and exchange your story with the story God has for you. you are God’s image bearer, which means you have the potential to accomplish something great. So does every person on the face of the earth, because we are all created imago dei—in God’s image.

Imago dei is a spiritual concept that often gets overlooked. The creation account makes for great children’s Sunday school lessons but somehow never makes the leap to adulthood. it’s nice to teach a toddler that God created creepy crawly bugs, giant dinosaurs, and tossed a few million stars in the sky. But when that toddler becomes a teen or young adult, what does he or she know about living life in order to reflect God’s image? Somehow the concept gets lost in translation, and we live our lives unaware that whatever we are in life—doctor, plumber, stay-at-home mom, code writer, mail carrier—we are first and foremost designed to bear God’s image to a world that is broken.

Problem is, most of us are not living the life God created us to live. Most of us have lives that are far from perfect. We are living out stories that are different than what we had dreamed about. We all have areas of our lives that are plagued with internal disappointments, fear, or shame. The great news is that no matter where you are in life, what God desires for you is not just a better version of what you currently have but something altogether new. He designed you for a unique purpose that only you can fulfill.

That’s why your life matters

It’s the kind of book that would be awesome to use as a message series, in small groups, or to give as a gift to anyone in need of God’s grace (that’s all of us!). Bruce and Heather have given their family and their lives to seeing others transformed by the power of the gospel – to seeing stories rewritten. Now you can enjoy the fruit of their study and their labor of love.

God wants to write a new story for you, if you’ll simply embrace Him! Check out ReWritten: Exchanging Your Story for God’s Story today!

Buy the Book!

The Real Meaning of Forsaking All

Fishing NetsShould I give all of my money and possessions away if I really want to follow Jesus? Should I abandon my family and friends? Should I chuck my career to be His disciple full-time? Jesus often put shocking challenges before people as He called them to be His followers. But not all of those challenges are meant to be translated literally and directly into my own context.

When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John the disciples to the shore of Galilee, they dropped their nets and followed Him immediately without reservation. This inspiring example of forsaking the fishing industry has prompted many messages on having a willingness to leave our jobs. But the disciples fished again. They didn’t quit their careers. So what is the lesson? What do we make of all of Jesus’ radical challenges? We loosen our grip.

To forsake all doesn’t mean to literally abandon it all. It means to make everything else secondary and to have a complete willingness, at any time, to give up anything God calls for. You might have to leave a job. Your faith might divide you from some friends. And God might just call you to sell everything and give all you have to Him. The big question is, are you willing? Is your grip loose enough to let go?

Obviously, there are some things we need to forsake, such as sin and idolatry. With the less obvious things in life (which are all gifts from God to begin with), it’s a matter of making sure our attachment to those things isn’t so tight that we can’t, at a moment’s notice, follow the will of God.

Photo by Chance Agrella.

How’s the Dream Going?

DreamIn the late spring of 2011, Angie and I spent a lot of time dreaming and talking about what Grace Hills Church would look like. I wrote our conversations out in a form that I later presented at our very first informational meeting about Grace Hills Church on July 17, 2011. Since then, I’ve looked back at what I wrote often. In fact, it’s part of our Membership Matters course.

Today, on a Sunday like most others, we will present Membership Matters as our morning worship time, without music, to challenge our newly formed church with this same dream. Many people have come alongside us since the original 30 or so who gathered for that first meeting, and I wanted the opportunity to challenge this new family of believers with our big mission in northwest Arkansas. We’ve delighted to welcome new people into the fold, but the dream hasn’t changed.

We dream of being a home for spiritually homeless people. We envision a place where people can begin and build a deep relationship with Jesus Christ and with fellow believers, where people do life together in genuine community, and where people grow spiritually in an atmosphere where the grace of God is highly celebrated.

We dream of a church where real problems are solved and real needs are met as people are drawn closer to God, where people recover from hurts, habits, and hang-ups that prevent them from enjoying meaningful relationships with God and each other.

We dream of a church where God’s Word is honored as our highest authority on earth and as the source of real and abundant life.

We dream of a church that joins in a conversation with the world and community around us about matters of faith and life, that is always bringing the relevance of God’s perspective to the issues that face us, and that is willing to engage with the honest questions people have about life, death, God, and eternity.

We dream of a church where people serve one another according to the way that God has shaped them, where spiritual gifts, passion, talents, and experiences are a part of how we meet the needs of others inside and outside of our church family.

We dream of a church that matters to its community, that makes a visible, noticeable, and tangible difference on behalf of Christ in the real problems that exist.

We dream of a church that celebrates changed lives, that cultivates an atmosphere of freedom to grow and serve, and that empowers people with the confidence to do so.

So how’s the dream going? God has been faithful! We see the dream being fulfilled week after week. Lives are being changed. People who were once dead in sin are alive in Christ. Hurt and wounded people are finding healing in a community of believers. But we are far from satisfied. Until Jesus comes, we will chase this vision together.

Dreaming big dreams is vital to any abundant life and to any thriving fellowship. But dreams that we want to see fulfilled need to be written down, articulated with boldness publicly, and measured along the way. In this way they will serve as a guide for the journey, a reminder of our original purpose, and something to celebrate as victories are experienced.

Go dream a dream. Catch it from your personal walk with God and communicate it loudly to others. Then give your life to it!

Graphic by Rob Gros.