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Every church operates out of what it values. Yes, every church.  But many churches focus on the activities of ministry rather than diagnosing the actual and aspirational church core values that drive their ministry.

What about you? Do you know what your church’s actual core values are? What about the aspirational core values that you wish were more routinely driving your ministries?

The reality of how we live our lives often doesn’t match what we would like to see. This is the simplest way I know to describe the difference between actual and aspirational core values.

While working with a church in Indiana recently, I was blown away by the immense impact of a discussion on core values. The impact didn’t come from what people wrote on paper or the planning that occurred, but because of something even more transformative…

As we started to evaluate their ministry, the group seemed to jump immediately to assessing various ministries. People shared what was going well and what wasn’t. The pastor shared about a few areas of concern and the need for more a clear leadership pipeline and increased giving. Various church leaders expressed a need for vision clarity and focus among the church’s ministries. But none of these were addressing the root cause of the holy discontent everyone felt. Great information was shared, but I noticed we were addressing symptoms rather than the causes or motivations that led them to this point.

Do you know what your church’s actual core values are?

That is when we began discussing values. To be honest, it was a painful discussion at first. No one agreed on anything. Confusion about the values ensued. Some people remembered a time “a few years ago” that they framed their future around a church vision and then spoke briefly about their church’s values. Many ideas were suggested about the possibilities for the future; however, the only agreement about the church’s values was that “we wrote them down at some point.” (Not a good sign.) They wrote their supposed values down and then forged ahead without properly assessing what was actually DRIVING their ministry decisions.

I struggled to manage a chaotic discussion, as the group tried to define and agree about their values. One leader began reading what was written years ago. Another read the values posted on their website. Another questioned if the church actually valued those things at all. One outlier in the discussion questioned the group’s honesty and challenged everyone to “get real” about what was actually going on.  I wanted the group to get real also, but instead shifted the discussion to clarifying the difference between actual and aspirational core values.

When the group dug into the differences between what they say they value and what they actually value, the tone of the discussion rapidly changed. Our time together yielded not only a list of actual vs. aspirational values, but also a striking amount of honesty about what had been driving their ministry vs. what should have been driving it. They shifted from an inauthentic program-driven church to a very honest, authentic church willing to grapple with how they had shifted away from a mission-driven approach.

Do you need to go through a similar process in your ministry? Are you confused about how to approach it? Perhaps you would like to evaluate your personal actual core values vs. aspirational core values?

Try engaging in an honest discussion addressing these truths about actual and aspirational church core values and see what you find out.

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5 Inspiring Truths About Actual and Aspirational Church Core Values

1) Most people and churches speak about what they hope to value as if they already do…when they actually don’t (yet!).

One value that we often evaluate during strategic planning with churches is “evangelism.” If your church states a core value of “outreach”, “evangelism”, or “non-Christians matter to God”, what would you expect to see in the church? Leaders who share the Gospel with non-Christians. Leaders who regularly form new relationships with non-Christians in their community. If you and other leaders in the church don’t have time to get to know new people, love them well, welcome them into the church, and share the Gospel with them, I wonder how real (or “actual”) this core value is to your church.

2) Your actual core values can be painful to admit.

When you get honest about your actual core values, it can be painful. You might see things about yourself, your church or your leadership of the church that you don’t want to see. You may need to admit where you have let others down or over-focused in one area, because of a personal preference rather advancing an organizational value, vision, or objective.

3) Honesty about core values leads to relational and organizational health, if managed well.

Don’t worry about hiding from your core values. The reality is that you can’t. Your actions speak volumes about your values. When everyone speaks openly about core values, people become more aware, growth areas become apparent, and your team may find that it is collaborating in new ways. Make sure the discussion centers around authenticity and the need for teamwork rather than complaining or critiquing one another.

4) Honesty about actual core values shows humility to your community as you admit your need to grow.

I think society is tired of Christians (and churches in general) who act like they have it all together. What if your church were known as the church who is honest about its weaknesses? What areas do you need to grow in? What does your church need to apologize for?

5) Aspirational core values remind believers of the need to become a more healthy church during the process of transformation.

As Christians, we all need to grow and experience transformation. Churches, likewise, have an ongoing pursuit of holiness in an attempt to align their thoughts and actions with Christ. A church that grows rapidly in attendance without an authentic focus on becoming a more healthy church will experience large amounts of holy Christianity and dissatisfied Christians. People want and desire growth, but will struggle to really do so without admitting that they aren’t “there” yet.

It takes honesty and boldness to get real about your actual and aspirational church core values. When you know what values are driving your current actions and admit where you could improve, a sense of clarity ensues that just might transform your heart, your church, and your community as the Holy Spirit guides you into becoming more like Jesus.

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Brad Bridges is the Vice President of the Malphurs Group, the premier boutique church consulting firm. He is a leadership coach and strategy consultant at the Malphurs Group, blogger at bradbridges.net, husband to Lindsey, and father of 3. Contact the Malphurs Group team for questions about church vision consulting, strategic operations planning, or to simply get to know our church consulting firm. | @bradbridges | Website