How Core Values Impact Decision Making

We do what we value.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a pastor who said, “all this talk about mission and values is theoretical, I only want to talk about practical stuff.”

In other words, he thought that having a discussion about core values was fluff and not practical at all.

The reality is that for most churches, that’s true. They spend time talking about core values and maybe even have core values listed on their website or their bulletin or on posters in the lobby. But from a practical perspective, they don’t “do” anything. 

Here’s the truth: the actual values of your church determine most of the decisions you make. The problem is that what you actually value may not line-up with the statements on your website or bulletin.

In fact, your values will often de-rail all of your plans. This is why pastors read books, attend conferences, listen to podcasts, and buy courses but still fail to see their churches turn around. Your actual core values will outweigh any “practical” plans or training every single time.

Here is how values influence decision-making.

1) Values primarily function at the unconscious level.

It is the job of the leader to move unconscious values to the conscious level. Even then, values do most of their work without anyone ever noticing. 

For example, you may create a plan to lose ten pounds over the next six weeks. It includes a modest, do-able diet and an exercise plan that is reasonable. You know it won’t be easy, but you feel confident that you can stick to it. Yet half-way through the plan, you’ve gone back to your regular eating habits and you aren’t working out enough. Why? Did you have a bad plan? No. The plan was good, and it wasn’t unreasonable. The breakdown is in the values. If you value convenience over health, you’ll choose McDonald’s over grilling chicken at home. It’s inescapable. 

If you want to change your health—in your church or in your body—you have to articulate what you value and keep it in front of you, at the conscious level, on a consistent basis. 

Think of your own life and church. Can you think of a time when an unconscious value sabotaged a plan?

2) Values define the culture.

The question of values is ultimately the question of culture: what kind of people are we, and what motivates us? There are a lot of answers to that question in your church, and some of the answers won’t be all that flattering. Your church might be motivated by comfort, maintaining the status quo, or recapturing the past. Of course, your church can also be motivated by good things, too, like being in community, learning the Scripture, or being generous with finances.

At the end of the day, your church will become what it wants to become. That might sound crazy, but it’s not. Your church is a collection of people, and those people will consistently make decisions based on the motivations of their heart. This is why “follow your heart” is such terrible advice. The call of Scripture is to be transformed, and we must always check our motivations by matching them against Scripture. By God’s grace, we can intentionally shift our motivations by aiming them at the Word of God.

Unfortunately, most churches don’t take the time to do this. As a result, their good intentions are sabotaged by their selfish motivations, most of which they are unaware of.

What’s the culture your church is building? Does it aim towards the Kingdom or your own comfort?

3) Values require honesty.

Many churches experience cognitive dissonance when it comes to their values; they say they value one thing, but reveal what they truly value by their actions. For example, if your church says that it values evangelism, but few in the church share their faith and the church hasn’t baptized an adult in months, your church doesn’t value evangelism. You do what you value. If your church valued evangelism, the people in your church would (at minimum) be inviting friends to church where they (at minimum) would hear the gospel in sermons. If we believe that the gospel is compelling and that the Holy Spirit calls people to Himself, then if your church genuinely valued evangelism, adults (not just kids) would be converted at your church regularly.

This might seem harsh. Your reaction might be, “You don’t know my church! We DO value evangelism, but we aren’t seeing people coming to Christ! The problem must be with our methods.”

It’s true that I don’t know your church. And it could be true that your methods might need modification. But most likely, you (as the leader or pastor) value evangelism, but your church as a whole does not. They might say all the right things on Sunday, but from Monday to Saturday, they are not sharing their faith.

In order for your values to be practical and not theoretical, you have to be honest about what you actually value and not only what you aspire to value.

Has your church had an honest discussion about what the church actually values, and is the church living those values out consistently?

Core values are not theoretical. They’re fundamental. It’s why we spend a significant amount of time conducting a Values Discovery workshop in our Strategic Envisioning process. It’s more fun to talk about strategy. But I promise you this: you’ll never follow through with your plans until you are honest about who you are and where you’re going.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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