I have been in Christian ministry for 21 years. As I look back, one of the major themes that comes to the surface is that I have always had a relentless drive to bring positive culture change to whatever situation I’m in.
From my early days of leading worship to church planting, from coaching pastors to consulting with churches large and small, I’ve always been interested in how to see cultures change for the better.
Of course, I did this VERY poorly at first, but God’s been helping me, as slowly as I seem to learn.
(I joke with pastors that I suspect “ministry jobs” are God’s remedial program for people who can’t follow Jesus the normal way.)
So here are, in no particular order, and probably without nearly enough explanation, 8 things I’ve learned about bringing culture change to an organization.
1. Never argue. Never.
I have spent SO MUCH TIME arguing with people about theology and ministry, thinking that if they just had this new information, they’d change their mind and walk in a new direction.
They never do. (Partly because of how our brains work, but that’s another article.)
When people want to argue, don’t take the bait. Learn to respond like Jesus did (asking questions, telling stories).
[tweet “When people want to argue, don’t take the bait. Learn to respond like Jesus did.”]
2. Be compassionately curious about people.
Change never happens all at once, sweeping everyone into its wake. Change happens granularly, iteratively. One person at a time. One relationship at a time. One conversation at a time.
Instead of trying to move everyone along at the same pace according to your plan, try being compassionate and curious about people. Ask them questions about why they do the things they do.
The ones who respond to this and begin opening up to a new way of living are the ones to focus on. Train them, equip them, and they’ll be the vanguard of the change you’re wanting to bring.
3. Listening is love.
Many of the people who are resistant to change simply need to know you hear them.
I’ve been amazed at how often someone who seems diametrically opposed to change will soften and support the change once they know they have been heard.
Listening is not just a “strategy,” it’s also the simplest way we love the people God has given us to lead. Change hurts sometimes, and often we simply need to hear people say that, and affirm it.
4. Never try to convince.
I’ve spent way too much time trying to get people to do things.
Don’t try to convince people to change. Instead, proclaim the gospel. As you do, it won’t take root in most people. Accept that. (I’m thinking of the parable of the soils here.)
[tweet “Don’t try to convince people to change. Instead, proclaim the gospel.”]
But it will take root in some people. They’ll be the ones who approach you and say, “I knew there was something more I wanted… can you help me find it?”
Then spend most of your time and energy training and equipping those people. That’s your best shot at producing a healthy crop.
5. Tell stories, don’t tell about stories.
Here’s the difference: telling about a story keeps it at 10,000 feet. I offer principles and themes. It’s safe and powerless.
It’s like the CliffsNotes version that lets you know what the story is about.
Telling a story brings it to ground level. I offer details and emotion. It’s vulnerable and powerful.
It’s like reading the novel and proceeding through the story in real-time with the characters.
Change happens when we get vulnerable and share the nitty-gritty of our stories.
6. You really do need God to do things
It is SO easy to fall into the trap of simply relying on our own efforts to bring culture change.
But this work is inherently supernatural. It’s less about Implementing A New Program For Change and more about simply paying attention to what God is doing.
I can’t emphasize this enough. You need to learn to pay attention to what God is doing, or there will be no lasting fruit (see John 15).
7. Abiding in love will bring supernatural results
Sometimes we think that “love” is soft. We know we are supposed to “love each other,” but our imagination for love is mostly sentimental.
Love is “nice,” we think, but we need something else if we’re going to get things done!
Which is exactly wrong. When we commit to loving people like Jesus did, we notice that the result of our ministry goes way beyond what we could produce in our own gifting.
This is how we pay attention to what God is doing. We love and his power flows through us and brings supernatural results. Love IS power.
8. Relentlessly focus on others
One of the things pastors ask me all the time is how to build a training culture in their church. (Most churches only have a teaching culture, which is not enough to bring culture change.)
Good trainers are focused on getting results for their clients. Bad trainers are mainly focused on getting results for themselves.
Good trainers pay close attention to their clients and shift their strategy based on what they’re seeing. Bad trainers just try to squish everyone through the same program because it’s easier for them.
One of the first major shifts you can make to begin building a training culture is to relentlessly focus on others.
How can you help others “get results” in their life and ministry? Paying attention to this question and acting on it will begin to build a training culture in your organization.
Throwing grenades and introducing viruses
Change a culture is delicate, harrowing work. It’s less like engineering and more like gardening.
The question is always how to introduce the virus without telling people to change. We introduce the virus, and then care for those who are upset and train those who are excited.
It’s learning to do it like Jesus did, never directly, but always indirectly, in parables that would seem innocuous and even silly in the moment, but later would explode in people’s minds like grenades that shattered paradigms and blew apart illusions.
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How about you? Add to the conversation by sharing what you’ve learned about bringing culture change. Or ask a question! (I’m sure many others have the same question.)
Leave a comment below!