Canoes & Core Values

By: Lance King

One key undertaking of our staff this time each year is planning the ministry year ahead. This energizing task involves taking congregational feedback from the fall discernment process, turning that feedback into key congregational priorities, then strategizing specific plans and allocating resources (time and money) toward carrying out fresh new ministries.

Our staff is also reading a book together called Canoeing the Mountains- Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Author Tod Bolsinger, VP & Chief of Leadership Formation at Fuller Theological Seminary was our keynote speaker at this year’s state wide BGAV (Baptist General Association of Virginia) assembly.  Canoeing the Mountains is Bolsinger’s metaphor for the way many churches are attempting to engage the 21stcentury.  It echoes the challenge faced by Lewis and Clark, who, when dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson to identify a “Northwest Passage” discovered a geography of which they never conceived. Instead of a gentle river flowing west of the continental divide to the Pacific Ocean, they found hundreds of miles of snowcapped Rocky Mountains ahead of them. Would they trade their canoes for horses, or attempt to canoe the mountains?

These two staff initiatives converged as we discussed Bolsinger’s insight that “organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Quoting leadership legend Peter Drucker, Bolsinger insists that a congregation can have the most potentially-impactful, Jesus-like plans and priorities ever conceived. They can be beautifully printed on official documents and websites and communicated with unprecedented creativity and frequency. But congregational culture will overwhelm those strategies and plans every time.  Culture eats strategy for breakfast!

Missional Theologian JR Woodward likewise indicates that “unseen culture” is more important than strategy, vision or planning in determining a congregation’s health, openness to change and missional conviction (concern for helping the non-churched experience God).

A vibrant dialogue ensued in our staff meeting as we attempted to identify Chestnut Grove’s congregational values.  Our working definition of values was “what is reflected by the actual behaviors of those in authority in our congregation.” Thus, our values are not what’s in print, but what is embodied by key leaders in our system.  Our actions reveal our values.

I extend that question to you for consideration.  What values do you see being demonstrated by the actual behaviors of key influencers in our culture?   Think carefully for two minutes.  If you email (in the comment section below) one or two values you see on display at Chestnut Grove, I will share with you what our staff identified.

We will resume this conversation tonight at 6:30pm in our final 2018 Community Dialogue.

A divine adventure awaits. I hope you’ll join the expedition.  May we better understand the culture in which we are ministering and from which we are ministering, in order that we may facilitate God’s Kingdom come on earth, as in heaven. May God lead us to embark effectively with love and courage, including a willingness to lay down our canoes as needed.

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