Fertile Soil for Bearing Fruit

The more critical elements of church culture are not easily observed. More than architecture, relevant programming, glossy bulletins, or matching t-shirts, every local church has distinguishing characteristics that influence who that congregation is and what is important to them. These subtle influencers can be called principles, traits, qualities, or characteristics, but they are really values—commonly held beliefs within a church that affect attitudes and actions....

Unfortunately, the term “values” can be one of those words that we use all the time without fully grasping its meaning and importance. The best definition that I’ve come across is this: “The core of what your organization is and what your organization cherishes. Values are traits or qualities that are considered worthwhile; they represent an individual’s highest priorities and deeply held driving forces and beliefs.” Here are a few additional characteristics of values:

  • They are guiding principles that provide direction.
  • They influence conduct, behavior, activity, and mission.
  • They help determine how things will be done.
  • They provide a foundation for discerning what is most important.
  • They are passionately believed and emotionally owned….

To simply have a list of values without praxis doesn’t accomplish anything….and in the case of many churches, the list of values developed does not reflect reality. One of the reasons this happens is because leaders go to a conference or read a book that tells them they ought to create a list of values. Or they notice that other organizations they respect have a list of values, so they seek to develop their list, but they don’t understand why this is important. Therefore, they end up with a list of values that sound spiritual and good, but aren’t really true. Unfortunately, when values are developed in this way, the result is often a list of five, seven, or ten admirable words or phrases that don’t really have much of an effect….

Just like farmland, there is no one soil makeup, or mixture of values, that is perfect for every church. This can be illustrated by the farmland found in my state. In Illinois, there are over seven hundred specific soil types that are traditionally grouped into three subsets or classifications....Within each of these categories, there are literally dozens, and in some cases, hundreds of specific soil types that vary greatly in minerals, texture, and organic matter.

While every church should seek the Lord to determine what mixture of values He is moving them to embody, I find that, much like the soils of Illinois, there are three general categories in which values are played out in a local church….

(1) When a congregation lacks unity in their value system and actually has competing principles and ideologies at work, they have fragmented values…there is no strong consensus about what is important, how to do things, why things are done, etc….

(2) When a congregation has complete unity in doctrine, purpose, and values, but their value system consists of unhealthy principles and practices, they have unified, unhealthy values….

(3) When a congregation has a critical mass of people who hold to a common set of scriptural principles which govern what they do and how they do it, they can be classified as having unified, healthy values….

Dirt matters. And healthy values embedded in the collective consciousness of the church body provide the fertile soil in which God’s Word is released to bear fruit in and through the church. The size and scope of fruit is God’s concern, but if we can nurture the soil in order to make the culture of the church healthier, we must. And, contrary to what some people think, the quality of the soil can be changed…

--from Chapter 3 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation

Next week, I will offer some insights from Chapter 4: “Enhancing the Quality.”