So, I was thinking that last week’s blog about behavior that undermines our call to be a community of love sparked a few conversations. I was thinking that pursuing this line of thought might be fruitful. Last week, the focus was on the ways that unhealthy behavior and just plain mean-spirited actions can hinder our efforts to be a community of love. But, sometimes — maybe most of the time — it isn’t necessarily bad behavior that kills our mission. Sometimes we get confused and conflicted over what we should do because we are not all clear about who we are. More often than not, we argue because we are in disagreement about what is most important to the life of the congregation. We have not defined the community’s identity well enough to guide our life together.
A congregation’s identity, it’s DNA, is made up of its values, beliefs, mission, and its vision. Tom Bandy (a smart author and guru on mission) says that a core value is a “positive, predictable behavior pattern that organizational participants can be expected to model, both spontaneously and daringly, in their daily living.” Values are how we act in a positive way. A core belief is “a principle or conviction to which (members) can be expected to turn, immediately and spontaneously, in times of trouble, confusion, or stress.” Beliefs establish common principles.
St. Paul, when he wrote to the Galatians (5:22-23) suggested that there were common behaviors that should guide them: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control.” He told his churches that their core beliefs were things like “justification by grace through faith” and Christ crucified.” The naming of these behaviors and beliefs gave the community a way to discern what to do — because they new who they were.
With values and beliefs unstated decisions are based on personal preference. With values and beliefs clearly articulated, we have some idea how to resolve the conflict and be true to our identity. When values and beliefs are left unstated, every individual assumes their own values and beliefs are the norm. In a congregation that worships nearly 800 people a week, that means 800 sets of values and beliefs. Trust struggles, conflict can thrive.
Think of it this way: As we prepare worship bulletins each week we hear feedback from a wide spectrum of opinions. On the one hand we hear “Thanks for putting all the songs in the bulletin, it really made me feel welcome and easy to worship.” Then we hear “You’re putting too much in the bulletin and it is wasting paper.” The first comment reflects certain values – hospitality, simplicity, welcoming. The second reflects other values – economy and conservation. All of these are good values, but here they come to conflict. What do you do? Well, it helps if we have stated what our values are before the conflict.
Another example: A congregation gets in a tiff over whether it should be involved in a local social program of some kind. Some say, “We must do this because Christ lived and ministered among the poor.” This reflects a core belief in the incarnation of Christ in our world. Others say, “No, we must stay out of political and economic debates because God is not of the world.” This reflects a core belief in the transcendence of God. Both can be rooted in Christian faith. Conflict happens because we have not stated clearly what we believe at the core of our life together.
So, what do we do? We define our values and beliefs. How? Well, on the one hand it is not really hard. It simply takes the participation of a significant number of members in a discussion and process that seeks to discern what values and beliefs we all share. It is a conversation rarely held, but desperately needed.
We are going to try to have such a discussion about our common values on Wednesday, June 6 at 7:00 PM. We need you to be there! The process will be fun and will take about two hours. After an initial introduction, we will work in small groups. By the end of the evening, we will have developed a good idea of what our values might be. It will work well IF YOU ARE THERE! Please join us on 6/6 at 7