If Culture Eats Vision, What Changes Culture?

A few years back I was at a conference in which the leaders kept using the phase, “culture eats vision”. I must admit that when they said it, I had no idea what they were saying. The catchphrase must be important, because they repeated it so many times, so I started to ask questions about it.

The truth is it’s a really simple concept. Basically it is saying “your habits and environment will dictate the success of your vision”. For example, let’s say your vision is to lose weight and become healthy. That’s a great vision, but if you want it to become a reality, you may need to change your culture. You may need to get rid of all the junk food currently in your pantry. You may need to rearrange your budget and schedule so that you can buy fresh produce and healthy ingredients regularly. You may need to end your work day sooner or get up earlier so that you can exercise. The reality is if nothing changes in your day to day habits, your vision of losing weight and becoming healthy will never succeed.

So if culture eats vision, what changes culture? Systems…system change culture that reinforce vision. Using the above example, if you set up a new system for eating healthy (one that includes changing your budget and your schedule), your chances of achieving your vision will exponentially increase.

As this relates to the church and your organization, it’s exactly the same. If your vision is a culture of outreach, discipleship, authentic confession, and worship, the way to achieve this vision is to create systems that will change the culture. For example, if you want to be a church in which the vision of ‘disciples that make disciples’ is a way of life, then what system do you have that will attract, build, connect and develop disciplers? What books and resources do you use? What ‘next step’ do people need to take? What will you do to develop training so that people are confident to be disciplers? What system will you create so that people will continually be reminded that discipleship is an important part of your mission?

It’s not rocket science, if your culture is one of junk food and couch surfing, losing weight and being healthy are not in your future. However, if you create a culture that reinforces your vision, you will achieve your goals. Culture eats vision, so if you want to change your culture, build systems that reinforce that vision.

The Three Types of People in the Church: Intuitive - Learned - Lost

There are really three types of people in your church: intuitive, learned, and lost.

Intuitive people are those who figure things out quickly. They don’t need the A, B, C, D, E individually all the way to Z; they just need A, K, R, and Z. You give them the basics and they can fill in the blanks.   

Learned people aren’t quite as intuitive, but they have learned the missing steps in another context, and therefore can figure it out just fine. These people need a few more steps than intuitive people, but because of prior experience, they can fill in the gaps. When learned people show up at your church, they may not see the steps to get involved with a small group or Bible study, but because they were involved in a group at a prior church, they fill in the blanks and get plugged in.  

Then there are the lost people. I don’t mean lost in the sense of salvation or being far from God, but rather lost in the sense that they are neither intuitive nor have learned systems or typical methods elsewhere. These people need every step from A to Z if they are going to be involved.   

It seems to me that intuitive and learned people make up about 20-30% of the church, while 70-80% are lost. This is why typically (unless you have incredible systems that explain all the steps from A to Z) only 20% of your church is engaged. Furthermore, because intuitive people are usually the easiest people to work with (they don’t need a lot of input before they get busy), intuitive people are usually running the organization. But, intuitive people typically put systems together intuitively. In other words, systems that don’t explain all the steps, therefore leaving the lost people, well, lost. 

Think about your church structure like a booklet for putting furniture together. Some, the intuitive ones, look at the first and last page and put the coffee table together easily. No problems, and no parts left over. The learned, although not as intuitive, have put the coffee table together before, so they just need a refresher, but they don’t need every page. The lost, however, need every single page of the manual.   

The problem I saw in our church was that because of my intuitive nature, the vision I was sharing was missing an incredible amount of explanation and instruction.  Complex ideas that needed to be explained in detail were just assumed as easily perceived. My heart was for everyone to be involved, but my methods inadvertently meant that only 20% (at best) could be.

As you read “Engage the Church”, my challenge to you and your team is to think of the lost people in your church and ask if your systems will help them engage or if they will unintentionally hinder them from being involved. 

Does Organizational Structure Belong in the Church?

Organizational systems sound like something that we might be trying to commandeer from the business world. As we look through the structure of the Bible, however, what we can see is that most of the systems that exist in the business world were commandeered from the Bible. 

Consider the organizational systems of God in Genesis 1-2. No matter if you believe in 7-day creation, intelligent Design, evolution, or some variation in between, what is evident is that God is purposeful, strategic, and employs an organizational system for the benefit of the earth. The similarity in all the theories of creation is the progression by which it all came together. 

Consider the way in which the Pentateuch unfolds. Genesis is creation and fall, Exodus is redemption and the beginning of restoration, and Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are the setting up of organizational systems for the life of the Israelites. Through Moses, God gives moral, civil, and ceremonial law. God speaks to the people about health and hygiene, city lay-out, and a calendar of feasts. While we typically skip over these books, they are a profound picture of the need for structure and organizational systems for the benefit of God’s people and the widows, orphans, poor, and immigrants.

Exodus 18 (Jethro’s advice to Moses) is without a doubt the most obvious passage when it comes to organizational development. Governments, businesses, schools—almost every organizational system in the world follows the model set forth here by Jethro. Moses is so taken by the instruction that he implements Jethro’s advice immediately. Although the word is not used, Jethro must have seen the marks of burnout in Moses’ life, or at least the beginnings of it. Jethro’s intervention came at just the right time for Moses and all of the Israelites (and for all of us). 

In the book of Acts, Luke clues us into the structure of the New Testament church. Acts 6 is the typical example in the formation of deacons within the church. The elders state, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” Thus, the model of elder, deacon, and member is set up within the early church. 

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul gives us a picture of the body of Christ being as complex as the human body—each person having a significant role and job to do. Paul points out the ridiculousness of one part saying to the other, “I don’t need you.” This picture shows us not only the innate structure that exists within the church, but the pitfalls of not living within it.

In Ephesians 4, Paul, after laying down a great treatise on the work of Christ and the Christian’s identity, reveals that God gave “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.”  Not only does Paul show us the abundance of need for qualified leadership, but he also reveals that this leadership group is not to do the work, but rather to equip the saints (members) for the work. Paul spends the rest of Ephesians showing that one of the first marks of understanding the gospel is the ability to live in submission—a necessity for organizational systems.

At the close of Paul’s letters we typically see him talking to the leadership that he has developed in each of the churches he started. Organizational structure was something Paul was interested in developing as soon as he got to an area where he was starting a church, and he continued to write about it in his letters to those churches once he had moved on.   

All of scripture resounds with order, structure, and organizational development. It’s our privilege as leaders to examine the scriptures and realize the significance of this to our calling. 

What Moses did...


 Numbers is not exactly the first book you’d read for personal devotions.  Seems kind of boring, and honestly in parts, that’s exactly what it is.  But in a recent reading of chapters 10-13 I had a great epiphany.  The Israelites are wondering around the desert complaining again.  In these chapters they desperately want to go back to Egypt…back to the land of slavery.  Several times they complain about their new circumstances, and even attempt to elect a new leader to take them back (they knew Moses wouldn’t take them).  Each time we see God’s wrath burn against them.  And why shouldn’t we?  These ungrateful people whom God has freed from their own stupidity, from their own slavery;  these people whom God has provided for, blessed, and even led each step of the way;  these people whom God has defended, destroying their enemies without them having to raise a finger against them.  These people who are being led into the promised land while food is being rained down from heaven for their sustenance.  At this point, the ungratefulness would make anyone burn with wrath, let alone a Holy God.  But each time God’s wrath burns, Moses steps in.  God wants to destroy his people…Moses intercedes.  “God, do you really want to do that…what about your great character?  Your mercy? Your love?”. “God, do you really mean that?  You love your people!”.  And each time Moses intercedes, God relents.

As I was considering what Moses did, I couldn’t help but realize that this is exactly what Jesus is doing for me every moment of every day.  All day long I am longing for the comfort of Egypt…that place I have deceived myself into thinking is the real source of my contentment…even though I am a slave there.  How often I think, one look will make me feel better, one taste will comfort this soul, one more compliment will suffice.  And yet there is my Heavenly Father having poured out his love for me so that I can know the depth of His infinite glory.  His wrath should burn against me.  How angry am I when my kids take me for granted…yet how much more infinite is the inheritance I have been given by God.  And yet each time I wonder, and each time God’s wrath is justifiably against me, each time Jesus stands there and says “wait God, I paid for that, I got covered.  Remember…because of me, you love him, you care for him, your mercy and grace, your character of love is towards them”. 

In Numbers through what the Israelites did, I’m reminded of my sinful, lying deceitful heart.  In Numbers through what Moses did, I’m reminded of what Jesus is doing…constantly.  And in Numbers, I remember the greatness of my God who has blessed me with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies.  Turns out Numbers is a really great book after all. 

Laugh Like Luther 

Perpetual improvement can be a curse.  The desire to grow, learn, and improve are all godly, but they can also steal that very thing they are after:  satisfaction. 

If you read quotes by Martin Luther, you know he was a man who really enjoyed living.  He laughed, enjoyed good beer, loved sex, and enjoyed the company of friends.  His love affair with enjoying life wasn’t always a reality.  Growing up in a household where he was pushed educationally to improve was given over to disappointing those who pushed him when he joined the monastery.   In the monastery he learned that despite a constant focus on self-improvement, inadequacy was the repetitive residue.  This is not to say that improvement is unnecessary, but how exhausting!  Improvement can be slavery within itself, especially in affluent societies where comparisons are like window shopping.   

It wasn’t till Luther discovered the gospel that he began to learn to laugh.  We might describe it as “already accepted, not yet perfected”. Luther was a ferocious scholar; his writings, his students, even his wife would attest to this fact.  But Luther loved to laugh.  It was as if he could enjoy the moment knowing he was already accepted, but then enjoy the path of not yet perfected.  Because of Jesus, a great life of living as loved.

I confess that I don’t know how to laugh really well.  The bane of the modern day evangelical moment can be continual access to great preachers, books, even devotional helps, that, if we are not careful, can lead to a self-improvement witch-hunt, that, like Luther, leaves us with a repetitive residue of inadequacy.  The mantra of inadequacy steals joy faster than shooting stars.  Improvement is important; the sanctifying work of God enables us to enjoy God, which is the recipe of satisfaction.  However, the phrase “stop and smell the roses” or “get out of the rat race”, applies as we must stop and consider our ability to live in the present “already accepted” critical understanding of the gospel:  Joyful living demands it.  The tyranny of improvement must throw off its continual chatter and give way to frequent times of joy and laughter that define satisfaction.   It as if we need to stop and remember the father saying to us “[Because of Jesus] You’re good!”. 

Luther knew the sanctifying work;  he was not avoiding or ignorant of it.  But he knew how to enjoy life in the already accepted. No doubt this is one of the chief resolutions of the protestant reformation.  Today, and every day, I want to live in the already accepted.  I want to enjoy laughing with friends, good drink, intimacy, and all that God created for us to discover more of Him.  I want to live in the “already accepted”, pausing for a time out of the tyranny “not yet perfected”.