How Leaders Shape Their Ministries

The way you address these things will impact your team and shape who you are.

Winston Churchill is credited with the insightful quote, “We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us.” He was correct; the buildings we gather in shape the culture of those in the buildings. The statement can be applied to other influences as our ministries and organizations are shaped by more than the buildings we utilize. Here are 10 things that leaders shape that in turn shape the organizations those leaders lead.

1. Values

Values that are celebrated, championed and reinforced shape the culture of a ministry or organization, and leaders set the tone and pace for how those values are emphasized. Unwise leaders arrive and declare a new set of values, as if they can speak a set of values into existence and immediately declare a culture out of nothing. Only the Lord can declare something out of nothing, but leaders can shape the values and shape how the values are operationalized.

2. Mission

Values are about identity and “how we live around here,” and the mission is about what the ministry or organization does. Whenever a leader clarifies mission, the clarity shapes the activity of the ministry or organization. An unclear mission shapes the culture too, but in adverse ways. When the mission is not clear and not consistently heralded, confusion and conflicting goals abound.

3. Strategy

The strategy is how a ministry or organization works to accomplish the mission. Leaders shape the strategy; they lead the team to decide where time and resources are allocated. That strategy shapes how the ministry or organization serves people. It shapes how people’s time is utilized and where energy is invested. Leaders shape strategy and strategy shapes organizations.

4. Measures

Leaders are partly responsible to decide what is measured, and what is measured as most important. What is evaluated and measured shapes the priorities and activity of a team in a ministry or organization. A scorecard impacts how people behave. If the wrong things are measured, the wrong behaviors are rewarded. If nothing is measured, then people invent their own priorities. If what is measured is closely connected to the mission, then the scorecard helps focus people on what is most important.

5. Leadership Development

Leaders are responsible to develop future leaders. How leaders form future leaders greatly impacts the future of the ministry or organization. The values, skills and beliefs that are poured into future leaders today will be poured out in the organization tomorrow.

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6. Buildings

Kenton Beshore, my predecessor and genius friend, walked me to the center of Mariners church campus one day, a spot right outside our worship center. He said, “Tell me what you see and don’t see.” After I stood there unsure of what to say for a few seconds, he said, “you can see every entrance to every building but you cannot see a car in the parking lot. The facility was designed to keep you here. When you leave a worship service you do not see your car or a parking lot. We wanted that so that it would help you stay and connect with others.” The facility choices at Mariners have formed the culture I enjoy, as people really do stay and connect with one another.

7. Moments

There are moments in a ministry or organization that form the culture. Moments where there is clarity of belief or direction. Moments where memories are made. Moments where people are invited to internalize and commit to what is most important. Moments of honest dialogue with leaders. Wise leaders steward these moments well and don’t rush through them.

8. Structures

How an organization or ministry is structured is no small matter. The structure declares who will collaborate together and who will just politely nod at one another in the hallway. The structure impacts who is ultimately accountable, how communication occurs and what priorities receive the most attention. Leaders shape the organizational structure and the organizational structure shapes them.

9. Systems

Andy Stanley once said, “Systems create culture.” A system has a powerful impact on shaping the culture because it operationalizes an important value. For example, if there is an effective system for recruiting and training leaders, the system helps create a culture of leadership development. We cultivate the cultures of our organization by the systems we create and communicate.

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10. Policies

Because policies impact behavior, they impact how people in an organization relate to one another. By policies I do not mean the “rules” in writing that no one takes seriously or have not been updated in years, but the standards that really matter (by the way, these should be the actual policies too).

Leaders have the ability to set and shape these standards as they definitely shape the culture. Sometimes the policies conflict with the vision of the team, and when this occurs the policy must be changed as quickly as possible. A common example I noticed when I consulted churches was a church leader who would articulate a desire to develop future staff and hire from within the church, yet a policy that stated all staff must have a specific degree. The vision and the policy were at odds, and the policy actually impacted the behavior, in most cases, more than the vision did.

As you read the list, what are 1–2 items that require more of your thinking and focus? Shape them well, as they shape the team you are leading which in turn shapes you.

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