“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein
“Change is a challenge. Many want change until it is required of them!” – Me
Jesus’ greatest challenge was the religious status quo of his day. His inaugural message declared the Kingdom and addressed the need to change the thinking of his culture. He stated: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). Repent is the Greek word metanoéō and means: “think differently after, after a change of mind; to repent, literally, think differently afterwards.” The current mindset was steeped in rigid, religious tradition. He knew that to grasp the significance of the Kingdom required new values and beliefs, a new paradigm.
Not only did Jesus know it required a new way of thinking, but it also required different behavior. To reinforce this change, He not only preached the Kingdom but also demonstrated its power. We are told in Matthew 4:23, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (emphasis added). It was not enough to talk about something new, but it required demonstration.
Just as in Jesus’ day, it is our current culture that is the major obstacle to Kingdom demonstration. According to The World English Dictionary, Culture is defined as: “the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action. The total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group.” It is the current systems of beliefs in a local congregation that will hinder the impartation of Kingdom truths.
This definition reveals three issues that make the transformation of cultural thinking, whether societal or congregational, so challenging. They are:
1. Culture Is Inherited.
The core beliefs and values that define the culture are passed from person to person, mostly without question or investigation. Because it is considered the social norm and those declaring them are trusted, it is considered to be true.
2. Social Behavior Reinforces Culture
Much of the current culture is caught, not taught. Through the accepted behavior of the group, the belief system is continually demonstrated and reinforced.
3. The “Cultural Police.”
The culture provides a sense of belonging and is an integral part of a member’s identity. It is here they find a place of belonging and security. When there is a questioning or challenge to the cultural values, it is perceived as threatening and the individuals themselves become the “cultural police!” The typical response is one of judgment, condemnation and in many cases ostracism.
These challenges are present in nations, ethnic groups, religious organizations (denominations) and churches. Yes – churches! With careful examination, you will find each organization or local church has it’s own culture, based on a shared belief system. These have been passed on, either doctrinally or from longstanding group conduct. It is these shared beliefs that result in the accepted social actions within “the church family.” Subsequently, any one who challenges them becomes the victim of judgment and labeled as a troublemaker.
To those seeking to transform the current culture, you must be aware of these obstacles, for they will be the origins of resistance. If you are attempting to change a church culture, prepare to be labeled: a heretic, compromiser or even backslidden. Understand, you will be challenging age-old beliefs regarding the church and its purpose.
“Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed: the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.” – Francess Hesselbein
Changing church culture requires faith, guts and determination. The steps are clear, yet the application can be touchy and dangerous. Space and time prohibits a detailed exposition of the necessary procedures: but the following four steps summarize the process necessary to transform the current culture.
1. Identify The Strongholds
To change a behavior, the current pattern of thinking (beliefs and values) must be identified. The foundation of church culture is a pattern of thought that dictates appropriate actions. Alan Hirsch in the book Verge states these are: “Unspoken assumptions and beliefs that over time take on the power of controlling myths or codes.” These are the obstacles of change. I prefer the term strongholds: they are a fortified pattern of thinking that limits or defines the perception of reality.
Spend time listening to the conversation or story of the church; it will give you insight into what the common belief of the people may be. Ask tough questions: What is it based on? Where did it come from? Why does it continue? I believe many times you will find the source is based on a traditional view of church and the associated man-made paradigm of behavior.
Strongholds of thinking for church cultures can include things like: Sunday’s are the main day for service, church is a building or place I go, ministry is the responsibility of the professional or any other number of examples that limit the expression of the body of Christ. These limiting strongholds need to be discovered and addressed before change can begin. Sometimes outside help is needed to give an objective view of the strongholds. For further contrast of Kingdom mindset verses a religious one see our blog: “Living In Your Right Mind.”
Also, please note: some individuals do not even understand how their patterns of thinking can be limiting. Remember, it is inherited! Then there are others who do not know what they do not know!
2. Create A New Metaphor
Create new stories that define the expected behavior. A metaphor is a shorthand description of an underlying belief system. The old culture used certain terminology to transfer and reinforce its beliefs. Since these words have a contextual meaning, it is wise to create a new metaphor or word picture to convey a new thought.
In his teaching, Jesus often used parables: common stories of life to make a connection with spiritual truths. Creating stories or metaphors will allow a communication of new beliefs and behaviors.
As an example, I try not to use the term church. To many people, it is a building where an event takes place on Sunday, a place we go to or a particular denomination to belong to. I try to use the term assembly, gathering or ekklesia; these are more true to the Greek word translated church. (For a different definition of church, check out The Real Church.)
3. Make It Real
As we have mentioned, Jesus not only taught a new Kingdom paradigm, he modeled it. Later, after a time of apprenticeship, he sent out 12 and 70 disciples. He taught and then gave them practical experience.
Not only should a new way of thinking be taught, but also opportunities to demonstrate this thinking should be created. While in graduate school I had two types of classes, lecture and labs. In lecture we learned facts and principles, in the labs we developed skills by practicing what we learned in the lectures. Later, we treated patients in the school clinic under the supervision of experienced doctors. A learning experience was provided for us.
As another example, when I teach the series on Living In Kingdom Authority, the last session is an opportunity for everyone to speak healing to those that need it. It is during this time that many are used for the first time in the miraculous! The idea is to give them an opportunity to demonstrate the truths they have heard in the previous sessions.
To reinforce the new thought pattern, create actions to demonstrate a new lifestyle and involve people to experience it firsthand. As a note of caution, in most church settings the common form of teaching is the lecture style: you may find it that some are challenged when you ask them to act on what they have heard – be patient, but persistent!
4. Enlist Trailblazers
Trailblazers are those who are the first to go, making a way for other to follow. Trailblazers are the early adapters, the fellow visionaries, and risk takers, innovators who are dissatisfied with the status quo: seek them out and involve them. Many early adapters can be found on the fringes. They are there because they do not agree with the status quo. Give them the framework and then allow them to experiment with the applications. Learn from their lessons, regroup and go again, continually seeking to add others as they show interest.
Make sure to publicly support the early adapters accomplishments. This rewards the desired behavior and supports the beliefs and values. As time progresses, more will join the early adapters; eventually, the actions will become the “norm” and the majority will join and ta-da! You have created a new culture! Easy, right? Yea, right! But Yes, it is right!
It is a slow process to change a church paradigm, hang in there. As the old saying goes: “Rinse and repeat!” Until the culture has been transformed.
Dr Martin lives in St Louis MO, with his wife Ava and their dog Zoe. His ministry is to assist church leadership in developing membership ministry involvement and growth. The focus is on teaching and empowering the body of Christ to demonstrate the power of His kingdom in tangible daily life. The results: increased faith and the potential for greater revival and harvest. He is available to speak to your local assembly, organization or ministry. He is also available to assist in the transformation of your church culture. For more information, check us out here