At the beginning of a new ministry or a church plant, leaders often discuss the issue of core values: What are we about? What do we stand for? What makes us different?

Yet for existing ministries, it can be helpful periodically to return to the question of core values and reevaluate them. One of the unexpected benefits can be preventing and resolving conflicts. The reason for this is that people act in alignment with their real values rather than with the stated values of the organization. Returning to the question of values and processing them can increase awareness and alignment. Bill Malick calls this “the need for agenda harmony.” I sometimes refer to it– from my choir days– as singing off the same page.

When people are not singing off the same page, the church can experience conflicts and even sustain leadership losses. Let’s take a common example.  Some members value effort and inclusion– everyone should just do their best and that’s good enough and everyone should be included. Other members may place a value of excellence and results– people should do what they are good at with an eye toward a high level of accomplishment. So what happens when a young person who sings off key joined the worship team and they are trying? Then we run into competing values. These members will find themselves at odds with one another. One group will focus on the development of the young person and creating the supportive environment of a family. The other group will not find this state of affairs acceptable because the results are off-putting to those they are trying to reach.

Often churches experience conflicts when core values are unarticulated and unshared. That tension will lead to a slow divergence into “taking sides.” Returning to and reexamining values can bring clarity on what the roots of the problem are.

It’s worth noting that most churches have two sets of core values:

  • Ministry values: These are external values… how you go about the work you do.
  • Team values: These are internal values… how you work together as a team.

When one church engaged in a review process of their values, they realized that what they had been calling core values were actually points of theology. The list included things like baptism, communion, and the inspiration of scripture. Certainly those topics were important, but they were points of theology rather than lived-out values. So that church went about trying to re-determine their core values. The idea was to clarify what the church actually valued so that could be made clear for future potential leaders to ensure those values were shared, preventing similar conflicts among the leadership team in the future.

This is an outline of the process they followed. Each of these items will be expanded upon in future blog entries.

  • Listening prayer
  • Identifying core behaviors
  • Reverse engineering into categories
  • Reaching consensus
  • Drafting the values


Photo by James Peacock on Unsplash