Shifting Culture, Changing Church

In the world of the church often like to think of ourselves as something of a counter-culture, somewhat removed in thinking and values from the culture of our surrounding society. And in many ways that is how it should be. But the truth may be more complex…

At various times through history shifts in secular culture have send Christian believers back to the Scriptures with altered questions. And having gone back to our sources we may then realise that within the fabric of our own Scriptures was plenty that might have pushed us in the churches to the spearhead of such changes. The abolition of slavery in the U.S.A. comes to mind. The empowering of women in leadership and ministry. My own book “Men Behaving Boldly” would be an example within the context of the men’s movement of the 90s.

For me personally, I found the insights of a landmark secular book on management to be a time bomb of implications for ministry and leadership in the churches. The book was “In Search of Excellence” by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman.


To whet your appetite for what’s in the book, this 1980’s book analysed the success of some outstanding U.S> companies and noted some recurrent features:

1) Reframing leadership – moving it from a model of top down issuing of orders, to a work of touring, befriending, listening, responding, encouraging and empowering.

2) Leadership through person to person relationship, not through meetings.

3) Allowing teams the creative freedom to assess and address the needs they identify within the mission of the company

4) Allowing the interface with those we are trying to reach determine our systems and policies

5) Cultiavting a culture of story-telling to shape a culture that then generates the same kind of innovation that first spawned the company’s mission.

6) Embracing of creative input and innovation from every level of organisation

7) Allowing people to work to their areas of strength and serve the greater purpose of the company with the gift of their special aptitudes

8) Holding together on few central values and embrace the dynamic of “adhocracy” on issues of method, system and delivery

Through the years since reading the book, these prinicples have increasingly impacted my own approach to mission and ministry. I can also see that many of these themes are key markers of the “great emergence” and the spectrum of “fresh expressions” now proliferating on the landscape of kingdom activity. Perhaps those parallels may be newer examples of lessons learnt in wider social shifts sending us back to Scripture to be “semper reformanda” – once again, re-reformed by the light of God’s word!


As Christian believers responding to wider culture shifts, of course we are not simply to be the tail wagged by the dog. I believe that the word of God enables us to discern the good from the bad, to reject the bad and cling to what is good.

To me these kinds of shift in views of management, distilled by the research of Peters and Waterman speak to the vision of “an army of ordinary people” – a picture painted by the Apostle Peter’s words about the priesthood and prophet-hood of all believers in I Peter 2 and Acts 2. As ever the word of God allows us to survey all sorts of shifts and changes and to discern what in the world God is doing, and then do all we can to get on board and run with it! I wonder is there a culture-shift or a book that has done this for you?