Culture Crushes Vision

Posted by Jeff Iorg on

John Maxwell is credited with saying, “Culture eats vision for lunch.” He may have been quoting someone else (if so, let me know and attribution will be given!). Whoever said it, they got it right. No matter how grand your vision, organizational culture can crush it. This was first evident to me while serving as a state executive director.

While leading the Northwest Baptist Convention, we hosted all kinds of high-quality training events for pastors and other church leaders. We taught them evangelism and church growth strategies. We coupled those teaching times with worship and inspirational preaching. All of this was designed to equip and motivate pastors with a greater vision for reaching more and more people.

They took that information back to their churches – and not much happened. At first, this frustrated me. My first questions were: What was wrong with our training? What was wrong with these pastors? The answer: Nothing. The problem wasn’t the process for enhancing vision for reaching more people. The problem was church culture entrenched around and devoted to caring for current members. The problem was church culture that was virtually impervious to change.

Here’s an example. One church started to grow. Soon, the worship center was comfortably full. The pastor suggested starting a second worship service. He might as well have proposed becoming Hindu. It wasn’t going to happen. Why? The church’s culture was “we are one big family” and nothing could be allowed that might threaten that perception. The pastor was free to reach people until the building was full (and it held about the “right amount” of people to be a “good church” according to the long-time leaders). Culture crushed vision.

That’s just one example. Shaping culture to support vision is challenging. My podcast this week will go into more detail about how to do this. Vision matters. Culture matters at least as much (if not more). Working hard to bring these two important leadership issues into alignment is a pressing challenge and essential for organizational success.

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