I’ve been revisiting some decisions lately. Like you there are some which I look at and think, “Wow, I was pretty smart when I did that.” And of course some that I look back on and wonder what I was thinking (or if I was thinking at all).
As I’ve been doing this, I have had my attention drawn to a group of decisions I made while leading a church in Ithaca. While I wouldn’t call them ‘horrible’ decisions by any means, they had a huge impact for me and definitely changed the culture of the church I was leading.
Let me share two which illustrate what I’m talking about.
When we first started the Ithaca Vineyard, one of the things we did was eat together every week. In a typical month we’d have one week where everyone would chip in a buy pizza, another where we’d chip in a buy subs and then a couple of weeks where we’d bring a dish to pass, or something like that. We always brought enough so that we could invite people there for the first time could stay with us.
About three and a half years into the life of our church, we outgrew the space we were in. The new place we decided to move into would allow us to keep growing, but not to continue having meals together because we needed to be out too early. I decided that we’d take the space and then we could find some other ways around this…or pick the habit back up later on.
We never did.
When we first started the church, we worked to be under the local “christian” radar. My church planting coach told us that Christians will come to a new church trying to exert influence. “We are looking for this type of church and if you’ll be this, we’ll come, and bring our money and our friends.” Early on in the life of a church, those are both things you need more of. But we’d tell them our vision, and if they could get on board, great…if not, they should find a church more in line with what they are hoping for.
We would actually sit down with people who’d come from other churches in the area and encourage them that this would not be a good fit for them. When people were insistent, we’d ask why they wanted to leave their current church…usually it had to do with an unresolved conflict…also, it usually involved some issue with the pastor of the other church.
So we would inform them that if they wanted to join us, they needed to resolve this conflict first. We’d be willing to work with them to help resolve it, but if they didn’t resolve these types of things, they would eventually have similar issues with us.
Most people did not take us up on this, and simply went somewhere else.
And here’s the decision. After we’d grown a bit, we began having a pretty rapid influx of people from other churches. When I discussed this with other leaders of our church, I believed our church’s culture was now set and that we could incorporate these people seamlessly into our church.
Our culture was not nearly as established as I’d thought.
What is important?
If you had asked me at any point over the past 15 years which is more important, the culture of a church or the growth of a church, I would have answered culture. In fact I would have said that setting and maintaining the culture of a local church is one of the most important things a church planter/lead pastor does.
Yet here are two times where when it came to a choice, I selected growth over culture.
Here is what it has me thinking. When you try to do something different, there will be pressure to do what everyone else is doing…to meet the expectations of the crowd. And unless you keep your focus on what it truly important, it will be so easy to shift your focus from what matters to what’s expedient.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not beating myself up over either decision. I am hoping I’ve learned this lesson.