What do “values” mean in a church?

Whether stated or not, every church has a value system, and when the values are truly inspired by God, they are our best hope of rising above conflict and fragmentation, and being drawn together as a whole church. Every church should be able to say why it does what it does.

Values are the why behind the why. Values are a judgment of what is important, what is essential, what is non-negotiable. Values are a way of saying: this is good and this is right. Values organize our experiences under our principles; they precede our action plans. Values are our moral and ethical center. They reflect what we cherish and treasure–even what we will die for.

A church can have rotten values, and usually in that case the values go unstated. If what is most important is: “we want to be comfortable,” “we want to have a respectable image,” “we want to keep undesirables out,” or “we want to be better than the church up the road,” then that church might as well not call itself a church because it has little to do with the intent of Jesus.

Values are the why behind the why. Why are we open to outsiders? Because that’s the heart of Jesus. Why do we want to grow in outreach and depth? Because Jesus wants as many people rescued as possible. Why do we want multiple generations in our church? Because we are Christ’s body and the members of the body need each other.

Values are what the newcomer senses when he or she shows up. Values are what shape our strategic decisions–and all of the small decisions every day. When we decide to add or subtract a staff member, it should be on the basis of what is truly important–what we value.

Almost any church will benefit by a thoughtful discussion of what its values are. Years ago this was the definition derived in our church, but we also reexamine and adapt it occasionally:

Centrality of the Word

Evangelical witness

Unity in diversity

Priesthood of all believers

Welcoming environment

Freedom to fail

Commitment to growth

Good values save us from ourselves because they elevate us above the fights and squabbles of conflict. Good values prevent us from being satisfied with fragmentation. What makes a “whole church” possible is not just what we do (tactics), or the reason why we do what we do (strategy), but the why behind the why: a commitment to the things that matter to Christ (values).

What are one or two values you think are non-negotiable in all churches?

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