The 4 Biggest Mistake Church Leaders Make with their Values

In 1992 the Dream Team played together in the Olympics and basketball fans went wild as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, and others were on the SAME team! Previously only college players played on the Olympic teams, so when these players formed the Dream Team, it was complete domination. Twelve years later, in 2004, the unthinkable happened. The US Men’s basketball team lost three games in the Oympics and finished with a Bronze medal. The rest of the world had caught up with US hoops. In 2008, Mike Krzyzewski, the head coach of Duke Basketball, was asked to lead the team back to the top of the world. In in his book, The Gold Standard, Krzyzewski tells the story of leading the team to adopt standards, or values, they would hold themselves accountable to. The team agreed to submit to the values they wanted to define them – values such as communication, performance, and great defense. The team won the Gold Medal and the US Basketball, once again, was on top of the world.

Less than two years later, Krzyzewski led the Duke basketball team to another national championship. With a completely different set of values. He said, “Each team is different even when playing the same game.” 

What does Mike Krzyzewski’s approach to his team’s values have to do with church leadership? Each church culture is unique even when the church has the same doctrine and the same ministry strategy. Values are what make a church’s culture. As leaders attempt to build culture through their values, here are the four biggest (and common) mistakes they make:

1. Attempting to import another church’s values

A church leader can more easily and effectively import another church’s strategy but it is woeful mistake to attempt to import another church’s values. Their values are what has made their culture, and if you merely hijack their language, you really are not importing the beliefs and actions beneath the surface anyway. Krzyzewski was wise to know that even though the game and the coach was the same, the values were different for each team.

2. Declaring values instead of uncovering them

Krzyzewski could have walked into his team and declared values, written them on the board, and asked everyone to live by those. He had both the credibility and the organizational authority to do so, but he knew the better leadership approach is to unearth the values that are there and not lazily declare a set of values. The unearthing creates more ownership and is in alignment with the actual culture.

3. Having more aspirational values than actual ones

I learned the terms “actual values” and “aspirational values” from the Auxano team. They help church leaders uncover their actual values, values that are already in the culture. And they also help church leaders add “aspirational values” to the culture – but they caution against having more “aspirational values” than “actual ones.” In fact, they recommend the ratio be 2/1 for actual/aspirational and the reason is because you must lead in your actual culture and not a culture that is merely in your mind.

4. Rarely returning to them

Krzyzewski wrote that his team constantly referred back to their values. Values that are articulated won’t form the culture. Values that are continually articulated will. Many church leaders declare values in a teaching series or a set of staff meetings and rarely return to them. While the cliché “words create worlds” is true, those words have to be spoken repeatedly to gain traction.

Leaders must care for and cultivate the culture they are leading, and this means caring for the values that are beneath the surface.