Thursday, March 08, 2012

Culture Eats Vision For Breakfast

Here is another maxim I have come across recently: culture eats vision for breakfast.

Here is an example.  An aging local church congregation might agree that they need to be more welcoming and inclusive of families and children.  They might recognise that their future as a community depends on it.  They might even decide to appoint a family and children’s worker.  They have a general vision, and that worker might observe and reflect and discuss and present creative ways forward, giving shape and definition to that vision.  But if the underlying culture is one that values order and reverence, a liturgy that is light on participation, old hymns accompanied by an organ...that culture will consume any vision for change.

Very often, as church leaders, we seek to hold out fresh vision.  Increasingly I am coming to the realisation that this is misdirected effort, likely to frustrate both leaders and those we have oversight of.  Rather than set vision, the primary focus of the leader’s attention must be to model and promote the kind of underlying culture-change that is needed if fresh vision is to be released from within the body, the community itself.  In Sheffield, this came to be known as ‘high accountability, low control’: that is, senior leaders nurtured a culture of discipleship which released people into mission, and held them accountable to being true to the cultural values while giving them significant freedom – and, as far as possible, appropriate resources – to pursue the vision God had sown in their own lives.

Changing the culture of any given community takes a long time.  Holding out vision is far easier, can take place very quickly – especially in a church that is aware that it lacks vision.  But it is a shortcut that ultimately turns back on itself, leading to greater entrenchment of the very culture that you might hope to change.  Culture-shifting takes longer: but once the hard work has been done, vision is released and nurtured.  To return to the example above, if a culture of valuing children, of discovering more about the world through play and questioning, trial and error, imperfection and wonder, can be nurtured, space can be created for the young-at-heart of every age to share.

Of course, that new culture will also eat any fresh vision that seeks to depart from its values for breakfast...


  1. I'm right with you mate.

    I find myself less 'visionary' these days and much more concerned with creating and refining culture.

    I think I figured it out intuitively and can now see what I was doing in hindsight.

    Good stuff

    1. Hey, Hamo! Great to hear from you.

      Hindsight is a wonderful gift. Most people think it is a given, and so never actually unwrap and experience it. I think it is God's way of taking us seriously as partners, while still requiring that we walk by faith into the unfolding future.

  2. good thoughts, too often visionaries are blind to culture, but culture as you note can eat vision too...take company culture - apparently Xerox came up with the PC and Kodak the digital culture ate the new vision and look where it got them. amazing though how those of us who have tasted some of teh new flavor culture gatherings find old skool church quite refreshing by compare! thanks for writing and thinking first!