I have a garden in my backyard because I enjoy seeing something move from seed to seedling to growing plant to fruit (or vegetable, as the case may be). It’s a process that fascinates me and draws me back every year to see what I can grow—but it isn’t easy, and I think that’s part of the beauty. I know that if I put in the work along the way there will be a payoff at the end. The plant will grow and it will produce something.
Deep down, I think all of us want to be part of something difficult, something that we have to work for that brings about a payoff in the end. Developing culture can be one of the most frustrating and rewarding experiences a leader can walk through, while simultaneously being worth every ounce of sweat and tears you pour into it.
As you think through your own culture work, here are three ways leaders often kill the culture before it has a chance to produce fruit:
1. Stop Talking About It
In order for a culture to grow, you have to give it constant input through word and action. Your people will latch on to what you say most because frequency cultivates importance. Therefore, your culture will only grow if your people hear, understand, and connect with the vision you are giving them.
This vision—the end result of what your student ministry culture could look like—is something you have to show them all the time. But you also can’t stop with just showing them the end result.
The real work of culture is showing your people how each of them contribute to and are necessary for the vision to be accomplished. Your programming, the values you live by as a ministry, and the strategy you have are all tools that you have at your disposal to cultivate a healthy culture within your people.
2. Disconnect From The People
People make up your culture, and as such, it is important that you are with them. One of the quickest ways to kill your culture is to walk up on a stage, deliver a vision or plan, and then retreat to your office away from the people. If you aren’t with them interpersonally, then they will take your vision and apply it as they see fit, which will rarely match up with what you had in your mind.
Mike Tyson famously said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” and it is true that every leader has a plan for their culture until it lands with the people. Your people need to you walk with them through the implementation and growth phases of your culture. For some, your organization may be too large to do this with every person. In this case, you need to strategically choose the groups of people that you will personally influence so they can influence others.
3. Make It About You
In developing a culture you are playing the long game. Elton Trueblood once said, “A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.” This is the work of culture you are doing in the church: planting, growing, and developing, so the person who comes after you is set up to win. Very rarely do we think of our roles in that way. We talk about discipleship in terms of multiplication and generation expansion, yet we talk about our ministries as though they only exist in the now. The truest test of the culture that you are growing now is how well it continues from leader to leader.
In gardening, there’s a lot of work along the way that you can and need to do, but there are also things that need to happen that are outside of your control. Sunlight, weather, and pests are major issues that highlight the God-factor in gardening. I think this is another reason why I enjoy gardening—at some level it is being involved in something that God has to touch for it to truly be productive.
The same is true in your work to grow and develop culture within your ministry. To understand it as something completely separate from a work of God is an inaccurate view. So, my encouragement to you as you work and sweat to grow your culture is to pray that God shines upon your work and steps in to do something that only He can do.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Students. Ben is passionate about investing in student ministry leaders like you. You can find more encouragement from Ben on his YouTube Channel, Student Ministry That Matters.