Over the past 6 months, our team has slowly been putting on paper those values that shape us as the Mercy Hill staff team. For a church (or any organization), the values clarify those beliefs or traits that make the organization what it is. Values are not goals. When we talk about values, we are talking about who we are not what we want to do. This is obviously nothing new in organizational or church life, though it is a bit new to us. When we were planting Mercy Hill, we didn’t put a ton of stock in statements outlining our values. When it came to values, we generally kept silent. I think for most leadership gurus this is pretty much anathema! How can you fight to stick to your values if you haven’t written down what they are?
Five years ago, I had a ton of angst about endless lists of values being written before we launched. Looking back—now having the benefit of learning from a few key leaders—I understand why. I think the bottom line comes down to this: How could we write down values when we didn’t know who we were? Churches, like all organizations, have personalities. Staff teams, over time, come to realize their talents, the ways that they work best, and what dreams particularly resonate with them. These things are important to know before value statements can be written to reflect actual values. For a value statement to have any real meaning, it must reflect the team’s culture. The risk of rigidly writing out values on the front end is that who you were going to become wasn’t reflected in the values as they were written. Then later, because you know it’s not really who you are, the values become a nice piece of artwork in the office rather than a litmus test for hiring and evaluation.
To be clear, I am not saying that writing down goals of who you want to be on the front end of a church plant is wrong. Actually, I am sure it is quite helpful. But there is a big difference in writing down hopes of a future identity versus an actual value. I think my advice for a church plant or start up now would be to write down goals and values, but hold the values loosely. Again, I think in leadership circles that may sound crazy! The argument goes that without holding to your values in stone you will be in danger of becoming something you didn’t intend to. My only point is, when you write out your values before knowing who you are, you could end up trying desperately to become something that you aren’t. While there is danger in both, I think the latter has more potential for slowing down an organization.
This coming September, Mercy Hill Church will turn five. The church has grown and our staff has grown. In terms of our staff culture, I love it and I know it well. But with the amount of people that are on-boarding now we have seen the value in writing out some statements that will help new folks get their mind around our culture. The only way to learn a culture is to live inside it, but value statements can certainly give new team members a head start. Over this series of blogs, I want to lay out the six tensions that describe the values of Mercy Hill’s staff culture. Again, these are not goals. Rather they are a reflection of who we are. Obviously, no one on Mercy Hill’s staff will live these things out perfectly! All of us more innately do better with some and have to work on others. But, generally speaking, these statements describe our staff team and what type of person could expect to flourish should they join us. If you are a Mercy Hill member, I hope you will find it interesting and encouraging to peek behind the curtain and see some of the inner workings of the church staff. And if you are a potential planter or entrepreneur, maybe these posts will give you something to think about in terms of your own values and goals. In the next post I will define our values. For us, values aren’t defined in a singular trait but in holding the tension between two competing traits.
-Andrew Hopper (Lead Pastor)