In ONMB Blog

Reflections: Chapter 8, “TOV Churches Nurture A People-First Culture”

“A goodness culture seeks to conform our lives to Christ’s example, by focusing on people instead of institutions.” (p. 125)

I can’t imagine any church leader would disagree with this statement, but how many of us live into it? Truly? And for that matter, do I live into it? Truly?

I wish the answer to that last question was ‘yes’, but this is not always the case.

As I read through chapter 8, “Tov Churches Nurture a People-First Culture”, I found myself ‘amening’ much of what was said. Especially the ‘five essential practices’ they listed for regaining a people-first culture:

  • Treat people as people,
  • Enfold others into the community,
  • Recognize all people as made in the image of God,
  • Treat people as siblings, and
  • Develop Jesus-like eyes for people.

Again, how could anyone disagree with that?

For me, the problem lies at a heart level. As the pastor of a church (an ‘institution’ called “The Gathering”, to use language from Tov), I sometimes find myself focusing primarily on the success of the institution as opposed to the care and discipleship of the people who God that has called me to serve. This is especially true when I slip into finding my value & identity in the ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ of the church (ie, numerical growth), as opposed to who God says that I am in Christ: A loved & adopted child of God whose acceptance has nothing to do with my performance.

When my identity is attached to the ‘successes’ or ‘failures’ of The Gathering in an unhealthy way, I personally can’t help but:

  • Obsess over my sermon, spending way too time word-smithing and ‘perfecting’ it as opposed seeking God in study and praying for the hearts of the people I will be serving on Sunday. Preaching becomes about my ‘performance’, not serving the people.
  • Connect my value and worth to the number of people who did (or didn’t) show up on a Sunday and whether or not I felt my sermon was ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
  • Take positive feedback to my head and negative feedback to my heart, while surrounding myself with ‘yes people’ and demonizing people who criticize me.
  • Treat people as dollar signs instead of siblings created in the image of God.
  • Be overly controlling of staff and volunteers, believing that what they do is a direct reflection of me.
  • Panic when people leave, especially ‘important’ or ‘influential’ people. Try to convince them to stay as opposed to showing genuine care and concern for their hearts.
  • Work more, pray less. Believing it’s all on me to make ‘it’ happen.
  • Avoid people in general, spending more time in the office ‘building the church’ and away from others.
  • Avoid conflict and hard conversations with others, fearing they may leave or disengage.
  • Avoid messy pastoral situations out of fear that it may reflect negatively on me or the church.
  • Avoid ‘unimportant’ or ‘less influential’ people in the church who don’t or can’t contribute the same way others do.
  • Ignore my family and my soul…

…And on and on I could go.

It’s not a pretty list, is it? I wonder, what might make your list when you aren’t finding your identity in Christ?

I have found that my role in creating a people-first culture in our church starts and ends with finding my identity in Christ. The more I lean in to that truth, the more end up loving others as God in Christ has loved me.

It’s that simple and that hard at the same time.

So, what about you? How might knowing who you are in Christ change how you lead, shepherd and disciple people in your church?

My prayer for us as a family of churches is that we would know God’s deep love for us, which we see no more clearly than in Christ on the cross. I pray that as we live out of that reality, the Spirit would work through us to create ‘people-first cultures’ in our churches. 

“We love because he first loved us.”
1 John 4:9

Reflection from Jeff Jantzi, Lead Pastor of The Gathering Ottawa

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