leading without power, part 3

in this series of posts (part 1: overview; part 2: competency facilitator) i’m ruminating on the suggestion that leadership in the church needs to move away from the traditional notions of hierarchical power we’ve embraced for so long. and i’m unpacking 9 new metaphors for “powerless leadership”. here is metaphor #2:

Culture Evangelist

i’m becoming more and more convinced that one of the most important skill sets for a 21st century leader is the ability to lead in the area of culture creation. in youth ministry 3.0, i talked about the increased need for leaders (youth workers, in that case; but this is true for all church leaders) to move toward differentiated, contextually appropriate, discerned ministry values, structures, methods, approaches. for that to happen (particularly if we’re moving away from top-down power structures), we have to re-learn the spiritual art of discernment. and we have to learn to practice discernment using a collaborative approach, as opposed to going off to a cave to get a ‘word from god’.

one of the most important things we need to discern (remember: that means an active reliance on the holy spirit, not our own brilliance and insight) is culture. we need to collaborative discern the current culture of our church (or youth group), and the culture we aspire toward.

once this culture is understood, the powerless leader becomes an evangelist for that culture.

my new friend, donavon roberson – a former youth pastor – is the lead culture evangelist for zappos insights, the corporate training arm of zappos.com. i love donavon’s title. church leaders need to unofficially adopt that title.

we evangelize: this is who we are!
we evangelize: this is who we are called to become!
we evangelize: these are the things that are most important to us (our values)!

at a gathering of junior high pastors several years ago, my friend eric venable made the comment that, in their youth ministry, they tried to embrace the idea that “the feel of the ministry is the content”. last night, i happened to be with eric, and he said he’d later heard a professor state that phrase with better terminology: “the method is the message.”

what does culture creation look like in your context?
how can you move toward it, then evangelize it?

15 thoughts on “leading without power, part 3”

  1. i’ve always appreciated erwin mcmanus’ [maybe self-proclaimed] title of cultural architect. sure it’s a little audacious and i know some people mock it, but i think it’s pretty accurate. cultures of orgs, teams and environments can – and should – be created intentionally.

  2. @tony, thanks for commenting. but i think my suggesting only overlaps with erwin’s title (nothing against erwin: he’s a good and visionary guy). first: the vibe of “culture architect”, to my ears, is “as the leader, i’m going to personally design the culture.” it’s very creative, and addresses the importance of culture (there’s the overlap); but it’s still top-down, hierarchical power leadership. a culture evangelist, as i’m trying to describe it, does not lead with traditional power. the way i’m suggesting it, the holy spirit architects the culture. our leadership role is to bring a group of people together to collaboratively discern it, then… champion in.

    do you see the difference i’m trying to describe? it might sound like semantics, but in my mind, they’re hugely different.

  3. ah i get what you are saying. totally. very subtle but it makes sense. interesting – and thanks for unpacking it. great wisdom in these posts – thanks for sharing them!

  4. This is the first time I’ve come across someone suggesting such a thing in writing, so I need to think about this for awhile. However, my initial response is one of caution. I think I’ve seen this in practice before (but I’m not sure if it’s the same thing you’re describing), and I’m not sure I appreciated it. I’ve been to churches where it seems the pastor is all about creating a culture around the organization, and it just seems fake to me. It’s almost as if the pastor has convinced the congregation that their church is amazing, God is amazing, we should all be excited to be here, blah blah blah etc. In the end, I feel like the culture that exists in the place has been manufactured. But I have to say that regardless of my distaste, the people seem to buy into it. And usually, we’re talking about 1,000s of people buying into it. Yet, part of me feels this isn’t “real life.” At some point, I’m afraid the facade will fall. Perhaps my resistance is to the type of culture we seem to try to create vs. trying to create a culture? I guess we all try to create culture, and one of the things I feel is important in a culture is authenticity and humility. Yet I worry that trying to create these things might actually cause us to lose that authenticity and humility. For example, I looked at that zappos site, and the pictures and descriptions come across as fake to me. I wouldn’t want a church that had that vibe. It felt to me like “motivational speaker world.” Like I said, I haven’t heard this type of idea before, so it’s all new to me, and I’m trying to process it…

  5. tim — thanks for the thoughtful response. let’s be clear: an evangelist (cultural or otherwise) does not have to be annoying, manufactured and forced. in my thinking, when i employ this metaphor of “culture evangelist” (with the very important framing i’ve suggested of discernment and collaboration — not top-down use of power to “tell everyone” what the culture should be), i’m not thinking of a salesperson. the way you describe it — which is certainly something i’ve seen also — is all about marketing and sales, really. that’s not what i’m suggesting. i’m suggesting a culture evangelist who brings people back to the values, back to who we have discerned god is calling us to be.

  6. Hey Marko,

    There is much to your methodology that I do not understand and do not know. However, having interacted with other modern-day Evangelical leaders (Pastors, youth group leaders, etc.), I can see how the post-modern mode of our culture has infiltrated the Church. The emphasis of the pagan culture on newness and “the wisdom of youth” (compare to Prov 1, for example) is alive and well in the modern American Church. I see an overwhelming emphasis towards fun and excitement, appealing to the impatience of the popular culture. Christian culture building should NOT look like culture around with a few of the nasty parts removed, like wiping maggots off of rotting meat. The Bible calls us to deliberate lifestyle, purposefully clothing ourselves with Christ and casting off the wicked deeds of sinful nature.

    For example, Paul does NOT call the Corinthians to not sleep with their mothers, cult prostitutes, or sue one another only occasionally, but to stop such behavior entirely!

    If you want to see this traced out in the last 100 years, read this book:


    If you want to meet people who are committed to deliberate Christian culture-building, go spend time with these people:


    Listen to some of their basement tapes. It will rock your world.


  7. Love the discussion. Speaking specifically of the phrase “the method is the message”…That sounds very similar to Shane Hipps thoughtful (maybe critique?) of media in his “Hidden Power of Electronic Culture” book. I remember reading that same quote, though rephrased “the medium can become itself, the message”…

  8. wow, jonathan — you have completely, 100% (more than 100% if that’s possible) misread me. i’ve said nothing about ‘fun’ or ‘excitement’, nothing about ‘the wisdom of youth’ — and i am CERTAINLY not suggesting we should look like the culture around us. heck, that last bit is why the notion of culture creation is important. what i HAVE suggested is that we stop assuming we know what’s best, and that we intentionally listen to god as to the unique culture he would desire for our local church community (or youth group). shoot, i think what i’m suggesting is more biblical, not more worldly!

  9. Marko, if I understand you better now, what I hear you saying is a process for discerning a prophetic call to return to the values that God would have our church/ministry to reflect. Except that you’re saying that instead of one person discerning what that should look like, it should happen together as a ministry team. If this is what you’re referring to, I would very much appreciate this concept! In fact, I would put much more importance on a team coming together to do this, rather than coming together to come up with simply a mission statement or vision or mission, or whatever you want to call it. While that also may be important to discern, the “culture” or values by which you plan to accomplish your ministry seem more important to me. Basically, the ends never justify the means.

  10. tim — yes! and, to add a bit: i don’t know that the group tasked with the role of collaborative discernment of values and culture should necessarily by “the leadership team” or “ministry team” of the church (or youth ministry). maybe it could be. but my gut says it would be better to put together a short-term group of people who have shown a level of spiritual maturity, grace (not demanding of their own opinions), and willingness to listen to god in prayer.

  11. Are you saying that because leadership/ministry teams don’t tend to have those qualities? :) I do think that people who are hands-on in ministry/leadership often look for the most practical way of doing things, instead of being willing to consider the most biblical/authentic way, because that often makes the job more challenging.

  12. Hey Marko, glad to hear it :-) Like I said, I’m basing my perspective on experience with other people around me, not so much what I know about what you teach and believe.

    Follow-up question – what do you mean by “listening to God?” Are you talking about the Bible, Bible and prayer, or just prayer? From my experience, it has been a term abused to allow the person to believe whatever they want to believe, even positions explicitly contrary to the Bible!

    Very quickly, if we were to make Churches more Biblical, it seems that we would need to drop youth group entirely and focus on families working together and loving one another. Youth Group hasn’t even been around for 200 years yet, mostly catching steam in the 1880s, so it is “new-fangled” in the scope of Redemptive History (same with Sunday School). Biblical culture begins with each Biblical sphere acting within its proper, divinely ordained scope. We see nowhere in the Bible youths getting together apart from the family structure in the same format of the modern youth group structure, unless you want to count 2 Kings 2:23-25 ;-)

    But it is hard to articulate the fullness of such a broad concept as culture with the limitations of this medium.

    I still recommend that book by Ken Meyers. :-)

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