Stewardship Resource

Lifestyle vs. Culture

Article  Article
  • Author: Jonathan Reitz has worked with over 500 congregations nationwide in areas of stewardship, leadership development, and coaching of congregations and individual leaders.
  • Updated: 12/02/2009
  • Copyright: Stewardship Resources, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631. Any part of Salt Seasonings can be reproduced for local use with attribution.

Text: Proverbs 4:11-19
Leadership Style:  Thoughts about Transforming a culture


Lifestyle vs. Culture
Jonathan R. Reitz,  Salt Specialist

Text:Proverbs 4:11-19b
I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
When you walk, your step will not be hampered;
and if you run, you will not stumble.
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.
Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of evildoers.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know what they stumble over.

Opening Questions

  • How would you describe your congregation's culture?
  • What factors make up your congregation's culture?
  • What other cultures are you a part of personally?
  • If you wanted to change your congregation's culture, how would you do it?

    The topic of Culture is frequently discussed in magazine articles and television programs.  It's not too far a reach to say that culture in American society has become a business.  We have a commitment to a certain kind of culture that shows up in orchestras, museums and other community institutions.  Every community or social group has a culture of it's own.  That culture has implications for both the way the culture operates today as well as in the future.  Culture is a powerful force in any organization.

In the 2001 Merriam-Webster dictionary, this force of culture is defined as "the customary set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices or  beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group."  To describe culture in a way that might sound familiar to our Lutheran tradition would be to say culture is "the way we've always done things."

Notice that the dictionary definition describes "a set of shared attitudes".  More than one individual makes up a culture.  And how do attitudes come to life?  In our behaviors and decisions.  Cultivating or shaping that list of attitudes--as well as guiding member's behaviors and decisions as a reflection of those attitudes--is one way to change the culture of a group or society.  Now we've expanded the particular pieces that make up a culture to include attitudes, behaviors and decisions.  Communities of faith could also include beliefs.

An opportunity lies in those particular qualities:  by examining the various pieces a culture could be changed!   The first step would be to inventory the exact makeup of that set of shared attitudes.  Every ELCA congregation would have certain things on the list--Lutheran theology centering on Word & Sacrament, for example--but there would also be things that are unique to each individual congregation.  What would make up that list in your congregation?

Here are some questions to jumpstart the process:

  • What type/style of dress or fashion does your congregation embrace?
  • What worship style is most widely accepted?
  • What kind of language does your congregation use during prayer?  Worship?  Over a cup of coffee?
  • What is the reaction to new ideas when those ideas are introduced?
  • What traditions does your congregation have?
  • What attitudes might your congregation want to develop?
  • What qualities do your mission/vision statements point to?  How well does your congregation actually deliver those qualities?

Cultures are always evolving, but a true cultural shift happens in incremental movements.  What would happen in your congregation if the cultural qualities you wanted to emphasize were systematically included in every planning decision your congregation made?

But including a cultural orientation in planning and decision making could pose a problem if you culture doesn't match your congregation's sense of mission.   For example, what would happen if your congregation's mission statement included a line about being "a welcoming church to people of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds" but based on results your congregation just wasn't very friendly?  In this case, the planning would have to include a particular emphasis on the behaviors that keep the congregation from being friendly.  Psychology tells us that when behavior changes so does our thought process--and vice versa.  Continuously communicating the part of the congregation's mission statement that talks about being welcoming would be a good start, but so would a temple talk that demonstrates some friendly behaviors.  By including both, cultural change could be encouraged on two levels.

But let's not overlook a key component:  each element of change happens on an individual level.  In the example above, individuals becoming more friendly to new visitors eventually has the result of the congregation's culture becoming that of a "friendly church".  As more individuals become aligned with the new attitude or behavior, the strength of the new culture grows.  An individual decision results in a renewed culture.

The collected decisions we make every day make up our lifestyle.  Lifestyle concerns include what part of town we live in, how we decide to live our faith, financial decisions and time management decisions.  Others are our personal attitudes, values, goals, social skills, and material traits.  When we look at these characteristics as a part of larger group--say a congregation--we can identify and evaluate what we personally contribute to that group.  We can also identify whether we belong in that group.  (Whether or not an individual can fit into a culture is the crucial determiner of a culture's future.)

So a congregation that wants to change it's culture might begin by addressing the individual lifestyles of it's members.  Let's go back to the not-so-friendly congregation:  An adult class that focuses on hospitality and fellowship might be an opportunity or the stewardship team might decide to grow a friendly culture by developing a name tag ministry that emphasizes each individual's first name.

Further Reflection

  • What are the strengths of the culture of your congregation?
  • What areas of your congregation's culture might be improved?  What lifestyle suggestions might your team plan?
  • What role does wisdom and obedience to God's plan play in growing a culture?  How about a lifestyle?
  • Describe your current lifestyle.  What kinds of cultures to you contribute to?  What kind of culture would you help build if everyone involved had the same beliefs, attitudes and behaviors as you?
  • What is your congregation's culture of giving? 
  • How might that change with some attention to individual lifestyle?
  • How could you grow a culture of generosity?

Stewardship Resources, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631. Any part of Salt Seasonings can be reproduced for local use with attribution.

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