We most commonly see this clashing of assumptions when two families are joined by marriage. In the movie Father of the Bride, the bride and groom come from two very different family backgrounds, values, and assumptions. We laugh at the ensuing conflict, but when it’s our own assumptions running into those of another person or group, it’s not as funny.
In a church context, underlying assumptions and their connected emotions gain even more power because we tend to spiritualize or theologize our own assumptions. That is, we think of them as morally and biblically right or wrong, even when they may just be reflective of different cultural values.
Clearly, church organizational culture is very complex. It is also both adaptive and resilient, able to mutate over time, yet resistant to quick change. Adding even greater complication is the fact that organizations have both a dominant culture and any number of subcultures, each with their own artifacts, values, and assumptions. Youth ministries are the most obvious example of subcultures within the church, but there are also less visible subcultures that develop in groups and ministries, often out of frustrations with the overall system.
Because organizational culture is so important ministry effectiveness, one of the key roles of church leaders is to create, manage, maintain, and change the culture. As you can imagine, that’s not always easy to do.
Read the second part of this article in which Angie Ward looks at the task of managing and even changing the culture of our churches.
Angie Ward is a ministry leader and professor. She lives with her pastor-husband, two teenage sons, and one spoiled beagle just outside Indianapolis.