The Mighty Mouse Trap II:Core Values

June 20, 2007 — Leave a comment

Core values: We all have them. If I were “freudian,” I would say the part of the iceberg that is above the water line–the smallest part, the part that we can see–represents our actions. The bigger part–the part below the surface, the part we can’t see, the part capable of sinking the Titanic–represents our core ideology. According to Collins & Porras core ideology consists of an organizations core purpose and core values.

One of the biggest contributions of the purpose-driven movement has been the emphasis on articulating purpose statements for church organizations. As a result we have taken our staffs on 3 day retreats devoted to hammering out purpose statements. And like many other churches we have come up with purpose statements that look very similar. They are similar because the Bible is pretty clear on the purpose of the church. The Biblical church has a dual purpose: evangelize the lost and disciple the saints. Many churches have articulated this in different ways, but the purpose of the church is unchanging in whatever way it is worded. Whether we say the purpose of the church is “to lead people in a growing relationship with Christ,” or to “turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ” , or “reaching seekers; building believers” or “To bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them to Christ-like maturity, and equip them for their ministry in the church and life mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name” or “the purpose of the church is to glorify God (Ephesians 3;21) by building itself up in the faith (Ephesians 4:13-16), by instruction of the Word (2 Timothy 2:2, 15; 3:16-17), by fellowship (Acts 2;47; 1 John 1:3), by keeping the ordinances (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:38-42) and by advancing and communicating the gospel to the entire world (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8; 2:42)” or “Spreading a passion for the supremacy of GOD in all things, for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ” the Biblical church has a dual purpose: evangelize the lost & disciple the saints.

Church purpose statements are not that interesting. In fact, I am not convinced that purpose statements have been really effective in guiding what a church does and doesn’t do. You may have recognized some of the statements above. In order, they are the purpose statements of Northpoint Community Church; Willow Creek; Willow Creek Association Brand Logo; Saddleback Community Church Purpose; Grace Community Church, Sun Valley California—Pastor John MacArthur; Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minesota—Pastor John Piper. If you are somewhat familiar with what is happening on the church scene you are probably familiar enough with the above churches to know that while the purpose statements have all of the key ingredients the churches they represent have widely differing views on doing church If you look closely at the statements you will be able read between the lines enough to see that there are philosophy of ministry tidbits expressed in their word choice. However, the average person would be hard pressed to recreate Northpoint, or Grace Community Church with their purpose statements alone. The reason why is because the brevity of a purpose statement prevents the articulation of the core values of a church. And it is the core values that guide how the purpose of the church is carried out.

On a side note. It has become very popular to talk about Biblical worldview. I think that core values can be understood in a similar way. We all have a worldview, whether we think we have one or not. We don’t have a choice in not having one, only whether our worldview will be well thought out or not. Core values are the same way. We all have them as individuals. Core values shape the way we view the world and how we react to particular situations. Core values help us prioritize what we do. They also draw us to others and to other organizations that share our core values. I also believe that an individual’s core values don’t really change–they are discovered. An organization’s values, while more malleable than an individual’s, are also strongly resistant to change. They are only malleable in organizations because an organization’s values are lived out by the individuals that comprise it. Individuals can be replaced. However, for those who have tried, changing the core values of an organization is like rearranging a cemetery.

We have all seen dozens of value statements for businesses. What retail business, for example, doesn’t value customer service? We all know that businesses value customer service because they value making a profit. But when was the last time you saw a value statement that reads: we value integrity, raking in the dough and customer service? You probably won’t ever see one like that. Also, when did a value statement at MacDonald’s ever guarantee an experience marked by great customer service? Value statements are ineffective if the individuals that make up the organization value other things more. In such cases the value statements on the wall are only aspirational–they are dreams–that may often by trumped by the true core values of the individuals running the organization.

In church world we have also seen many value statements. Many of them look remarkably the same, and yet the churches look remarkably different. This happens when the individuals that comprise the church value other things more. Often what is written on the wall is not happening down the hall. In such cases there are obviously some values that are more core and assumably not expressed in the value statement. These values are guiding what the church does and doesn’t do. For example, what church doesn’t say they value evangelism? Yet, church attendance, conversions and baptisms have been declining nationally for the past 50 years. Last year the Southern Baptist Convention reported that 7000 churches in its own denomination didn’t baptize a single person. 3000 churches baptized only one person. What is happening in a denomination that has historically placed such a high value on evangelization? Because what is on the wall is not happening down the hall in this denomination, such realities beg the question. What do the people of the church value more? What are we going to do about it?

While the answer to that question is beyond the scope of this post, let me turn this back toward the direction of the discussion started in The Mighty Mouse Trap. I am not going to go into a lot of detail about what is really at the core of the “outreach” church’s values in this post. I want to dig into what the “teaching” church values. As we said before, both church models say they value discipleship and evangelism. Yet, they have very different ways of doing it. So what values are really shaping the way the “teaching ” church does church?

A friend of mine, John Turner, who has some great thoughts on church, posted something I believe is apropos in this discussion. You can visit his site at He writes:

Are you a minister (focused on “insiders”) or an evangelist (focused on “outsiders”)?

Every church has to make a decision about this. You can do a lot of work with both insiders and outsiders in mind, but eventually those two core values will come into conflict and one will have to win out. Which will it be?

In other words, you can have one of the following two goals:

  • We will reach as many new people as we can while our energy is primarily focused on keeping as many of the people we already have


  • We will keep as many of the people we already have while our energy is primarily focused on reaching as many new people as we can

One of these sees ministry (keeping insiders) as the end and mission (reaching outsiders) as the means. The other sees mission as the end and ministry as the means.


I think John is on the right track. I believe that the “teaching” church model largely sees the mission as a means to doing ministry (i.e. the teaching church expends most of its energy trying to keep as many people as it can while reaching as many people as it can.) The “outreach” church sees mission as the end and ministry as the means. (i.e. keeping as many people as they already have while focusing on reaching as many new people as they can.) To take this a step further, I believe that there are some other core values that create this sort of prioritization. Both of these–ministry & mission or discipleship & evangelism–are core–but what is it that prioritizes these for the respective models?

Let me end with a few quotes that I think summarize the value that makes mission serve ministry in the teaching church. In the introduction to the book Future Grace, John Piper writes: “. . . this book is driven by the conviction that right thinking shapes right living” (Piper 12). I might add that most teaching pastors believe teaching the right information is what shapes right thinking, that shapes right living. Another pastor has put it like this “Our capacity to praise and trust God is dependent upon our understanding of His essential nature. . . . the more you know about God, the more you understand his nature, the more you understand what He is trying to do in your life and mine, then the more we can praise Him and serve Him.” I.e. what you know shapes how you live. And what you know is shaped by what is taught.

The full implications of this value will require greater discussion, but I want to end with one thought. C.S. Lewis once said that he would rather play cards with a gentleman than with a philosopher. For, the gentleman would be bound by his honor not to cheat while the philosopher would only be bound by his knowledge.

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