Clash of Culture

We had a leader in our church named Joe. Joe was really great at systems. He could look down a pew and know exactly how many seats were left and could position it so twelve people could fit in a space meant for ten. Joe had a wonderful talent for organizing and led our usher team with great efficiency, but he had a major issue. He wasn’t connecting to the rest of the volunteers. Try as he might, the other ushers who served with him would not respond to his efforts. From all appearances, Joe was a skilled leader, but he was unable to rally volunteers to his cause (despite their shared vision and goals).

Where was the disconnect?

Joe’s leadership style wasn’t compatible with the culture of the church.

One of the main reasons people serve is for the chance to connect and interact with others. Volunteering at church is a social experience, where people take the time to encourage and share with each other, and serving teams almost function like a small group where people are invested in team member’s lives. The no-nonsense leadership style of Joe was clashing with the very purpose of our volunteer team.

Time and again, I see this happen not only in churches but in organizations. Someone is given a position of authority but their leadership style does not mesh with the culture of the company, and EVERYONE feels it.

So, what was the solution?

You can’t exactly fire a volunteer. It’s one thing to reprimand a staff member, but when it comes to replacing someone who is working for free everything gets more complicated. This tension between the leader’s behavior and the culture of the organization will eventually cause your system to break. Either the culture will slowly shift toward the leader’s behavior, or the leader must conform to the culture of the organization. Church leaders have to be proactive, or the culture will change without them. How do you change the leadership style and behaviors of your leaders to match the culture of the church?

Evaluate your Environment

Before trying to change a leader’s behaviors or leadership style, we first need to understand the culture of our church so we can direct their actions to line up with our desired environment. What is your culture? Friendly, inviting,

Shift Expectations

Leadership development is context sensitive, so there is no one perfect style that works for all churches. What works for one church may not translate to the next. This is why understanding YOUR culture and YOUR leaders are so important. Find out what works for your church and focus on a leadership program that meets their unique needs. Don’t give in to the temptation to mimic what a successful church is doing. They may have a great system, but remember that their culture is a mixture of environment, people, beliefs, background and a ton of other contributing factors that work with their leadership style. Your situation is unique to your people and copying a style that doesn’t match your situation is not only harder for your leaders, but can be unhealthy for your church.

Create a Coaching Culture

As the leadership in the church, you set the thermostat of the rest of the organization. Believe it or not, your leaders are taking their cues from you. Who you are as a leader influences the culture of the church and trickles down to the rest of your team. How can your leaders mimic your style if they are not spending time with you? Whether you have a volunteer team of 2, 200, or 2,000, your top leadership needs to be actively engaged and spending quality time with key leaders in the ministry.


Christina Angelakos has a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. She loves working with teams in both the corporate and nonprofit marketplace. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaAngel

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