In his newly published book, Gospel-Centred Leadership, Steve Timmis discusses what he calls “by far the most important responsibility of leaders.” What is it?
“Every group, whatever its size or demographic, will naturally create its own culture within a short space of time. Those within the group will have a certain way of doing things and a certain way of relating to one another. They will have a certain outlook and set of expectations. Someone within the group, or one group within a larger group, will be particularly influential in that process of culture-creation. . . . An existing group will change its culture depending on the characters who come in. Leaders should therefore take the lead in creating a particular culture. If the leader isn’t setting the culture, he is not the ‘leader’–regardless of the title. Leaders need to know:
- what kind of culture they want to create
- what kind of relationship they want to see develop
- what kind of priorities they want to see people take on board
- what kind of expectations people are going to have of one another”
What Timmis argues is that every person in a leadership position should be proactive in creative, cultivating, and maintaining a gospel culture. He adds,
“What leaders need to do is create a gospel culture which will, always at some point, be at odds with the surrounding culture. . . . The ambitions and expectations of those outside the church will differ from those within the church: the gospel will shape those in the church instead of the tyranny of self. leaders need to take the lead in forming that gospel culture; it is not something that will happen naturally or inevitably.
This gospel culture not only needs to be created, but also sustained. A culture needs to be created where it is normal to know what the gospel has accomplished (the indicatives), and consequently how we are to live (the imperatives); a culture where people are constantly reminded of who they are in Christ. We need to remind on another of the essential truths of the gospel: that we are more sinful than we dare admit and more loved than we would ever dare believe. All the imperatives of the gospel (what we are to do) will flow out of these indicatives (what the gospel has accomplished). We will therefore forgive one another because we are forgiven much. We will want to be holy because we have been made in the image of God to be holy. These truths about who we are in Christ are going to be the main means by which leaders can shape a culture.
This is an important issue because our surrounding culture fights to shape and define us. If the gospel is the defining feature of a group, then people are pastored more easily and pointed to Jesus more effectively. Problems become more acute when anything other than the gospel is the defining feature.” (bold-face added, italicized original)
What Timmis highlights in this section of his book is an aspect of leadership I think many pastors overlook. The culture of a community is more than an event or service, though it certainly encompasses those. It is the air we breathe, the environment we inhabit, the governing spirit of the community ethic. In the work of bringing renewal and revitalization of a church, creating a gospel culture has to be one of the most challenging and yet most rewarding things gospel-centered leaders can do.
For what it’s worth, I shared a process of crafting culture through a triperspectival framework (Steve, if you read this, don’t hate!). It might be helpful in giving some practical tracks to moving toward a gospel-centered culture in your church.