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“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”

Management guru “Peter Drucker” famously observes[1] that the culture of an organisation—that is, the beliefs or values held by the majority in that organisation—will thwart any attempt to implement a strategy if it is not compatible with it. It’s what employees believe and how they behave that really determines the future of an organisation—not the strategies of management. Plans fail because culture eats strategy for breakfast!

However, a thoughtful person will immediately recognise that it takes a strategy to create a culture! There can be a considered synergy between strategy and culture. And by God’s common grace, this can be helpful for ministry.

God’s Plans and Strategy

So, does God have plans?

Yes, he does! His plans revolve around Jesus, his beloved Son. He is besotted with his only begotten Son.

His design, which he set forth in Christ for the fullness of time, is “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” (Eph 1:10). Jesus is to be “the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29). He is the head of the body, the church (Col 1:18). Jesus is to be the pulsating centre of the Universe where “every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11).

Jesus is to be the pulsating centre of the Universe where ‘every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father’

What, then, is God’s infallible strategy to accomplish his plan?

It is the prayerful proclamation of Jesus Christ to all the nations through suffering.

Paul puts it this way:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col 1:28-29)

Please note that the “everyone” in v28 occurs three times. And it refers to everyone in this world. In a sense, this is Paul’s “great commission”. He has a global horizon because of the gospel.

Notice the other elements of this strategy

1. Proclaiming Christ

This is the essence of mission. This is what we pray our brothers and sisters will do in “gospel poor” parts of the world – in public and in private, in the market place, in the public square, in the writing of letters, or even before governors, and courts! We proclaim Christ!

2. Warning

Proclaiming Christ means “warning everyone” about the truth of Christ. Truth matters—even when it’s unpopular; even when it brings hostility.

3. Teaching

Proclaiming Christ involves “teaching everyone with all wisdom.” That means talking about Christ himself—in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3)—and it also means being wise in the way we proclaim Christ to different languages and cultures.

4. Purpose

Proclaiming this Jesus has a purpose – to “present everyone mature in Christ.” This will mean walking in Christ as their Lord, rooted and built up in him, established in the faith (the gospel!), and abounding in thanksgiving. (Col 2:6-7).

5. Struggling

Paul “struggles” to proclaim Christ (even from a prison cell!) and he does with Christ’s energy. This suffering is not redemptive like Christ’s, but it is—as John Stott so eloquently put it—“an indispensable link in the chain of their salvation”.[2]

So here is God’s infallible strategy to reach the nations. It is the prayerful proclamation of Jesus Christ to all the nations through suffering.

So here is God’s infallible strategy to reach the nations. It is the prayerful proclamation of Jesus Christ to all the nations through suffering.

Growing a Culture that Serves God’s Strategy

Here’s a corny (but memorable!) acronym to create culture: MAPSss

1. Modelling Gospel Flexibility

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor 10:31—11:1)

As Paul seeks “the salvation of many” (1Cor 10:33), he models a ministry lifestyle of gospel flexibility without ever compromising the gospel itself.

Paul commands us to imitate him.

Are you doing that? Is it reflected in your own prayers, and proclamation? Is it modelled in your hospitality? [3] If you are not modelling such behaviour, how can we expect others to do so?

2. Articulating right belief

Paul gets people on board by continually reminding them of the glory of God’s plan and the strategy for its fulfilment. He changes the cultural appetites of churches by articulating and rearticulating the purpose behind the strategy!

Fruitful gospel ministries constantly articulate their purpose:

  • Before every 9 Marks interview, we hear someone say: “ 9 Marks is a ministry dedicated to equipping church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the nations through healthy churches”.
  • Over at the Desiring God website, we keep being reminded that: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
  • TGC US begins its podcasts by stating its purpose to “renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Jesus Christ.”

How do we go when it comes to articulating the foundational aspects of God’s plan and strategy? Does it come through in our prayers? In the talks we give? The newsletters we produce?

Articulated Vision leaks. It needs to be regularly topped up.

3. Prayer

Hopefully, this is a no brainer. But, given the previous point, Can I gently ask if your prayers are aligned with God’s strategy in private and in public?

Do they reflect God’s strategy?

Do they even align with your own mission, values, and vision as understood by everyone in your ministry?

We are people utterly dependent upon God.

Do our prayers reflect that?

4. Systems

The systems—or organisational structures—produce their own cultural effect. The key is to understand the purpose of systems and set them up thoughtfully so that they serve God’s plan and strategy.

For example, in Acts 6, the apostles had to organise a “system” to ensure that the daily distribution of food to all the widows was fair, without compromising their time to preach the Word. So they prayerfully appointed seven men to help them. Similarly, Moses prayerfully recruited seventy elders to help him bear the burden of caring for Israel (Numbers 11).

If you find a church that has a welcoming culture, chances are that somebody in that church thoughtfully organised a system to help facilitate that culture.

If you find a church that has a welcoming culture, chances are that somebody in that church thoughtfully organised a system to help facilitate that culture. I know one church where teams are organised to meet newcomers at the car park and walk them into the church building, introduce them to members, and ensure they spend at least the first third of their time after the service with them. Small wonder visitors feel welcomed!

What systems are in place to ensure that your ministry is praying for global mission; for those suffering; for unreached people groups? Are there patterns that could be set up in Bible study groups,[4] or whole-church meetings?

Have you thought about ‘systems’ that encourage the proclamation of Christ in your own ministry? Are there courses that could be set up? Are your members being trained in how to share the gospel?

To grow a culture that serves God’s strategy, your system should also include stories, and (s)elebration!

5. Stories

In Joshua 4, Israel is told to gather 12 stones from the Jordan River and set them up as a reminder of what God did to keep his promises. In other words, they were to retell the story of how God kept his promises to get them into the Promised Land.

Memory shapes us, giving us a framework to interpret our present and also to move forward towards our future.[5] As one commentator put it:

A community without memory is caught on a cultural and historical island, surrounded by various currents, but lacking the ability to break out of the present and truly approach its future. [6]

Stories helpfully embody a culture and its underlying truths.

So do you tell stories regularly that align with God’s strategy? Do people in your church or group hear stories about people coming to Christ? Are there testimonies? Stories of prayer and prayers answered? Is there a culture of asking people how they became Christians? Are there stories to remind those you serve that suffering is the norm for God’s people?

6. (S)elebrate

Who can forget Israel celebrating in song after they crossed the Red Sea? (Ex 15). How can we not rejoice (with heaven!) when lost people are found? (Lk 15:1-10)

How do you foster a culture of celebration in your church? How do you celebrate when people turn to Christ? Have you thought of ways to celebrate what’s happening with the gospel throughout the world? Is praising God for his plan and strategy an important part of your ministry?

Conclusion

Culture can eat Strategy for breakfast. But here is a possible tactic to create a culture that serves God’s infallible strategy. Modelling, Articulating, Praying, and Systems that include stories, and (s)elebration.

May a culture aligning with God’s strategy be enjoyed with breakfast, lunch and dinner for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ!


[1] There is debate as to whether this is really a quote from Peter Drucker! See https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/05/23/culture-eats/

[2] John Stott – Cross of Christ p 321-322

[3] One of the most helpful (& challenging!) books on this subject is The Gospel Comes With A House Key by Rosaria Butterfield.

[4] See resources like the “Unreached of the Day” App: https://joshuaproject.net/pray/unreachedoftheday/app

[5] BST – Joshua – Firth p 53.

[6] Ibid p 53.

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