I recently received an invitation from Aubrey Malphurs (Church Consultant; Author; Founder of The Malphurs Group) to be part of a “launch team” in preparation for the release of his new book, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture. I agreed to participate. I am very glad I did.
There were at least a couple of reasons I said “yes” to this invitation. First, as is the case for most pastors, I am a bibliophile. Asking a pastor if he wants a free book is like asking a monkey if he wants a free bunch of bananas. Second, and more importantly, the timing was perfect for me. I am just six weeks into my tenure as lead pastor at Central Baptist Church in Henderson, NC. So, the timing could not have been better for me. I was already trying to discern my new church culture. So, this offer was too good to pass up.
Malphurs clearly states his goal in writing this book. He writes, “The primary purpose of this book is to help current and emerging leaders explore how to form spiritually healthy organizational cultures in the context of church planting, church revitalization, and church adoptions” (8). In order to accomplish that purpose, Malphurs lays out the book in three parts.
In Part 1, Malphurs discusses “The Basics of Congregational Culture.” He starts here based upon the following belief: “To effectively minister to people in a culture, whether it’s a church or parachurch organization, we must understand culture in general and organizational culture in particular” (13). In order to help the reader understand organizational culture, Malphurs uses the analogy of an apple. The “peel” represents the organizational culture’s behaviors – what they are actually doing. The “flesh” of the apple represent’s the culture’s values – the “constant, passionate shared core beliefs that drive and guide the culture” (40). The “core” of the cultural “apple” is the culture’s beliefs. A leader must understand, and know how to recognize, each of these within a culture because, as Malphurs notes, one’s culture is behavior-expressed, values-driven, and beliefs-based. Part 1 ends by helping the leader know how to exegete his culture. This is critical as “Exegeting our culture helps us understand it, discern what is good and bad about it, and know how to minister well to those who are a part of it” (78).
Part 2, “Reading Congregational Culture,” helps the reader read not only his organizational culture, but also his own personal culture as well; i.e., his own behaviors, values and beliefs which, likely, have been shaped to a large degree by his previous church experiences as either a participant or church leader. Malphurs points out the necessity of comparing one’s personal culture with one’s organizational culture in order to ensure a cultural compatibility between the organization and its leader. While there may not need to be a perfect compatibility between the culture of the leader and culture of the organization, a large divergence between the two cultures will likely result in unfruitfulness at best and a disastrous outcome at worst.
In Part 3, “Shaping Congregational Culture,” Malphurs seeks to apply the previous sections to three major church contexts – new church plants, existing/established churches, and dying churches. While there are some similarities for implementing cultural change in these contexts, there are also some unique elements that need to be considered within each church context.
Malphurs does not simply give the reader some theoretical principles, leaving the reader to figure out how best to apply these principles in real life. The almost 60-page “Appendices” section contains sample documents, questionnaires, and checklists the reader can use in applying the principles outlined in the book. Throughout the book, the author points the reader to these resources, showing the reader how these assessment/implementation tools can be used in his ministry context.
This book will be extremely helpful for several groups of people. First, prospective pastors and Pastoral Search Committee members would both benefit from this book. It will help both the potential candidate and the church understand the importance of exegeting each other’s cultures in order to determine if there would be a good cultural fit. Existing pastors will also benefit from this book. The book will help them understand their own personal culture as well as the culture of the churches they serve. While some might be inclined to think they already understand their culture, it is more like that many pastors are so busy with the demands of ministry that they have not even thought about the organizational cultural issue and its impact on the effectiveness of church ministry.
Some pastors will not be interested in a discussion of church or organizational culture, failing to see the importance of such “secular” concepts in their “spiritual” ministry context. Those who hold such a perspective are likely those who represent the 80 percent of pastors leading the stagnant or declining churches Malphurs frequently references. Those who avail themselves to this resource – whether a pastor seeking a new ministry assignment, a pastor of an existing church, a church planter, or even a search committee looking for a new pastor – will benefit from the ministry/leadership counsel and experience this book affords. I pray the author’s objective in writing will become reality – “to shape or form cultures that honor Christ and spread the gospel” (199).
Read this book, digest its contents, and put it into practice – for the glory of God and the building up of His church.
(I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for writing this unbiased review.)