Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

Issues That Inform Our Values (Part 5)

Dr. Jim Osterhaus

Dr. Jim Osterhaus

We’ve been answering the question, Where do our competing values – all of those elements that make each of us so complex internally – come from? We noted first the family. Then we looked at our individual temperaments, and the Red Zone issues that emerge in each of us, then surface over and over again in our lives, especially in conflict, as we attempt to make sense of the key elements of a disagreement. Let’s look at additional elements.
Culture/tribal. Next we move to the cultural and tribal issues, those issues that our own particular culture milieu honors. These are elements of our value system that swirl around us constantly, usually quite outside of our awareness. We usually only become aware of these when we are in a different culture, and notice people acting and responding quite different from what we would expect.

American values. Much could be said about American values. In brief, values that surround those of us who are Americans include:

  • Frontier (always pressing toward new territory to be discovered, conquered, settled)
  • Individual freedom. Human equality
  • One’s own initiative (pulling myself up by my own boot straps)
  • Lone Ranger
  • Utilitarian. Pragmatists
  • Anti-fatalism (nothing’s preordained. I make my own future)
  • Belief that material and moral progress is possible
  • Faith in the benefits of education
  • Intense religiosity
  • Belief that individual economic exertion will generate wealth and material development.
  • Entrepreneur
  • Work ethic
  • Unlimited  resources and goods.

To be an American is to live and breathe these values, usually without ever taking them out and noting how they operate in each of our lives. But note how these begin to come in conflict with other equally valid values. Individual freedom comes directly into conflict with community considerations. Unlimited resources and goods comes into conflict with the need to conserve, that presently much of the world goes without, and many of the resources we enjoy are non-renewable.

Community values. Individual communities also have differing values. Realizing this somewhat of a gross over-simplification, several of our major metropolitan areas could be characterized by the following values:

  • Washington, D.C. Area = Power
  • San Francisco Bay Area = Money
  • Southern California = Image
  • Boston = Knowledge
  • Las Vegas = Fun, entertainment
  • New York = Cultural Sophistication

These particular values will shape the habits and actions of those who live there.

Ethnic values. My county, Fairfax in Virginia, is probably one of the most diverse counties in the world. Over 100 languages are spoken in the homes of our school children. Because of this, living here gives one an up close look at how the values of the various ethnic groups operate. Geert Hofstede and G. J. Hofstede, two Dutch anthropology professors, studied cultural values in 70 countries. Their subsequent book, Culture and Organizations, details how national cultures differ. The core of culture is formed by values, which include:

  • Evil vs. good
  • Dirty vs. clean
  • Dangerous vs. safe
  • Forbidden vs. permitted
  • Decent vs. indecent
  • Moral vs. immoral
  • Ugly vs. beautiful
  • Unnatural vs. natural
  • Abnormal vs. normal
  • Paradoxical vs. logical
  • Irrational vs. rational

We carry several layers of cultural programming from the national level to the regional/ethnic/religious level, the gender level, generational level, social class level, and finally organizational/departmental/corporate level.

The Hofstedes then looked at the five issues  that forms a core of values for each culture:

  • Inequality in society: The Power Distance dimension. In small power-distance societies there is limited dependence of subordinates on bosses, and there is a preference for consultation (interdependence between boss and subordinate). The emotional distance between them is relatively small; subordinates will rather easily approach and contradict bosses. In large power-distance societies there is considerable dependence of subordinates on bosses. Subordinates respond by either preferring such dependence (in form of autocratic or paternalistic boss) or rejecting it entirely, which in psychology is counter-dependence.
  • The individual and collective in society Individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. Collectivism pertains to societies in which people from birth onward are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetimes continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.
  • Masculinity-femininity as a dimension of social culture. A society is called masculine when emotional gender roles are clearly distinct: men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success. Women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life. A society is called feminine when emotional gender roles overlap: both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.
  • The (In)tolerance of ambiguity (uncertainty) How much uncertainty and ambiguity can a society tolerate?
  • Long and short-term orientation in culture. Long-term oriented cultures foster virtues oriented toward future rewards.

Short-term  oriented cultures foster virtues related to the past and present – in particular, respect for tradition, preservation of “face,” and fulfilling social obligations.

Professional values. E.g. military, medicine. People whose careers are in certain professions understand codes of ethics, which are often clearly stated. However, an underlying value system also exists within professions which guides the thinking and behaving of those who embrace those professions. As an example, those who have been in the military for many years begin to see the world through a particular ‘pair of glasses.’ National security is of prime importance. Critical questions are, Who the enemies of our nation? How could these enemies best be attacked and defeated if necessary?

Ministry issues. Through a cluster analysis of our national database on the Transforming Church Index (TCI), we have determined that there are five indicators that are most important to church health.  These key indicators also provide key value considerations.

  • 5 key indicators.
  1. Community. How church members relate to each other.  Unhealthy churches are a collection of individuals, while healthy churches relate as a community. The value proposition: Consumer vs. Community
  2. Code. The church’s genetic “code”. Unhealthy churches lack a clear identity, while healthy churches have a clear sense of their DNA and take steps to align their ministries and culture with their code. The value proposition: Incongruence vs. Code
  3. Leadership. The church’s leadership.  Unhealthy churches tend to be overly autocratic or bureaucratic, while healthy churches view leadership as a shared function and as a ministry. The value proposition: Autocracy vs. Shared Leadership
  4. Outreach. How the church relates to the local community.  Unhealthy churches disengage from the world around them, while healthy churches are focused on their mission and have an outward orientation that starts with their own locale. The value proposition: Cloister vs. Missional
  5. Change. How church members think about the future.  Unhealthy churches resist change and fear or deny the future, while healthy churches embrace change, even when it is painful. The value proposition: Inertia vs. Reinvention

Denominational values. Though denominationalism has weakened in the last generation, denominations still wield influence that is based on beliefs and values. Often these values are not aligned with the stated belief system that has nurtured the denomination through the years. As an example, self-preservation by denominational authorities may be the value that trumps all other espoused values within that particular denomination.

Political spin doctors and Madison Avenue advertisers know all about these value issues. Their messages are carefully crafted to appeal to us according to what we value (and what we value is carefully studied beforehand). But for even the casual observer of modern advertising, most marketing presented to us would have us violate one or more kingdom values with each product sold.
When we pray the Lord’s prayer and say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We begin to see all of the potential areas of competing values that begin to emerge.

We want to now begin to understand how these values interact and compete in our lives and keep us from living consistently.


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