Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

Culture Is More Important Than Vision

Years ago, I was a speaker at the “Breakthrough” Conference at The Church at Las Vegas, with Pastor Benny Perez. It was a pastor’s conference, and one of the featured speakers was Dr. Sam Chand, who’s a highly respected leadership consultant for a number of major churches and ministries around the world. Sam specializes in leadership and management issues, and is a great coach for churches in need of organizational advice and help. One of the things Sam said that made the entire trip worth it for me was:

Culture is More Important Than Vision.

Normally, when we talk about churches, ministries, and non-profits, we focus on vision. Yes, vision is important – even critical. Vision sets the rulebook, and tells us where the organization is going, and the impact it can have. But at Cooke Media Group, we’ve had a number of clients over the years that had a powerful vision, led by strong leaders who’s vision was frankly amazing.

But the culture in their organization was toxic.

For a number of reasons, they had created a culture of fear, distrust, and strife. Employees didn’t like each other, people didn’t respect the leader, critics were everywhere, infighting ruled, and very little was actually accomplished. The vision was there, but the culture undermined everything. I’ve never really heard it put that way, but the minute Sam said it, it really resonated with my experience.

Culture is more Important Than Vision.

It’s worth repeating. No matter how important, original, or significant your vision is, if you can’t create a culture in your organization that fosters creativity, innovation, teamwork, and fun, it’s not worth doing. Because no matter how great the vision, if the culture doesn’t work, the vision will fail.

What about your culture? What’s the attitude you’ve created in your own organization? Think about it…


  1. Culture without vision would be like the unemployment line. 

    That said a culture will exist, intentionally or otherwise. The "toxic" culture develops the guilt-ridden devotees, and the constant turnover in talent and resources. Little new growth, and even less impact can occur in such a poisoned atmosphere.

    Well said Dr. & Dr.


  2. The point is, BOTH are important.  But too many people rely on vision alone, and forget about culture.  But many of my readers right now are experiencing situations on the job with a leader who has a wonderful vision, but the culture is horrible.  Nothing good comes out of that…  And by the way – it's not always that the leader doesn't care.  Most don't even think about it.

  3. Phil,

    Truer words were never said.  This is the area of my focus with 20 years of experience as a Pastor, District Official, Church Administrator, Church Board Chairman and more recently in Masters level training in Organizational Leadership.

    Churches and parachurch ministries, I think have a blindspot in this area to my observation and experience.  There is an unspoken expectation that because the Church is "the Church" Church staff will magically come together and work sacrificially because of the importance of the mission and the fact that working for the Church is more than a job, it's a calling.

    Pastors, especially in larger churches and organizations come prepared with seminary training and some life experience, but it amazing to me how many expect that just because they lay out a remarkable vision that everyone is going to fall in line and support them.

    I've seen pastors neglect their staff, create a culture of fear with the "weeding out" of staff they've inherited, set an example of a closed door policy making themselves inaccessible and any number of classic mistakes and then be surprised when they find staff members expressing agreement and support with them while undermining them.

    These are good pastors as well who are attempting to do good.  Many however shoot themselves in the foot by imagining that the organizational culture will just form itself.  It will.  If it's not molded and shaped deliberately however, more often than not, the result will be toxic and counterproductive.

    There's no set roadmap as to what will work in every situation.  Some pastors and leaders will come in from a successful experience in one setting and imagine that if they do the same things in the new setting, they'll get the same result.  Maybe.  But not always.  Prayer, discernment and listening to those there are crucial.

    Vision is crucial.  Without the culture tied in and supporting that vision, the vision will be seriously impaired.

  4. It's amazing to me how someone's vision can be quickly poisoned by the wrong type of culture. Where does an atmosphere of fear, distrust and strife begin? I believe it has to do with misperceptions of leaders, mostly due to poor organizational communication skills. CEOs and presidents, and all leaders for that matter, are supposed to be great communicators, yet when it comes to understanding their organizations, most need work on listening and responding to their employees' complaints. In many ministries I have seen, it seems like the main problem is employees believe that they will be fired if they say anything about problems they are having in their job. Of course, their superiors don't help to alleviate this fear, either. Employees feel trapped and cornered in their job and resentment builds until they're on the local news talking about everything that's "wrong" with their ministry. These ministry leaders need to wake up and realize there are problems; everything can always be done better. This is not necessarily a bad thing. You are not admitting that God is not in your ministry; you are admitting you are human. Encourage an open door policy. God can create a better work atmosphere through complete openness.

  5. Wow, the previous posts have been filled with great wisdom & insight. I hope there are church/parachurch leaders that are reading what Bart, Ryan and others just said. Because it's an operational manual on the importance of listening, leading, responding, communications, adapting, etc.

    Most recently I worked for a mega church with a great pastor. However, he had a closed door policy meant to protect his time to wait on God and hear His Voice for messages & inspiration. Partially understood as his time was precious. But he was slow to make decisions, often taking months to make up his mind on key isues that often were time sensitive. He traveled worldwide virtually every month, so he was unavailable for communication and input. So in the vacuum of non decision-making, other staff made choices independently with the words, "I know what Pastor would want." Not a good plan. Also, the church culture was based on promoting the faithful over the competent, so some leaders rose to their positions not based on talents & abilities but on just smiling and outlasting others (or having the same last name as pastor). The longer they stayed, the more entrenched they became. Inertia set in. Decisions delayed. Frustration mounted. Staff felt they weren't listened to. The culture became passive/aggressive: lip service to requests, inaction in carrying it out. Dangerous ground. And, if you pointed out a problem, this was viewed as disloyalty. You ended up fired for having a "bad attitude" when your true desire was simply to "get it right."

    Phil's point is so valid: CULTURE (and vision) is important. What is the culture of your group, ministry, organization? Napoleon said it well – " There are two levers to move men: FEAR…or INTEREST. Which lever are YOU using?

  6. So basically we must guard the vision, but we have to make sure the culture agrees with the vision, and is enhancing the possibilities of the vision to become a reality, right?

    Now, what if 1 person is cancer (using Dr Chand's terminology) to the culture? Do we completely get rid of that person? or do we ignore that person hoping they will understand the culture we are creating -or already have created- does not accommodate to who they are?

    It was great to have at the Breakthrough conference, I will keep reading your blogs!!

  7. Phil, thankyou for this exceptional blog and the following comments reveal the benefits of "kosher" Christian blogging.  It emphasizes the positives of intelligent rhetoric contrary to previous posts characteristic of secular tabloids.  You have shown that Christians need not lower their convictions to the world's standards.

    We are to effect change in the world, not the world effecting change in us.  When Christians purpose to dialogue as N. T. believers with Paul's guidelines as our benchmark, then we set ourselves apart as intelligent, spiritual communicators of the Gospel…via the media or otherwise. 

  8. People as "cancer". 

        I have a problem with dehumanizing people.  In my experience it's a rare individual who can't be built up and made part of the team.  This of course presumes that the team is composed of mature, emotionally perceptive people. 

        If the culture of the group is genuinely wholesome, the group should be able to smooth the interface between the new person and the others.  The worst problems I've seen have been when the group interactions are not healthy, just superficially nice.  Growing to embrace someone new requires real sanity.

        It's sometimes necessary to adjust to new ways of communicating, and to have a conversation or two that pulls you out of your old comfort zone.  Basically, if you think you have a problem with someone, and you've told everyone but the "problem person", then you're the problem person!  This is a hard one for some groups to swallow.  If your group has failed to assimilate someone, and you've discussed this with everyone but the subject, then you're all guilty of mobbing.

        It has been my special privilege to work time and time again with people others consider difficult.  I find most problems don't extend much beyond the first frank private conversation.  If they do, then it's time to bring another mature Christian into the discussion.  This is the way interpersonal conflicts get solved.  If your group doesn't know how to do this, then the new guy is not your problem. 

         My congregation recently lost a member who had been in the church for half a century.  This person was credited with all manner of truly awful acts.  While it is sort of a relief not to face the amazingly nasty tantrums and sly manipulative gambits, I can't give the rest of us a pass on responsibility.  We all needed to "grow a spine"!   We also needed to be a bit more perceptive when it came to buying into nasty little schemes.  This person may have been at the nexus of trouble, but if the rest of us had functioned properly  it would not have been a problem. 

       The individual may be gone, but that just means there's a vacancy.  If the rest of us don't grow up and learn how to face down temper tantrums and see through manipulative gambits, the new "problem person" will show up in a manner of weeks!  As it is, I am prayerfully hopeful that we'll function in a more healthy fashion in the years to come. 

    In a nutshell, cancer does not occur in an otherwise healthy body.

    In Christ,

    E. Conley 


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