I once decided to a do a small experiment with my extended church leadership team. I gave them a list of some of the programmes and activities we did as a congregation and included details such as where and when these took place. I then asked each of them to write why we did these things and what for.

Everything on the list sounded great, and some were extremely important to us as a faith community. However, we soon realised that many of us could not remember why certain programmes and activities had started. This didn’t mean they were bad things, just that we had been doing them for so long that people had forgotten their original purpose.

Often, I think these activities had been the passion of someone in leadership in the past. They had gone well as programmes or ideas at the start and people liked them – but then they just became part of the furniture. That furniture (idea/​programme/​style) is loved by some in the congregation, and indeed by some of the leadership team, but no one could remember why we did it. They are valued and take energy and capacity to maintain, but are they fit for purpose?

Having chatted to a variety of leaders of different ages, I found how quickly our thinking can become dominated by maintaining programmes, clubs, groups and formats. We keep the plates spinning as best we can because we know people like them, and we begin to use up more and more resource in order to sustain them.


This same domination of praxis can come in another way – what I would call the growing programme syndrome’. We start small with a few good quality things: perhaps youth club on a Friday night, gathered church on a Sunday – sometimes twice –children’s ministry another night, great worship, good small groups, pastoral care. People who attend our activities expect them to be good, so we hire gifted people to run them. Of course, we then have to have enough people providing financial support to then fund our staff – the more people, the more funding, the more staff. 

The challenge is, how do you make sure that what you were doing six months ago – or even longer still – is what God is asking you to do now? The temptation may be to pull back from the missional task and spend all our energy maintaining what we already have which seems to be going so well. However, as Hauerwas and Willimon point out in Where Resident Aliens Live,

"“The task of the church is not to retreat into its own enclave but to keep heading further out despite the dangers.”"

I am not criticising what we do, but rather trying to show how subtly we can get caught in the trap of maintaining praxis which shapes us without having the space to ask whether they are the right things to be doing, and whether they are what God is calling us into now.

I reckon there has never been a better time to stop and ask these questions:

  • Does what we are doing really reflect our visions and our values?
  • What might the Holy Spirit be saying to us as we move through this cultural, emotional and spiritual landscape?
  • Why are you the community of faith in your area in this generation?
  • What has God given you to do, and how?

Consider the values that shape your vision. There are some brilliant vision statements around; I am sure you have your own favourites. Personally, I like Ikea’s, To create a better everyday life for many people,” and Starbuck’s, – The premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow.”

There are also some great vision statements in faith communities. My question is what underpins the vision? What is the set of values that lead to the vision which we then attempt to implement? I would suggest that the implementation, though important (we do want to do things well), is the least vital of the three.

Values » Vision » Implementation » Maintenance 

Rather than:

Maintenance » Implementation » Vision » Values

Often, we spend most our time on maintaining or implementing, less on vision, and even less on looking at our values. In my view, everything must go back to the values. The implementation of vision and values will change from setting to setting, but the values that we live by are vital to who we are.. What are the values that are core to us as a team, that shape us and inform everything we are? Each individual and group may have different values. In my early days mine were:

  • Loving
  • Honouring
  • Passionate
  • Creative
  • Missional
  • Relational

I used to then check that my life and my ministry were being shaped by my values. With various groups that I have been part of since, I have tried to allow people to chat about values, but this is not always easy. We are seemingly more comfortable with doing stuff – the implementation and maintenance.

Even in my own life, I have become caught up in things that did not reflect my values. Without a strong sense of our values we have no foundation to build on and nothing to check that we are still heading in the right direction. In order to understand what values are most important to us, we need to spend time reflecting, praying, reading scripture and sharing with others. This is not a quick process, but it is a vital one.

In this season, as we move from lockdown into uncharted territory, we will be faced with the temptation to run straight back to what we did before – trying to implement what we think is now needed in order to maintain what we have always done. The pressure to get things back up and running will be immense as people will long for as much normal as they can get’. We may find ourselves very quickly returning to that praxis mode of implementing stuff while maintaining others. We could end up missing an opportunity to stop, reflect and take a bit of time to go back to our basics and check our values. In the epilogue of his book The Church and Cultures, Louis Luzbetak notes,

"“Other communities might be built on self-interest and on a variety of worthy, or conceivably even less worthy goals. Christian communities rest primarily on faith values.”"

Going forward there is a glimmer of opportunity to rediscover the values that have shaped us as individuals and as communities of faith, and to then use these values as a lens through which to view what we are doing. Does praxis really reflect both our vision and values? Do we need to recalibrate and give some things up in the light of our values? Could this difficult time be a God-given opportunity for personal and community transformation?

Rather than rushing to re-spin all the plates, let this be a chance to allow a few to stop spinning and to give space for more reflection and listening. It may be that in this time, where everything has changed, that we too have the chance to change and find transformation. Transformation is sometimes the fruit of pressure. In Reappearing Church Mark Sayers comments,

"“As we study how God brings renewal throughout history, we begin to see the pattern that crisis plays in renewal. A community may experience a natural disaster or war and be pushed back into God.”"

My hope is that rather than rushing back into the praxis that has been built around us, we can find space to pray, reflect and review the values that shape us and have shaped the vision for our community. It may be that reflecting leads us into some radical decisions that shape our future, leading to transformation and a new way forward. It will take courage and patience, but the one who has called us is faithful. 

We recognise that all growth comes from Jesus and that He is gracious and full of love and forgiveness. It is He who builds the church. Could it be that He is granting us space in these challenging days to listen afresh to the voice of the Spirit and to reflect upon what we are spending our time on?


  1. Make a list of the values that you think shape you, then make a list of the things you spend most of your time doing. How closely do they align?
  2. Are there things that you are doing and you can’t remember why you’re doing them?
  3. If you had more capacity, would you spend more time doing the things that you’re passionate about?
  4. Is there one simple change you could make that would bring you closer to your values and vision?