What churches say about values vs. what they do

Church mission and valuesI’m a big fan of Chris Argyris and his way of seeing the world. One of his ideas regarding organizational theory that I think will find a unique home in the church is Espoused Theory vs. Theory-In-Use.

An Espoused Theory is the world view and values people believe their behavior is based on.

A Theory-In-Use is the world view and values implied by their behavior, or the maps they use to take action.

Put more plainly, the espoused theory is the beliefs about how and why the organization works the way it does and the theory-in-use is the way we actually live, interact, or function as an organization.

As a consultant, when I interview individuals within an organization people are more likely to give you their espoused theory. It’s not until you dig deeper into the actual decisions that they’ve made that gives you their theory-in-use which is often a very different thing.

We all do this but are often unconscious that we are doing it.

In the church there are plenty of things that we say we believe but live differently as individuals and as a community.

The most obvious place we notice this in the church is when it comes to sin or ways our lives fall short of God’s best. We proclaim faithful living yet quite differently. It might be helpful to note that I’m not just talking about sin, but also mission.

Why does your the church exist? The way most people answer will likely be an espoused theory, a.k.a. a mission statement. But if you dig deeper and can disconnect a bit emotionally from your context, my guess is that your theory-in-use would be quite different from your espoused theory.

A few years ago Lyle Schaller, the great church consultant (and UMC pastor), said of his denomination that the UMC says it wants to reach people and grow churches, but it appears as if their strategy is to make their churches as small as possible and pull out of all major cities in the northeast. Pretty harsh stuff.

This is the nature of a learning organization. Churches who learn about themselves and reflect on their own lives are more likely to make changes that actually lead to transformation.

What actually happens in your community? What are people consumed by? What do they spend their money and time on? What do you spend your time doing?

What is your espoused theory in your church? Your marriage? Your family? Your friends?

If a insightful stranger were to observe your life and assess what you really believe as an individual or community, what would they say, based on the way you actually live?

What comes to mind as you read this? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Posted on June 8, 2011

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