Shifting Focus: From Operational to Cultural Priorities

Since becoming President of Winebrenner Seminary in December 2015, much of my time has been spent on day to day items required for operating a seminary. All of these items are guided by our mission and strategy and serve the greater purposes of God’s kingdom. Focusing on operational items has made sense in light of the internal challenges that were present when I arrived along with the external challenges of a global pandemic and changing role of higher education in North America.

At our off-site Quarterly meeting a few weeks ago, I shared that it is now time to shift to prioritizing organizational culture and recognize that healthy organizational practices emerge from a healthy culture.

Peter Drucker is credited with the statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” His point is that organizational culture always “wins” when there is conflict between various priorities. There are many definitions of culture – one helpful way to think about culture is provided by Andy Crouch in Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling where he writes, “Culture is what we make of the world – we start not with a blank slate but with all the richly enculturated world that previous generations have handed to us” (73).

There are times that culture can be aspirational in which we dream about what life could be like in the future. Think about someone like Martin Luther King Jr. speaking a particular kind of culture into existence with his “I have a dream” speech. However, we will often find that seeds of our culture are already present but we haven’t yet brought them together and named them clearly.

In the first few chapters of Genesis we see God’s power evident in creation. In Genesis 2:20, one of the first acts of Adam is to name the animals in God’s creation. Unfortunately, in our efforts to build and develop organizational cultures we often fail to name the important elements and miss an important step in the process of creation. Beginning next week, I am going to begin naming various elements of the culture of Winebrenner in an effort to identify the ways that God is at work in our midst. In many cases the seeds of this emergent culture are already present but haven’t yet been pulled together and named.

As Andy Crouch suggests in the above quote, we are not developing these elements out of thin air but are building upon our inherited narratives and traditions. The work of Jesus is central to all we do and, therefore, we will spend time anchoring each cultural commitment within the words of Jesus in the Bible. If culture is “what we make of the world” then there should also be evidence to demonstrate how the culture is lived out.

Returning to my opening point about shifting from operational to cultural priorities, I am not suggesting that operational priorities no longer have importance. What I am suggesting is that the next stage in our organizational journey is to recognize and name our culture and be willing to change our practices when they may veer from our cultural priorities.

  • Brent C. Sleasman, President
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