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A Cup of Java at the Ethos Cafe

Order a fine cup of coffee at a Starbucks and you can savor the aroma, taste, and body of the coffee. Your senses awaken to a subjective experience that brings you pleasure. That's ethos.

Ethos may be elusive, but the concept can't be ignored. The collective emotions of your group are a window into determining your ministry's health. A negative ethos indicates damaged volunteers, children, and parents. Kingdom work can be distorted by a contorted church culture. On the other hand, vibrant ethos is a sign of thriving and satisfied people -- from kids to frontline workers.

Ethos is like a cup of coffee.

Before you have an amazing java moment, many decisions, behaviors, and beliefs shape that cup of coffee. Someone had a belief about the perfect coffee-to-water ratio. Some decided that freshly ground coffee is superior to pre-ground coffee. You made a value judgement about how much money you're willing to spend on the experience. All of these decisions affect the responses your taste buds and olfactory nerves have. Each one of these decisions is vital. Choose differently and you may be having a cup of mud at a greasy diner instead.

Imagine that your children's ministry is a cup of coffee. What taste and aroma does your ministry give off? Would your kids, parents, and volunteers describe your ministry as a gourmet brew or as vending machine coffee? Just like a cup of coffee, your ministry's aroma is determined by behind-the-scenes values, behaviors, beliefs, and actions. Use these diagnostic questions to discover what's shaping your ethos. Be sure to answer how things actually are-not how you would like them to be or how they are in ministry brochures.

• What does your team celebrate? What gets your people excited? How does your ministry define success? What kinds of things make you throw a party?

• What does your team elevate? What are the values that your team champions? Excellence? creativity? safety? doctrinal purity? relationship? Bible memorization?
Core values define how ministry gets done. Over time, core values become the internal compass of your team.

• Who does your team appreciate? Who are the volunteers that are elevated as examples for others to follow? Who are the opinion-shapers in your group that either formally or informally lead the pack? Role models, positive or negative, are the first to suggest what the group's emotional reaction should be in any situation.

• What does your team evaluate? What gets inspected gets done. Peek in your files and look at the evaluation forms. Do you screen volunteers, evaluate staff, and measure teachers? How about safety reviews?

• What does your team eliminate? What is your team waging war against? Wooden teaching philosophies? insufficient budgets? grumbling and gossip? half-efforts for the kingdom? Every group has an "enemies list." What values, attitudes, or beliefs are the wolves you keep out of your fold at any cost?

Don't like all of your results? Don't be disheartened. You can manage your group's ethos-one behavior at a time. Erwin Raphael McManus' An Unstoppable Force is sure to be a dog-eared reference manual for anyone serious about creating a vibrant church culture that is capable of transforming the world.

Larry Shallenberger is a children's pastor in Erie Pennyslvania.

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