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
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
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
• 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
• 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
• 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