At some point, your values will change.
This is a good thing.
When I was growing up, I was incredibly insecure and had a hard time making friends. My primary value was to avoid the shame I felt when I failed to connect with others. By focusing on avoiding the shame of connection, I grew increasingly lonely.
For years, I was embedded in churches that focused on a set of “legalisms,” specific rules that couldn’t be broken. These mainly had to do with language, dress, sexuality and how often we showed up for church. By focusing on rules, I grew rigid and judgemental.
For many churches “success” means a growing number of bodies in seats on Sundays, and a growing budget. By focusing on the numbers, churches often go to ungodly lengths to gather more people.
For fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, Atheist, etc.) intellectual assent to core beliefs is essential to one’s identity. By focusing on right belief, fundamentalists often will excuse hurtful behavior.
Sadly, what often happens is that our ideals change but behavior does not.
We all know the truism that what you measure is what gets done. Whether we like it or not, our ideals often get trumped by our score card.
So how do we redefine a win when our values have changed? Here’s a five steps that I’ve found helpful:
1. Do some careful deconstruction
You can sometimes see when someone is working through a shift in values. They might become angry or depressed. They might go off the radar altogether.
Often, what is happening is a lot of internal deconstruction. When deconstructing you might ask questions like:
- What if the Bible isn’t what my church said it is?
- What if my self-righteousness has hurt other people?
- What if the organization we call “church” is an extension of Western market values?
Disentangling what you have believed is necessary for maturity. However, if given free reign, deconstruction can result in nihilism, or at least, a lot of bitterness.
The key is to not deconstruct alone. Find an outside voice, someone who has no “skin in the game” and can help guide you through the sadness, anger and shame to the meaning on the other side.
2. Find new heroes
When your values change, your heroes are called into question. Having someone you look up to is necessary to defining who you want to be.
Rather than simply writing off your heroes, or getting angry at them, find new heroes that represent part of what you want to be.
A few of mine are:
- Francis of Assisi, for his focus on gentle simplicity and self-sacrifice.
- Dallas Willard, for his commitment to the kingdom of God.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for using his intellect to take a stand on the great issues of his day.
- Brené Brown, for modeling how to speak honestly about shame.
- Seth Godin, for modeling how good marketing can help people.
Who are some of your heroes?
3. Define where you are and where you are going
When running or swimming, the most powerful movement takes place in the beginning. You set yourself firmly in place, then launch toward the goal.
You can’t just define a new win without honestly assessing where you are. For instance:
- Saying you will lose weight requires honestly assessing your current body composition
- Saying you will be a forgiving person will require that you assess your current capacity for forgiveness
- Saying you will be an evangelistic church requires assessing your churches comfort and skills regarding evangelism
You also have to have a clear idea of what it will look like when you succeed. For instance:
- Saying “I want to lose 30 pounds by December” is more actionable and measurable than saying “I want to lose some weight.”
- Saying “I want to forgive my neighbor for not mowing their lawn” is more actionable and measurable than saying “I want to be more forgiving.”
- Saying “Our church will be comfortable and equipped to share their faith” is more actionable and measurable than saying “We should be more evangelistic.”
4. Set process goals
If your win is only an end goal, it becomes tempting to cheat. How do you get past a “win at any cost” mentality?
One way is to set process goals, as well as end goals. In other words, finish this sentence:
“We know we are succeeding at ______ because we have accomplished the following ______.”
As Community Developer at Austin Mustard Seed, my end goal is to see our people become a “community of disciples on mission together.” We aim for process goals that help us grow in our sense of community, our personal discipleship, and our capacity for mission.
5. Welcome outside opinion
Finally, remember the words of Proverbs 15:22:
“Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail;
take good counsel and watch them succeed.”
The problem with having values and goals is that we can’t get out of our head. We can’t see how we look to other people. We will often lie to ourselves and say that we’re getting better.
This is a real danger if we want our lives to reflect our change of values. However, it is easily remedied by asking outsiders opinions.
Do whatever you have to—pay a therapist or consultant or secret shopper—to get an honest, outside perspective. Then reevaluate your process.
Our ideals shift, but not always our lives.