There’s a famous quote often attributed to Peter Drucker (a management/business thinker), “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” 

Anyone who has been a manager or run a company knows this to be true. You can have the best product or service available, but if you have a negative culture in your organization you will most likely fail. Culture isn’t only a secular concept. Culture is in our stakes, wards, quorums, and auxiliaries across the world. It’s a question of what type of culture you have—positive or negative. Forming and developing culture is the never-ending task of leadership—especially lay leaders in the LDS Church.

Doctrine Can’t Help People Who Don’t Hear It

Of course, we have authority from God delegated to man in order to perform priesthood ordinances, we have keys to direct that priesthood, and clarified doctrine that can enrich the lives of all who will take the gospel message into their hearts, have faith in Christ, repent of their sins, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and continue to make other new and everlasting covenants. In essence, our doctrine is our strategy. Do we really need to worry about culture when we have truth, authority, and ordinances?

That is exactly where leaders fail to lead because they discount the influence of culture.

I’ve seen example after example of this concept on Leading Saints. A few weeks ago Ryan Gottfredson published a remarkable article title An LDS Leader’s Guide to Millennial Mormons where he addresses how to effectively shepherd Millennials in order to stop the decreasing retention rate in the Church.

Many positive comments and thoughts were added to that article—many of which helped me broaden my perspective on the topic. Other readers shared their view with a very reprimanding tone. It was shocking to read how many individuals were interpreting the article to say the author was requesting the Church change doctrine and bend over backward to appease this younger generation. Comments similar to “Millennials need to REPENT!” or “The Church never changes!” or “Millennials just need to follow the prophet!” started to post next to the article. I quickly realized those commenting were thinking it was a problem that could be solved by shouting doctrine rather than creating a positive culture.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Similar to businesses strategy, problems like this can be solved by doctrine. We have all heard the famous quote by President Boyd K. Packer, “The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” But what if some never feel comfortable enough to put themselves in places where they hear the doctrine, let alone study it? What if the culture of an LDS community, ward, quorum, or auxiliary is so blind that the outsider never wants to approach the well to drink? 

I’m not talking about ward culture so negative that members are blatantly mean (I doubt this is ever the case). I’m talking about a culture that is so subtle that people don’t realize they are sending a message to others of “you don’t belong here.” Or we hold on to doctrine so tight that our only solution is to bear the strongest testimony when in reality they don’t hear us because they don’t feel a part of us. Doctrine is truth, not hypnosis.

Doctrinal vs. Cultural Mormonism

This topic of culture was also addressed in an engaging BYU Education Week class I attended in August of 2017 called, “Help Thou Mine Unbelief: Supporting Those We Love through Crises of Faith.” In this class, the professor used the dichotomy of Cultural Mormonism versus Doctrinal Mormonism. He mentioned after a casual watch of Saturday’s Warrior some members of the Church think they have a pretty solid understanding of how the pre-mortal existence works (an example that made me laugh out loud in class).

This is Cultural Mormonism. When we dig deeper and study and research, we realize Doctrinal Mormonism is much more nuanced, which makes it more applicable to each life it touches. Or we think that following a prophet means their revealed direction should never be pondered or hard for anyone to follow because that means you are questioning divine direction. This is Cultural Mormonism. Doctrinal Mormonism is when we give space for others to digest new revelation, knowing they need more time to take it to the Lord in prayer to receive confirmation in their own way.

This is a dominant message of Leading Saints, to challenge leaders to step back and look at the culture of the organization they lead. Is it based on Cultural Mormonism (hoping each family looks as happy as the gospel is supposed to make them) or is it based on Doctrinal Mormonism (hoping each family is changed by the gospel)?

You may fret over what doctrine is being taught in Sunday School, but you miss the fact that few want to be there (or never showed up) in the first place. I agree that many dissatisfied with the Church need to repent, but the bigger issue is getting them to actually talk with us, and see us as real people who are trying as well. Once we can be sincere, open, understanding, communicative, and willing to offer a hug they are willing to receive, then we can talk about repentance. Not because they need to repent, but because we all need to repent.

I don’t have all the answers but I know that leadership in God’s Kingdom can be more effective as we develop the ability and capacity to establish a healthy culture. As we learn how culture works, how it is developed, and how it thrives, we can better establish the principles of the doctrine in all that will give it a try. When healthy culture changes the organization, eternal doctrine can change the individual.

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