Mike McCabe told the Church's conference that values-based education should act as a "strategic compass" to allow staff and pupils to see through the detail and cope with "initiative overload", in order to focus on what is important and grapple with complex issues.
Mr McCabe feared that, without such a compass, the national priorities might be reduced to "a list of dislocated concerns".
Competing demands from different priorities, such as raising standards versus inclusion, were already causing difficulties for authorities and schools.
From an initial position of scepticism, he had been converted to the importance of establishing a consensus on values following a visit to Maine in the United States where the state had embarked on such a programme.
South Ayrshire schools are now following that example, and Mr McCabe suggested it has the potential to change staff attitudes "from compliance to commitment".
He added: "That means you do something because you want to do it and because it fits in with what you believe to be important, rather than because it is going to get you another couple of grades in an HMI report."