Four Pillars of Culture
It starts at the beginning. It starts at the front door. Not a virtual front portal, but the actual steel and glass front door.
It starts at the front door.
Jase was filled with both anticipation and a bit of anxiety. It was his first day of work at the Joni and Friends International Disability Center. It was only his second job after graduating from college, and he had imagined his first day working at a ministry. Hotel management training had not been his calling, and he was hoping to find a place to serve where his faith mattered.
The near new, two-story building was modern and a bit imposing for a newcomer. But the building was not his issue today. He understood both he and Joni and Friends would each have one chance to make a first impression.
As he came through the front door, he was met by the director of his department. This was not his new boss; it was his bosses, bosses’ boss! “Good morning Jase! We’re glad you’re here. Let’s go and meet the team.”
Jase was led to his workstation in the middle of the department. A gift basket was on his desk, some office items, a book by the Founder, Joni Eareckson Tada and some things just for fun. After being introduced to the department, Jase was taken on a tour of the building. He was surprised, after being introduced over and over, how many people knew who he was.
Just as he thought his introductions were over, the tour guide said, “Before you come back to the department, the president wants to meet you.” His head jerked back just a bit. As a 22-year-old, he didn’t anticipate that phrase on his first day of work.
The president’s office looked like a president’s office, with two leather guest chairs and a couch. “Good morning Jase. I’m sure you’ve been busy today. Welcome to Joni and Friends.” The president walked to a cabinet that held a Keurig. “Can I make you a cup of coffee?”
During the time with the president, Jase received an orientation manual that held information about the ministry by department, and a schedule of appointments spread out over two weeks with various department heads. He received the president’s firsthand explanation of the vision, mission and values of Joni and Friends. And then just before he left, he found out why so many people knew who he was.
“Jase, unlike some corporations I’ve managed, our ministry doesn’t have a single ‘extra’ person. You and your job are essential, or you wouldn’t be here. Each morning at prayer we pray for our open positions. So, Jase we were all curious as to who God would pick. You arrive as an answer to prayer.”
Jase had a great first day.
Culture over Vision or Mission
“Culture is more important than vision or mission.” That’s a quote from Phil Cooke, a talented writer, producer, and media consultant with interesting things to say about contemporary Christian culture. On this point, he’s right. Although, I would add a caveat. Your culture is more important to your success than your vision or mission.
Your culture is more important to your success than your vision or mission.
I have never walked into a church, ministry, bank or any other business for that matter, looked up on the wall at the mission statement and said, “That’s a really bad idea!” Virtually all mission statements are at least good, if not great. So why do some churches, ministries, banks and businesses fail so miserably, usually while being a terrible place to work? Culture! All sustainable success requires a great culture.
“May the God who gives endurance, and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 15:5)
If that Scripture does not describe your ministry, you’ve got work to do. Because Christ is the standard, none of us are ever done. Let’s unpack that powerful Scripture for a moment. It’s filled with leadership keys for a great ministry culture. Powerful words. Irrefutable goals for any Christian leader; God-given endurance, encouragement, unified Christ-centered attitudes, believers who are working together with one mind and one voice that reaches the level of glorifying God. All in one scriptural sentence!
I can tell you firsthand, the ministry that strives for those lofty objectives with faithful sincerity will be blessed.
I can tell you firsthand, the ministry that strives for those lofty objectives with faithful sincerity will be blessed. That means when plans are made, before execution, the cultural prerogatives must be built into the plan. Is the plan directly aimed at a biblical mission and vision? Is the communication process complete? Are all who will be affected in the loop? (Note: “affected” means more than those with action items; it means everyone whose responsibilities will be affected downstream from the project.)
Four Pillars of a Romans 15:5 Culture
- Jesus Christ is the ultimate distinct competitive advantage. For every plan, whether a business plan, ministry plan, or life plan, it is vital to identify its distinct competitive advantage. If not, you are building a false-centered ministry, or company or life. As Christians, the Creator of the universe is our distinct competitive advantage. Too many ministries and churches work on the souls of those the mission statement serves without giving equal or even greater attention to the growth of their associates. Yes, you’ve hired good Christian people. But getting a ministry to be a Romans 15:5 based ministry, meaning being of one accord with one mind and one voice, requires a purposeful commitment to the Christ-centered growth of the flock within your own walls. This requires constant training that brings Christ consistently and continually into the center of the labor. There can be many processes that achieve this goal, but at Joni and Friends, we use the Lead Like Jesus teaching approach to be the anchor to the culture. After all, if you aren’t seeking to “lead like Jesus,” you are going to have to tell him who got the job instead! All new hires are exposed to Lead Like Jesus training, and employees are given refresher courses over time. Lead Like Jesus has intentionally become more than a course, it is the operating system through which the ministry performs. That brings every employee under a common understanding affecting every policy, program and activity. The result is a ministry working together at a higher than usual level of “one accord.”
- Integration is the glue that creates a unified team operating “with one mind and one voice.” Integration can be described in its purest form as a culture of no surprises. If you have ever been at work and said, “We’re doing what?,” you don’t work in an integrated environment. Taking time to be sure everyone is in the loop may seem like too many extra steps, too many emails, too many cc’s. It will also drive managers who like to “shoot from the hip” crazy. But here are the benefits; integration hits all the Roman 15:5 points and creates a process that exceeds the definition of teamwork. Most practically, it results in higher productivity every time. Every time! It leaves in its wake a team that is highly engaged with a feeling of empowerment, ready for the next project.
- Excellence in your area of expertise is essential. Far too often, ministry positions are filled with the “available” instead of the “qualified.” This practice is a disservice to the employee, to team members and to donors. In a healthy culture, it is management’s responsibility to help people find their God-given crafting. We are each unique. Proper use of human talent is a part of ministry stewardship. The effectiveness of each of the elements of a ministry honors God. Invest in your people. Be open to cross-department transfers when talents are discovered.
- You can only manage what you can measure. I am dismayed at how many Christian leaders say, “You can’t measure culture.” That’s simply not true. Finding a process for confidential feedback from your employees, on a wide variety of subjects, will let the leader know how the organization is doing. Do not fear feedback. Do not take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about the mission and vision being accomplished through the efficiency of good information and communication. Surveying employees empowers the individual and draws people together while raising their confidence in management. That’s great culture. Joni and Friends uses the Best Christian Workplace Institute to measure culture with great success. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken, and guessing is a culture killer!
Your success will never be better than your culture, and it starts at the front door.
Doug Mazza served as President and Chief Operating Officer for Joni and Friends from 1999 to 2019. He currently serves as an International Board Member for the organization. Prior to 1999, he was a global executive in the automotive industry. Learn more about Joni and Friends at www.joniandfriends.org.