In his book, The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle defined organizational culture as “a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal.” This is a value-neutral definition. When the living relationships are unhealthy and subset groups of people have their own shared agendas, culture is created—but not the kind of healthy culture needed for organizational effectiveness. When this kind of poisonous culture exists, missional clarity or visionary leadership are largely wasted efforts. John Maxwell said it succinctly, “Culture eats vision for lunch.”

Pandemic stress, political turmoil, and social unrest have revealed the true cultural climate in churches and ministry organizations. In many cases, these external pressures have resulted in stress fractures—widening rifts as people separate according to their passions and agendas. Rather than healthy relationships working toward shared goals, too many churches and organizations have discovered their pseudo-community was a façade. Their culture was greenhouse-ready, only able to thrive in a controlled environment. Sadly, many are now reeling with conflict, division, and attrition.

What can be done to improve your corporate culture, the way your community lives and works together? One common response is to focus on the first part of the definition—living relationships. Improving culture clearly involves confronting unhealthy relational patterns, as well as affirming and rewarding healthy relational behavior. Our Christian faith provides motivation and guidance to do this as we adopt and demonstrate Christian virtues described in the Bible. That’s a worthy beginning. Creating healthy culture—what some people like to call community—has a strong relational component.

But the other part of the definition is also significant. We must also articulate and adopt shared goals. Healthy organizational culture is not a perpetual relationship retreat; it’s about coming together to do something. That something is accomplishing shared goals which gives us a sense of shared fulfillment and success.

Creating a healthy corporate culture in a church or ministry organization is about both healthy relationships and kingdom-focused goals. It is about treating each other like Christians are supposed to and working together on kingdom-focused goals. It requires rejecting self-serving behavior and resisting the temptations of lesser agendas. If community dysfunction is eating your vision for lunch, improving relationships and clarifying functional goals will improve your organizational culture and get you on a better path forward.

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Kristen Ferguson
Director of Online Education | Associate Professor of Educational Leadership
Dr. Kristen Ferguson serves as the Director of Online Education and associate professor of educational leadership at Gateway Seminary. Her doctoral research at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary investigated evangelical faculty perceptions on online theological education. Her continued research focuses on online course design, blended learning, and online teaching best practices.

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Jeff Iorg
Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president of Gateway Seminary. Prior to his service at the Seminary, Dr. Iorg was the Executive Director of the Northwest Baptist Convention for almost ten years. He was also the founding pastor of Greater Gresham Baptist Church in Gresham, Oregon, and has served as a pastor in Missouri and a staff pastor in Texas.


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Professor of Church History | Director, Jonathan Edwards Center
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David Rathel
Associate Professor of Christian Theology
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