Creating culture

Key points

  • We model the culture that we create in our enterprise
  • As Kingdom people, it’s heaven’s culture that we want to be demonstrated and experienced

“In the Kingdom of God, a new kind of life and a new kind of culture becomes possible – not by abandoning the old but by transforming it. Even the cross, the worst that culture can do, is transformed into a sign of the Kingdom of God – the realm of forgiveness, mercy, love and indestructible life.”1
Andy Crouch

“Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think.” 
Apostle Paul: Romans 12 v 2 TPT

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a country with a markedly different culture to your own. I think that I found those in the Middle East required me to adapt the most, but then I think that the English culture must be strange to many as well!! One of the aspects of my work that I enjoyed was observing and working in a wide range of corporates and businesses in many industrial and commercial sectors. We found that sectors have their own cultures, and corporates in these sectors also have their own cultures overlaying the sector culture. We had to learn to adapt to these cultures very quickly. We could be working in the financial sector one day and a smaller business in the manufacturing sector the next day. Sometimes all we could do was complete the assignment and move on. On other occasions, as we were more integrated into the business and were able to work with others to help to shift the value system and culture. Challenging but hugely enjoyable! Trading internationally further stretched us. We had to learn national and/or regional cultures on top of the sector cultures.

As Kingdom entrepreneurs the culture that we create in our enterprises is an essential component in demonstrating the Kingdom to those with whom we interact. In considering the culture that we set I believe it is appropriate to consider:

  • our internal (personal) culture
  • contemporary (post-Christian) culture
  • Kingdom culture.

Internal culture

Our internal culture is made up of personal values and virtues. This is what people pick up about us. I’ve heard people talk about atmospheres that people create, and I’ve certainly experienced these around people, both positive and negative. With a sensitivity of spirit, we can discern what’s in other people. Dawna De Silva2 speaks of atmospheres as “the prevailing spiritual realities caused by man’s partnering with entities residing in the spiritual realm.” It’s an interesting exercise to ask those who really know us to state values and virtues that they see in us – both good and not so good – and to see how they match up with our own assessment of our internal culture.  A good test of how brave your assessor is, and how close a friend they are to you is measured by them feeling able to point out the not so good traits in your culture!

In ourselves, we can’t help but be who we are

Personally, I believe that we can shift our personal culture as we dwell in God’s presence, and as we mature in our relationship with Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit. I have seen on many occasions people being radically changed through the power of God’s love and grace by being able to free themselves from experiences that have influenced or harmed them. In this way, we can ‘reset to the manufacturer’s default setting’, i.e. our God-given self, with the result that the atmosphere that we create shifts. Doing so requires humility and integrity, as well as determination.

Since our internal culture affects how we are perceived by others, this in turn affects how they view us and how they respond to us. You know the sort of situations yourself. That person in the office whom you must treat with care so as not to get a bad reaction, the office ‘gossip’ with whom you are circumspect about what information you want to share in case everyone knows by the time you get into the office tomorrow, or the person who is only too quick to tell you what is wrong with you and leaving you humiliated and deflated. Who we are, how we are perceived by others, and the response that we receive back from them can easily affect us. So can our social contact group – whether physical or virtual. Such groups have their own worldview and culture.

What culture do you want to set in your organisation?

Who we are in our internal culture drives the way that we act towards and respond towards others. These triggers and signals are quickly picked up by our staff and unless they are particularly resilient people, they are moulded into recreating the culture that we set. This can be both frightening and a delight! I’m not suggesting that we replicate clones of ourselves in the organisation. What I am suggesting is that we dictate, often unknowingly, sometimes deliberately, how we want and expect people to act and behave towards us, our customers and stakeholders, to each other, and of course, towards God himself.

Setting culture

So, what culture do you want to set in your organisation? The chances are that who you are as the entrepreneur/business shaper – your internal culture – will mould the organisation’s culture. However, if we abstain from setting culture in our organisation, then someone else in your organisation will do it for us! At least we can consider carefully what we want rather than default to someone who perhaps has a particular ‘axe to grind’ or is setting culture biased by their own life experiences.

Our inner transformation needs to drive the culture that we set within our organisations

The Apostle Paul penned an amazingly powerful scripture in writing to the church in Rome:

“Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think.” 
Romans 12 v 2 TPT

I’m told that the Roman culture at the time was perverse, violent, and governed at times by unstable individuals – like Emperor Nero. What the apostles were having to address, particularly those planting churches in Gentile nations (i.e. without the history and experience of God in Jewish culture), was that the culture of the Roman system and empire was not one to be copied and adopted by followers of Jesus. Instead they were taught to reject that culture and not to entertain those values and ‘ill’-virtues, but to be inwardly transformed by the renewing power of the indwelling Spirit and their thinking about themselves. Whilst this required discipline, it was empowered by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit within. In my opinion, this verse, and the process that Paul exhorted the Roman Christians to experience, remains vital today. Our inner transformation needs to change our mindsets, and to drive the culture that we set within our organisations. 

By nature, I have been one that shies away from confrontation. This is partly my personality, and partly my life experience. My dad was similar. Life experiences reinforced this by me internalising what others said or how they acted towards me and confirming the feeling of rejection that I was struggling to overcome. My personal encounters with God made me realise in myself that he truly and deeply loves me. In turn this had the effect of cutting off the flow of fuel to the rejection that I felt and enabled me to become bolder in my interactions with others. Rather than squirm in a confrontation I felt that I could explain myself, listen to what the other person was saying and work through what needed to be done to address the issue. It’s interesting that Jesus was described as meek. It took me many years to find out that a great definition of meekness is ‘power under control’. This helped my internal transformation by enabling me to throw out the mindset that it meant weak and powerless so that it was easy for someone to walk over you. His supernatural power was under supernatural control! 

Contemporary culture v Kingdom culture

There is much that can be said about this hot topic, and much has been written about this. I commend you to explore and read! I have found one of the most insightful commentators on the topic to Mark Sayers. In his excellent pair of books, Disappearing Church3, and Reappearing Church4, he takes us on a journey of navigation through the post-Christian culture in which we live. He succinctly summarises secularism as: 

“…the attempt to create a system for human flourishing in which the presence of God is absent”and, “our contemporary culture of progressive secularism …. exhausts and dismays, creating anxious and confused followers.”

We are those who have the immense joy of knowing God’s presence, or as Sayers says: 

“to the contrite of heart, the humble, the meek in Spirit, God’s presence is received as waves of love”; 

but for those who are wrapped in the culture of progressive secularism: 

“for the proud, the rebellious, the autonomous, the individuals and systems that wish to continue Adam and Eve’s rebellion to reanimate the project of Babylon, to reach for progress without presence – for such people and systems, those same waves of love that are God’s presence are experienced as judgment” (Re-appearing Church pp83, 86 and 51). 

As Kingdom people, marked by his presence, we should not be surprised by the clash of cultures exposed by those whom we employ and otherwise interact with. This is important. We need to understand that as we carry God’s presence in our beings, and as we make room for those who are wrapped up in the post-Christian culture, to encounter God, if could be, or perhaps it is inevitable, that they will first experience his presence as judgment – conviction of sin, rebellion and the exposure of their lifestyle – as disturbing and disruptive. At this point we need to lead with grace first and foremost – not our own strength – leading people from what Sayers calls “temples of exhaustion to temples of presence” (Re-appearing Church p83). For “cultural exhaustion opens the doorways to the human heart” (Re-appearing Church p122). As Paul writes to the church in Corinth:

“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life”.
(2 Corinthians 2 v 15 – 16 NIV)

Kingdom culture: developing a culture of honour

“In a culture of honour, leaders lead with honour by courageously treating people according to the names God gives them and not according to the aliases they receive from people.”5
“Good leadership is built on love and truth,
for kindness and integrity
are what keep leaders in their position of trust.”
Proverbs 20 v 28

This raises the question, how much can we expect a Kingdom culture to be the prevailing one in our organisation when we employ people who are of a different faith, or of no faith? I believe that we can, and should, create a business culture around the values and practices of a Kingdom culture, which includes a culture of honour. As Danny Silk states, this takes courage, and it takes effort over the long term. Bill Johnson is the one who has given us the oft quoted phrase, “we owe people an encounter with God.” Staff, suppliers, contractors etc experiencing a Kingdom culture opens the opportunity for them to experience such an encounter; it could be the motivator for them having that experience!

One of our principal roles as Kingdom entrepreneurs is to help people to find their God-given identities

Working with other people is not straightforward! Jesus found it difficult to develop a Godly, heavenly culture with 12 men of contrasting personalities! It’s interesting that with Peter, he changed his name from Simon to Cephas (in Greek Peter). It was, I suggest, his way of helping to transform Peter’s thinking and by treating him according to his God-given identity (the rock on which Jesus built his church) rather than the name given him by his parents. It was part of Jesus’s discipling his followers to himself. In the culture that we develop and the way that we treat and lead staff we are doing the same thing, discipling them to Jesus. As a pastor friend of mine says, “we disciple people to Jesus, not merely in Jesus.” Surely, developing a heavenly community culture is a key to discipling nations (Matthew 28 v 19). We have the God-given opportunity of doing so amongst our own people group i.e. those within our organisation or enterprise. One of our principal roles as Kingdom entrepreneurs is to help people to find their God-given identities.

Kingdom culture: a safe place

A Kingdom culture creates a safe place for people. A safe place is included in the biblical understanding of shalom. A safe place means people are likely to feel more able to let down their walls of self-built protection from the consequences of guilt and shame and open up to the presence of God engendered in an authentic and caring culture. Such a culture does not mean that sales targets, personal development plans, reviews and disciplinary procedures should be abandoned. In fact, the opposite should apply. Build our Kingdom cultural expectations of our staff into these. Remember, people follow where we lead. We can’t expect them to follow us if we’re not demonstrating the culture in our life by the way we treat them.

I remember an important lesson that I learned as our business was in a growth stage. The Directors were exceptionally busy travelling all over the country and fully engaged every day. The result was that when I or my other main Director were in the office (and incidentally not located in the same office) the chances were that other consultants were not – or at least most of them were not. This made effective communication difficult. Email and Skype was great, and these days apps and software can be used in a team environment very effectively if the boundaries are correctly set (culture again!) but having quality time with the team was difficult. I remember my other Director leaving me a message to call him when I was free. I returned his call while seated in my car in a hotel car park on the outskirts of Leicester. He had heard from a member of staff that they felt that they were not receiving effective feedback on how they were getting on, and they were feeling discouraged and unsure about how they were doing. We came up with a plan to address this, but first we had to recognise their concern and realise that it was a fair criticism. Better to have the feedback than have valuable staff members hand in their notice! 

We have an innate need to be encouraged no matter how strong we may be

I learned an important lesson that day which has stayed with me since – encouragement is vital. We have an innate need to be encouraged no matter how strong we may be. It’s my theory that giving encouragement leads to people being courageous. It’s certainly what I’ve observed and experienced. And let’s never dismiss the need for courage in entrepreneurship! We had built a culture where it was ok to raise a hand and say, ‘this isn’t working and here’s why’. What we had failed to realise was that staff were not feeling sufficiently supported. Time to put our hands up and admit that we had got it wrong, even though staff knew that we were really busy. The culture that we set enabled us to do that without diminishing ourselves and looking foolish to the staff. We didn’t have an attitude that said, ‘we’re right, you’re wrong, get on with it or leave’. We valued our staff and wanted them to advance in the business. Having the ability to challenge where things were not working was evidence of an open culture that showed that they too valued being a part of the business and valued the Directors. And that takes us back to being humble hearted….

A different situation arose much later in the business. My PA, and our shared secretary, whom I will call Julie, came into the Head Office late one day. At the time I was in the office on my own – all the consultants and managers were out, although the Accounts Manager (also a follower of Jesus) was coming in a little later – which proved to be helpful in the circumstances. She rang the doorbell, which was unheard of since she had keys. Julie was in an emotional and physical state. She had left home in a hurry without a coat or bag. It was raining and she was wet through. What she told me was that she had been in an abusive relationship for some time but that this morning it had become intolerable. I spent some time with her, and then the Accounts Manager came in too so that we were able to devote time and attention to her. I was able to contact a good friend of mine who at the time was the CEO of a Christian Refuge from domestic abuse, and she offered me some excellent advice which I passed on to Julie. She decided that she needed to move away as a means of permanently breaking the relationship – which she subsequently did with our support. This was disruptive to the business administration, but her welfare was more important. What we tried to give her, and model for her was the grace and compassion of Jesus. Kingdom culture was, I trust, demonstrated to Julie. I lost contact with her but hopefully that has remained with her.

Kingdom culture: banish fear and shame

Always back up your team – they need to know that you are for them!

My advice is always back up your team, particularly in public. If we have any issue with someone, we should speak about it in private. That honours the person. Keep trust and honour your team. Communication is such an important skill in keeping team together and on focus. We mustn’t let busyness rob us and others from effective communication. They need to know that we are for them and that we will back them. Even when correction is necessary that needs to be done in love and in a way that honours the person. Fear of the boss is like a creeping ivy climbing up a wall – it sucks the life out of everything. Such fear drives out respect, honour, and love and all that remains is duty and being worried about getting it wrong. Creativity and innovation thrive on security and dry up in fear. What we desperately need in a team is life and vibrancy for it to grow and prosper, and a vibrant, responsive, and stronger team means a vibrant, responsive and strong business or enterprise.

“Wise people are builders—they build families, businesses, communities.
And through intelligence and insight
their enterprises are established and endure.
Because of their skilled leadership
the hearts of people are filled with the treasures of wisdom
and the pleasures of spiritual wealth.”
Proverbs 24 v 3-4 TPT
“Be assured that anything you do that is beautiful and excellent will be repaid by our Lord, whether you are an employee or an employer.”
Ephesians 5 v 8 TPT

  1. Crouch, Andy. Culture making – Recovering our creative calling. IVP Books. 2008. ISBN 978-0-8308-3755-7.
  2. De Silva, Dawna. Shifting Atmospheres – Discerning and displacing the spiritual forces around you. p92. Destiny Image Publishers Inc, 2017. ISBN13: 978-0-7684-1566-7.
  3. Sayers, Mark. Disappearing Church – From cultural relevance to gospel resilience. Moody Publishers. 2016. ISBN 13: 978-0-8024-1335-2
  4. Sayers, Mark. Reappearing Church. Moody Publishers. 2019. ISBN: 978-0-8024-1913-2.
  5. Silk, Danny. Culture of Honour: Sustaining a supernatural environment. Destiny Image Publishers Inc. 2009. ISBN 10: 0-7684-3146-8.