In our recent interview, Jeff Lockyer, Lead Pastor of Southridge Community Church in St. Catharines, Ontario, revealed how his personal, ministry journey led him to a striking conviction about the importance of building a healthy, flourishing culture.
I hope you enjoy Jeff’s inspiring, first person story.
— Al Lopus
“In the past 15 years I’ve gone from a total ignorance and apathy of the importance of culture to a belief that focusing on culture is the single most critical contribution a Christian leader can make.
God was building this appreciation in my heart and mind and experience where I lead a church community and where I learn and serve.”
Southridge is a multi-site missional church in the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada. Each of the church’s three locations is uniquely organized around an anchor cause of compassion and justice to serve the marginalized in its community through developing unlikely friendships that also transform our faith.
- The Southridge Shelter is a 24/7 emergency hostel and community of refuge for those without a home.
- The Vineland community reaches out to hundreds of Caribbean farm workers who find seasonal employment and a home-away-from-home in Niagara.
- The community in nearby Welland partners with Rose City Kids to love and serve hundreds of at-risk kids and their families.
Says Jeff, “Together, Southridge is all about being the church in our neighborhood, incarnationally making the life and love of Jesus real to other people.”
As Jeff reflected on the culture journey he and Southridge has been on, six themes, or levels emerged.
Level 1: Focus on the culture to get church work done
“Several years, I was unaware of culture, until one day, at a conference, I heard Patrick Lencioni say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This phrase gripped me. Up to that point in my ministry, everything was focused on strategy: How ought we to do weekend services, discipleship, small groups, evangelism, global missions, etc.
At the time, our approach was very organic and unsophisticated. We began to pay attention to the very basics of a healthy culture—including being a team, providing management and creating Individual performance plans, goals, metrics and accountability. Suddenly, our effectiveness to make decisions and implement strategy started to go through the roof. We could feel the energy and momentum grow because we were focusing on culture, which was more important than strategy. Focusing on culture catalyzed our strategy and allowed us to get more work done than if we had focused merely on our strategy.”
“As we began to gain and appreciate the importance of culture, and implemented organizational basics of performance management, and team meetings, we experienced resistance. Our staff began to buck against new expectations around accountability, which were foreign to how church ought to feel.”
“I could understand the tension: On one hand the church is supposed to be all inclusive and unconditionally loving. Yet, there was also this underlying sense that we’re supposed to be accountable.”
“In Romans, Paul acknowledges that when people work, their wages aren’t a gift . . . “Here was the ah-ha!: Employment works according to a different kind of system than the church. Yet, because we’re a church, we are simultaneously embracing both a grace-based system as well as a works-based system of an employer stewarding funds to deliver results.
- The grace-based system involves relationships based on unconditional love, while employment involves conditional relationships on whether or not a person can or can’t do the job.
- A grace-based system involves a continual, lasting covenant. An employment dynamic is contractual, so long as the terms of the contract are being fulfilled.
- A grace-based system is rooted in love. A works-based system is based on accountabilities, assessments, and even judgments.
I reconciled the two systems when I realized you want employees to deliver in the grace-based manner of Jesus and honor the basic understandings around employment. This helped lead me to a second level of culture awareness:
Level 2: Paying attention to culture helps us navigate the dynamic of grace-based and works-based systems in faith-based employment
As Christians, we ought to be fully professional and fully effective being accountable for the talents God has entrusted to us on earth (Luke 19), while at the same time living out the vision and values of Jesus.
Over time, as these two levels of awareness took hold, we started to realize the inescapable challenge that some employees just didn’t fit. None of the employment initiatives and procedures (outside of the BCWI Staff Engagement Survey) we used could explain why certain people weren’t working out.
I was prone to believe the church was an all-inclusive place where every person ought to belong. Patrick Lencioni, again, helped me understand that in a church workplace culture, people will thrive or struggle to varying degrees according to this intangible reality called “fit.”
At a retreat, I asked every senior leadership team member to choose the person he felt was the best fit and the worst fit. I expected a huge debate. Surprise: Our half dozen senior leaders named only two people as “best fit” and two people as “worst fit.”
Out of our vigorous group discussion, we discovered that the reasons for the “best fit” selections were the total inverse of the “worst fits.” This led us to:
Level 3: Defining and focusing on our five cultural distinctives enabled us to get our work done together
From this we distilled down the five culture distinctives of our Southridge culture:
- We’re fanatically collaborative: we work as a “we” and an “us,” we never make decisions in a group of people.
- We’re never satisfied: we’re always looking to grow, improve and strive to get better.
- We totally own this: we’re all-in to the life in Jesus into which we are inviting others (our life of faith is way more than a job), and approach our work with an owner and not union mentality.
- We’re oriented to outsiders: we’re averse to Christian subculture and the stereotypes of evangelicalism.
- We “go there”: we care enough to frankly talk to people instead of about them to resolve conflict.
Articulating these five distinctives helped people embrace (or self-select out of) the Southridge culture, which created greater alignment to do our Kingdom work, together as one.
The difference between unengaged and engaged employees is the difference between a lightning bug and a lightning bolt.”
Level 4: Work gets done through people who are engaged
We had never done an assessment of our culture until we heard about BCWI’s Staff Engagement Survey. We decided to give it a shot. Considering the gains, we had already made in our culture, I thought we’d score quite favorably. By the skin of our teeth, we scored 4.00, or borderline healthy. The survey revealed the good, the bad and the ugly of our culture.
We used what we call the “bottle neck approach” to ask, “What are the one or two main weaknesses of our culture? Over the past six years, through consecutive annual surveys and focusing on a few main weaknesses each survey has revealed, our culture has grown from borderline healthy to all-out flourishing both staff wide and in each department.
Upshot: Every person we invite to work at Southridge can know with confidence that he or she is plugging into a team where they can experience a thriving workplace culture.
What the survey does numerically illustrates what you can feel palpably. Today, I know what a 3.8 (critical) culture feels like. I know what a 4.1 staff meeting (borderline healthy) feels like. And I know how good a 4.6 (flourishing) retreat feels like.
I can’t be more convinced in the value of leveraging an instrument like the Staff Engagement Survey to help you pay attention to your culture. Not only does a healthy, thriving culture help you get Kingdom work done, a flourishing culture helps you get Kingdom work done together through engaged people.
The difference between unengaged and engaged people is the difference between a lightning bug and a lightning bolt.
There’s a clear advantage to survey annually. I believe improving the health of your culture has more to do with direction than perfection. You can celebrate a mentality of growth as you move forward in the direction of greater health, effectiveness and ministry impact.
Level 5: Staff engagement increases as you help your people realize their potential
In the survey process, we noticed quite a discrepancy between the culture experiences of men and women at Southridge.
Around the same time, we connected with Ellen Duffield whose research revealed two interesting conclusions:
- In society, a woman’s confidence peaks at age nine. While men will typically increasingly default to confidence, women will increasingly default to insecurity. This differentiation is fundamental in how men and women work, and work together.
- The underlying conditions by which men and women thrive are different. Where men like a more competitive environment, women tend to thrive in a more collegial environment. While men like to assert themselves, women want to be invited in.
At Southridge, we realized we needed to provide both disproportionate invitation for women and disproportionate investment in women in order to see both men and women thrive both in our workplace and, ultimately, in our church.
Strategically, we launched an initiative called “Next Level Leadership” for 24 senior leaders at Southridge. We’ve also launched a second initiative called “Brave Girls” designed to nip the confidence issue in the bud. Through mentorships, small groups, retreats, and other regular connections, we’re making a three-year investment in sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade girls. The goal is to stem, if not reverse, the trajectory of diminished confidence in girls.
As a result, we’ve seen young women enter high school with more confidence than ever before. We’re seeing spiritual gains, as the number of baptisms at Southridge is on rise.
Today, more than ever, we are now realizing the latent potential of our women staff and leadership. This reality has only strengthened our belief and conviction on the critical importance of culture as a catalyst to get Kingdom work done better through engaged people, working together and realizing their potential in the process.
Level 6: True, lasting cultural change only happens when there’s significant, supernatural personal change in leaders
This is really the most significant discovery of all. At the end of the day, we see how God has been transforming us from the inside out, changing us into a greater likeness of his Son. We’ve seen God engage us in a full and complete way, his work of sanctification. As a result, we’ve seen a greater enjoyment of experiencing the fruit of his Spirit and the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.
The greatest ways God is ushering in the realities of his Kingdom on earth have not been through the programs and ministries of our church, but rather through the transformational work God continues to do through us paying attention to culture.
Attending to culture is the single-most important thing a Christian leader can care about. Culture is the greatest difference maker and contributor to ushering in the realities of the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. This truth continues to be the game-changer for our Southridge culture.
My one question for today’s Christian leaders is, “What do you believe is your primary ministry on earth?” For church leaders, the question becomes, “What do you believe is the purpose of your church on earth?” No matter our vocation, ultimately our ministry is to bring the reality of Jesus to life, to make his life and love real in the world.“
“What do you believe is your primary ministry on earth?”
Clarifying your answer to this question can motivate and drive you to caring about your culture, the single greatest contributor to fulfilling your ministry calling.
The BCWI Employee Engagement Survey
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