The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“A Story of a Significant Culture Transformation“
October 19, 2020
Intro: In this episode, I am joined by a senior pastor that has led one of the most significant cultural transformations in our history. Listen now to hear the story.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button and receive our free action guide.
If you can share this podcast with others, and rate it, it would mean a lot to me. Thank you.
And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
It’s my pleasure to welcome to the microphone Aaron Couch, the lead pastor of the Southeast Christian Church in Parker, Colorado. Welcome.
Aaron Couch: Thanks. I’m so excited to talk about all the things that have gone on here in the last year.
Al: Well, there’s been a lot going on, I can tell just from looking at our Survey, but for our many listeners not familiar with Southeast Christian Church, what makes the church distinctive and appealing and tell us where you are.
Aaron: So, we’re in the southeast Denver area and metro. We’re in a suburb of Denver called Parker. And the thing that has really been our main focus, I’ve only been here a little over a year, so what we’ve been working on really hard is to be a church that represents the church out of the Book of Acts as best as we can. We want to make disciples who can disciple. That’s a major priority for us. And I believe that disciples cannot be made outside of the context of relationship. And so because of that, we’ve built our church around small groups and developed a real relational model of ministry. And so our Sunday mornings are great. We have incredible worship and children’s programing and that kind of thing going on. But outside of that, the relational model of ministry is really what sets us apart as a church.
Al: For anybody that’s listening that is new in their job, I think this podcast is going to be really pertinent. As Aaron said, he’s just been there for about a year. And prior to that, things weren’t going so well, and that’s part of the story that we’re going to hear and learn about today. But tell us a story about how you came to Southeast Christian Church to begin with.
Aaron: Yeah. So the church had been searching for a new lead pastor for about 18 months. That was when I came into contact with them. Friend of mine was on their search committee and didn’t even know that I was looking. We were at the end of a very good ministry that we were a part of in Idaho. And my wife and I had served there for 12 years. We planted that church and had served there for 12 years, and we loved it there. It was a great place to raise our kids. It was a small town and a great place to raise our kids, but felt like we were coming to the end of what God had asked us to do there. So it fell together very quickly. We actually were headed a different direction, but it fell together very quickly. Once—I think it took a month from our first interview to being hired, and so once it happened, it happened in a hurry.
Al: Boy, I’d say. Just a month from the first contact, that’s—they were looking for somebody, no question about it.
You know, it’s [unclear 03:58]. Every workplace culture in an organization hits a snag, where things may start to go sideways. What was the trouble spot that told you and others that Southeast culture needed help as you arrived.
Aaron: There was so much—like, I came here with the intent of not changing anything for a year. You know, that’s the rule. They say when you step into an existing church, don’t change anything for a year. I really—I thought that would be a great idea. It just didn’t work.
We had been going a million miles an hour, and the staff that was here, they had been through a lot. And so not only had they had 18 months without a leader, but they had had 18 months prior to that of some pretty traumatic ministry for a lot of different reasons. And so our staff was super gun shy. They were really fearful and rightly so. Like, I understand why they were so fearful. And so what I did right off the bat was—and this was at the counsel of one of my mentors—I met with every single staff member, and I basically asked them three questions. Number one was, tell me about you. I want to know about you. Number two was, tell me the story of this church from your perspective, what it’s been through. And then after that, I asked them this question, if you were me, what would you do first? And as soon as I started having that conversation with them, it was very apparent that we had some major issues that we were going to have to address.
Al: Well, before you got there, the organization had completed our Best Christian Workplaces Survey. Less than one in 10 were engaged at that point, one of the probably lowest scores that we’d seen in a church, which indicates that the culture was really in need of help, maybe is one way to describe it. So you really have made a difference. And you developed a reputation right off the bat—we saw it in the employee comments—as the leader who says we can fix that. And I love your point that, yeah, it’s a good strategy to kind of wait a year before you start making changes. But you were in a situation where they were looking for a leader who could make changes even quicker. So when you really began to realize what the challenges were, you became known as the fix-it guy. We can fix that. You talked to all the staff. What came out of those conversations, and how is it that you really knew from a measurable standpoint where the culture was?
Aaron: Right away, the staff was just so wounded. And we had taken the Survey a couple of years prior. The church had taken it before I got here. And it was interesting. At the time that they took the Survey, they knew that things were bad. They didn’t know how bad. And so it felt like they had a grasp on the problem. What they realized is they were looking at an iceberg. You know, a lot of it was below the surface, and there were some of those things. And so that was a great, like, early on, they were like, “Hey, we took this thing a year ago and thought you might find it interesting.” They knew that at some point we were going to need to retake it, just as a measure of, are we even headed in the right direction? And so they didn’t know exactly when that was going to happen.
When they gave me the numbers and we saw the disengaged staff alone, just that percentage alone, I was like, why are you even still here? Like, you know, I just was floored. To their credit, many of the staff were like, “We didn’t want to be here, but we knew that the Lord was telling us to stay. We just didn’t know why,” which today we can say, “Gosh, we’re super thankful for that.” But they had to wade through some mud to get there.
And so now, you know, we’ve taken the Survey the second time. And the great thing about that is that we felt like we were targeting the right things in our culture to try to make improvements, kind of trying to keep the main thing, the main thing, and do first things first. Now we can go, yeah, we have empirical data to say, “Hey, we did this right. And we know where we can continue to build.” And so, that’s just been super helpful for us because we can fix it. And our staff is starting to believe that. Like, that’s been one of the best parts of all of this is watching them come around.
Al: It’s amazing just to look at the data. As you mentioned, almost four out of ten of your folks were disengaged when you first got there, and that’s just dramatically dropped.
So what was the biggest challenge? You know, you walked in, you did these interviews, you looked at this data. What was the biggest challenge that you were dealing with there at Southeast in terms of the workplace culture?
Aaron: Yeah, trust. Easy.
Aaron: They just did not trust anyone in a position of authority. And it’s been a lot to overcome. Even still, there are some threads of that that’s tried to flare up every once in a while, but it’s certainly far better than it was a year ago. But the staff was just really, really beat up emotionally. They had taken hits from leaders, they’d taken hits from church members, and they felt like they were kind of caught in the crossfire of all of the stuff that was going on, and they didn’t know what to do with it. And so they just kind of covered up and hunkered down and survived. And on top of that, the finances were declining. Attendance was declining. You know, it just felt like it was lose, lose, lose, lose, lose. They didn’t have any reason to trust us, you know?
And so that’s one of the things I’m most proud of with our staff is in this turnaround, they’ve actually had to take a risk on a couple of guys coming in from Idaho. You know, where even is Idaho? Nobody lives there. I’m just proud of them for that, you know, that they were willing to do that. And the data bears out that it’s been going for them in a good direction.
Al: Yeah. A 2.09 increase in our trust question, from the original to where it is now, over a 4.0. That’s fantastic.
Well, give us an example, perhaps a story, of an action step that you and your leadership took to improve the trust and maybe even brought more broadly the health of the culture.
Aaron: For me, that’s an easy one. Like, one of the major things that we did right off the bat—the staff hadn’t had a raise in five years, because finances were in decline. Our first priority was, as we were recovering, we wanted to take care of our staff, and that was just really a big deal for us. And God had been so faithful in providing resources for us that we were able to bring, within the first six months, we were able to bring everybody up to a competitive wage. And we told them early on, we’re like, “Guys, we recognize that this is where we’re at, and this is wrong. And we want you to know that we see it, and we’re going to work on this right off the bat.”
And the other major issue was we had a staff that was, like, 52 or 53 percent female, and yet there was a 30 percent discrepancy between men and women for the same job. Men were being paid 30 percent more than women for the same job. And that was something that I don’t think people knew for most of that. And so I just went into our elders and said, “Guys, that’s sin. That’s really wrong.” And so that was one of the things that regardless of how the church got there, we felt like we had to do it. We had to address that right off the bat. So our commitment to follow through on that, it was just such a fun day when we were able to stand up in staff meeting and go, “Okay, all right, first of all, we’re making it right for the women on our staff, but everybody’s getting a raise. Everybody’s getting a good raise, and the women are getting a better raise.” So it was pretty cool, and it was a fun day to see them go, “Oh, I mean, maybe these guys really are serious about following through.”
Al: What a great step that you took to really put action behind your words, that you’re going to increase pay. That certainly is a great step.
You know, that’s just one step, and we know that culture turnarounds take time. When did you really know that your culture was moving to health and you weren’t going to go back to where you had been when you got there? Certainly that moment that you talked about with the pay increases certainly was one moment. Is there another one?
Aaron: Yeah. About four months into us being here, we had a volunteer appreciation event. We actually talked about it even before we showed up on the scene. I asked them, “When was the last time you guys loved on your volunteers?” And they were, like, “Never.” And I think there were certain ministry leaders that were doing it just because they felt like it should be done, but nothing that was strategic and intentional and church wide and celebratory, certainly not at the level that we were talking about. And so that day we did—it was a luau-themed event, and we just pulled out all the stops for our volunteers. And so watching the staff cheer for the volunteers, each individually by name as they came through the door, and literally watching volunteers break into tears because they had never been thanked for what they did in the church, it was just amazing. It was amazing to see.
And then, you know, the staff going, “Oh, my goodness, I cannot believe that we haven’t done this sooner,” and then while they were on their way out after the event was over—which was great. We had a great time, and staff made fools of themselves. It was a lot of fun—but on the way out, we did a celebration tunnel. So all the staff got into a tunnel, and as the volunteers came out, we just cheered for them as they walked by, and just watching them just weep over the fact that somebody noticed. And I was like, “Okay, we’re going to make it—we’re going to do good things for the staff.” That was a pivotal moment for us when they saw the value of them.
Al: What a great experience. Yeah, recognition. That’s really important. And the way you just loved and appreciated and showed appreciation for your volunteers. And I’m sure your staff felt the same way. They were feeling appreciated at the same time that you were doing that. Wow.
Now, it’s always a team when it comes to changing a culture. And you’ve got an executive pastor, Tom Fitzgerald, who’s been part of the leadership. How important has his work been?
Aaron: Yeah, so when I got hired, they said to me, “Hey, you need to bring in your own executive. We didn’t hire an executive because we wanted you to have the freedom to bring in one that you trust.” And I was like, “Okay, I know exactly who that will be.” And I brought Tom in. I knew that Tom would do a great job. I knew he would do a great job. But Tom is a gift that God gave to me and to our staff. He is tremendous. He has superseded my expectations at every level. I just—I can’t say enough good about him. He’s modeled every relational value that we have. He’s dealt kindly with our staff. Even in tough conversations, he’s gentle. And even when he’s had to let people go—those are those tough ones—he has done so well. I’m so proud of him. Yeah, I couldn’t say enough good about him. I can’t even imagine the gap between where we are today and where we would be if he had not come with us. Like, it would be measurable.
Al: Yeah, that’s great. Thanks, Aaron.
And recently you’ve hit the high watermark—and it’s, hopefully, not the highest watermark, I’m sure—being a certified best Christian workplace, and I’d say congratulations and great work in really a short period of time in transforming this culture. So what’s one of the biggest things you’ve learned about yourself as a leader as you’ve worked hard on this culture and gotten to this point?
Aaron: Yeah. It’s a great question. So my natural bent is to accomplish tasks. Like, let’s set up a challenge and knock it down. Let’s take the mountain. Part of why I stepped into this role was to say, “We can fix that. We can make this happen.” Here’s what I’m learning. What I’m learning is that the more I love my people well and lift them up and support them, they actually reach higher levels of potential than they could if I had driven them to accomplish tasks. They supersede my expectations. And that’s a transformation for me because for me, I’m by nature, I’m a pacesetter, and let’s go and doesn’t matter how you feel. It doesn’t matter what you think. The mission is the mission is the mission. Let’s do that. And it’s been just super powerful to me to watch that as we step back and go, “Guys, if we don’t get there together, it doesn’t matter where we go,” it’s actually helping our whole staff culture become better.
Al: You know, I’ve recently heard in a church situation where we’ve talked about working on their culture, and a leader has this attitude of, why don’t those employees just do what they’re supposed to do? You know, you can almost hear it come through. And you’ve really kind of expressed the reason for that, that when you love people well, they reach higher levels than they would have otherwise, and so more gets done.
But let’s talk more about the seeds of your leadership that you’ve seen as you’ve been planting them to grow this healthy culture. Talk a little bit about the fruit that’s blossomed, you know, great trust among your staff, ministry impact. What’s the fruit of a healthy or even better culture? It’s early in the process, I know.
Aaron: Well, we’re still unfolding some of that. But I think as you look at the data of our latest Survey, our staff feels like they have the freedom to speak their minds, which I think a fundamental human need is to be seen, heard, and understood, and they feel like they have a space for that at work rather than just only being useful for what they accomplish. That’s how slaves are treated. You know, they’re only useful for what they can accomplish. For people that we value as more than slaves, we’ve got to be able to somehow communicate that to them. And so they have the freedom to do that. They’re a lot more secure in the fact that when we make a decision, that it’s in the best interest of everyone rather than we’re making a decision to make us look good or to pad our pockets or as the executive team or as executive leadership or…
They’re moving their mindset to thriving from surviving, and that’s been a huge transition. The scarcity mindset that permeates the culture that was here when we got here, that’s going away, and they’re starting to dream and believe and pull for the success in one another because that scarcity, that fix-some mindset means, but if your ministry gets celebrated, then mine gets diminished. It’s a seesaw. And what we’re realizing with the staff is realizing is the more that I help you succeed, the more that it pulls my ministry up too. We all succeed and come up together. And that’s just been super transformational.
And they’re not afraid of the future anymore. And even in the midst of COVID, they’re not afraid anymore. They’re excited about watching God go to work.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
Female: As we come through the COVID-19 crisis, leaders everywhere are asking, how do we understand the tensions our employees are experiencing coming back to work? How do we keep our employees engaged, hold on to our best talent, and position ourselves to thrive as an organization going forward? If you’re looking for a way forward, the Best Christian Workplaces Institute can guide you onto the road to a flourishing workplace.
The first step to begin the journey is our well-known Employee Engagement Survey. This proven online tool pinpoints where your organization is already strong and where you can improve your employees’ workplace experience, resulting in more productive people. That’s right. You’ll have more engaged, productive, and fulfilled people. Time-consuming guesswork won’t get you there. Instead, let us help you with a fact-based, hope-inspiring action plan that only our Employee Engagement Survey and skillful coaching can provide. Sign up now to begin the journey to build a flourishing workplace culture and a thriving organization. Find out more at bcwinstitute.org.
Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
Wow. I love what you’re saying. Given these tremendous outcomes—the speaking your mind, being involved in decisions, moving from a surviving-to-thriving mindset—are you worried at all about slipping back? You know, how are you culture proofing your culture to continue to move in a positive direction?
Aaron: Yeah, I’m scared to death that we’re going to slip back, honestly. And not because I don’t think our people are capable. I just feel like, man, we’ve worked so hard and come so far. It would be so disappointing for something to happen and have us fall back into old patterns.
The good news for us is that I think that we’re far enough down the road now, that watching our staff self-manage. And what I mean by that is when someone slips out of alignment with our cultural values, it sticks out pretty quickly, and nobody wants that. This staff went through so much hard, and now they’re in this season of really, really good, amazing things, they don’t want to go back. And so anything that smacks of that former culture starting to take root again, they really push against it quickly, and in a healthy way. So that’s a huge piece.
The other major thing that we’ve worked with is our church has a counseling center. It was here when I got here. And to my surprise, the counseling center is actually quite credentialed. Like, they’re really gifted counselors. And so when I got here, none of the staff had access to the counseling center. They were like, “Well, we think maybe they’re too closely tied.” And I was like, “So we have a counseling center, and we have a staff that’s been traumatized, and we can’t connect those two things.” “Well, we don’t know how much it would cost.” And I was like, “Well, what’s the cost of an employee that self-destructs?
Aaron: “It’s bigger, I promise. It’s bigger, and it’s relationally bigger.” And so what we did was we made a decision that our church will pay for any of our staff members to go to counseling at our counseling center. And it has been a transformational godsend, and on top of that, been something that has actually really invited people to a healthier place, not just within the church, but within themselves. And, I mean, you know this: the healthier I am as an individual, the healthier I am on the team. And I really believe that. That’s one of the things that I believe in, is that the best gift I can give to the church is a healthy staff. And so that’s just been a real priority for me.
It’s funny. The healthier that our people get, the more that they start to joke about going to counseling. And now, somebody jokingly last week said to me, “All the cool kids are going to counseling.” It’s just part of what the ethos is of our staff is, “Hey, we can go and we can talk about these real hurts and the brokenness. We can actually go and deal with that and get better.” And now it’s almost a point of, “You don’t go to counseling? You think you have it all figured out? You’re not broken in some way? You’re not trying to work on—” That growth mindset of, the culture is inviting people to just to grow just by default of making counseling available for people, it’s actually been pretty amazing to see it take root.
Al: Wow, it sounds like it. I love what you said. The best gift I can give to the church is a healthy staff, and boy, amen to that.
Al: Well, let’s talk about challenges here a minute because we’re in the middle of a national pandemic, and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. And I’m curious. What’s the number one thing a leader must do to care for their staff now, even in the midst of COVID-19? And yeah, we’re starting to kind of come out of it. We’re recording this in early October. What can you do to really care for your staff at this point?
Aaron: That’s a good question. I think there’s probably a lot of different ways to answer this question. For me, the most important thing that we’ve done is to reassure our staff regularly that, number one, we are going to get through this and that we are going to get through it together, that we’re going to do everything that we can. There’s a lot of places that we would trim the budget before we started laying off staff. I really wanted them—like, the value for me was I really wanted them to not feel insecure about their future and income. And I mean, you know, back in March when this whole thing hit and everybody was like, the world economy’s collapsing, like, it was really pretty doom and gloom, everybody was very unsettled. I think that the insecurity at a lesser degree has really kind of been this undercurrent for everybody. And so we’ve worked really, really hard to just say, “Hey, we know. We know that it’s unstable right now. The world is unstable. We know that. But we’re committed to taking care of you before we take care of anything else for this season. We’re going to get through this. And then, we’ll get back to kind of expanding our ripples of influence.” But that was something that we had to reiterate a lot of times, especially when everybody was in quarantine, and they’re kind of relationally disconnected and not just from the staff, but from everybody. And so you kind of sit with your own insecurity, and it’s a difficult space to stay in long term. That was our number one thing that I wanted to do, was to make sure that they knew—and I’ve led it over the course of my ministry through financial hard times before, and I haven’t always led well through that. That’s a lesson that I’ve kind of had to learn the hard way, that when we don’t reassure people, they kind of take on that insecurity. And so that’s been my number one priority in this process.
Al: So, Aaron, let me just ask a deeper question, then. So I believe that when a staff feels secure and they’re in a place where they can innovate, that’s a foundational point for innovation is a staff feeling secure in difficult times. Have you seen your staff be able to innovate and pivot, as many people have said, during COVID, more than you would have expected?
Aaron: Yes. And some of them who—like, for example, one of our children’s ministers, or early childhood coordinator, she came up with a brilliant idea that she called Quarantivities because she wasn’t doing Sunday morning programing, because we weren’t having services. And even after we reopened services, we weren’t doing family ministry. We weren’t doing any kids’ ministry. So she developed these things that she would send out to the families of all of her kids that were just things for their kids to do in their home. And so they had Bible lessons. It was brilliant. I was like, I would never have thought of that. I would never have thought of that.
And now moving into the online conversation about church and what the future—and this is a whole separate conversation from culture—but we have a guy that we’ve actually moved into that position. And what he’s been able to do with online church for us as far as connecting people who—like, we found that we literally have people in at least 38 different states across the United States that call Southeast their church. And we didn’t know. And now that we know that, because, I mean, my conviction is we’re not called to make big churches; we’re called to make disciples. And so we got to figure out how to steward that. And he’s just done a tremendous job of getting people connected and building ministries in a literal virtual campus and an online campus, building ministries where people can help him to connect other people to our church, and they don’t even live in the same state as us. It’s pretty incredible what they’re doing and how they’re finding space for that. And without COVID, we never would have been forced to come up with any of that stuff.
Al: Yeah, yeah. That’s just great stories of innovation. And again, what you’ve done is to create an environment where people are free to think and to innovate and to pivot to make ministry effective, like you’ve just described. Two great stories. Yeah, thanks.
And what would you say is the number one thing a leader must avoid or resist while overseeing his or her staff during COVID? Is there something that comes to mind?
Aaron: Yeah. Leading from fear.
Aaron: And I know—and I’ve actually done this, not here, but I’ve done this in the past, where we got into a tight spot, and I wanted to be honest and transparent with our staff. And so I told them all the details. But I spoke from a place of fear, like, “I’m really concerned, and I don’t know where this is going. And here’s the potential cost.” And here’s what I did, unintentionally, but here’s what I did. I created a space where our staff kept trying to pit themselves up against all the other staff to see, if there’s layoffs, who goes first, who goes second, who goes third. And so they started competing against one another, which created some really kind of yucky stuff that we had to process through over the long term.
It just was—leading from fear is a killer. And it’s easy to get caught up in all the insecurity that’s going on, and add onto that the elections, and add onto that all the desperate social stuff that’s going on right now with protests and riots and people forcing this conversation around abuse of power and all that kind of stuff. Like, it just feels really heavy right now, and it’s easy to let fear take over. What we’ve done here is just to really try to focus on God’s incredible faithfulness. And He has continued to be very, very faithful to us.
Al: Yeah. That’s a great lesson. That’s great agility. You’ve seen that story when you operate from fear, and now you’re working from a different story.
You know, you and your senior leadership team have the courage and the foresight to ask your church staff to give you their honest, anonymous feedback about the workplace. And without their transparency, you wouldn’t have had the insights needed to create the trust, collaboration, and commitment that’s truly transformed your culture. So what’s it like for you to hear the words that your staff are telling you?
Aaron: Yeah. Well, I mean, it feels amazing. I don’t know if it’s foresight or if it’s just a deep awareness that I’m not that bright or that my perspective isn’t the only one out there, we live and we want to really live into this model of relational ministry. And so transparency and authenticity are crucial in all of that. And I’m just thankful that they’re responding well to a healthier view of relationship and culture, because the truth is they could choose to stay broken. You know, they could choose to say, “No, I don’t want to take that risk. I don’t want to do that. I really just want to stay where I am and hunker down in my foxhole and blame the world for what’s going on.” They just have chosen to step into this healthier model of what relationship can look like, and them being willing to say something when they don’t agree or feeling like they have the space to be heard has just been a big piece of that.
Al: That’s great. And let me say it another way. I’m going to say a couple of things here, and we’ll talk about a couple of these things. But by surveying your staff, everyone can celebrate what makes Southeast a great place to work. And what they’re saying is, amazing fellow staff members; friendly and hardworking people; access to trust; for leaders, your commitment and the commitment of your executive pastor, Tom Fitzgerald, continue to build a healthy culture. Your reaction when you hear those kinds of things.
Aaron: Well, I’m just humbled. You know, I can’t say enough good about our staff. I just can’t. But I love being a part of what God’s doing here. You know, I love going to work. I love not just doing the work that we do, but doing it with the people that we get to do it with. That’s just incredible. I’m super grateful that God would allow me to be a part of our church. And, yeah, it’s just an honor to be here and see everything changing.
Al: You know, our vision is that the church should set the standard as the best, most effective place to work in the world. And when I read this comment from one of your employees, it just warms my heart. I can’t imagine what it does for you. But here’s a direct quote from one of your employees. “I wake up every morning and look forward to going to work. I feel seen, known, appreciated, cared for, and loved. I adore my coworkers. I don’t just tolerate them, but genuinely love them. I never have to question my worth in my position. I know that I’m not only needed, but also wanted, and that’s special. I am incredibly passionate about what I do and who I get to do it with. My supervisor values me, and I have the resources I need to be successful.” Wow. Aaron, that’s fantastic. What does a comment like that do for you?
Aaron: Actually, while you were reading that, I just, again, it makes me super emotional. It does. And partly because I know where these guys came from and how hard it was for them to just get up and walk through the doors of the office every day, and yet they did it. They faithfully stewarded that position. And so for them to be in a space where they can experience and feel God’s presence, God’s love, God’s value for them in a real way, yeah, it’s just awesome. It helps me know we’re headed in the right direction. That gives me energy to want to keep doing better on the hard days. It gives me a reason to keep holding the line on the little relational idiosyncrasies that would be easier to let go, those little things that are like, “Hey, that’s just a two-degree shift. That’s not a big deal. That’s just a little bit off,” but in the long run, it would damage everything that we’re working so hard to build. And so when I get to work with people like that, I want to give my life to that and to the mission that we serve together.
Al: Well, Aaron, I really enjoyed everything that we’ve learned today. I salute you as a leader, and I salute those that are listening to our podcast who have been intentional as you’ve been to improve the health of their cultures. I mean, that’s what causes me to be emotional, for sure.
You know, I think about, again, the tremendous progress that your staff have seen in terms of the healthier culture and the way you came in and built trust. You dealt with the pay inequities and competitiveness right off the bat. You provided recognition, love, and appreciation for your staff and for your volunteers; your desire to love people well, to help them reach higher levels of performance, that that’s what you’ve seen. I mean, we could just go on and on of what we’ve talked about.
Is there anything that you’d like to add to what we’ve talked about so far? Just one more thing you’d like to add?
Aaron: Yeah. I would throw out, I mean, relationship has been the catalyst for changing. We just have developed a different mindset on what relationship is and how it works and what we’re going to value in our relationships with our coworkers. But relationship is hard work. It is. And sometimes it feels like it’s too much. It’s like it would be so much more efficient to just clean house, and these people aren’t getting it. And I can have all the bad days I need, but nobody else gets permission to have any. But to just walk in some days, and I’m swinging the ax. We’re cleaning the house. We’re going to start over.
But I think a lot about Moses’s conversation with God in Exodus, when God, He gives Moses the opportunity to—He’s like, “Moses, I’m going to wipe all these people out, and I’m going to start over with you.” And Moses fights for the people because he’s fighting for God’s reputation. And what he says is, “God, if we can’t figure out how to make it work with these people—everybody knows You’re the God that brought them out of Egypt. If we can’t make it work with these people, what they’re going to say is, ‘You might have been able to bring them out, but You can’t lead them anywhere.’”
And I love sitting in that space with these—we know God’s been at work here, but if we don’t keep working hard to stay connected to one another, if we don’t keep working hard to grow in relationship, then what winds up happening is God’s reputation is what takes the black eye because we go, “Well, you know, it was great when everything was going good, but God doesn’t work in the hard times. God doesn’t work through conflict. God doesn’t work.” So I roll that around in my head often because it is hard work, and it isn’t as efficient as just giving people task lists and making them punch time cards and those kinds of things. It isn’t as efficient as that. But I can tell you it’s way more effective, and it’s a lot more fun to come to work.
Al: Oh, boy. Yeah. Relationships, yeah.
Well, let’s conclude our interview, Aaron. I know there’s one more thought that you’d like to give our listeners. What would you like to share?
Aaron: I would just throw this out. I believe that if our country is going to make it, if our country is going to turn around and see revival and turn back to the Lord, it’s going to be because the church is going to be able to rise up and be what God intended for it to be. I know that there’s a lot of opinions out there about, you know, what is it that will turn the country around? And I’m just convinced, I’m deeply convicted, that God has given us a clear mission, and so in order for us to truly fulfill that mission, we have to be willing to do God’s things God’s way. And that’s why I believe in a relational model of ministry, because God calls us to it, not because it’s easy, but because God calls us to it. I believe in a relational model of ministry because it actually makes disciples, which is what He’s asked us to make. When we do God’s things God’s way, that’s when we get God’s results, and that’s what this last year for us has been really, really all about. And I think working hard for a healthy culture is a major piece of that.
Al: Aaron Couch, lead pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Parker, Colorado, you’re right on. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for being with us. Thank you for your wisdom and insights and for inspiring and equipping our leaders to build healthier, flourishing workplace cultures. It’s really been a pleasure. Thanks for sharing.
Aaron: Thank you so much.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba.
Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.