What is a Christian organisation?
Or: What makes an organisation distinctively Christian? What is it about "Christian" organisations that makes them different to non-Christian organisations?
We believe that the identity of a Christian organisation is defined not so much by what organisations do in order to fulfil their mission / purpose, but more by the motivation behind what they do and the way things get done.
Many people define a Christian organisation only in terms of its purpose being in some way "Christian" - e.g. it engages in mission, social action, retailing Christian merchandise, etc. Our view, however, is that what makes an organisation "Christian" is primarily how it operates, its identity / ethos being Christ-centred.
In defining a Christian organisation it is helpful to consider what defines an individual as a Christian. We would suggest that the individual's relationship with the living God in Jesus is the one core factor that distinguishes the Christian from the non Christian. This life choice, belief and relationship in turn affects the inspiration and motivation for everything we do. The belief gives rise to values that we choose to apply in all we do as a way of expressing our belief in action.
If we see a Christian organisation as a corporate expression of a set of joint and agreed beliefs and values then we would suggest the following. The organisation's statement of faith, its commitment to prayer, and the way it understands its role in relation to extending the Kingdom of God are some examples of Christian organisations defining their joint beliefs and values. However, identity is only seen in practice when as a result of these joint organisational Christ centred beliefs, shared values affect the quality of relationships with others and so the way people do their work. Identity emerges out of being Christ-centred. A respect and love for God leads to a respect and love for others as we apply God inspired values to how we relate.
The tree described in the Bible by Jeremiah provides a useful picture of a Christian organisation. "Blessed are those who trust in the Lord they are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit" New Living Translation, Jeremiah 17 v 7 -8 and also Psalm 1 v 3. Thus, a Christian organisation whose roots are in Christ will fulfil its purpose. What is key is that the unseen roots - the inner core of the organisation is choosing to be centred on Christ. From the Christ centred core flows the life of the organisation, giving health to the whole organisation.
The 7S framework (strategy, style, skills, systems, staff, structure and shared values) is a well known model which further emphasises the importance of aligning joint, agreed, shared values to vision. Peters and Waterman defined shared values as those ideas of what is right and desirable (in corporate and individual behaviour) which are typical to the organisation and common to most of its members. McKinsey and Co go further saying that shared values mean that employees share the same guiding values - people strive for these values even if they are demonstrably not profitable. Values act as the organisation's conscience, providing guidance in times of crisis.
The 7S framework as used by McKinsey and Co proposes that unless the 7S of the organisation are aligned to the corporate values excellence will not be achieved nor the purpose fulfilled. Clearly defining the shared values in the first instance is key to their outworking throughout the organisation.
The identity of a Christian organisation is seen and demonstrated when the joint beliefs and values impact on how we expect people to relate to one another and so on how work is carried out. For example joint and agreed expectations are often formalised into organisational and people policies and procedures that enable and encourage a consistent way of working together in line with the organisation's values and beliefs. It is the outworking of these internal policies and procedures in practice which shows whether or not the organisation is true to the beliefs and values, and thus, in this example whether or not it is demonstrating a "Christian" identity.
As Christian identity in an organisation is therefore manifest in attitudes, in approaches to work, in the direction of the organisation, in behaviour, in the way people relate and in the overall 'atmosphere'. To find out more about how these elements can be assessed, go to Aspire overview