Values mark who we are. This is true at the individual level, but it is also true at the organisational level. The values that an organisation really has will work their way out into the culture and ethos of the way the organisation runs and feels.
The starting point of all the work of the Christian Distinctiveness Trust was to identify the biblical values that should underpin the way Christian organisations operate and the way individuals within them should relate to one another. Organisations will articulate the values in different ways or may have other values that they would add to the following list, but we believe that these five values are key and generic to most Christian organisations.
Some aspects of these values need no explanation, but other aspects may need a little more work to unpack and understand the full definitions and meanings we have placed on them. In this document, we have not sought to give extensive organisational detail of the values at work, but have focussed on some of the key Bible passages that underpin these values, along with some biblical examples. As the outworking of all these values is relational, you will encounter some overlap both in terms of the passages used and the expressions of these values. The five values we will look at are:
- Individual-Awareness (valuing each person)
- Inclusivity (fairness and belonging)
- Interdependence (working together)
- Integrity (in who we are and what we do)
As Christian organisations, it is essential to have God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the heart of all we do. This supreme value often expresses itself quietly in the lives of the leaders and other believers in the organisation. It involves depending on God, and demonstrating this dependence as we worship, pray and seek direction from him. Such dependence is also typically shown in a sense of peace in our work. Having God at the centre means we put Him first in all we do, placing value on a growing, personal relationship with him.
As Christians, we believe that a personal relationship with God is made uniquely possible through faith in God's only Son, Jesus Christ, who enables us to know God as our heavenly Father (Matt 6:9; John 14:6). John 17:3 tells us: 'this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent'. This personal knowledge of God in Christ should express itself in a deliberate aligning of our attitudes with Christ's, as we seek to become more like Him (Phil 2:5). Moreover, our relationship with Christ should affect not just our inner attitudes, but also our relationships with others. We are reminded by Jesus himself that love of God is inextricably bound up with love for our neighbour (Matt 19:19).
As well as impacting our personal relationships, aligning ourselves with Christ will affect how we approach the work we do. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us not to be anxious, and promises us that 'the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus' as we bring our agendas to Him in prayer, with thankful hearts.
In seeking to be Christ's disciples at work, we are called to display the fruit of the Holy Spirit, given by God through Christ to equip us for service (Gal 5:22-6; Eph 4:12).
Having God the Trinity at the centre means acknowledging that His ways are not the same as our ways. Even with the most experienced and qualified leaders, we are told: 'lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight' (Prov 3:5-6). The focus is on trusting in God not just for the vision, but also for the plan. It requires acknowledging that 'unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain' (Ps 127:1).
A verse that is important to many Christians and Christian organisations is Micah 6:8: 'And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God'. Principles of justice and reaching out in love and mercy have often been foundational to many Christian organisations. For an organisation to be truly Christian, these values need to express themselves not only externally, in the missions to which God calls us, but also internally, in the way organisations are run and staff are treated. The verse ends with the spirit in which our leaders must approach their various leadership roles: walking humbly with God.
Christ-Centredness is the foundational value, with the other four values flowing from having Christ at the centre.
Being Individual-aware starts from the perspective we have of our people. We value each of them as being uniquely made in God's image. Genesis 1:27 tells us that 'God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them'. This means we recognise the importance of treating people as valuable individuals. As we are all, without exception, made in His image, we are all of equal value in God's sight. Individual-awareness expresses itself in valuing relationships and treating individuals well. As image-bearers of our God, our people will always be more important than making a profit. Treating them fairly, with compassion and understanding should take a higher priority than seeing our other goals and results achieved.
God treats all of us as carefully hand-made human beings, not just as resources to be exploited. The Psalmist says of God: 'You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made' (Psalm 139:13-14). This has an impact on whether we view our people primarily as "human" or "resources". In organisations, our people certainly are a resource, but with that comes a responsibility for careful stewardship. The Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30) gives us both an encouragement for good stewardship and a severe warning for the bad stewardship of that which God entrusts to us.
Jesus presents God as perfectly harmonizing his love for the whole world (John 3:16) with his care for each individual: 'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of my Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don't be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows' (Matt 10:29-31). This is not just passive awareness, but an active seeking-out and valuing of individuals, and a persistent concern for their welfare. The analogy of the shepherd is used frequently in the Bible, but Matthew 18 gives us the personal and individual nature of this shepherding: 'What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?' (Matt 18:12).
Being individual-aware also means valuing people not just in isolation, but also as a vital part of the whole organisation. Although we have a natural tendency to place higher values on certain key individuals in our organisations, the apostle Paul uses the image of a body to show the unique and vital role that each person has to play: 'If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable' (1 Cor 12:17-22). Although Paul is talking specifically about the body of Christ, the image can be applied to a mixed organisation of believers and unbelievers. The issue of the indispensability of each of our people is an important one.
In regard to employment, the issues and language surrounding inclusiveness and equality of opportunity are relatively new. The principles behind the issues are not. They reflect God's heart for the world and as such, should be reflected in our organisations. Many issues involved in treating our staff without favouritism or prejudice are now legal issues, but viewing our people from God's perspective involves more than just the legal requirements. It means valuing their diverse gifts, experience and contribution. Valuing our people in this way will express itself in open communication. This will involve seeking input and feedback from all staff and involving them in the heart of the organisation, particularly as it relates to their lives. Treating our people with impartiality will be evident in the availability of training and open advertising of positions, for example.
The starting point for us recognising the importance of this value is recognising God's inclusivity in salvation. Possibly the Bible's most famous verse tells us that 'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16). The concept of "whoever", without pre-condition or bias, is a strong theme in the New Testament: the word itself appears 61 times in the Gospels alone. God's love is open to all.
This "embracing" of everyone is not passive. It is very proactive. God sent Christ on a "search and rescue" mission: 'For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost' (Luke 19:10). Alongside God's proactivity is a persistence in pursuing people: 'The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance' (2 Peter 3:9). Paul goes to utmost lengths to embrace as many as he can: 'To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some' (1 Cor 9:22).
When viewed from God's perspective, this equality becomes clearer. Any differences we may have, become by comparison insignificant. Recognition of God's impartiality led Paul to assert that in Christ 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Gal 3:28). In Christian organisations, then, this becomes not a comment concerning different roles, but concerning the value we place on people. There are many different roles to be played, but we approach this from an understanding that all the roles are played by valuable people of equal status.
Jesus sets one of the greatest examples of inclusivity when he explains to his disciples his perspective on them. He explained to his disciples that they were his friends and fellow workers: 'I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends' (John 15:15). He more than anyone, had the right to claim the status of "the boss", but instead he chose to give up those rights to status and position and become like one of the workforce (Phil 2:7-8).
In order for inclusivity to be authentic, there is a need for unity among people. Unity was the prayer of Jesus when he asked the Father to bless the disciples and empower their mission (John 17:23). This unity was not sought for its own sake, but that 'the world may believe' (Jn 17:21). The importance of unity is further highlighted in Paul's exhortation to the Ephesians, to 'make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace' (Eph 4:3).
We need one another. The model of the independent, free agent is a rare thing in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. The need for interdependence started at creation. God saw that the individualistic model was not a good one: 'It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him' (Gen 2:18). This interdependence also included joint responsibility and joint control (Gen 1:28). It underpins Jesus' model of partnership in mission, when he sends out his 72 followers in pairs. Such interdependence is not just to do with our relationships with each other; it has its foundations in our dependence on God. Jesus' disciples were used to being able to depend on him, so when he was about to leave them he explained that he would 'ask the father and He will give you another Helper who will be with you forever' (John 14:16). As we are dependent on one another, we are primarily dependent on God's Spirit dwelling and working within us.
Interdependence shows itself in a recognition that we are connected to one another and cannot achieve all that God requires of us without one another: 'The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!' (1 Cor 12:21). So it is within our organisations: we cannot "go it alone", but we need healthy inter- and intra-team relationships, an attitude of togetherness within a mutually supportive environment that respects people and their contribution.
This mutual dependence, when working well, produces a level of team work that shares the joys of success and the pain of difficulty, whatever the individual contribution might have been: 'If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it' (1 Cor 12:26).
Mutuality and interdependence can be seen in various "one another" statements made in the epistles. We are told to serve one another (Gal 5v13), forgive one another (Eph 4v32), submit to one another (Eph 5v21), encourage one another (Heb 10v24), remain faithful to one another (Heb 13v4), and love one another (8 times in all). These are all relational actions that are needed if interdependence is to work and healthy relationships are to grow. As if to underline the point, the apostle Paul reminds us not to be involved in irritating, biting, devouring, destroying or being jealous of one another (1 Cor 3:3; 12:20; Gal 5:15).
Whenever possible, teamwork should be a valued highly in our organisations. Even when this is not possible, a sense of "being in this together" should prevail. Paul seems consistently to have sought to work with others on his missionary journeys, despite a temperament that may well have suited independence. With some he worked well; with others he had 'sharp disagreements', and still others deserted him (Acts 15:37-39). Yet he referred to all alike as "fellow workers in the Gospel" (Phil 4:3, Col 4:10-11, 1 Thess 3:2, Philemon 1). He consistently made himself dependent on others.
In a world that often views Christians as hypocrites, the need for integrity, particularly in leadership, has never been as great. Many businesses are struggling with the concepts surrounding business ethics and often the struggle is because of the lack of personal integrity found in the organisation's leaders. Honesty and integrity need to be hallmarks of Christian organisations if they are going to have any lasting impact on the world.
In King David's last recorded public prayer he says to the Lord: 'I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity' (1 Chron 29:17). David understood, as a leader, the importance of integrity of heart and that his motivation and attitudes were an essential part of what God was looking for in his people and particularly the King of Israel. It wasn't just important whether the nation was being ruled successfully; David knew it was essential to have consistency between the external actions (in this case the preparation of the temple) and the attitudes and behaviours he was showing. The psalmist commented on these dual requirements of leadership: 'David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them' (Ps 78:72). He saw the need in leadership for not just skills and abilities, but for these to be matched with character traits that were visibly evident to others around.
In the dialogue between God and Satan at the beginning of Job, one of the key attributes that the Lord highlights is Job's integrity. He describes him as 'blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason' (Job 2:3). It is this same attribute that Job's wife criticises him for later in the chapter: 'His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"' (Job 2:9). Despite this and many other encouragements, Job continues to cling to his integrity, even though everything else appears to be lost: 'till I die, I will not deny my integrity' (Job 27:5).
Integrity is about who we are as individuals. We should not be able to separate out who we are from the way we act within our organisations. The success of the missions God calls us to is reliant on us being the people God calls us to be. Jesus illustrates the relationship between our personal integrity and what we achieve: 'every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit' (Matt 7:17-18). Intrinsically, there is a link between who we are and what we do in God's kingdom.
The book of Proverbs explains that integrity is important not just for its own sake but for our own protection. A lack of integrity will only get us into trouble in the long run. 'The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out' (Prov 10:9). 'The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity' (Prov 11:3). For our own sake, as well as the reputation of our organisations, we need to remain faithful to God.
An essential part of leadership is modelling. Paul urges Titus: 'In everything, set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us' (Titus 2:7-8). Finally then, it is for the sake of the Gospel's reputation that we guard our integrity.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible: New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.