Creating a Culture of Trust and Transparency

Sherri Miles - Training and Development Team Lead | Real Life Ministries - Post Falls, ID

In today’s complex and ever-changing culture, trust and transparency are getting increasingly difficult to establish. I’ve been on staff at Real Life Ministries for 20 years and my current role is Training and Development Team Lead, AKA Culture Keeper. In different seasons of ministry, we have wrestled with building and sustaining a healthy culture of trust and transparency within our church staff. We have experienced rapid growth, and we have declined. We have plateaued and grown again. We have hired from within and outside of our organization, fired and transitioned staff. We have identified, equipped and released leaders to start campuses and church plants. With all of those transitions comes the huge task of creating and sustaining a culture of trust and transparency. Our church is passionate about intentional, relational discipleship, so with all the change it’s challenging to maintain strong relational bonds to say the least. Here are just some of the challenges we have faced regarding culture over the years:

  1. A lack of trust with upper leadership
  2. Unsafe environments
  3. Gossip and manipulation
  4. Silos
  5. Leaders who don’t model trust and transparency
  6. No core values to define culture
  7. Suspicions and meetings behind meetings

Can you identify with any of these?
I’ve got to say that intentional, relational discipleship comes with a cost. It’s one of the most beautiful, messy, joyful, painful and amazing things we have the honor to live out and model. With the challenges listed above, our culture began to erode and feelings of hurt crept in while trust and empathy disappeared, leaving people feeling unsafe.

When there is a lack of trust and safety, we expend our time and energy to protect ourselves from each other. That weakens the organization and our effectiveness to be and make disciples of Jesus.

We learned this lesson the hard way.
In 2014 our Executive Team sent out a survey to assess our staff culture. We already suspected that we were struggling, and the results confirmed it: 4 out of every 5 responses were negative. With that discovery, we had our work cut out for ourselves.

2014 Staff Culture Word Cloud

You may notice some words are emphasized in the image above. This means multiple staff members described the culture using the same word. Most of the words in this word cloud describe a negative atmosphere. Imagine what it would be like to show up to work each day in that kind of broken environment.

After years of hard work, we asked the staff to take the same survey.

Now, take a look at the results from 2021:

2021 Staff Culture Word Cloud

Out of 56 responses, 49 were positive, 1 was negative, and 5 could go either way, depending on the person’s perspective. How did we manage to pull off such a drastic culture shift?

Building Trust and Transparency Takes Courageous Leadership!
When we feel safe inside the organization we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to reach the world for Jesus one person at a time.

In order to create a culture of trust and transparency you must:

  1. Define what trust and transparency is within your organization
  2. Assess what kind of culture you currently have regarding trust and transparency

Define It: Culture

Culture is the character and personality of your team; it’s what makes your team unique and it is the sum of your values, behaviors, traditions, beliefs, interactions, and history together.

  • For Real Life – Our Culture is made up of the things that we hold to be true (Core Beliefs), the things we hold fast to inside (Core Character Values) combined with our skills and abilities (Core Competencies).

EVERY culture can improve! Culture is a large part of the DNA of your church. It takes time, investment, and a staff team that is fully bought in to creating a winning culture. You have to build trust through transparency. Trust happens when leaders are transparent. Transparency breeds transparency and, if allowed, it can spread to become part of the organizational culture.

The apostles helped set the culture they wanted to create for the early church. They did it based on what they experienced with Jesus and what he taught.

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV) 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.


Shift #1 – Assess It

Identify shared values and behaviors

  • Assess the culture of your team by creating a survey. Let your team know that the assessment is confidential and encourage them to be completely honest in their responses. Ensure you get 100% participation.
  • Self-assess where you, as the leader, may be falling short.
  • Identify toxic behaviors that might be creeping in.

Galatians 6:4-5 (NLT) 4 Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. 5 For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

Shift #2 – Define It

Define terms and make them clear

  • Words and definitions matter. If you don’t define it, someone else will.
  • Define common core values and core character traits that are non-negotiable.

Shift #3 – Model It

  • Your culture will only be as healthy as YOU, the Senior Leader and Leadership wants it to be… you cannot work around it.
  • We are ridiculously responsible for the culture we create.
  • “You can’t delegate it. You have to make sure the entire organization sits up and takes notice.” ~ Jim Putman

1 Peter 5:2-32 (NLT) Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.

Call to Action

Question #1 – Do people trust the leadership of your organization?
Question #2 – Do you have clearly defined core beliefs, and core values?
Question #3 – Are there changes your senior leadership needs to make in what they model, in order to create a culture of trust and transparency?

To read more about living out a healthy culture I would encourage you to check out my good friend and former teammate at Real Life Ministries Brandon Guindon’s book Disciple Making Culture.

by Sherri Miles – Training and Development Team Lead

Real Life Ministries
Post Falls, ID