Changing churches can be a painful experience, and experiment. My family recently moved an hour north of our previous home, and we were forced to leave our long-time church. So we made a list of churches in our immediate vicinity and began visiting. Two months later, one church just clicked with us. My husband and I gave it a few more weeks before verbally acknowledging what each of us already knew, but the first visit sealed the deal.

How did we know? Other churches we had visited provided sound biblical teaching, organized ministries for adults and children, people who welcomed us, and a pleasant worship experience. Why did this particular place call to us?

Ethos.

What is ethos? It’s the distinguishing tone, environment, or climate—and it’s powerful. It impacts how people feel, act, and respond. And while it may seem intangible, leaders must know how to influence ethos to the benefit of their ministry.

Ethos Begins With the Leader

What impacts ethos? Many factors—for example, the depth of the leader’s relationship with God, their spiritual, emotional and mental health, their view of themselves and others, their view of their role as leader, their comfort empowering others—and, if the team is mixed-gender, their view of the other sex.

If you influence others, you create the ethos. Who you are, how you think, and what you believe color the atmosphere. And what you think and feel about the opposite sex will determine whether or not men and women work together as brothers and sisters. You are responsible for the ministry’s health. It all begins with you.

As a leader, what kind of working atmosphere do you want to create? What kind of ministry ethos is optimal for both the men and the women God entrusts to you? First, let’s talk in general terms and then we will consider how to create a healthy mixed-gender ethos. As we consider a healthy ethos in general terms, there are two models that we do not want to emulate.

The Military Model

Rank, decorum, protocol, and formality are required for the military to be effective in its calling. Walk into a military office and you will sense the unique ethos. “Yes, sir”—“No, ma’am”—“Right away, sir.” The military model does not allow for relationship between unequals.

While relational barriers and formal structures equip the military to defend our country and fight wars, they are not appropriate in ministry. The military model impedes the kind of community ethos needed to build a strong body of believers equipped to fight a different kind of battle. Spiritual warfare requires camaraderie born in an ethos that fosters true sibling relationships.

The Professional Model

A professional working environment is not personal—not really. Employees are valuable as long as they are useful to the company’s overall purpose—the bottom line. This does not mean that companies don’t care about their employees. Many have learned that it is in their best interest to treat employees fairly. But companies are not there to help people—people are there to help the company.

The professional model helps create a productive economy—and there is nothing wrong with that. But ministry is not about making money or building the biggest building or touting the largest numbers. It’s easy to get confused about that in ministry, especially if the leader is confused about what kind of model to emulate. Ministry is about healing men and women and sending them out for the glory of God. As ministry leaders, we are not called to create a business or professional ethos.

However, the military and business/professional mindset still lurks in some ministers’ minds today. Should a senior pastor be friends with his executive pastor? The youth pastor? The women’s minister? The children’s director? His administrative assistant? How should ministry relationships function? What kind of ethos does the Lord want us to create?