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Building Trust for Effective Team Ministry

by Robert C. Crosby

Robert C. CrosbyTrust is probably the most oft-mentioned and common ingredient within great ministry teams. Experts from all fields of teambuilding agree on this essential. All team values have their roots in trust or team trust. For example, honesty is an essential team value, but on what is it founded? It is founded on trust. In order for me to be honest with my teammate, it is essential that I feel that I can trust him or her.

But how is trust developed? Where does it come from? How can it be nurtured? And, how does a group of people learn to trust its team leaders and one another? It’s simple, but challenging: team trust is a process. It takes time, but it is something that is built and added to with every task accomplished, every promise kept and every concern addressed.

A warning: trust is much more quickly lost than it is built. Building trust is a patient process, one day and one step at a time.

Faithfulness and trust go hand in hand. This is also true on a team. Leaders and members often want their teammates to pour their trust quickly into a latest idea or plan, but trust is something that grows over time and amidst the journey of dreaming. It is a sacred trust; hard fought for, but well worth the effort. It is earned by consistency of character and behavior, by planning, and the accomplishment of team goals together.

While a decision to trust the team with a short-term plan or idea is one thing, developing the deep trust required to accomplish great goals and to see God build great ministries and a great church is yet another. Deep trust will take deep time and deep and faithful action to develop. But it is absolutely worth it!

Here are some things that build trust on a team:

  • Promises made and kept
  • Intent, focused, and reflective listening to each person’s ideas and opinions
  • Ongoing mutual concern for team members’ personal needs and families
  • Remembering special occasions in your team members’ lives
  • Straight and honest talk
  • Loyalty to the team and team members
  • Emotional honesty (When you are glad about something — let them know; when you are angry — let them know.)

Here are some things that erode trust on a team:

  • Cloaked confrontations (Those times in which you really want to confront one particular team member, but instead, in the name of convenience or cowardice, you confront the entire team and leave everyone trying to figure out for just whom it was meant)
  • Unnecessarily long team meetings (Wasting team members’ time because you haven’t planned out your own well enough)
  • Delaying commitments
  • Talking critically about a team member when the person is not present to respond
  • Postponing decision making without good reason
  • Unkept promises

Make no mistake. People deeply desire to work in an environment of trust. A team that wants to accomplish reasonable goals has to have the ingredient of trust. A team that wants to accomplish exceptional goals must have an exceptional sense of trust. Perhaps the most important question that team members, and potential team members, ask about their team leader is: Can I trust that person?

Robert C. Crosby is professor of practical theology at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. This material is excerpted from his new book, The Teaming Church: Ministry in the Age of Collaboration (Abingdon, 2012). Used by permission. The Teaming Church is available from Amazon and Cokesbury.