There is nothing more corrosive to the life of a congregation than an underlying absence of trust that may manifest itself as congregants not having confidence in their pastoral staff, the congregation’s governing board, one another, or all three. Until trust is established within the congregation and with its leadership, the congregation will struggle to accomplish anything at all.
I always remind leaders in congregations that there is no reason congregants should trust them simply because they are leaders. Every day we read stories of leaders who have betrayed us. In business, government, the military forces, and, most relevantly, religious communities, leaders have intentionally or unintentionally misled people who relied on them. The number of religious leaders who have been exposed for sexual, financial, or other types of misconduct is staggering. Every week, I read about another congregation that has had money stolen by a trusted employee or volunteer. When we regularly miss budget projections, have chronic staff issues, or fail to implement a strategic plan, we erode trust. Misconduct and incompetence with congregations have taken their toll on trust.
As a result, I do not condemn those who lack confidence in their congregational leaders. Rather, I implore the leaders to acknowledge the problem and then earn the allegiance of their congregants by behaving in trustworthy ways. Creating trust in a team or congregation must be at the top of every effective leader’s list today. Without it, a congregation will never realize its calling.
A faith crisis begins when members question its leadership as trustworthy. Herein is the most fundamental congregational dysfunction. Of course, all of this prompts the question, how do we build trust? Performance. It is a word many won’t use in the church. When we make good on our promises, when we do what we say we are going to do, trust begins to grow like the proverbial mustard seed. When we act the way faithful people should, we build trust. Trust is results driven. Crucially, we don’t have to succeed at everything we attempt. But when we don’t succeed, we have to acknowledge it.
Creating trust in a team or congregation must be at the top of every effective leader’s list today. Without it, a congregation will never realize its calling.
People develop trust in leaders who do what they say they will and then acknowledge problems that inevitably develop when events don’t unfold as planned. People do not trust leaders who promise something but don’t deliver it. If a congregation’s leaders say they are going to grow the congregation, they had better grow the congregation or acknowledge why it hasn’t grown. If a budget is supposed to be balanced, it better be balanced, or there must be sound answers why it ended up in a deficit.
This article is adapted from John’s book Mobilizing Congregations: How Teams Can Motivate Members and Get Things Done (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015) and used by permission. It can be purchased at Amazon.