As we seek to develop trust in a congregation, it is important to pay attention to three key leverage points for fostering congregational trust over the long term. These are;
- The action of leaders as all levels
- The formal structures of the congregation
- The culture of the congregation
In these next posts we look at all three, beginning with the building of trust through leadership.
Credibility At The Top
In many ways, the foundation of trust in a congregation rests upon the actions of its leadership. Credibility in the congregation begins with the key leader, normally the pastor or in a staff situation, the senior or lead pastor. Certainly other key leaders, whether staff or volunteers and contribute to or undermine trust. Nevertheless, the individual who is the most visible leader in a congregation is the pastor and a climate of trust can’t be establish apart from the pastor.
We have already noted the elements that go into establishing trust and a pastor can’t ignore them. When a pastor is perceived to be incompetent, unethical or uncaring, trust disappears.
The Pastor Needs To Achieve Results
There may be some give and take on what can be reasonably expected from a pastor, yet he or she needs to take responsibility for delivering on the key objectives that only the pastor can achieve. Pastors need to agree with the congregation on performance standards for themselves and these standards need to be specific rather than ambiguous.
The Pastor Needs To Act With Integrity
Maybe it seems like it should go without saying that a pastor must demonstrate integrity. Nevertheless, countless congregations have descended into turmoil when pastors have failed to exhibit the highest integrity. Beyond modeling integrity themselves, pastors must be responsible to hold others to the same high standards.
The Pastor Needs To Demonstrate Concern
People in the congregation need to feel that they are more than a means to an end. Other staff, whether paid or volunteer, need to be affirmed and valued by the pastor. Often it is through the development of relationship that caring can be communicated.
Building Trustworthy Leadership Groups
For the most part pastors don’t choose the leaders they work with. A pastor may not have the final say over who serves in paid staff positions. Nor do they chose other leaders who may simply be volunteers or who may be elected by the congregation.
Nevertheless, pastors can influence to type of people who do become leaders by framing the choice of leaders in terms of call. Asking questions such as “What are the characteristics we are looking for in a leader?” and “Who is God calling to this leadership position?” can lead to the selection of a more trustworthy leadership team.
Developing A Trust-Sustaining Practices
Often the most effective approach to raising trust levels is not to focus on trust itself, but on those actions that will over time foster trust in the congregation. Instead of trying to develop trust itself, pastors need to look for ways to achieve results, act with integrity and demonstrate concern.
It should be noted that when a congregation is going through a time of stress, trust can be either won or lost. It is particularly difficult to maintain a high level of trust when decline and a sense of failure in a congregation is long term. Such chronic, long-term stress can increase suspicions and produce actions that will diminish trust.
Trust functions most effectively in the background. The pastor needs to model trust-producing behavior. A trustworthy leadership group needs to be cultivated. The organizational structure needs to support the building of trust.
In the next post, we look more closely at the kind of organizational architecture that can help foster a climate conducive to trust.