Building trust takes time.
There are no shortcuts.
There are no quick fixes.
It just takes time and time means that we must have patience.
The Importance of Trust
In the midst of a conversation with another pastor, he suddenly blurted something out that caused me to do a lot of thinking.
From previous conversations I knew that he was going through a difficult time in his church. He wanted to make some changes and people were very slow to get on board.
In this conversation he asked me what was new in my church and I was sharing with him some changes that we were in the process of making.
Without any warning he interrupted me and with a great deal of emotion in his voice he said,
“You get away with murder in your church. I can’t believe what your church allows you to do.”
Those words sent me into a period of intense retrospective that lasted for a period of several months.
Did I get away with murder?
Why did my church give me the freedom to make as many changes as we made?
Would I have that much freedom if I were at another church?
Reality was that my church had made a lot of changes. There were times when I did feel like I had got away with murder.
The question that I pondered was whether I was in a one off and would never find another church that would give me that freedom or whether I had managed to do something right during my time at the church.
I came to the conclusion that it was a combination of both of those things. I had come to a church that was ripe for change and I probably wouldn’t have the same freedom in another church. I was given more freedom than many pastors are given.
On the other hand I also decided that I had done one thing well that one thing is an absolute prerequisite for a leader in any church setting.
I had built a high level of trust between the leaders in the church, the members of the church and me as their pastor. It had taken time. In fact it had taken a lot of time but I had had the patience to wait. The result was that there was a very high level of mutual trust all around.
With that mutual trust a pastor can do almost anything.
Without that mutual trust the pastor can do almost nothing.
Mutual trust comes only when a pastor has the patience to take the time required to build that kind of trust.
The building blocks of trust
1. Make wise decisions
There is nothing that builds trust like making wise decisions. Karl Vaters suggests that there are four possible approaches that a church can take as it attempts to move forward. The church can:
- Do the right thing in the right way
- Do the right thing in the wrong way
- Do the wrong thing in the right way
- Do the wrong thing in the wrong way
Mutual trust comes from making the decision to do the right thing in the right way.
Right decisions over time build trust. Even when you want to do something that people might be nervous about, they will usually give you the benefit of the doubt if you have a record of making wise decisions in the past.
I have heard it said that a pastor doesn’t enter into his most productive years until she has been at a church for anywhere from five to seven years. It doesn’t mean that the pastor can’t accomplish anything before that amount of time has passed but her most productive time comes after she has been at the church for at least five years.
The reason for this is simple. The church needs to see a series of wise decisions before it will give the pastor its full trust and it takes that long to make enough wise decisions.
A word to young pastors.
Externals don’t generate trust in people. You might have a graduate degree from a recognized seminary. No doubt you worked hard to earn it and it means a great deal to you but it adds very little to the trust that a church has in your leadership.
You may have been ordained with all the trimmings that that involves. You have a certificate or a letter that says that your denomination has recognized you as someone qualified to lead. It is a wonderful thing to have but it doesn’t add very much to the trust level of your church.
You may have served in a number of ministry settings and that experience will serve you well but it adds very little to the trust that your church has in you.
What builds trust within a church is a series of wise decisions over time. You make enough wise decisions and the church will grant you its trust.
You need to have the patience to take the time for those wise decisions to build up.
2. Unpack your suitcases and plan to stay
Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Driven Church tells of the commitment that he made as a young man who was just beginning to feel God’s call on his life to become a pastor. He says that at a meeting in which W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was the speaker, Warren made a commitment to serve one church for his entire life. p. 26
I know that everyone is different. We are not all called to serve in this way but the principle behind Warren’s commitment is one that every pastor should follow.
Every pastor in every church needs to unpack his suitcase and plan to stay there as if he is called there for the rest of his life.
The people in your church need to feel that you are there for the long run.
Many small churches have had a history of pastoral ministry in which pastors have come for two or three years and then moved on often to larger churches. If you are serving in a church with that kind of history, you have a huge obstacle to overcome.
Why should the people give you their trust, if you are only going to move on in a year’s time.
The way to overcome that obstacle is for you to outlast them. Keep telling them that you plan to stay and then stay until they start to believe that you mean it.
When they realize that you aren’t like the other pastors, you will have taken a huge step forward in earning their trust.
Again it takes time but it is patience that will win in the end.
3. Love your people
More than anyone else in the world, I trust my wife.
I do so because we have been married for forty-five years and she has shown me in far more ways than I could ever count that she loves me.
I trust her because whatever I have faced, she has been there to walk through it with me.
There is nothing that builds trust like walking through the tough times together.
When I was a young pastor I served in a small church in Parry Sound for a period of eight months. There was a high proportion of older people in that church. If a person was in her sixties, she was considered young.
In the first few months that I was there I visited most of the seniors in the church. They all wanted to talk about previous pastors who had served there and most of them told me about the one pastor who they looked back on with the fondest memories.
Inevitably that pastor was the person who had walked through the death of their spouse with them. He had visited the spouse in hospital. He had been the first one there when the spouse died. He had conducted the funeral service.
He had walked through the grieving period with the person and it was sharing that time of intense grief that had made him special.
One of the concerns that I have with much that has been taught about church growth over the past few decades is that it has taught pastors to be excellent CEOs but it hasn’t taught them to be good pastors. Most people in small churches are looking for a good pastor, someone who will walk with them through the tough times of life, who will be there when they need spiritual support.
Trust comes from being a good pastor. It comes from loving people. It comes from being there when people need someone to lean on for added strength.
It comes when leaders realize that they are not called to be CEOs. They are called to be pastors who love the people whom they shepherd.
The importance of a trust account
Every leader builds a trust account with the people whom she serves.
She makes a wise decision and people make a small deposit in that account.
He visits a person in hospital and prays with the family and they make another deposit.
She preaches a sermon that speaks right to the heart of someone in the congregation and he makes a deposit.
The church realizes that he really does intended to stay around longer than previous pastors and a fairly large deposit is made.
Over time the account builds if the leader has enough patience to let it build because withdrawals are made as well.
There is a change made to the service and for some a withdrawal takes place.
The pastor is on holidays when a church member takes seriously ill and the pastor isn’t able to be there. A withdrawal takes place.
The leadership board decides to make a major change and a large withdrawal takes place.
Change always involves a withdrawal.
If the trust account is full, withdrawals can occur with very little problem.
If the trust account is empty, even a small withdrawal can create serious problems.
Every church needs to pay close attention to the amount of trust in that account and act accordingly.
There are times when leaders need to realize that they have drained the account and they need to have the patience to wait until the account is built up again.
That is why I believe that patience is an indispensable ingredient in a healthy church.