Building Trust in the Body of Christ

As we begin to build permission-giving, gift-oriented ministry, there is a key variable that does not get the attention it deserves: trust. To empower people requires trust. In many traditional churches, Council/Committee structure requires permission granting in lieu of trust. In the permission-giving model, when an initiative surfaces, the leader asks the one proposing the idea three questions:

What does this do to move us closer to the vision?
What does this do to involve you in the accomplishment of our vision?
Are there two or three people here who agree and will team up with you to make this happen?

If there are positive responses to these three questions, no further permission is needed; the person is unleashed to create the new initiative. If the third question is a 'no', then this is probably not what the Spirit is leading us to do in this place at this time. Of course, this model depends upon clarity of mission and vision.

In the traditional Council/Committee structure, any new initiative must go through several layers to receive permission. First, a proposal needs the support of one of the standing committees. If it first arrives on Council's doorstep, it typically will be tabled until the appropriate committee can pass judgment. Then, with the committee approval, the initiative comes before the Council, which has the right to approve most initiatives. Some initiatives require congregational approval before being enacted. These steps can take six months or longer to get to a yes. Oftentimes, the one proposing the new idea has already become frustrated and convinced no one wants to try anything new around here long before permission is received.

The stark difference in these two systems is the level of trust required. We begin to write rules and regulations when we cannot trust people to act in good faith on their own. We spell things out in constitutions and bylaws to make sure people do not stray from the accepted course. Instead of coaching people, equipping and developing them, we give them a rulebook, it's about orthodoxy and control. Unfortunately, those things we codify in our constitution may not work today as well as they did 20 years ago. However, when we start to suggest changing the constitution, eyebrows raise, and the Robert’s Rules folks come running to make sure nothing sacred is lost in the changes. Where is trust in all this?

Trust Yourself, Be Trustworthy, Trust Others

So, then, how do we build trust at the core of the body of Christ? During my EMBA studies, we visited Tokyo and Hong Kong to observe business in other cultures. We heard a Human Resources executive with Motorola explain their development process. It hinged on building trust and empowering employees.

As he explained it, you must first trust yourself. If you cannot trust yourself, you can never trust another. As you begin to trust yourself, you build a foundation for trusting relationships by being trustworthy. You demonstrate that you are someone who can be trusted. The final step is to trust others. In our setting, we would add one step. I would say we must first trust God.

This is risky and leaves you vulnerable. It also takes a significant investment in building relationships. Jesus demonstrated this by spending the vast majority of his time with the few.

Consistency and Competency: Building Blocks of Trust

Trust is what my statistics professor would call a dependent variable. You cannot work directly on building trust; it is dependent on several other factors. We have already mentioned relationship. Jesus entrusted his disciples with the most important task of all time, bringing the Gospel to the whole world, the Great Commission. To prepare them for this assignment, Jesus invested his three years of public ministry with this core group of leaders. They lived together, ate together, slept together, learned together, cared for each other. So, leaders who want to trust and empower a core team must invest the majority of their time with this small group. It is the small group that will impact the others. Out of this shared time, trusting relationships can grow.

I say can, because it does not always happen. People are rightfully skeptical of leaders who claim to point the way. The Bible tells us many will come along and mislead the flock. One of the key building blocks of trust is consistency. Is the leader’s behavior consistent with his or her message? Are we walking the talk? Are we investing our time and money in the things we say are important to us? Any inconsistency here will invalidate our message.

Further, are we consistent in our trajectory? Wayne Gretzky said, “I try to skate where the puck is going, not where it is.” He tried to anticipate the flow of the game and the moves of his teammates, and arrive in the right place to strike.

Over time, a good leader will set a consistent course that will allow others to anticipate where the trajectory is headed. They can then initiate action to prepare for where the leader is going. You only need to try that once, and see the leader zigzag off in a different direction to say, "I won’t try that again." Inconsistency in the leader freezes the followers in their tracks. They don't want to take off in a direction only to find out the leader has changed his or her mind, and that the direction they took was wrong. This is called walking out on a limb and having it sawed off behind you. As the old saying goes, “First time, shame on you. Second time, shame on me.” So, leaders who set a course and stick to it will be trusted much more than those who are constantly changing their minds.

The second key trait is competency. People grow to trust people who can get things done. Nothing inspires trust like a proven track record. Those who propose grand visions without a history of successfully completing previous goals will have little credibility. If you say you will do something, can people count on it getting done? I know key leaders in the church who have lost all credibility with their people because they set an ambitious vision before the people and could not get traction on getting it done. When people see this, the next time the leader proposes something, the response is, "Yeah, right. I’ll believe it when I see it."

Another key to competency is who you bring onto your leadership team. If you are not quick to act when people on your team are not performing, those around you reach one of two conclusions. Either the leader is not aware of the shortcoming, or he or she is unwilling to confront poor performance. Either diagnosis points to incompetence.

Pastors, whether or not you have the gift of leadership, your people are looking to you as their spiritual leader. If leadership is not your gift, it is all the more important that you surround yourself with a team of trusted leaders who can bring strength where you are weak. That’s what the Body of Christ is all about. To build that team, invest in relationship, demonstrate consistency and competency, and you will lay the cornerstone of trust. It makes a firm foundation of a healthy Body of Christ.