Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: Whom do you trust?

Pastor's Pastor: Whom do you trust?

How we can build trust.

James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

Are you trustworthy? Recently I sat down with a group of colleagues to discuss how to build trust. We divided our work into two topics: the qualities of a trust worthy individual and the qualities of a trustworthy organization. Characteristics that we believe are hallmarks of a trustworthy church leader include:

Authenticity. What you see is what you get. Trustworthy leaders live what they profess. Although they are not perfect, nor do they claim to be, there is little dissonance between what the leader proclaims and how the leader interacts with his or her family, colleagues, congregation, and community.

Keeping promises. A trustworthy leader's word is better than a contract. Such leaders may make few promises, but fulfillment and follow-through are assured. Trustworthy individuals do not lead followers to conclude that benefits will accrue from the relationship that cannot be sustained at a later time.

Maintaining confidentiality. Trustworthy leaders keep their word, and they keep your confidences. The higher the trustworthiness, the greater the assurance that entrusted information will be completely protected. With the exception of behavior that endangers another individual, trustworthy leaders reveal nothing that has been reported to them by those who expect their confidence to be protected.

Wisdom. Leaders whose counsel is derived from experience will be trusted by those who follow their leadership. Discretion that weighs the difference between the genuine and spurious, along with providing guidance based on sound judgment, builds confidence in followers.

Vulnerability. Followers want their leaders to be accessible in more than appearances. Leaders who are comfortable with self-disclosure about their own struggles and challenges will inspire their followers to press on when difficult times come. On the other hand, those who try to maintain a facade of invulnerability will be considered phony.

Conveying trust in return for trust. One of the most effective ways to elicit trust from followers is to entrust them to act in a trustworthy manner. While a leader needs to make some decisions, many options need to be delegated to followers to train and empower their own progress. Furthermore, leaders who refuse to second-guess their followers even when they make a nonessential mistake will increase their own trust along with enhancing the capabilities of those whom they are training.

Avoiding hasty judgments. A leader who acts deliberately after weighing all relevant facts and who avoids rash actions based on faulty or incomplete information will garner a great harvest of trust. Sometimes quick actions are necessary, but more often a few days invested in reflection or fact-finding will only strengthen and affirm the ultimate conclusion.

Providing all needed and relevant information. Trustworthy leaders trust others. Recognizing that knowledge is power, they share all relevant information, and thus engender trust in themselves. Full disclosure and open discussion build an atmosphere of trust and generate widespread support for the decisions that are implemented.

Qualifications. Followers want their leaders to possess both academic and practical expertise. While educational degrees do not guarantee wisdom, a know-nothing attitude that mocks scholarship says more about the lack of the critic than about the formal process of preparation for excellence. A trustworthy leader will prepare professionally and strive for ongoing growth through continuing education and varied experiences.

Loving the church. Leaders should clearly and completely love that which they are leading. The best interest and confidence in the ultimate triumph of God's love will permeate both the atmosphere and the actions of trustworthy leaders. Their consistent question must be "What is more important for God's cause?" rather than "What is more important for me?"

Associating with those who are to trust. When Jesus wanted to train the 12 disciples, He chose to spend time with them. His leadership lessons were conveyed more through fellowship and reflection than through didactic instruction. Thus when Jesus was ready to commission the disciples into their own active ministry, they were able to "do what He had done" because they had been with Him when He had done it.

Listening actively. Perhaps nothing builds trust more readily than leaders who carefully listen to the ideas and opinions of their followers and who demonstrate confidence in this process by paraphrased feedback and eventual utilization of good suggestions.

Believing people are more important than agendas. All leaders want to see their own ideas implemented. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate that their followers are as important as any agenda item and thus ensure the loyalty and active participation of their followers in the implementation of what they wish to accomplish.

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James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

October 1997

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