Trust is a scarce commodity these days. Polls tragically reflect how little faith the public puts in government leaders, law enforcement professionals, and business executives. Sadly, public sentiment for church leaders isn’t much better. We live in an era when skepticism of churches is too often considered politically correct. Half-truths about churches are accepted as facts.
As I have crisscrossed our great country for decades and met with thousands of church leaders, it is clear that nearly all churches are committed to integrity. Is there an occasional example of a church that regrettably betrays the public’s trust? Now and then. But these are what I consider to be “trust-outliers.”
Nevertheless the perception that “trust-outliers” are the rule, rather than the exception, persists. That’s why it’s so important for churches to work at trust.
Absent trust, churches internally suffer. Staff becomes disengaged, leading to higher turnover. Turf is protected. Change is resisted. Good strategies never get off the ground. All of this leads to fewer givers. Fewer volunteers. Less collaboration. Christ, His life, His death, and His resurrection are taken off of center stage.
And churches externally suffer from these dynamics as outsiders observe all of it. Even worse, these conditions only make the church more vulnerable to a fraudulent act, and when one does occur, the reputations of churches are harmed even more.
That doesn’t sound like much of a Gospel, does it? It’s also no recipe for what God desires—flourishing people and churches.
So it’s time for church leaders to champion a different way, one that enhances trust and restores the faith of a watching public desperate for something better.
Max DePree said: “Trust cannot be bought or commanded, inherited, or enforced.” Trust is like a phenomenon of nature, like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. You can’t talk to it. It can’t talk to you. All you can do is stand back and be awed by it. You will recognize trust when you see it.
The recipe for trust requires at least four ingredients:
- Telling the truth. Church leaders must talk straight: they are candid, authentic, and honest. Trust is built on telling the truth.
- Keeping promises. When leaders keep their promises, followers respond in kind—generating enormous energy around their commitment to serve others. Trust is built on keeping promises.
- Offering appropriate transparency. Church leaders must willingly discuss the states of their ministries and offer appropriate information at appropriate times. Trust is built on appropriate transparency.
- Demonstrating accountability. The ancient Romans had a tradition. Whenever one of their engineers created an arch, the capstone was hoisted into place and the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible. He stood under the arch. Church leaders must demonstrate a similar willingness to stand with their work. Trust is built on accountability.
Sowers of trust
A few years ago, as I visited with church leaders from South Korea, I gently challenged them to pursue higher standards of financial practices and accountability. These concepts were reinforced in subsequent meetings. Partially as a result of this consistent encouragement, a Christian professor at one of their leading universities, Dr. Ho Chan Hwang, wrote and published a 350-page book titled Church and Money. As Korean churches adopt these principles of integrity and accountability, higher trust will ensue.
Sometimes it just takes planting a seed to spread trust. Rather than allowing a skeptical public to continue asking what happened to trust, we need to be sowers of trust.
The benefits are widespread. Givers choose trust. Volunteers celebrate trust. Board members value trust. Collaborators embrace trust.
And God honors trust.
Dan Busby is the president of ECFA, an Editorial Advisor for Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax Group, and author of the forthcoming book from ECFAPress, Trust: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness.
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