“Do you trust me?”
“Of course I do.” Really?
Is there a more frequently mentioned, but more seldom tested virtue out there than trust? In most churches, trust is something we relish as a receiver, but seldom a giver. Most of us would choose to be trusted and to have others held accountable…so we could feel comfortable trusting them. We nearly always view ourselves as more trustworthy than we should, and others more skeptically than we should.
In a church culture, we can certainly be too trusting. I’ve born witness several times to the carnage left behind when someone was trusted and broke that trust with catastrophic consequences. Especially in the realm of finance, accountability is an essential practice. It helps us walk faithfully when our willpower might be weak, and offers a hedge of protection against the darts of the evil one. It helps control freaks sleep better at night, and makes us feel that we’ve got everything under control.
Trust is far more valuable than accountability, and accountability without trust eventually devolves into base control. Accountability cannot be used to automate trust, or serve as its surrogate. Trust is a vital resource that flourishes among trustworthy people. When church leadership trusts one another, God can do almost anything through them. When they do not, there is a disaster on the horizon brought by that lack of trust and will be next to unfixable because of that same lack of trust.
Right now, many of you reading are thinking, “Sure, we trust one another.” Or, you will add, “…for the most part.” In consultations in which trust has clearly broken down but no one will admit it, I have a series of questions I ask that help bring the lack of trust to the surface–so we can begin working on it. One question tends to get through the quickest:
When was the last time someone had an open conversation with you that might have jeopardized control of their life—by choice, not by force. Usually…crickets.
Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
- A staff member opens us to the Sr. Pastor regarding their desire to stay at the church but change ministry roles.
- A preacher admits to the Board that his family is struggling financially and asks for assistance.
- A youth minister asks for help altering her responsibilities and schedule because her family is beginning to resent her ministry.
- A pastor’s wife admits to another staff member’s wife that she struggles with radical outbursts of anger and has sought help.
- A minister tells his elders he doesn’t feel like he’s a good fit for the church and would like to transition out gradually over the next few months.
You see, “accountability,” forces these conversations between people who may or may not trust each other. In the saddest cases, these conversations only happen when trust is broken. When these conversations are held without trust, they usually end sadly.
Trust, however, provides the fertile soil for these conversations to take place organically. We have them because we want to have them. These conversations say—we trust each other with our reputations ministries and livelihoods, and we mean each other no harm. We trust those we see as friends and allies, not threats.
For those in the power positions, these conversations and our handling of them may say more about our trustworthiness than anything. For leaders, the first question isn’t, “Can I trust them?” It is, “Can I be trusted?”
After all, if we aren’t trustworthy to those we serve with, why are we leading?