Cultivating a Culture of Trust in Your Ministry
Relationships, for the most part, are surface level.
Tribalism (“It’s us four and no more. Anybody who is not a part of this circle I could care less about.”) and terroritorialism (“This is my area, ministry, or department and you’re not welcome.”) is running rampant.
Communication is stifled. Motives are questioned. Morale is low. Productivity as a whole is average.
Does any of this ring a bell? If it does, then more than likely you are in a culture of suspicion. No one likes to work or serve in, or be over a culture like this. If we are honest, it is draining and does not inspire the best. It is quite frankly unhealthy.
Dr. Samuel R. Chand writes in his book,
Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration, regarding trust, “Mutual trust among team members is the glue that makes everything good possible. Without it, a team quickly disintegrates into a gang of people protecting their turf and forming angry alliances. Trust is important up, down, and across the organizational structure…When people trust each other, they make a strong connection between the vision, their own roles, the input of others, strategic planning, and the steps of implementation.” (pg. 51).
So how can we as leaders, with God’s help, cultivate a culture of trust rather than suspicion? Being in ministry in various churches and non-profit organizations and leading in a number of capacities for over 12 years, I would like to share with you some six practical ways to help in this endeavor. These are in no particular order of importance.
1. Spend time with those under your leadership (staff, ministry leaders, etc.)
As a leader, I know that your To-Do list is long. There is much to get done. But relationship building is an area that you and I cannot afford to neglect. We need to spend time together, listening to each other, praying for one another, studying the Scriptures, pouring into each other, and enjoying each other’s company.
I remember at one of the ministry jobs that I had my supervisor would ask us to accompany him to lunch at least once a week. That time, although small in the scope of a 40-hour work week, was invaluable. It helped to build a sense of cohesiveness and unity in our department. We also took time to go on a weekend staff retreat for the purpose of evaluating the ministry and to further solidify our relationships.
Whether you meet with your people once a week, twice a month, or quarterly, the point is segment out some time to spend with them. Doing this will communicate to your staff and leaders that you value them for who they are and not just for what they can do for you, your church, department, or ministry. It also gives us time to reinforce the leadership values to all the staff and/or leaders.
If Jesus intentionally spent time with the Twelve, we can do no less (Mark 3:14).
2. Give credit to whom credit is due
If your leader or staff member comes up with a great idea, give her credit for it.
If your leader or staff member helped to shape your idea, give him credit for it.
If you don’t, it will scream that you are either insecure or that you love the applause of people.
Side note: You don’t always have to be the originator of an idea or vision in order to be seen as a leader. Acknowledging that someone else came up with an idea doesn’t take away from your leadership. Sometimes being a leader calls for you to be an endorser rather than a creator.
3. Encourage honest feedback concerning yourself, your ideas, and your ministry, department, or church
What I am about to say might come as a surprise, but you and I are not perfect! We have blindspots. We have weaknesses. Shocking, right? We know better. Since we know that is the case, then we need to encourage and be open to honest feedback…and not just from those who are above us (boss, supervisor, pastor, etc.) or around us (family, friends, co-workers). We need to listen to the people who are under us as well (employees, volunteers, ministry leaders, etc.).
When people see that you value them enough to hear what they have to say about you, your ideas, and the ministry/department/church, they tend to return the favor and will more than likely follow your example and do the same with their ministry leadership teams and volunteers.
Let me be honest here. This can be a tough step to take, especially when your leadership or your brainchild comes under scrutiny. It can feel like you are or your vision or idea is being attacked. Feelings and opinions will surface and conflict will ensue. But this can be a healthy thing. Bill Hybels once said, in essence, that it is better to keep conflict above ground rather than have it go underground – i.e., where your staff and leaders don’t express what they truly feel or think to you, but rather take it and vent out their frustrations to others.
Side note: Staff and leaders more than likely do the latter when there is, you guessed it, a lack of trust (often times fear accompanies this, and that fear can either be perceived or real). They don’t trust that repercussions will not follow.
I want to share with you a few tidbits that I have learned along the way that I hope will help you navigate your feedback session with your staff and leaders.
a. Realize that your value and acceptance ultimately comes from your relationship with God through Jesus.
b. See legitimate feedback from others as evidence of the grace of God in your life and leadership.
c. Assure them of your willingness to hear from them and that you value their opinion.
d. Pray for the humility to see things from their perspective and to accept what are true and valid criticisms.
e. Consider the source.
f. Correct inaccurate statements or evaluations with gentleness, patience, wisdom, and forthrightness.
g. Express appreciation for their honesty and respect.
h. Reiterate your desire to cultivate a culture of trust.
4. Honor confidentiality
Little else erodes trust like a breach of confidence. Unless you are required by law to report it, somebody’s life is in danger, or something of an egregious nature has occurred or is occurring and requires involving others in resolving or correcting the issue, keep what is shared confidential.
Simply put, don’t gossip.
5. Model humility
Acknowledge your mistakes. If you made a bad decision or if you didn’t handle a situation appropriately, humbly own up to it.
Don’t make yourself the epitome of godliness. Jesus is the standard, not us. Confess your sins and weaknesses to those you lead (Pray for discretion here. You don’t necessarily have to give the details regarding your sin or weakness.).
Submit to procedures and processes.
Accept correction and wise counsel from others. Yes, even from those who you lead.
6. Address any infractions of trust
If you are like me, I don’t necessarily like confrontation. But in ministry it is inevitable. We need to pray for courage and wisdom to address attitudes, comments, and behaviors that are antithetical to the culture of trust that we are trying to cultivate.
What else would you add?