Trust: Pastoral Leadership Necessity

Certainly we hear much from congregations and lay leaders about their trust levels for their pastor. Sufficient trust between congregation and pastor greases the wheels for movement in the church. Insufficient trust coats those same wheels with rust, slowing progress toward missional engagement and life-giving activity. Much attention is given to enhancing the trust between congregation and pastor.

Yet, a less considered component of congregation to pastor trust is the pastor’s trust level for the congregation. In our coaching groups and individual leadership coaching with pastors this Fall, the pastor’s side of trust has been front and center. Perhaps the high change environment which is pastoral ministry is bringing this to the surface. How much do pastors trust their congregations?

What do we mean by trust?

Pastors carry some basic expectations, which they hope are assumptions, into their callings. They expect the church will honor the basic terms of their call, just like others expect their employers to fulfill the terms of employment. Beyond that, pastors expect the church to treat them fairly and equitably, as decent human beings tend to do. Pastors expect to be granted a baseline level of trust upon which they can build higher levels of trust through time and experience. These expectations are natural and healthy. At the same time, pastors themselves must consider their willingness to exercise trust with their congregations. The following factors shape trust levels of pastors.

First, pastors must decide how much they trust God.
What does trusting God in relation to our callings even mean? Clearing out the debris collected around trust is necessary before answering. Trust is not about outcomes. When a pastor who was betrayed by the leadership of the last church decides to trust another call committee and invitation to serve…this pastor knows accepting this new call, trusting God is in it, does not guarantee said pastor’s desired outcome (success, longevity, security, progress). Just because God calls, “success” is not guaranteed. Trust means giving up control of present-time outcomes and choosing to trust that ultimate outcomes are shaped by God’s love. Effective pastoral leaders trust God in their callings, whatever the outcomes may be.

Second, pastors must decide how much they trust themselves.
Do I have the gifts and graces to lead in this ministry context? Am I in over my head? Will my sermon well go deep enough when ministry is so faced paced? Are the challenges inherent in this congregation too much for me? Is this ministry to which I’m called worth laying down my life in service?
Effective pastoral leaders wrestle with these questions, finding answers which sustain them. They decide to trust in their calling, trusting they are the called pastor for this church for this season. They actively trust that God provides for God’s people what is needed in the moment, including pastors. They decide to trust God’s work in and through them, trusting themselves as they lead.

Third, pastors must decide how much they trust this particular congregation.
Ministry is so contextual. We serve with real people in real places with real challenges. Pastoral leaders bring their previous experiences with them, influencing their willingness to trust this current church with their vocational lives. In order to sleep at night, laying anxiety and worry aside, pastors must choose to trust the congregation’s intentions to honor their relationship. Pastors must choose to trust that Christian disciples do want to do the right thing; do want to live in the Way of Jesus. In a real sense, pastors trust congregations to partner with them in the pastor’s vocational pilgrimage.

In order to serve effectively as a pastoral leader, certainly one needs trust from the congregation.
As influential as this is, the pastor him/herself must also choose to trust the congregation. When this happens, a context of mutual respect leading to fruitful ministry evolves. So may we trust God’s calling through trusting ourselves as God’s called pastoral leaders….all the while working out our salvation, day by day and step by step.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA
Helen