How Much Trust Is Enough?

In the last e-news we described the classic leading-change mistake: starting before the growth environment (congregation) is ready. This article describes a key practice for cultivating readiness; trust-building.

Does the trust level between a congregation and its leaders ever reach 100%? There is always a trust-deficit in any group of human beings, knowing even the best and most trustworthy among us, is flawed. God is completely trustworthy, though we are not. The very good news is that 100% trust is not required or expected. Congregational leaders are looking for sufficient trust. We need enough trust to make decisions, engage change, and move forward. Trust is our working capital in congregations, without the need for our trust-funds to be fully stocked. So, how do we know when sufficient trust is present between leaders and the congregation?

There is sufficient trust in the congregation when much of the congregation grants leaders the benefit of the doubt (BOD). When congregations believe their leaders have good intentions in their hearts, trying to lead the church toward fulfilling its calling, then they are willing to grant sufficient trust for pursuing adaptive change.

Recently I was with a church who experiencing conflict. The conflict was not rampant in the church, yet it was significant enough they called in a consultant to help. This was the initial meeting, designed for listening and learning their story. Before listening, typically I describe the assumptions I bring to the conflict management process. One assumption is the belief that every disciple involved loves God and wants good things for God’s church. I assume the participants in this church are doing what they are doing (even if misguided) because they want their church to flourish. In response, one disciple noted that they had drifted away from this assumption. They were allowing a cloud of suspicion to descend into their faith community, making it difficult to see the good intentions of each other through the suspicion mists. When trust levels are very low, forward movement slows proportionately.

When trust levels are insufficient, disciples tend to interpret others’ actions negatively. Consider the following list of negative assumptions disciples carry regarding others in the congregation when trust is insufficient. Rarely would one say these aloud, but often they are the commentary running in the background.

• “Your intention in this action is to try taking something away from me.”
• “Your intention in this action is to gain more control and influence for yourself, while lessening mine with the congregation.”
• “You are trying to move your agenda forward; disregarding my agenda.”
• “You are basically selfish, always wanting your way.”
• “You are not open to influence or discussion; it’s your way or the highway.”
• “Your intention is to fight any suggestion I make, especially if it involves you giving, shifting, or changing.”

But when trust levels are sufficient, the internal-assumption-dialogue changes. When engaging one another and observing the actions of others, disciples in sufficient trust contexts give one another the BOD.

• “Your strong feelings about this are an indicator of how invested you are in this church.”
• “You really want this church to be effective in accomplishing its mission.”
• “Your human flaws will interfere with what we are doing here sometimes (as do mine), but that doesn’t reflect what’s in your heart, or your intentions.”
• “Your passion for your point of view grows out of your deep love for God and for this church.”
• “Your behavior which I experienced as hurtful doesn’t necessarily mean you meant to hurt me.”
• “You generally want me and us to succeed.”

A strong indicator that sufficient trust levels exist is when we practice granting the BOD to each other in congregations. May we take our cue from God, who trusts humanity to do our part in helping the kingdom of God to come here on earth, as it is in heaven.

NOTE: This article and the last are samples from Farming Church: Cultivating Adaptive Change In Congregations coming in June from Pinnacle Leadership Press by Mark Tidsworth.

Mark Tidsworth
President, PLA