It’s no secret that The Church is not considered a trustworthy institution by a majority of Americans. According to a 2017 Gallup Poll:
- 41% of those polled have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Church or organized religion.
- 40% of those polled have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in The Supreme Court.
- 36% of those polled have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in public schools.
- 28% of those polled have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in organized labor.
- 21% of those polled have “a great deal” or quite a lot” of confidence in big business.
- 12% of those polled have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress.
Clearly, distrust of our institutions has become part of our American – and perhaps global – culture. Everything from covering up sexual and financial misconduct to serving the institutions rather than God can be blamed, but we are all responsible.
Our institutions are facing a crisis of integrity and – especially in the Church – this is the antithesis of who we are and who we are called to be.
What diminishes trust in our congregations, Governing Boards, Mid-Councils, and National Denominations? Here are my top six causes:
- Failure to adhere to established processes – which gives the impression actions are being done hastily in order to limit time for
- Secret meetings and secret information without appropriate transparency – which results in gossip, conjecture, and confusion.
- A different set of professional and spiritual expectations for some than for others – which results in a breakdown in relationships both personally and professionally.
- Lying. In an anxious culture, anxious people tell themselves and others false narratives to make a case for their own jobs and their own agendas – which shifts the understanding of an organization’s mission from “what’s good for the team/organization” to “what’s good for me.” (Also known as covering my own @**)
- Allowing legal and financial concerns to drive our decisions – which is perhaps “how the world does things” but don’t we as the Church want to be better than the world?
- Not standing up against bullies – which sends the message that we fear them more than we fear God.
How do we repair trust levels? We must bend over backwards to share information which in and of itself allays anxiety. [Check out this experiment about four groups of soldiers commanded to do a forced march (search “Israeli” and read on page 33 of Steinke’s Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times.)]
We must communicate clearly and often. We must expect the best of each other. We must refrain from gossip. We must keep all leaders in the know.
An institution that fails to engender trust is a failed institution. And – especially in the case of Christ’s Church – we deserve to fail if we are untrustworthy.
Can we think of one trustworthy thing we can do today in whatever leadership position we find ourselves? Our sacred institutions are depending on us for the love of God.