It’s truly wonderful to work with people who trust each other. To trust and be trusted makes for a happy and effective organization – including and especially in church.
I’ve noticed that there are clear signs when church people don’t trust each other. And if church people don’t trust each other, their churches become sick. And sick churches cannot thrive. And churches that can’t thrive die. And dying churches do not make God happy.
So how can you tell if church people don’t trust each other? Here are a few crystal clear indicators:
- The pastor has an Emergency Discretionary Fund to help neighbors with simple needs or major emergencies, but before the pastor can access the fund, they have to get permission from the treasurer, the mission chairperson, and the church secretary.
- The officer nominating committee presents a slate of new elder and deacon nominees for the congregation to elect, but church members nominate a completely different slate from the floor.
- The church budget is full of “designated funds” so there is very little opportunity to try new ministries.
- A candidate for professional ministry comes before the Presbytery (or comparable governing body) as the very last step before ordination. After earning the required degrees, passing multiple written ordination exams, passing countless oral exams, achieving good reports from field education, Clinical Pastoral Education, and psychological counseling experiences the entire Presbytery still insists on scrutinizing them as if they haven’t been through sufficient preparation.
- The elders make an important decision for the congregation but two elders who missed that meeting demand that the decision be rescinded until they can be present for a new vote.
- The pastor is required to turn in a weekly schedule listing all pastoral calls, each hour spent in prayer, each hour spent preparing for worship and classes, each hour teaching and preaching, each hour doing email and phone calls so that the Personnel Committee can be sure that pastor is really working.
- A grieving family asks that memorial gifts donated in memory of Grandma go into a special fund that the family gets to control.
- The same people serve on the same committees for decades to guarantee that things happen the way they’ve always happened.
- Certain leaders of the church insist on approving all purchases by the pastor for the pastor’s own books, office supplies, and continuing education plans.
- The Personnel Committee requires the pastor to keep office hours in the church building to ensure that the pastor is really working, which they can’t do if the pastor is working at home or in a coffee shop.
If any one of these is happening in your congregation, there is a trust problem. Either we trust each other or we don’t.
And if we don’t, why not?
There are ongoing reports about “the death of the church” and “the increasing number of ‘nones’ and ‘dones.’ I believe that the issues are not about a lack of spiritual hunger. I believe the issues are about trust.
People seeking a spiritual community where they can grapple with the meaning of life are not going to stick around when the overriding culture of that spiritual community is about power and control. Today might be a good day to do a trust audit in your congregation. (It won’t be a comfortable conversation, but please refrain from shaming and blaming each other.)
Working in a culture of trust is glorious. And it makes God happy (because it’s about God and not personal power.)