The Number One Problem In Church Leadership And How To Fix It

“Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.” – SETH GODIN

Trust is foundational for any relationship. Without trust no church can make it.

Humans are way more fragile than we like to admit. It does not take much to wound us. Every wound opens the potential to broken trust. Because every human has a wound it’s no surprise that lack of trust is one of the main reasons relationships don’t work.

You cannot have a healthy staff culture with a low level of trust. But humans are humans and there is nothing that you can do to prevent some form of hurt. Every relationship will have a degree of disappointment and hurt.

Staff that you believe will be with you forever leave. People you think are your best friends get disenfranchised and can criticize. Someone you know will fall to temptation and cause broken relationships.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” Unknown

Before we can wrestle with what to do about broken trust we need to look at why people don’t trust in the first place.

Broken trust comes from various places so it’s difficult to pin point.

5 Things That Cause Mistrust

  1. Personality. Some people are born more trusting than others. If you haven’t taken Enneagram personality profile I highly recommend it. One thing I found out by giving Enneagram to my staff is that I have a Loyalist. Loyalists are amazing! They will stick with you through thick and thin. Like all personality types there are some minuses that come with the Loyalist. One of those is a healthy dose of suspicion. Some personality types are wired to be suspicious. They can and should work on this, but their natural default is going to be suspicion instead of trust.
  2. Control. People love to be in control. We are not in control of very much, but hurt people often seek to control as way to manage their pain. When a high controlling person cannot control another individual it leads to mistrust. A couple of years ago I had a staff member tell me, “I don’t trust you.” I was baffled by that comment. It hurt. When I asked why the staff member couldn’t come up with a reason. At the time we were revisiting our Bylaws and this staff member and myself fundamentally disagreed on the direction of the church. I didn’t know it at the time, but the ultimate issue was control. I had not done anything untrustworthy. I hadn’t stole anything, lied, cheated, or intentionally done anything to break trust. The issue, come to find out, was I couldn’t be controlled. My eyes were opened to this in watching a podcast on unhealthy leadership teams and what to do about it. One of the key factors for a lack of trust was control. BAM!!! Many of the issues between church boards, staff, and church members comes down to control. If you find yourself in a climate of mistrust look at who is trying to control things.
  3. Under delivering. People often over promise and under deliver. When you do not follow through trust is broken. People often say they will email back and then they don’t, show up then they don’t, pray for you then they don’t. Over promising and under delivering leads to massive mistrust.
  4. Past Hurt. Hurt people, hurt people. Every one of us have been wounded some how. When we choose not to forgive it impacts other relationships. The hurst from the past can lead to massive mistrust for the future.
  5. Unmet Expectations. Expectations are incredibly difficult to voice…until they aren’t met. Often we are not aware of what our expectations are until someone doesn’t meet them. It is incredibly unfair to break trust if you have never communicated your expectations. Because we all have unwritten expectations we are opening ourselves up to mistrusting people. Until we become clear with our expectations we will continually fail people for a test they didn’t know they were taking.

So now the question is…what do we do about it?

4 Ways To Build Trust On Your Team

1. Be Trustworthy.

It sounds simplistic, but don’t skip over this one. What do you do that causes others to lose trust?

When you say you are going to do something do you often forget? That leads to mistrust.

Are you secretive? When people don’t know the whole story they complete it in their mind. Mistrust happens when information is scarce.

Are there secret sins in your life that if they were exposed they would lead you to have to resign? Sin has a way of finding us out. We all sin, but that’s not an excuse. Expose the sin, confess it, and find the accountability to move on from it.

To build trust you must be trustworthy.

Here are some ideas:

  • Any time you say you will do something put it in your phone immediately for a reminder. If you say you will pick up groceries after work put it on your calendar. If you say you are going to email someone back, put it in your calendar. We are all juggling too much to rely solely on our memory. If you say yes to something make sure that you do it.
  • At staff meetings ask the question, “What do you want to know that you do not know?” I learned this question from Craig Groeschel. It’s brilliant. It allows you to hear what your team is thinking about. It allows you to hear what you haven’t communicated effectively. The more people know the more likely they are to trust.
  • Find a counselor, fellow pastor, or go a retreat center and find help for sin issues that aren’t going away. Your life and ministry are too important to allow a moral slip up.

2. Practice Believing The Best.

If you do not practice believing the best you will assume the worst about the people you love.

If you do not practice believing the best you will assume the worst about the people you love. Click To Tweet

As broken humans we naturally assume the worst about other people.

We believe that when someone lets us down it’s on purpose and because they are fundamentally flawed.

As a leader you have to practice believing the best. You have to model it, talk about it, and teach it to others.

When someone lets you down you have a choice to make. Will you assume the worst or believe the best. To build trust you must choose to believe the best.

So, when someone’s late don’t assign a reason why. Let them tell you. Assigning a why is unfair.

All of us are familiar with Jesus’ words on being judgmental. I love the quote by Dr. James B. Richards…

“A judgement is when we attach a ‘Why’ to someone’s actions.” – Dr. James B. Richards.

To build trust you must trust people. When someone lets you down you must choose to believe the best about them. Do not attach a why. Do not assume they are fundamentally flawed. Believe that they are doing their best.

When they let you down communicate that. Talk to people and not about people. Do not be vague. Do not hope they get it. If someone is breaking your trust you must communicate that in a direct way, in love.

Specifically, “I have seen _______, and I need to see _______.”

I have seen deadlines missed, and I need to see deadlines made on time.

I have seen a lateness to meetings, and I need to see you be on time.

You get the idea.

3. When Mistrust Happens Address It Quickly.

This comes out of the last point. When Mistrust happens you cannot let it fester.

You must address it quickly.

This goes for when you break trust as well as for when others do.

When you drop the ball the temptation is to blame someone or something else. Don’t. Own it. But even more than that address it.

When you drop the ball and realize it bring this up before anyone else does. That builds trust.

If you haven’t met a deadline how far would it go if you sent this response…

“I said I was going to get this done by today and I didn’t. I grossly underestimated how long it would take me to get it done. I’m working hard on it now and I’ll get it to you ASAP. I’m sorry and I’ll do my best to not let it happen again.”

Learn from it and don’t let it happen again. Trust is built.

When someone on your team breaks trust you must address it quickly.

People are afraid to fail. People are afraid to let others down. It is why we go into hiding when we mess up. It’s also the reason why we say, “No” to new projects. Fear wrecks us.

When there is a high level of trust there is a low level of fear. New projects happen, new ideas are developed, and the ball moves down the field.

When you address mistrust quickly there is a greater chance that it will be done without a high level of anger. It’s okay that someone made a mistake. We want them to learn from it. Address it quickly or a minor issue will lead to a major one.

4. Make Expectations Crystal Clear.

It is so difficult to get expectations out, but it is essential. You’ve got to clearly give expectations and pull out the expectations of others.

Trust happens when people know what to do and they do it.

Often the issue is people simply do not know what the expectation is.

What is the one thing that each staff member is responsible for. Sure, every staff member has to juggle multiple things, but what is the one thing that they absolutely have to oversee?

In the church world we aren’t great at giving expectations. Job descriptions, standard operating procedures, and expectations are often muddy.

Trust goes up when everyone knows what to do and when to do it.

When teams know what they have to do then trust will go up. It has to. When someone doesn’t do what they are expected to it will be noticed and talked about.

Work hard at defining expectations and it will help develop a culture of trust.

We want to hear from you.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being a climate of trust and 10 being a climate of mistrust) where would you rate your team right now?

What can you do to help build trust on your team right now?


  • Drew Smithson

    Very good and very helpful!
    God bless you,
    Pastor Drew Smithson
    Santa Ana, California

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