When he first was appointed to his church board, Jack look forward to his new responsibilities. While he had never served in this capacity before, people in the congregation were very encouraging. But that was ten months ago. People now seemed more distant, less friendly, somewhat guarded in their conversations. He wondered what was happening.
What Jack experienced occurs frequently — those in leadership are regarded as THEM, not US, by people in the congregation. Suspicion grows quickly and maintaining trust requires vigorous, consistent effort, particularly by those in leadership. Often lack of trust seems to grow like mold in dark places, suddenly appearing when you least expect it — sort of like dust bunnies under the bed. It just appears and catches you off guard, when you thought things were going well.
How does a church board collectively and its members individually build and sustain the trust of the congregation in its leadership? First, a culture of transparency is essential. Do not assume that people in your congregation know and understand what the church board does. For many this is a mysterious thing that happens, about which they hear snippets of news from time to time. Perhaps it would be good occasionally in a church meeting for a board member to share a little bit of his experience (hopefully positive) as a servant of the church in this ministry. Does your board chair share a report at each church meeting about the key matters the board is discussing as they prayerfully nurture the health of the church? While somethings of necessity must be dealt with in confidence within the board, most of the work of the board can be shared by the chair in fully appropriate and transparent ways.
Second, keep nurturing friendships. Each of the members of the board has a circle of influence within the church body. It is important that they continue to cultivate those relationships. You can close the distance some people feel with respect to the board when they realize that their friend, someone they have confidence in, is serving diligently on their behalf as part of that ministry team. These friends also serve as a sounding board to glean insight and keep in tune with the heart beat of the congregation.
Third, work within the approved structures. If the board does not discipline itself to abide by the bylaws and policies the congregation has established, why should it expect to hold the confidence of the congregation? It is presenting a poor model to the rest of the ministry groups in the congregation and fostering a spirit of anarchy. If the board is conscientious, aware of its guidelines and committed to following them, this presents a good model and declares to the congregation that the board is operating effectively and submissively, disciplining itself to serve the congregation, not itself. If the board has concluded that some bylaw or policy should be changed, then it brings a well-developed recommendation to the congregation for timely review and discussion. The board does not act arbitrarily.
Fourth, keep listening with an open mind. Keep inviting people to share their perspectives. Listening is an incredibly empowering vehicle for sustaining trust. Does your board ever invite other leaders in the congregation to visit and share their perspective on particular issues? Do you know what your “stakeholders” are thinking or desiring to achieve?
Trust is the manna that sustains daily our service, but requires constant renewal.