How a New Minister Can Gain the Congregation's Trust

The people must trust the preacher before they will follow him. (Charisma Media archives)

Your assignment, new pastor, is to love God's people and earn their trust. Nothing else is more important.

Eventually, when they know you love them and are trustworthy, they will follow you. But not until.

Elton was a new pastor of a small church I'm familiar with. To call him excited was an understatement.

Early in the process, Elton announced to the deacons they would hold an overnight retreat and talk about how things should be done. So far, so good, I suppose.

At the retreat, this new pastor informed his leaders that he would be calling the shots and making all important decisions, and their job was to support him.

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Elton was fired the next week.

The problem—well, one of them—is that the church Elton came from was run in just that way. The longtime pastor ruled as a benevolent dictator. Those who did not like it were encouraged to find another place to worship. And since the church had grown to be the largest in the area, it appeared that this methodology had heaven's blessing. (Whether it does is a discussion we will save for another time.)

Elton's problem—in addition to having an unbiblical philosophy of church leadership—is that he tried to move before having the trust of the people. It felt like a hostile takeover to them, and no one can blame them.

Here's something confusing.

In college baseball, the coach is called "coach." But in Major League Baseball, the coach is called the "manager." In high school football, the manager is a kid who takes care of the equipment and runs errands for the coach.

All of which is to make the point, titles mean little. Just because members call you the pastor does not mean you are anything. What you are is still to be determined.

The word means one thing to some and something else to others.

The word "pastor" is related to our word "pasture" and means a "shepherd," one who cares for the Lord's flock.

The new pastor who arrives at a church and instantly expects everyone to follow him will learn all too quickly that they're not quite ready to do that just yet.

The people must trust the preacher before they will follow him.

How to Gain the Trust of God's People

1. Trust comes with experience, not with the job, the office or the title.

2. Trust comes with personal contact, not with mass ministry.

3. Trust comes with time.

4. Trust cannot be commanded or coerced. You must earn their confidence. They will give you their trust when they decide it's safe, you are dependable, and they are ready.

5. Do nothing abruptly (without proper preparation for your members and in particular your leaders) that is a departure from the norm.

6. Show yourself trustworthy in the routine ministry—sermons, administration, leadership of the staff, leadership of the program and then the extras: weddings, funerals, crisis counseling and so forth.

7. Start small. Let them see that you are committed to them and can be trusted to lead them in safe ways to secure places.

8. Do not overpromise or exaggerate. Tell the truth. If you say you're going to do something, do it. If you promise to look up a scripture and get an explanation back to someone, do it.

9. Do not hesitate to apologize when you fail to keep a promise.

10. Celebrate those who do well.

Call the attention of the church to staffers and members who have served well, have anniversaries or have received some well-earned recognition. Once people see that you are secure and do not mind praising others who serve well, they will trust you more.

11. Now, do not make the mistake of waiting too long to redeem your credits. Once the congregation sees it can trust you, lead out.

12. Make sure you are staying with Christlike and biblical principles of leadership: graciousness, vision, humility, submission and courage.

13. At no time—no matter how great the trust level—should a pastor play the "authority card." You know, "do this because I say so, I'm the God-appointed leader." If you have to do that, you've lost before you left the starting gate. Study 1 Peter 5:1-11 until it is part of your DNA.

Eyes always on the Lord, heart always for God's people, feet firmly planted on the solid rock of His Word and hands at work serving and blessing. Be a team player, celebrate victories and teach your people to pray.

It's a sure-fire combination for blessing the Lord and honoring His church.

Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

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