By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director
In the wider world, ministry leaders are deemed less trustworthy than police, and only barely above building contractors—we’re saddled with a below-average reputation for honesty and ethics (according to a Gallup survey, trust in the clergy has fallen to 37 percent among Americans). Trust in ministry leaders peaked in 1985, when two-thirds of Americans said we have “high” or “very high” ethical standards. Since then we’ve experienced a slow erosion of trust, which has made safe, vulnerable relationships more difficult to grow and maintain.
There are obvious, high-profile reasons for this erosion. But though this might sound a bit weird, I think one key way we either engender deep trusted leadership, or help to erode it, is our attention to detail and organization. Years ago I trained a team of youth ministry leaders to present a training workshop I developed for GROUP Magazine subscribers (the magazine I edited for three decades). After a 100-city tour, I gathered my presenter team to debrief the experience. These leaders were cream-of-the-crop—most of them were doing their own youth ministry training all over the country before they joined my team.
On our first night together I asked our presenters to tell stories from their time on the road. Every single story they told was tied to an unbelievable experience with one of our “church partners”—ministry leaders who offered their church as a workshop location and agreed to partner with us. These partners, in return, got free registrations for all their lay leaders and $500 in resources. I heard story after story of church partners who did little or none of the simple preparations we’d asked them to do in advance of the event. After dozens of phone calls and emails, many of these leaders simply dropped the ball entirely—forcing our presenters to scramble late the night before the presentation to pull it all together.
One of our presenters looked at me with bewilderment and said, “I just don’t understand how so many could flat-out ignore what they were supposed to do—it’s not that hard to host this event.” “Well,” I said, “you can’t understand it because you follow through on your commitments and make sure you’re organized—that’s one big reason why your ministry has been so effective.”
When Jesus told the “parable of the talents” (Matthew 25:14-28), he was trying to say that in God’s Kingdom, the people who are trusted with greater and greater opportunities to partner with God are those who follow through on their responsibilities—people who can be trusted to do what they’ve been asked to do, people who take what God has entrusted to them and work to increase it. The parable tells us that these organized, reliable, focused, proactive servants get to “share the master’s happiness.”
Disorganization and unreliability in ministry have a profound impact on the level of trust given to us by parents, other church staffers, our lead pastor and, especially, the people we serve. Trust is the fuel that drives deeper impact in ministry. And, if we take Jesus at His parable-word, disorganized leaders don’t get to share in God’s happiness. Maybe that’s why organized leaders seem to stick around a lot longer than unreliable ones.
I’m no finger-wagger here—I’ve had my own painful “unfaithful servant” moments. But if you’re reading this right now and you’re smiling because you’ve paid the price to follow through on your responsibilities, you are building a bulwark of trust that allows you entrée into vulnerable relationships. This is the rich soil of transformation. And without rich soil, no seed can grow into maturity.
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. His new book is The Suicide Solution: Finding Your Way Out of the Darkness. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. He created and hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus https://soundcloud.com/pay-attention-to-jesus