During my time in ministry, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. And every time I’ve heard it, I thought it was sound advice. In some cases, it might be the best thing a new leader can do. But is it a universal truism? More importantly, is it a biblical mandate?
To both questions, I say no. Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the thinking behind it. Leadership is influence and influence best happens in the context of real relationships. Real relationships can only happen when people trust you. So before any kind of leadership can take place, people have to trust the leader. That is a universal truism.
I read recently that it takes between five and seven years for a congregation to really trust their pastor (I would give you the reference if I could remember it). So, if that’s the case, then how can a pastor really lead the flock that God has given him to lead? Does he really have to wait anywhere from a year to five or seven years before he is able to lead?
Unfortunately, I believe that’s one of the reasons so many pastors don’t stick around for very long. They can’t lead their churches because they haven’t built “trust equity”. But at the same time they know they must lead the church or they are not doing what God has called them to do. Talk about a Catch-22! So the pastor leaves after five years and the church calls another guy who won’t do anything for the first year or more. And the church suffers.
So what is the solution? Transparency and trust.
The pastor must be transparent
The pastor doesn’t have to have it all figured out when he first gets there (and probably shouldn’t), but he must be clear about the direction he wants to head. If he has convictions about polity or style or substance, he needs to be up front about it—certainly with the church leadership.
Understand that transparency doesn’t necessarily mean he has to lay out a completely exhaustive plan. Good leadership requires strong communication skills and the ability to teach the plan as he goes along. Transparency simply means that the pastor cannot have ulterior motives or hidden agendas.
Nehemiah was completely transparent with the king when he told him he wanted to rebuild Jerusalem. He was also completely transparent with the leaders in Jerusalem. In Nehemiah 2:17, he said, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” Talk about telling it like it is!
The church must trust him
This is a tough one. Many churches are in the shape that they’re in because they’ve been burned by a pastor or two—or at least they perceive they have. It’s a tough thing for people to trust when they have just come out of a bad relationship. But there’s a reason they called their pastor in the first place. That call needs to come with some benefit of the doubt.
Think about it—everybody has a first day. Nehemiah had a first day as the king’s cupbearer. And what did the king do? Apparently he trusted him enough to eat. Nehemiah also had a first day in front of the leaders in Jerusalem. And what did they do? They listened to his plan and said, “Let us rise up and build.” And Nehemiah 2:18 says that they “strengthened their hands for the good work.”
Does it take time to build trust? Of course it does. But it also requires opportunity. Opportunity can only come when trust is extended where none has yet been earned. Pastors—start by being vulnerable and transparent about the direction you want to lead the church. And churches, rather than always thinking pastors have to build trust equity before they are allowed to lead, how about extending a line of trust credit that will hold them over until they are able to earn it? Who knows, God might do something really amazing—without having to wait forever. He certainly did for Nehemiah and the remnant.