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11 May '13

Trust and mistrust in ministry organizations

Posted by T.J. Addington

In his best seller, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni says that mistrust is at the root of much team dysfunction. I am continually amazed by the cultures of mistrust that pervade ministry organizations. This mistrust hurts the organization, hurts productivity (people who don't trust one another don't work well together), contributes to silos (lack of synergy with others so we keep to ourselves) and ultimately detracts from our return on mission.

The truth is that trust ought to be the most prevalent in Christian organizations where the culture of Christ should be more pervasive than the culture of our world. The culture of our world is one of mistrust while the culture of Christ is one of trust. This is an elephant that must be confronted if a ministry or team is going to be healthy.

Practices that contribute to a culture of mistrust

Approaching others from the outset with an attitude of mistrust.
This is an attitude that says "I will not trust you until you prove to me that i can" (the reverse of how a healthy individual thinks). An unfortunate and often pervasive attitude in the church and Christian organizations is a built-in mistrust of anyone who is in leadership. Rather than making the role of leaders a joy (Hebrews 13:17), it becomes a burden because leaders are constantly fighitng against this damaging culture of mistrust.

Assuming poor motives
This attitude believes that "everyone is going to let us down or make decisions that we would not make." Unfortunately, many of us quickly default to a position of mistrust - assuming that the motives that lie behind the action or decision were bad. Invariably, when I have made that assumption about others I have found that when I clarified the situation there were no bad motives involved. There may have been poor judgment, or there may have been issues and circumstances I was not aware of , but the motives were not bad.

Believing something to be true when one does not have all the facts
Leaders often find out months or even years after making a decision that someone in the organization is deeply distrustful of them because they had assumed certain things when in fact those assumptions were not true.

Taking on someone else's offense
This happens when an individual takes on the offense of another person, usually without knowing all the facts. Healthy individuals understand that there is more than one side to a story and do not make assumptions without doing their due diligence.

Healthy individuals and teams practice three principles that directly contribute to a culture of trust.

One: I will choose to trust you unless you give me a reason not to.
Two: I will assume your motives are right even when I disagree with you.
Three: I will be proactive in clarifying issues rather than assuming something to be true.

Two great resources on the issue of trust:
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
The Speed of Trust, The One Thing that Changes Everything, Stephen Covey