8 Marks of Trustworthy Church Leaders

Here’s the bottom line for church leaders: having the trust of the people we serve is crucial to our leadership success. Few things are more important. Without their trust, our teaching and preaching fall on deaf ears. Without it, our attempts at demonstrating care for our people are perceived as hypocritical. Without it, our people won’t follow our leadership . . . at least not with commitment and enthusiasm. Without it, our efforts to guide the church through necessary change are resisted and thwarted. Without it, few are willing to joyfully serve alongside us. Without it, church unity is fragile and growth is often hindered.

But when our people have confidence in us, when they trust our leadership, our ministries become powerful and effective. This kind of trust is not given automatically. Trustworthy leaders recognize the need to build trust in their leadership and are marked by the following characteristics.

1. They genuinely care for those they serve.

Church leaders demonstrate trustworthiness as they respond to their people with compassion and grace. More important than great preaching and skillful administration is a genuine love for the people they serve. People will not fully trust leaders who seem concerned only about themselves, but they will have great confidence in those leaders who genuinely care about them—and show it!

2. They communicate frequently and openly.

Not until my last pastorate did I learn the importance of this concept, especially as my church’s ministries worked through needed changes. I discovered that the congregation responded most supportively when I took the time to share my ministry heart and explain fully the vision and direction I sensed God was leading us as a church. People trust leaders who avoid any impressions of secrecy and who openly communicate.

3. They deliver on their promises.

It’s no wonder many people distrust politicians; so few seem to follow through on their promises. But it should be different in the church. We should say what we mean and follow through on our commitments. People trust leaders who do what they say they will do, who deliver on their promises!

4. They are marked by obvious godliness.

Godly leaders build trust. When people know that their leaders walk with God in their daily lives, they have faith in the leaders’ ability to seek His will above their own for the good of the people they serve. Of course, there is the danger of a merely external show of piety, but I think the people in our pews often have a good understanding of what godliness is—both the false and true! People trust leaders who are obviously godly.

5. They are humble, freely acknowledging weaknesses and mistakes.

Pastors and deacons aren’t perfect. Despite our good intentions, at times we make mistakes. Trustworthy leaders sincerely regret any actions that wrong others and are quick to apologize. They are willing to be transparent about their own needs to learn and grow. People trust leaders who are honest, even about their own failings.

6. They are good listeners.

Most of us as church leaders do a great deal more talking than we do listening. We are leaders, after all. Aren’t we supposed to do the talking while others listen? But I’m convinced that trustworthy leaders are better listeners than talkers. They take the time to listen to the perspectives and concerns of the people they serve. They want to hear how others feel and seek to understand the other person’s point of view. People trust leaders who genuinely care about their opinions and take the time to listen.

7. They have integrity.

Leadership trust and integrity go together. Trustworthy leaders are consistent and truthful. They have the courage to speak honestly even when their words may not be well received. They do the right thing even if it isn’t the easiest or most popular thing. What they communicate publicly in word and action is consistent with who they are privately. They do not pretend to be something they are not. Their moral character is obvious and compelling. People trust leaders with integrity.

8. They stick around.

Trust takes time. Church leaders who are marked by longevity (pastors who stay at least 10 years; deacons who serve faithfully and humbly over decades) lay a foundation for trust. It takes time to learn names, understand individual needs, connect with families, learn the local culture, build close relationships with other leaders, discover individual heartaches, counsel though difficult problems, etc. But such things are what trust is built upon! People trust leaders who stay.

Jim Vogel (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) pastored for 30 years before becoming state representative of the Empire State Fellowship of Churches. Jim can be reached at jvogel@esfrbc.org.