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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Trust is essential

"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy."   (I Corinthians 4:1-2)

This text from the ELCA ordination service is a deep reminder of who and whose we are as Christians and as pastors. And it is a clear word that, while a faithful and effective pastor can be "not so good" at many things, one cannot be "not so good" at being trustworthy. Trust is an absolute essential. Being trusted, and trusting others, is at the heart of healthy ministry and life.

If you were in our pre-internship class, you know that we talked a lot about trust and its various manifestations in ministry. You would expect nothing less. Yet in the world of business and societal leadership, trust is often portrayed as a "nice" thing, sort of a "soft" asset that is good if you can have it, but not essential, and certainly not the main thing. So I was delighted recently to read The Speed of Trust (Free Press, 2006) by Stephen M.R. Covey (the son of Stephen R. Covey, famous for The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.)

In this thorough exploration of the topic, Covey writes, "The one thing that changes everything is trust." He's writing for the secular business world. He's making the case that the trust—or lack of trust—within one's organization has a major impact on the bottom line as well as the quality of life. He isn't writing for churches. But what he has to say is just as pertinent for our ministries as for those businesses.

Covey has a simple definition of leadership: "Leadership is getting results in a way that inspires trust."

I like it. He makes a compelling case for his thesis, which is simply this: high trust = low cost and high speed; low trust = slow speed and high cost. He talks about the "trust tax" an organization pays when people are suspicious of one another, since everyone has to spend all sorts of time, energy, and money checking up on each other. On the other hand, a high trust organization realizes a "trust dividend" as they can make deals, share information, and work together without all sorts of expensive and time consuming efforts to protect themselves from each other.

He gives examples of corporate mergers and the extraordinary expense of due diligence and legal protection, while citing a multi-billion merger deal entered into by Warren Buffett and another company, wherein the two principles trusted each other, talked for four hours, shook hands, and then proceeded with the deal.

It isn't just businesses that can be high trust or low trust. In schools, churches, families, work teams and institutions, trust is crucial to us all. If a pastor is widely trusted (and trusting) it's amazing how much ministry can happen with little fuss or cost; conversely, if there is low trust, good luck getting much ministry done, let alone making any healthy missional changes.

We've all been part of both high and low trust settings. Covey makes a pretty good case for how each of us can become more trusted and more trusting, thereby greatly increasing the effectiveness of the ministry. He is especially aware of the role leaders play in building or destroying that trust. Covey's book is a good guide for anyone wanting to engender a high trust atmosphere. I think it's worth the read, especially for those of us who, at our core, are "required to be found trustworthy."

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