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How Pastors Can Rebuild Lost Trust

Rebuilding trust.

Why is this so important? Why can’t we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Who cares? They didn’t trust Christ and we shouldn’t expect anything different.”

That’s an understandable reaction; in some ways, the level of trust that pastors have enjoyed has been a cultural anomaly resulting from the United States’ unusually strong Christian heritage.

However, we can’t just nonchalantly throw trust overboard as if it doesn’t matter. It does matter, because God has bound up the messenger with the message. If the messenger isn’t trusted, neither will his message be trusted.

So how do we rebuild trust in the messenger and the message?

1. Patience.

We need to realize that grand gestures are not going to work. It’s going to be a long, slow, incremental process of multiple actions by multiple pastors in multiple locations.

2. Stay.

Pastors have to commit to staying longer in their posts. Most people take three years or so before they really begin to trust a pastor and open up to him. Constancy and consistency create credibility.

3. Mix.

Get out of the pulpit, get out of the office and get among the sheep. Yes, it’s much messier than study and administration, but how else can pastors truly say, “I know my sheep and am known of mine” (John 10:14). Notice who’s at the top of the table—nurses!

4. Holiness.

A holy life is a trustworthy life. People are looking at two areas in particular: money and women. To be blunt.

5. Local.

A small minority of pastors may be called to a wider ministry, but way too many evidently desire a wider ministry, and often pursue it to the detriment of their local churches. Unless people see that the shepherd prioritizes them, and usually makes them his exclusive concern, they will not trust him.

6. Bridges.

Build bridges with the unchurched. Get involved in nonchurch activities so nonchurch people can see you are “normal,” that you have two eyes, one nose, skin, feelings, etc. That you are surprisingly just like them.

Ultimately, Gallup opinion polls are less important than God’s opinion of us. We certainly don’t want to become man-pleasers either; people can smell that a mile off too. Our first question must always be, “Does God trust us?” more than, “Do the public trust us?” However, without sacrificing our integrity, we must also have a concern to build trustworthiness. If we do that, trust will follow.

What do you think the causes of this declining trust are and how can pastors climb the table again?  

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Dr. David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary. He is also Pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. David is the author of Christians get depressed too, How Sermons Work, and Jesus on Every Page. You can read his blog at HeadHeartHand.org/blog or follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray. David is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 4 months to 17 years old, and they love camping, fishing, boating, and skiing in the Lake Michigan area.