Subject to Change – Part 6

Last time, we discussed the first way a leader builds trust…through relationship. Let’s look at a few more ways to bring this critical element of trust into our leadership efforts…

The second way a leader builds trust is through success. Here, people begin to trust their pastor because he is successfully achieving the church’s goals. When great things are happening, we decide that he must know what he’s doing ‘cause look at the results we’re seeing—Sunday attendance is up, the church’s finances are strong, we’re meeting our missions goals, people are committing their lives to Christ, and whatever else you’re church has chosen as the job we’re trying to get done is actually getting done. People love feeling like winners, and if the pastor is winning, well, he must be doing a good job!

Now, first, we all know that no pastor deserves full credit for the victories a local church might be celebrating. His efforts may be a part of the whole picture, but first applause are rightly aimed at God himself. He’s the one who’s doing the real heavy lifting.

Beyond that truth, we all know that it takes a team. Pastor might be doing all the preaching, but he’s not been doing all the inviting, all the giving, all the serving, all the praying, and all the other stuff we’re currently celebrating. Still, if we stare at him when the church is struggling, it only makes sense to glance his way on the good days too.

It’s hard to argue with success, especially if we haven’t been succeeding for a while. Pastors who step in to lead plateaued or declining churches find resistance often melts away quickly if there’s an influx of new people in the pews or in the altars. Those who argue for the status quo find the argument more difficult if what they oppose actually seems to be working. Of course, there are usually valid reasons for those past struggles so suddenly finding a winning approach isn’t as easy as writing about its possibility might be.

Success in our limited circumstances can cause us to feel like you know what we didn’t, and that’s something most of us will admit to if it means we can have a better day. You see, it’s the promise of that better day that’s not convincing, especially when few of us can remember the last time we lived in such blessing. The reality of such a better day sends an entirely different message.

Now, what “works” is an awkward proposition for a local church’s efforts. We can’t afford the arrogance that puts too much confidence in methods or any other pride-feeder that has us thinking we’ve got this church thing figured out. But new ideas frequently spark new life, and if that life can be sustained and even expanded, well, spread the word! We’ve got a pastor who “knows what he’s doing.”

Trust that stems from success is quite different from the trust that relationship brings. In relationship producing trust, the pastor earns my respect and confidence because I feel connected to him and the mission he lives by. Conversely, in trust that’s created by his perceived success, that sense of sharing in his efforts isn’t always a factor. So, we may trust pastor, but I’m not sure that I do. No, I’m not looking at him suspiciously or harboring negative attitudes that others don’t possess. I’m not being negative at all. It’s just that I may not feel like we’re succeeding together. He knows what he’s doing so let’s listen to him is a great deal different than he’s proven he loves us so let’s help him achieve the goals he believes are right for us.

Success-generated trust is often the necessary path for a pastor in a larger congregation. As we have said, the larger church doesn’t allow for hundreds of relationships to sprout between people and pastor. Instead, these settings require that a pastor prove himself if he’s going to make significant changes, and such proving can only be accomplished through measurable success. That’s why pastors in larger churches may attempt change more quickly. They need to show the validity of their ideas and direction to gain people’s confidence. But, even in the large church, moving too quickly, before we feel like we know this leader, can prove catastrophic. For now, let’s just say that the faster you try to implement change, the more critical it becomes to make the right moves.

Change initiatives at church will always be evaluated against some measure of success. In Old Testament times, prophets had to be on target every time if the people were to conclude that God was the Voice behind their messages. Pastors don’t have to meet such a perfect standard. Their ideas don’t have to succeed every time, but perceived failure today will affect how much we trust your next idea tomorrow. Add in a history of failure from someone else’s previous efforts, and you have a congregation that may keep you from trying new steps, regardless of the success your convinced that they could bring.

While success can bring trust, there are some pitfalls. First, not everyone uses the same scorecard. More people attending services may cause some to rejoice, but others might see the larger crowd as intimidating or stealing from the attention they crave for themselves. More people signing up for the worship team seems like a good thing, but those already on the team may not rejoice that they’re now needed a little less often.

When people want to resist change, they may deny any suggestion of success, ignoring good signs while magnifying less critical areas of continue struggle. So, you may hear “Sure, Sunday attendance is up this month, but that won’t last long. Besides, there’s been no growth in our midweek service, so these new people aren’t really the committed kind.”

To tackle the scorecard issue, you need to establish one. If people get to choose their own idea of success, those who resist change will focus on areas that make any new efforts seem unsuccessful. But don’t play the game the other way and simply highlight areas that make your ideas look good. There’s more to a church’s forward movement than nickels and noses, as important as such measures might be. Let your vision for change define your scorecard in the healthiest way possible and then you can start celebrating he right wins.

The second challenge with trust that’s achieved through success is what can happen to that trust when the success slows down. Momentum can be a wonderful thing, but once it slows, getting progress started again can be difficult. If we used success to convince people that pastor knows what he’s doing, then a lack of success can send the opposite message.

For this reason, a success path to trust can be exhausting for the leader. When next week must top this week in order to maintain congregational confidence, unhealthy expectations will form. Congregational life has some natural ups and downs. If too much confidence depends on our weekly successes, the challenge of continually increasing victories will soon become unrealistic.

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