Trust is difficult to earn, easy to lose, and even more difficult to regain.
It has been said “Trust leaves on horseback and returns on foot.” If true, there is no wonder it feels like the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Preakness Stakes have all three been running 24/7 in some high circles in the United States.
As just one example, with disturbing disclosures made in May of this year, the current trust deficit of the IRS is hard to measure. Five nonprofit IRS officials have been replaced—some whom I have known, some with whom I have had private meetings in the recent past, including Lois Lerner—are all gone. Then, there were the extravagant IRS conferences, the line-dancing video, and more. Clearly, trust left the IRS on horseback.
What can we learn from this? If we as Christian leaders desire to be trusted, just saying “trust us” is not enough. We must demonstrate trustworthiness. We must lead organizations in which people can place their trust and be assured that their trust will not be betrayed.
Trust and truth are inextricably intertwined. People may not trust us even though we tell the truth, but not telling the truth ensures lack of trust.
The Bible provides the baseline for truth: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (2 Timothy 4:8).
Francis Schaeffer said, “Today not only in philosophy but in politics, government, and individual morality, our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people have always thought of truth, has died.” And Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
How can Christ-centered organizations be beacons of trust and truth in an environment where these qualities are often lacking? Let me suggest a few principles.
- Exemplify truth in all we do—internally and externally. For our organizations, it means truthfully accounting for our operations and ministry outcomes. Exemplifying truth starts with a keen understanding of what is true and false.
- Add clarity to truth. Start with truth and then add clarity. Nowhere is this needed more than in our communications with our constituents, especially with givers and potential givers. There is often a tendency to be expansive in explaining ministry accomplishments. After all, isn’t it all about how much ministry impact we can claim? Fuzziness—or worse, exaggeration—in our funding and other communications can easily turn into lost trust. The concepts of truthfulness in our communications with givers are embedded in ECFA’s stewardship standards. They are increasingly important as givers tend to focus more on ministry outcomes.
- Be exemplary in managing resources. One of the key ways we gain trust is how we steward God’s resources. Christ-centered organizations are not unlike the people described in the parable of the talents—we all have different amounts of resources with which to work. Yet, we are all called to steward what we have been given as unto the Lord.
From the parable, we see that the servants didn’t get to keep the money for themselves. The two successful servants aren’t working for their own increase—they are working for the increase of their master. Their true reward is sharing in their master’s happiness, and their own happiness comes from serving others.
So it is with us. We are stewards of the Master’s money. We don’t get to keep it for ourselves. We are working for the increase of our Master!
Enhancing trust is what ECFA does. For 34 years, the ECFA peer accountability concept has had a tremendous impact by creating and maintaining trust. But, in the final analysis, it is up to you—up to your organization—to create and maintain an atmosphere of trust with your constituents. May it be said of us: “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy” (Psalm 111:7).