Recently, I was in Minneapolis for Norma Pederson’s memorial service.¹ (Her husband, Wayne, president of Reach Beyond, Colorado Springs, serves on ECFA’s board of directors.)
My friend Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, shared a thoughtful message that day. He spoke of the second century Greek philosopher, Aristides. Around the year 125 A.D., he wrote this description of the faith, life, and behavior of Christians: “If any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near.”² It wasn’t that Christians didn’t cry or grieve, it just wasn’t like everyone else.
Aristides explained to King Hadrian that followers of Jesus Christ were different. They were different at death because of the way they rejoiced and thanked God. Aristides was so impressed by how different Christians were that he later became a follower of Christ.
Aristides also noted they were different in life: “Falsehood is not found among them . . . .” He was saying followers of Christ could be trusted. Nearly 2,000 years later, surely the same should be true of us.
Trust is like a phenomenon of nature, like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. You can’t talk to it. It can’t talk to you. All you can do is stand back and be awed by it. Aristides was awed by the trustworthiness of Christians!
Trusted ministries flourish. Without trust, at best ministries flounder—at worst they fail and disappear from the nonprofit landscape.
A Christ-centered ministry that lacks trust is like a teenager running through a fireworks factory holding a lit blowtorch. It isn’t whether something is going to blow up—it’s just a matter of when.
When we are trusted, we keep Christ on center stage. When our ministries lack trust, the issues that created the lack of trust are on center stage and Christ is in the wings.
We pay for the lack of trust in many ways. “When trust is low, speed goes down and cost goes up. When trust is high, speed goes up and cost goes down.”³ In ministry terms, speed equates to efficiency; our timeliness in fulfilling our mission.
Inside a Christ-centered nonprofit, low trust appears in the form of these:
- Office politics. When a ministry lacks trust, the office politics machine runs at full speed—dividing a ministry against itself. This results in wasted time, talent, energy, and money.
- Disengagement. The lack of trust causes staff members to disengage. They want to avoid getting fired, but they don’t contribute their full talent, creativity, energy, or passion.
- Turnover. High performers want to work in a high-trust environment. An individual employed by a ministry low on trust may feel trapped because of a lack of other job opportunities. When trust is low, turnover is disproportionately high— losing the people you least want to lose.
- Fraud. An employee working for a ministry with trust issues may inappropriately feel justified to commit fraud.4
Trust enhances the following (and much more):
- Donors will choose trust. When a serious breach of trust occurs, donors flee as sure as leaves fall from trees in autumn. When there are so many trustworthy ministries to support, donors will choose trust.
- Volunteers will choose trust. A volunteer’s time is a precious commodity. Given the choice between volunteering for a trusted ministry and one with trust issues, volunteers will choose trust.
- Board members will choose trust. When a breach of trust occurs with a ministry, some board members may resign; others will count the days until their term is completed. In the final analysis, board members will choose trust.
- Collaborators will choose trust. This is the day of collaboration between ministries—and well it should be. The most meaningful collaboration occurs between trusted partners. Collaborators will choose trust.
What do followers of Christ do when trust is broken? We grieve. We admit that what we did was wrong without trying to justify our actions. We ask for forgiveness. We take steps to ensure that we will not repeat the actions that caused trust to be broken. This does not ensure that trust will always be regained—but they are the right steps to take. Period.
Followers of Christ are different. We are different in death. We are different in life. May we live as Aristides found the early believers: “Falsehood is not found among them . . . .” This is fundamental to keeping Christ on center stage.
1 For a tribute to Norma’s life, see http://reachbeyond.org/read/13286/ late-wife-of-ministryleader-known-for-servant-heart-loving-spirit.
2 Kay, D. M., The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/aristides-kay.html.
3 Covey, Stephen M.R., The Speed of Trust, Free Press, 2006, p. 13.
4 3 Big Ideas About The Speed of Trust™, http://www.myspeedoftrust.com/how-the-speed-of-trust-works/business _case.