Gain Trust by Positioning Your Church
Pastors must establish relationships with the whole spectrum of society to realize the highest degree of success in their leadership.
by Joseph Castleberry
People used to identify Pentecostals as “the people from the other side of the tracks.” In the early days of our Movement, people in American society put a lot of importance on social position. As a result, many pastors felt they had something to prove. I once attended a pastors’ conference where a prominent church leader encouraged pastors to include a classic hymn in their worship services and feature a robed choir to show that their church had a little bit of class. Times change.
Still, ever since the days of the apostles, successful pastors have deemed it a privilege to minister to the high and mighty, even as they have gloried in the salvation of slaves and paupers. In chapter 16 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he includes in his long list of friends everyone from government officials and wealthy people to slaves and servants. As in Paul’s time, pastors today must establish relationships with the whole spectrum of society to realize the highest degree of success in their leadership. Even if you pastor “on the other side of the tracks,” you still need relationships all over town.
The breadth of a pastor’s relationships in the community determines the church’s position in the society. People often ask me what my job as a college president entails. I always reply that I work to embody Northwest University to all its publics. If my life and relationships do not adequately reflect the university’s identity, I cannot do my job. People who meet me will judge the quality of the university at least partly on their impression of me. The same holds true for pastors and churches. More than anyone else, pastors have the responsibility of creating position for their church in the eyes of the community. How people see the pastor will determine how they see the church.
I recently received an invitation to speak at a conference at Life Center Spanish Church in Tacoma, Wash., on the topic of “The Leader’s Tasks.” In preparing the seminar, I instantly thought of the classic book Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge by Warren G. Bennis and Burt Nanus.
Bennis and Nanus say leaders must employ four strategies to lead effectively: attention through vision; meaning through communication; trust through positioning; and the deployment of self, which refers to putting talented people to work in ways that allow them to fulfill their lives through service. I decided to share these principles, but since I’m a preacher, I wanted a biblical text to anchor my comments.
A look at the launch of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew 4 amazed me. Jesus started with a bold vision: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (verse 17).
He created meaning through social architecture as He called His disciples and taught them about the Kingdom and their role in it as fishers of people — or Kingdom networkers (verses 18–22). Then He established trust and credibility for His organization through positioning as He networked “throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (verse 23).
Finally, He deployed His disciples with authority to do these same works: “to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1).
The vision pastors cast, the message they communicate, and the people they deploy to accomplish God’s mission all depend on positioning for their credibility. If pastors only build networks inside their churches, their communities will interpret them as divisive and sectarian in their focus. Leaders from the spheres of business, government, public education, community life, the arts, the medical professions — and all the other varied sectors of society — will assume that pastors who don’t know anyone outside their church either do not care about society, or worse, feel hostility toward it. Some pastors rail so much against evil in society that it becomes obvious they truly do not trust people outside the church. When people think you don’t trust them, they don’t trust you. As Steven M.
R. Covey explains in The Speed of Trust, a lack of trust slows down an organization. No church can grow in a community that doesn’t trust it.
Pastors can create trust in the community around them by establishing relationships with leaders outside the circle of their church. When people have had a chance to rub shoulders with pastors, they tend to like them. Sociability builds likeability; likeability builds trust; and trust builds organizations. The more people in a community like and trust a pastor, the more church members will succeed in getting their friends to visit. Pastors who gain the trust of their city will inevitably enjoy a fast track to effectiveness for their church.
So how do pastors make friends with other leaders in their community? The guaranteed wrong way is trying to make every person you meet a member of your church. People who think you only interact with them to get them to your church will (rightly) distrust your motives. The right way seeks to serve other people or serve together with them without expecting anything in return.
Many venues provide golden opportunities for pastors to meet and befriend fellow leaders. Service clubs like Rotary International or Kiwanis or Civitan provide amazing opportunities to connect with community leaders. Because such clubs offer a highly sociable context that requires people to speak up and participate, the verbal skills and people skills of pastors quickly establish them as valuable members.
A pastor who does not belong to a service club should strongly consider visiting and joining one. Even if no one from the club ever joins your church, the standing or position of your church in the community will improve. Most often, such memberships lead to people visiting and even joining your church as you interact with them as a friend.
The local Chamber of Commerce provides another excellent meeting ground, but people who get involved in the Chamber need to show a genuine concern for the economic development of local businesses. Most towns need volunteer labor for projects in the community. Pastors who organize volunteer teams for public service often catch the attention of city leaders and get invited to serve on local committees or non-profit boards and participate in public events. Volunteering immediately identifies you as a person who cares about others. Some pastors get involved in causes such as the American Cancer Society or Meals on Wheels. Public schools offer PTA clubs, athletic booster clubs, tutoring opportunities, and other venues for service. Many other civic activities offer pastors access to important relationships with leaders.
As pastors position themselves — and the churches they serve — as vital players in the well-being of their community, people learn they can trust them. If we want to bring people to faith, establishing trust is a great place to start. Without moving your church an inch, you can make it stand out as more than just a building on one side of the tracks or the other. Rather, your church will become a trusted change agent that makes the community better.