It’s hard to imagine a ministry thriving without trust. Staff need to trust each other. Leaders need to trust each other. The pastor needs to trust (and therefore empower) the congregation. The congregation needs to trust the pastor.
Where trust is questioned or broken, it’s worth dropping almost everything else and rushing to reestablish it. Deliberate listening with lots of sincerely curious questions (in place of defensive responses) will get you a long way.
A specific apology will take you a long way, too:
- I regret that I said/did ________ (and actually fill in that blank—this is not a generic apology!)
- I shouldn’t have done it.
- Is there anything I can do to repair the damage I’ve caused?
- Here’s what I’m going to do to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again…
- Will you please forgive me?[1. These are called the five elements of apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas in The Five Languages of Apology. They’ve been very helpful to me. When an occasion of apology comes, I usually try to use all five, the idea being that someone may be looking for you to do offer one form of apology—e.g. “What can I do to make it right?”—and you’re only offering another—e.g. “I’m sorry I did that.”]
Sometimes ego prevents us from doing this, or the feeling that if we express any apology, it demonstrates that we were completely in the wrong, and the other person/group was in the right. (It does no such thing!)
Sometimes “busyness” prevents us from taking care of it. We have too many other important things happening. But few things are more important than repairing trust. If we’re too busy to do that work, we’re likely just hiding behind our busyness. Odd though it may sound, that’s the vice of sloth creeping in.
My most painful times in life and ministry were the times that I didn’t rush to restore trust when it had been broken.