By Don McFarlane
In the mid-1980s, while serving as president of the South England Conference, United Kingdom, I invited a young woman from one of the London churches to share with a group of pastors and elders what young people in the church wanted from them as church leaders. Frankly, I was expecting a long list of demands—but that did not materialize. The young woman spoke for no more than 25 minutes, despite the fact that I had given her 45 minutes. Two refrains in her short but effective speech have been etched on my mind ever since: Young people in the church want to know that pastors and elders genuinely care about them. Young people in the church want to be able to trust their pastors and elders.
The young woman shared one illustration to support the points she made. She said that a friend of hers had come to church one Sabbath in a dress that was uncomfortably short. Her friend knew that the dress was short and kept tugging at its hem in an effort to lengthen it, but without much success. An elder approached her friend after the worship service and reprimanded her harshly for wearing such inappropriate attire to church. The response was one of anger. Her friend later said that she knew that the dress was short and probably should not have been worn to church, but her anger stemmed from the fact that that elder had not spoken to her in a meaningful way before that day. He had never previously offered her a comforting or encouraging word. She felt that he lacked the authority to speak to her in the way he did, as he had not previously sought to build a relationship with her. Consequently, she did not feel that he was someone whom she was able to trust.
Each year the leaders of some of the world’s richest countries come together to tackle the most challenging global issues of the time. Known as the G7, this exclusive club that was founded in the early 70s and is made up of members from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, represents more than 60 percent of the global net wealth, estimated to be about $250 trillion. Years ago I embarked on a journey to identify some of the major factors undergirding the growth of wealthy and economically successful countries. It quickly became obvious that the number-one factor in any country creating a culture that leads to sustainable economic success is trust—trust in government, trust in institutions, trust in businesses, trust in systems.
The G7 countries and others—such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Holland—are considered to be high-trust countries. Countries with low economic growth are usually low-trust countries. “In countries where trust is high, crime and corruption is low. Businesses with a healthy reputation perform better and hire better talent. Leaders who are perceived to be trustworthy are deemed more successful. So if organizations can harness trust they have a lot to gain.” 1
If trust is important in the political and commercial world, it is even more so in the spiritual and social world. Trust is perhaps one of the most important ingredients in living abundantly and in experiencing a fulfilling life. It is a precious commodity. The psalmist exclaims, “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5, NIV). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3: 5, 6, NIV).
Where there is a high trust factor in the leaders of a local church and in its adherence to the wider church’s mission, there is also a high-giving level by members of their time, energy, influence, and money.
Our trust in God and His promises is the basis of our faith. Our trust in our parents, our children, our grandparents and grandchildren, our brothers and sisters is the basis of our family relationships and of the freedom that we experience when we are with loved ones. Similarly, the level of trust we have in our fellow church members and church leaders in particular determines the extent to which we take the church seriously, the support we are prepared to give to it, and the joy we experience in being a part of it. The blessings of the church are experienced only in relationships with other people. Christ is its head, but our day-to-day interactions are with the body, which happens to be people.
Numerous appeals to members to give their time, means, and influence to the church are often unnecessary when members are able to trust those who are leading and the vision that they have. J. Clif Christopher expresses a similar thought about the church in these words: “A key thing to remember is that friendraising is more important than fundraising. You should be ten times more intentional to make a friend than to get a gift. If you [church leader] will put in the hours to cultivate a relationship, you will find that you only need to spend a few minutes to get a gift that will advance the cause of Christ.”2 Church leaders must bear in mind that trust is not inspired by their position, their titles, or their speeches; trust is inspired by their actions.
Christopher’s basic thesis about high-level giving in a local church is that a church needs to have a leader who inspires trust and confidence in members through his or her building of relationships. “When they [members] do not have confidence they make a contribution but not a commitment.”3 People usually say that they give to certain causes because of their belief in the mission of those causes. While that is true, in many cases they subconsciously give because of the trust that they have in the one who is leading the mission. “I would have much more confidence in committing to fight a battle if I felt [General] Patton was in charge than if they told me Private Snuffy was leading.”4
My nearly 30 years of church administration have taught me the importance of trust in building a local church and in ensuring that it has the resources required to grow and develop. Where there is a high trust factor in the leaders of a local church and in its adherence to the wider church’s mission, there is also a high-giving level by members of their time, energy, influence, and money.
Do you want a dynamic and energized congregation that is joyful in Christ, that responds to your leadership, and that commits to the fulfilment of the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Yes? Well, be a good steward! Be a good steward in cultivating and nurturing relationships, letting each member know that as a leader you care, that they are special to God and therefore are special to you. A caring attitude builds relationship; relationship builds trust, and trust elicits commitment. It is in commitment that one experiences fullness in Christ, the joys of Christian living, and motivation to give of oneself and your resources to expand God’s kingdom. Ellen White says that total commitment, or wholehearted devotion, which is a product of trust, is more precious than gold: “The soul that is sincere in its love, wholehearted in its devotion, God regards as more precious than the golden wedge of Ophir.”5 It is such souls that God is seeking to fashion through us, His stewards.
- Epi Ludvik Nekai, “Trust Is the New Gold,” Crowd Currencies, Social Business, February 22, 2018, https://crowdsourcingweek.com/blog/category/crowdsourcing/social-business/. Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.
- J. Clif Christopher, God vs. Money: Winning Strategies in the Combat Zone (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), p. 59.
- Ibid., p. 58.
- Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, 2000 edition (Hagerstown, Md., Review and Herald Publishing Association), p. 196.