The Basics of Trust

Trust: have confidence or faith in; reliance on the integrity, strength and ability of others based on past experience; believing in the honesty and reliability of others; confidence that a person or thing will not fail. “Trust” is related to the Old English word “treowe”—from which we get the word “true.”

Trust, like love, is a many-splendored thing.

Although we frequently think of trust as one-dimensional (involving, usually, consistency of character), in reality, dimensions of trust expand and grow more complex as the nature of our relationship changes. What might be a sufficient basis for friendship (liking) is inadequate for functional relationships (doing) and even less satisfactory for team relationships (cooperating).

As I think about trust in the context of ministry and church leadership, there are at least five levels of trust that must be established in order for teams to develop and thrive and become maximally effective. 

Trust Pyramid CharacterCharacter

First (and most basic to any discussion of trust) is the matter of character. We consider “trustworthy” those who demonstrate integrity, humility, honesty, and faithfulness.

There can be no trust apart from character. And, for certain relationships, character is all that is needed; it is a sufficient basis for trust. In friendship, for example, it is enough to know you are in a relationship with a person of good character, someone who will tell you the truth and demonstrate fidelity, someone who is genuinely interested in your well-being. You don’t really care whether they are able to balance their checkbook or have a commitment to recycling.

Basis for Trust




Integrity, humility, honesty, and fidelity consistently demonstrated

Friendship (liking)

Character is necessary for trust. And, for some relationships, it is enough. But character is not the only basis for trust and is not always sufficient.

Trust Pyramid Character CompetenceCompetence

For any working relationship, competence is a necessary part of trust. To good character must be added confidence in another’s skills, abilities, experience, and work ethic.

Ministry positions and leadership roles require a certain level of competence. Someone can have exemplary character, but unless that character is supplemented with adequate skills to get the job done, to produce needed results, trust cannot develop and cannot be sustained. We ask people to serve as elders, we hire people for positions of ministry, because there are important tasks to accomplish. Leadership is not a reward for being a nice person; it is a responsibility entrusted to people who are capable and competent to do the work.

Basis for Trust




Skills, abilities, experience, work ethic, demonstrated track record of effectiveness

Work (doing)

There are relationships where “who you are” is not a sufficient basis for trust. It is important (for developing and sustaining trust) to know “what you can do.”

Trust Pyramid Common CauseCommon Cause

Often, ministry and leadership teams are composed of people who have good character and good competencies. Just as often, we assume that these are the only conditions necessary for developing an effective working relationship as a team.

In fact, however, trust within teams can only develop when individual character and competence are devoted to common goals. Only within the context of a shared mission, of mutual commitment to the accomplishment of mission, does genuine trust develop among team members. It is this shared mission that transforms “associated” ministry (a collection of individuals working from the same location to accomplish uncoordinated ministry) into “focused” ministry (everyone working together to accomplish a mutually shared goal). 

Basis for Trust



Common Cause

The willingness to devote personal character and competence to the accomplishment of a group mission.

Team (cooperating)

When charactered and competent individuals commit themselves to working together to accomplish a common cause, trust in the team becomes possible.

Trust Pyramid CooperationCooperation

As a church’s mission becomes more defined and team members commit themselves to accomplishing that mission, individual team members begin to understand their place in that mission and their importance to the team. They realize what it is they have to contribute to team goals. And they start to see the possibilities of cooperation, coordination, and collaboration. The team moves from shared focus (common ends) to shared ministry (common means). The emphasis at this level is all about synergy: combining efforts so that the impact of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is the pursuit of synergy that transforms “siloed” ministry (everyone doing what is right in his own eyes) into “aligned” ministry (shaping individual ministries to accomplish mutually shared goals) and allows for synergy to develop. 

Trust grows when we watch team members adapting their ministries to accomplish a mutual goal; when “youth ministry” and “shepherding” and “preaching” become different means to a common end; when “what I do” is intentionally shaped by “what we’ve agreed to accomplish together.”

Basis for Trust



Clear Calling

The willingness to shape individual ministries and efforts in order to contribute to a group mission.

Team (collaborating)

Trust Pyramid ConflctConflict

Into every church some rain must fall.

Count on it. A church can be blessed with elders and ministry staff who bring to their work the highest levels of character and competence, the greatest commitment to common mission and cooperation. But something will go wrong. There will be some miscommunication, some difference over methodology, some personal antagonism, some disagreement about how we define effective ministry.

Church leadership, like marriage, survives or fails on the basis of how conflict is handled … how teams and team members conduct themselves when things go wrong. Nothing can destroy trust quite like conflict. But, on the other hand, conflict done well—managed properly—can lead teams to new heights of trust: in each other and in the team as a system.

Basis for Trust




Making a covenant to act like a team while managing conflict in a trustworthy manner.

Team (conflicting)

The following blogs explore each of these “trust basics” in more depth. Again, your comments would be appreciated.

[Go to the next article in this series.]

[Go to the first article in this series.]

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.