I pastored full time for 14 years and I've been in full-time ministry for almost 40 years. I learned early that many pastors don't trust one another.
Here are some reasons why, followed by some steps to correct this problem.
1. Pastors are often competitive. We may not like it, but our ministry world rewards numbers. Denominations recognize them. Publishers appreciate them. Pastors of larger churches get speaking platforms. When numbers are a source of reward, they also become a source of competition—and competitors often don't trust one another.
2. Much church growth comes from "swapping sheep." That is, one church grows by getting members from another local church. When that happens, pastors sometimes get frustrated with each other: "Why didn't he tell me they were visiting his church?"
3. We struggle trusting people in general. Many pastors are afraid to be completely honest about their struggles. We fear that honesty will cost us too much, so we tend to be loners. That fear makes it difficult to trust anybody else—including other pastors—especially if we've been burned in the past.
4. Some pastors aren't trustworthy. Too many of us can tell stories of pastors who didn't keep a confidence. Others have heard fellow pastors who seldom miss an opportunity to talk about somebody else. It's probably not wise to trust every pastor.
5. We know our own hearts. I don't know a pastor who doesn't want to be trustworthy, but I do know we are aware of the wickedness of our own hearts. Any of us could fall into the traps of deceit and betrayal.
So, what do we do about this issue? If you're a pastor, consider these steps:
1. Ask God to show you your heart. If you're competitive, untrustworthy or bitter, you're more a part of the problem than the solution. Ask God's forgiveness and help.
2. If needed, work to reconcile a broken pastoral relationship. Maybe you've been in one of those friendships that ended poorly. In the power of the Spirit, work to heal that wound. Strive to rebuild trust.
3. Reach out to another pastor and be a friend. Trust develops in the context of healthy relationships, so strive to be that kind of friend to another pastor. You might find someone who desperately needs a friend.
4. Think God's kingdom rather than your church. His kingdom is much bigger than our own little worlds. If we're going to reach our neighbors and the nations, we need each other on the same team. That truth should help us let go of the things that make us jealous, angry and competitive.
5. Talk only positively about other pastors. If I hear you talking negatively about another pastor, I know you might do the same behind my back. If I hear you affirm and support other pastors, I'll likely be more inclined to trust you.
What might you add to this conversation?
Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is team leader for theological education strategists for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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