Building Trust as a Pastor, Part 1: Encourage Your People Like Crazy
Over the past several years of working with pastors in different types of church revitalization contexts, the area of building trust and credibility is the one area, above all others, I have observed to be absolutely critical. This one area often makes or breaks a pastor’s ability to win the hearts of the people and thus effectively lead healthy change in a congregation, especially a struggling one.
Like many aspects of pastoral leadership, trust and credibility cannot be established overnight. As much as we’d like for there to be one, there is no shortcut. But for the pastor who is intentional to do whatever needs to be done to earn the trust of the congregation, you will typically see a people who, in time, will eagerly and joyfully follow their pastor’s lead into the future. On the other hand, where a pastor fails to establish trust, his leadership will be consistently met with skepticism and resistance, hindering any type of healthy change and growth from taking place.
Building trust and credibility with a congregation is absolutely vital. But how does a pastor do it? What are the keys? What steps need to be taken? How do you as a shepherd and leader earn the right to lead those under your care? In this series of posts, let’s explore several trust-building strategies that can help each of us in this area.
Trust-Builder #1: Encourage your people like crazy.
Every person in your congregation needs to hear more words of encouragement. Every person. I’m talking here about sincere expressions of affirmation and gratitude given honestly to another individual in order to build them up. It is helping others see evidences of God’s work of grace in their lives. To encourage someone means, quite literally, to “fuel their courage” to be who God made them to be and to live as God made them to live. According to Scripture, a mark of a mature, godly, others-focused individual is the practice of regular, consistent, genuine encouragement. This is particularly true for shepherd pastors called to love and lead God’s people.
Author and professor Jerry Sittser, writing about the importance of encouraging those in our congregation, says, "Encouragement is to people in the church what maintenance is to cars and trucks. We have to encourage people to help keep them going as disciples of Jesus over the long haul. When our brothers and sisters in Christ are lacking in zeal and passion, when they lose heart, when they're discouraged and facing disappointment, we must come alongside them with words of encouragement." I love this description. It is so true. Encouragement is the maintenance ministry of a church. And we know that every church is in need of constant maintenance, especially those that are dying and declining! Our people will feel loved by us as pastors when we genuinely and thoughtfully speak words of loving affirmation and encouragement into their lives.
To help you grow as an encourager, I want to invite you to take The Barnabas Challenge. In Scripture, we read of Barnabas, the “son of encouragement.” Just as Barnabas demonstrated a life of encouragement toward others, by God’s grace, we as pastors must seek to live and love in the same way.
The Barnabas Challenge is very simple. You can summarize it in two words: encourage three. The Barnabas Challenge consists of purposely setting a goal of personally, specifically, and joyfully encouraging three people each day in your congregation. That’s it. That is the challenge. To make it part of the rhythm of your life, going out of your way to build others up by offering a word of encouragement to three different individuals each day. Of course, you may choose to encourage more than three, but make it a goal to encourage at least three people everyday.
You can do this! What you will find if you choose to take this challenge is a daily source of joy both for yourself and for those in your congregation that you encourage. As Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” May the words you speak, and the encouragement you give, be a source of sweetness and healing to your congregation.
- This post is adapted from Mark Hallock's book, The Priorities of a Shepherd Pastor. Get your copy HERE.
 Gerald Sittser, Love One Another , (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 22.