Case study: When trust in a pastor erodes

Your friend Sarah comes to you with a question:

"What is the appropriate thing to do when you've come to feel that your pastor is manipulative and even almost deceptive?"

Here is Sarah's story:

"I come from a church in Texas. In just the last four years, our pastor has hired and then fired four different associates. Each time he asked one of them to resign, he told that person that he'd make things very difficult if he or she said anything negative about him. So, until much later, the church had no idea of the real reasons these associates left. We want to be fair in judging him, but he doesn't cut his associates any slack. So, we're not sure why we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

"His people skills don't seem very good. He has treated the youth group as unimportant and has run off several church members. As a result, attendance has dropped 25%, from 400 to 300.

"I know that, generally, pastors are overworked and underpaid. I know that many of them bear the weight of unrealistic expectations. However, our pastor seems too often willing to take the shortcut of bending the truth if the objective appears to be a noble one. For instance, he reports people who transfer in from other churches as 'new Christians.' To me, that's being deceptive. It doesn't give an accurate picture of what's happening to either the members of the local church or to our denominational leaders. Those kinds of things have eroded trust in him.

"Though our church continues to decay, the board seems unwilling to make any kind of move. Some say they want him gone, but they seem content to just wait out the situation. Their feeling seems to be: 'It's our church, not his, and eventually, he will leave.'

"Complicating the scenario is the fact that the pastor and the district superintendent seem to be really good friends. On top of that, our district superintendent seems to see himself primarily as a 'peacemaker' rather than a problem solver. So, when he really needs to forcefully intervene in a situation, he doesn't demonstrate good interventionist skills. Those who've tried to talk to the superintendent about problems related to our pastor have simply been told that this is an issue for the local church board. I know that is technically true within our governmental policy, but aren't there times when the district superintendent needs to lead?

"One fortunate thing, I guess, is that there are some people in the church who are oblivious to the problems. And, although our town isn't really large (35,000 population), there's no gossip going around about him yet as sometimes happens in towns like ours.

"There has to be some point when our congregation must change direction and move on. How do we know if we're at that point? If we are, what do we do now?"

  1. What do you say to Sarah?
  2. She's not on the church board. What are some possible courses of action she can pursue?
  3. What are some positive and negative outcomes of each possibility?
  4. Which one might be the best one?
  5. Which one would probably be the worst choice to make?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Afterword: Consequences of behavior that is perceived to be deceptive

When people in a group lose trust in their leader due to perceived deceptive behaviors or words, several consequences can unfold:

In summary, when people in a group (such as as church) lose trust in their leader due to deceptive behaviors or words, it can have far-reaching and detrimental effects on the group's dynamics, performance, and ultimately, its success. Rebuilding trust in such circumstances can be a challenging and lengthy process, requiring genuine efforts from the leader to acknowledge mistakes, demonstrate transparency, and rebuild credibility.

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