How does an interim pastor gain the trust of people burned by the departing pastor?
You’d better know the answer this one or they won’t trust you. If they don’t, they won’t follow.
If they don’t follow, you fail.
It’s not your fault.
The departed pastor took advantage of his position. He didn’t cooperate with the Church Board. He used the church’s credit card for personal items. He ignored constructive criticism of his preaching and occasionally violated confidences to spice up his sermon illustrations.
They retained you to pull it out of their congregational death spiral; it’s clear they’re desperate. But it’s clear they don’t trust you.
Your tactful and authentic self-disclosure will build trust and improve ministry performance if you follow the guidelines of effective self-disclosure and avoid a few common mistakes.
2 Guidelines for Effective self-disclosure
If you would use self-disclosure as a means of building trust with the leadership team and the early adopters you must take care that your self-disclosures are (1) genuine and (2) relevant to the task at hand.
Genuine Self-disclosure. When using self-disclosure in public addresses (such as sermons, reports and teaching) or in small groups don’t exaggerate details or embellish to draw inordinate attention or make yourself look good.
Spend a few minutes thinking about why you would use self-disclosure while crafting the message or planning your public address. Pose Two questions to help determine whether the disclosure is appropriate or not: (1) “Am I tempted to modify the facts to make them fit the point?” and (2) “Am I secretly hoping this will cast me in a favorable light?” If you use self-disclosure frequently, give special consideration to that second question.
If the answer to either question brushes up against the affirmative, pass on the planned self-disclosure. Your motives are mixed, a commendable desire to teach effectively and a less than commendable effort to gain respect. Personal integrity is more important than an memorable illustration.
Appropriate Self-disclosure. Does the personal information or anecdote you’re planning to disclose shed some light on the action step you’re calling for? Does it serve as an example to follow or a mistake to avoid when pursuing the course of action you’re proposing? Be sure the self-disclosure doesn’t distract the audience’s attention when you’re trying to persuade them or inform them. This may happen if the self-disclosure could shock your listeners in some way. Make sure the self-disclosure won’t draw inordinate attention to yourself; it should illuminate, not blind.
4 Common Mistakes
Rosh and Offerman identify common mistakes in self-disclosure that undermine credibility, ruining efforts to create trust. Interim pastors should be aware of and take to avoid four of them.
1. Avoid self-disclosure that makes you look phony or foolish
People who lack self-awareness (the ability to identify what you’re feeling and recognize how your emotional state effects others) often make this mistake. Their self-disclosure isn’t phony or foolish per se, but that’s how they are perceived by others.
Are you generally aware of your feelings most of the time? If so, then there’s no need to worry about this. But if you’re not, you need to take care lest your self-disclosure hinder your efforts to build trust by coming across as a faker.
If your self-awareness is a challenge always think about why you want to use this self-disclosure at this point in the messaging. What emotional state will depict to your audience? What will you be feeling when you use this? Is it appropriate to the point you’re trying to illuminate?
2. Avoid self-disclosure if you can’t predict the audience response
Social awareness is the ability to read social cues and thereby understand how others are responding to you. Those lacking social awareness often don’t realize how they’re coming across to others.
You can spot this in yourself by asking, “Am I often misunderstood? Do people usually miss my point? Do I often receive strange responses (responses contrary to what you expected) when interacting with others either one-on-one or in a group?”
Let me give you an example – a self-disclosure that shows my occasional lack of social awareness. At one of my client congregations I was told in periodic reviews that some people thought I was angry at them. I was baffled. I’m a direct communicator who attempts to be sensitive to the other and frame my communication and metacommunication appropriately, but I can be blunt when needed. Apparently some folks interpreted that as meaning that I was angry at them. I never did find out who it was and it’s a mystery to me to this day
If you’re challenged with an occasionally deficient social awareness it’s a good idea to have a confidant who will vet your work and tell you straight when you’re out of bounds with your self-disclosure.
3. Avoid being an open book
Some chat endlessly about themselves and everything else. They overuse self-disclosure, often because they have porous or ill-defined personal boundaries.
If you’re an open-book kind of interim pastor, church members will seek you out. They want the information you’re dispensing. But they won’t trust you because you don’t have any boundaries. They know that should they disclose a confidence to you it’s likely you won’t keep it confidential.
I’m not aware of a short, sweet solution to this problem. But if this is you, I suggest you avoid self-disclosure, particularly in your preaching. Above all, never tell a story or an anecdote that involves other people whom your audience will readily identify.
Apart from ruining your efforts to build trust, you’re a likely candidate for burnout. The failure to maintain personal boundaries make it hard to keep beneficial distance between yourself and your temporary congregation.
4. Avoid being a closed book
Like the open book, the closed book will be challenged to create trust. The open book won’t be trusted because she says too much. The closed book won’t be trusted because she doesn’t say anything. If she’s an interim minister in a troubled congregation it’s doubtful that they’ll trust her. Instead, she’ll be perceived as remote and inaccessible.
- Identify which of the four common mistakes you’re most likely to make
- In crafting your next public message (sermon, mail, blog post, email, bulletin) ask yourself several important questions:
- What am I trying to communicate with message?
- Is the point I’m trying to illustrate or prove with my self-disclosure relevant to the main message?
- Is the self-disclosure the most powerful way to illustrate or prove my point?
- Does the self-disclosure suffer from any of the four mistakes?
- Does the self-disclosure meet the two guidelines for effectiveness?
Intentional interim pastors live on the trust of the members in their client congregations. People have to trust you before they will give you permission to make systemic changes. Trust is built of various materials (competence, honesty, honoring your commitments), one of which is self-disclosure.
The appropriate use of self-disclosure that avoids four common mistakes will help you rapidly build trust.
Do you have a story about a time you were challenged by the need to create trust in a distrusting leadership team or congregation? If so, how did you overcome that challenge and create the trust needed to help them solve the developmental challenges before the group?
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