Perceptions

Trusted ministries inspire positive perceptions, creating the power of a rolling ocean wave—building a tsunami of trust—and, more importantly, give the right impression of Christ our Savior!

 

by Dan Busby

 

Perception is the way we think about or understand someone or something.[1] “Man does not see reality as it is, but only as he perceives it, and his perception may be mistaken or biased,” said Rudolf Dreikurs.[2]

There are things known
and there are things
unknown and in between
are the doors of perception.
Aldous Huxley

Having a healthy respect for perceptions evidences a strong connection with reality. We ignore perceptions at our peril. When there is a serious lack of integrity of a ministry, or even the perception of a lack of integrity, the issue takes on a life and timeline of its own—it cannot be hermetically contained.

Some perceptions are accurate; some are inaccurate. Some perceptions enhance the name of Christ; others do not.

Positive perceptions of a ministry enhance Christ’s reputation; negative perceptions have just the opposite result. Each time a negative perception is told and retold, it expands with every retelling. The truth is left in the rear-view mirror.

Perceptions do not
determine truth;
truth impacts
perceptions.

If negative perceptions about a ministry are shared on the Internet or other electronic medium, the story will spin and live on in cyberspace infamy—even after deleting web pages reflecting the story.

In the modern era, there is a new wild card—digital abuse. Until recently, ministry leaders did not have to contend with current or former followers setting up “hate websites,” replete with scathing blog posts, nasty comments on reader forums, online petitions, or voicing a spoof of a Twitter account in the target’s name. All this may be based on scanty facts, using code names to hide true identities.

When I consider the frequent, frivolous carping about ministries, I am reminded of 2 Timothy 2:14: “Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.”

Some of the attackers openly admit they are not Christ-followers. And, if words are “not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul” (2 Tim. 2:17).

Today, truth is
on the scaffold
and innuendoes are
on the throne—
and innuendoes
equal guilt in the
mind of many.

During his sermons, my father would occasionally quote the American poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891):

Truth forever on the scaffold,
   Wrong forever on the throne—
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
   and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
   keeping watch above His own.

Today, truth is on the scaffold and innuendoes are on the throne—and innuendoes equal guilt in the mind of many. Innuendo is the favorite tool of those lacking responsibility. Simply float the words “cult,” “fraud,” “moral failure,” “misconduct,” or “insolvency”—even without any factual basis to use the words—and watch the piranhas attack. The water is clouded with blood, and the body bags are at the ready. Sadly, memories spawned by spurious innuendo often fade slowly and exact a high toll on the ministry and individuals.

Ministries are often left without any positive way to respond to media attacks—especially in the blogosphere. The attackers may say they want more transparency. This is usually just a manipulative ploy, because the more information a ministry provides, the more they are attacked. This is as close to an unresolvable grievance in God’s work as I can imagine. We simply must remember: “He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.” (Eph. 1:21).

There is a natural inclination to be drawn in to the back-and-forth, below the fold, in the blogosphere. But 2 Timothy 2:24 says, “Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener.”

A lie travels half way
around the world
before truth
gets its shoes on.
Mark Twain

“If we are quick to judge, we will not need much evidence to form our judgments. Fragments of information will be sufficient for those who have already made up their minds about the conduct and beliefs of others. Some people think they have the right to ‘connect the dots’ and draw conclusions based on their own intuitions, hunches, and prior desires. If they are angry or savor a critical spirit, they will be likely to jump to conclusions. No wonder we read ‘To answer before listening—that is folly and shame’ (Prov. 18:13 NIV).”[3]

When we first meet someone, we have an impression that they are either likable or unlikable. We form that “impression” very early, but we can rarely articulate our reasons well enough to make sense. Psychologists believe “the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived.”[4]It takes great communication to change perceptions.[5]

Especially with
a camera in
everyone's pocket,
there are no secrets.
Assume anything
you say or do will
soon be on the
Internet, social media,
or television.

Ministries are havens for inaccurate perceptions and the related adverse effects. There are several reasons for this:

  • The tug of war between confidentiality and transparency. Ministries can be battlegrounds where constituents expect almost absolute transparency. This is contrasted with the appropriateness of maintaining confidentiality regarding certain information. Sound governance requires that certain information is private.
  • The microscopic analysis of ministries. Ministries are under the microscope today more than ever before, and this is unlikely to change.

This finite analysis can turn molehills into mountains and the insignificant into headlines.

Tremendous damage to a ministry’s trust can be done by baseless complaints founded on misperceptions. When ministry leaders are attacked because of misperceptions, there is often little to do except try to correct the perceptions.

An internal attack is so much more painful than external attacks. Consider the word “betray.” It is an eighth of an inch above “betroth” in the dictionary, but a world from “betroth” in life. It’s a weapon found only in the hands of one you love. Your enemy has no such tool, for only a friend can betray (John 13:21). Betrayal is mutiny. It’s a violation of a trust, an inside job.[6]

Leaders must be above reproach and have a great reputation with outsiders, as clearly stated in 1 Timothy 3:1–7:

 

Ten Major Issues
Can Lead to Misperceptions

 

  1. Compensation—Was it independently approved? Was it contemporaneously documented? Is it comparable to similar positions in similar ministries in similar geographic locations?
  2. Fringe benefits—Are the perks reasonable? Has the ministry properly classified them as taxable or tax-free? Is the tax reporting consistent with the classification?
  3. Intellectual properties—Who owns them, and is there a sound basis for this determination? Is the ministry compensated for promoting intellectual properties owned by the employee, where all royalties/profits go to the employee?
  4. Personal use of ministry assets—Is the ministry reimbursed for the personal use, or is the value of the personal use added to the employee’s compensation?
  5. Business expenses—Are reimbursements only made if the expenses are timely and properly substantiated?
  6. Family members paid by the ministry—Are amounts paid reasonable and comparable to other staff members?
  7. Related-party transactions—If ministry property is transferred to a staff member, is fair value paid? Does your board always follow the four cautionary steps: exclude, compare, determine, and document?
  8. Communication with givers—Are all communications with givers truthful? Is it crystal clear whether the “ask” is for unrestricted or restricted gifts?
  9. Restricted gifts—Is giver intent always honored?
  10. Gift acknowledgments—Are timely and appropriate gift acknowledgements provided to givers?


If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he’s talking about, not be overfond of wine, not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry. He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap.

Ministry leaders must work doubly hard to prevent improper perceptions which can damage trust. We can do the following to minimize misperception:

  1. Temper actions with prudence and discretion (Prov. 8:12).
  2. Be above reproach in every area of life (2 Cor. 6:3).
  3. Let others make all decisions on money that directly or indirectly affect the leader (Eph. 5:3).

 

  Questions   for reflection
 
  1. Are perceptions positive for the ministry you serve?
  2. If there are misperceptions about the ministry, in what areas do they exist? How could they be addressed?
  3. What steps could the ministry take to improve any perceptions and avoid misperceptions?

 


[1] “Perception.” Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/ dictionary/perception.

[2] Rudolf Dreikurs and Pearl Cassel, Discipline Without Tears (New York: Hawthorn, 1972), 8–9.

[3] Erwin W. Lutzer, Who Are You To Judge? Learning to Distinguish Between Half-Truths and Lies (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 2002), 46.

[4] “Judgements about trustworthiness are made in the first second of meeting.” Posted August 5, 2014. The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ science/science-news/11013780/Judgements-about-trustworthiness-are-made-in-the-first-second-of-meeting.html.

[5] Bill Cottringer, “Wrong Perceptions Can Be Lethal.” SelfGrowth.com: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/WRONG_ PERCEPTIONS_CAN_BE_LETHAL.html.

[6] Max Lucado, And the Angels Were Silent: The Final Week of Jesus (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1992), 159.

 

From TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, ECFAPress, 2015, www.ECFA.org/KnowledgeCenter.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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