The Tone of Trust

A ministry’s tone of trust is based on the tone at the top and throughout the team.


by Dan Busby


Dennis Kozlowski joined Tyco in 1975 and became CEO in 1992. With Kozlowski at the helm, Tyco expanded massively during the late 1990s. The company consistently beat Wall Street’s expectations and, through a series of strategic mergers and acquisitions, ushered in a new era of mega-conglomerates.

Leaders are leaders
because they are the
greater servants.
The way up is down.
The way to honor our
Lord and Savior is to serve.
There is always room
for one more servant.
Francis M. Cosgrove, Jr.

In 2001, BusinessWeek Magazine named Kozlowski “America’s Most Aggressive CEO.” It was meant as a compliment.

Kozlowski lost his job in June 2002 as he faced accusations that he looted company assets to the tune of over $100 million. Speaking to the parole board before he was released in 2013, he said, “Back when I was running Tyco, I was living in a CEO-type bubble. I had a strong sense of entitlement at that time.”[1]

Kozlowski set the tone at the top—but it was the wrong tone. So it can also be with leaders of Christ-centered ministries. The size of the ministry grows, revenues annually exceed the budget, speaking requests multiply, book sales increase—integrity slips at the top and trust begins to disappear from the top down.

The right tone at the top. To be trusted, ministry leaders must reflect strong character. The word “character” is derived from a Latin root that means “engraved.” A life, like a block of granite carved upon with care or hacked on with reckless disregard, will at the end be either a masterpiece or marred rubble. Character, the composite of virtues and values etched in that living stone, will define its true worth.[2]

Abraham Lincoln well understood the importance of setting the tone of trust. He said, “If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”[3]

As the leader goes,
so goes the ministry.
As the soul goes,
so goes the leader.
Stephen Macchia

Trust travels down the organiza­tional chart and rarely up the chart. When the top leader is trusted, a strong message is communicated to other staff. A leader’s character either infects others with desire to serve with integrity or thwarts it.

When ministry leaders demonstrate trust, the message will be spread to those who interact with them.

It is a spiritual law: Leadership is leading by example. No one is expected to follow leaders unless they lead by example (John 13:14–16).

Our Lord Jesus Christ provided the ultimate example of setting the tone at the top. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NIV). We must also lay down our lives for the Master. You cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).

Leaders set the tone at the top through their lives. It is reflected through these four traits:

When ministry leaders
demonstrate trust,
the message will be
spread to those who
interact with them.
  1. Transparency. “But mostly, show them all this by doing it yourself, incorruptible in your teaching, your words solid and sane” (Titus 2:7–8a).
  2. Humility. “After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table. Then he said, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am’” (John 13:12–13). Jesus set the example, taking the place of the lowest household servant. Then He began to teach them.
  3. Intentionality. “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized” (Phil. 4:9).
  4. Authenticity. “Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. ‘The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer’” (Matt. 23:1­–3).

Under the plan God has ordained, leadership is a position of humble, loving service. Those whom God designates as leaders are not called to be governing monarchs but humble slaves—not slick celebrities, but laboring servants. Those who would lead God’s people must above all exemplify sacrifice, devotion, submission, and lowliness. Jesus Himself gave us the pattern when He stooped to wash His disciples’ feet, a task that was customarily done by the lowest of slaves.[4]

Trust men and they
will be true to you;
treat them greatly
and they will show
themselves great.

Through the lens of Scripture, selfless leadership is simply about more of Christ and less of us. We must be in second place—not elbowing our way to the front. Christ set the example with the Father: “He must become greater;

I must become less” (John 3:30 NIV). The less it is all about us, the better others are served. Selfless leadership is inconspicuous, yet not sacrificing anything in the way of conviction—enabling us to live out Micah’s vision of acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God and others.

Selfless leaders are trusted because they get out of God’s way so that His Spirit works through them. Want this trait

in your life? Practice the inward disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, fasting, and meditation. Let God take care of the rest.[5]

Teamwork depends
on trust. Competency
in relationships
is built on trust.

“Trust grows when people see leaders translate their personal integrity into organizational fidelity. At the heart of fidelity lies truth-telling and promise-keeping.”[6] Truth sets us free (John 8:32). Truth gathers no adjectives. We know that truth’s nakedness leads us either toward trust or away from it. Truth is the gift of liberty, and it clears the ground for trust. Without truth, trust becomes over­shadowed and stunted by the undergrowth of partial lies and outright falsehoods.[7]

Leaders with the trust tone echo the “solid words” of Jesus:

These are the things I want you to teach and preach. If you have leaders there who teach otherwise, who refuse the solid words of our Master Jesus and this godly instruction, tag them for what they are: ignorant windbags who infect the air with germs of envy, controversy, bad-mouthing, suspicious rumors (1 Tim. 6:3–4).

Faithful administration depends on trusted teamwork. Trusted teamwork is God’s design. “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps” (Eccl. 4:9–10).

The Bible is replete with examples of trusted teamwork:

  • The Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the perfect team, working together from time past throughout all eternity! Their collective work is presented through Jesus Christ. Trusted teamwork.
  • Noah and his family (Gen. 6-9). Overcoming all odds to build an ark for God, Noah accomplished the monumental task that brought about a rainbow of promises outlining God’s care for all of His creation. Trusted teamwork.
  • Moses and Jethro, his father-in-law (Exod. 18). Seeing the way in which Moses was leading, Jethro suggested that Moses divide up the leadership responsibilities and start delegating duties with others who were gifted and capable. Listening to his father-in-law, Moses did everything he said and “chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” (v. 25 NIV). Moses’ team served well together and saved Moses the burden of carrying the load of leadership all on his own. Trusted teamwork.
  • Aaron, Hur, and Moses. Just prior to Moses’ encounter with Jethro, we see Aaron and Hur coming alongside Moses to lift his hands and support him in his prayers (Exod. 17:12–13 NIV). “When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset” (v. 12). Teamwork prevails especially in times of prayer! Trusted teamwork.
  • Nehemiah and his fellow workers. On a campaign to restore the city walls, Nehemiah leaned fully on the skills of others on the team to accomplish this larger-than-life goal (Neh. 2–7). Nehemiah was “carrying on a great project (6:3 NIV). Trusted teamwork.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 3). These three emerged from the fiery furnace as servants of the Most High God without a single hair of their heads singed, no strand of their robes scorched, and no smell of fire on them (vv. 26–27). Nebuchadnezzar praised God as a result of the faithfulness of this team, who defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Trusted teamwork.
  • Jesus and His disciples (Matt. 10 and numerous other Gospel passages). Jesus sent the Twelve out to fulfill His mission, share His message, and perform life-changing ministry. This motley group of called-out ones was privileged to partner with the Savior in ministry beyond measure. The likes of the disciples are known today as followers of Christ who are willing to die to self so that the life, love, and mission of Christ may be evidenced in this world. Trusted teamwork.
  • The early church (the book of Acts). From the time of Pentecost to the earliest growth of the Christian church, the believers were known to share all they had with one another so that the mission, message, and ministry of Christ would be multiplied in their generation. The ripple effects of this movement of the Spirit remain actively alive today—hallelujah![8] Trusted teamwork.

Teamwork depends on trust. Competency in relationships is built on trust.

Trust is the starting point
for all healthy relationships,
the fuel for team ministry,
and the cornerstone
of group effectiveness.
Stephen Macchia

A ministry may hit the mark on many or most of the other foundational elements described in this book, but if the team does not trust leaders or trust each other, the ministry may deteriorate or even disappear in the sunset.

Is your team pulling against each other, at one extreme? Or does your team’s performance exceed expectations? Just because team members have a common faith does not mean they will work well together.

Your team members yearn for trust. They earnestly want to believe their leaders and trust them to keep their promises. They respect their leaders when they see them put into practice what they preach—seeing it in action leverages teamwork.

To be effective and productive, followers, too, must be able to trust and be trusted. Followers have a more reliable intuition about trust and its healthy effects than many leaders realize.

“Trust begins with a personal commitment to respect others, to take everyone seriously. Respect demands that we first recognize each other’s gifts and strengths and interests; then we must integrate them into the work of the organization.”[9]

“Without trust there is no team. There is no effective service. There is no quality of life together. There is little blessing from God. Trust is the starting point for all healthy relationships, the fuel for team ministry, and the cornerstone of group effectiveness.”[10]

“Trusting God is the first and foremost priority for every member of a team and for the team collectively. Healthy ministry teams acknowledge that without an ever-deepening trust in God’s provisions, there will never be team oneness, unity, and honor.”[11]

“Teams are very difficult to create. They are tougher to motivate. They are impossible to predict. They can be challenging to lead. They can inspire greatness and they can embody pettiness. They can gel quickly and they can splinter apart overnight. They are filled with people who are unique in their back­grounds, hurts, needs, joys, desires, gifts, aspirations, and call. To get a diverse group of people working on the same page is the ongoing priority and challenge for leaders.”[12]

When trust
permeates a team,
great things are possible—
not the least of which is
a true opportunity to reach
the potential for the team.

When trust permeates a team, great things are possible—not the least of which is a true opportunity to reach the potential for the team. An intense spirit of trust can transform a mere organization—perhaps even a bureaucracy—into a movement. “Movements serve as models of energy and devotion to a compelling cause. They illustrate new ways of working together. They set standards of effective function and enlightened contribution. They give us a picture of what a place of realized potential can be.”[13]

Leaders who keep their promises and followers who respond in kind create an opportunity to generate enormous trust around their commitment to serve others.[14]

We are all about measuring outputs, outcomes, and more. Instead of considering the return on investment, consider the return on trusted teamwork.


  Questions   for reflection
  1. How would you measure the tone of trust at the top of the ministry you serve?
  2. Does your leader reflect transparency, humility, intentionality, and authenticity?
  3. How would you measure the tone of trust of your team?
  4. Does your team evidence oneness, unity, and honor?

[1] “Ex-Tyco CEO Kozlowski leaving prison.” Posted December 3, 2013. MoneyWatch:

[2] Mark Rutland, Character Matters: Nine Essential Traits You Need to Succeed (Lake Mary, Fla.: Charisma House, 2003), 1.

[3] Abraham Lincoln, speech at Clinton, Ill., Sept. 8, 1854.

[4] John MacArthur, “A Few Good Shepherds.” Grace to You:

[5] Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes (Winchester, Va.: ECFAPress, 2014), 54–62.

[6] Max De Pree, Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1997), 127.

[7] Ibid., 123.

[8] Stephen A. Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Team: Five Traits of Vital Leadership (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2005), 28-29.

[9] De Pree, Leading Without Power, 127.

[10] Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Team, 53.

[11] Ibid., 56.

[12] Ibid., 17.

[13] De Pree, Leading Without Power, 22.

[14] Ibid., 129.


From TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, ECFAPress, 2015,

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.