Interpersonal Leadership: Trust-Building
“Communications: Bridges
for Trust-Building”
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack®
Vol. 7.2 – Trust-Building
(See also Skilltrack® 7.3 – Interpersonal

1. Communications that Build Trust

Communication: “People admire and respect leaders
who are dynamic, uplifting, enthusiastic, positive, and optimistic–and who
communicate such.”
–Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge
(see pp. 19-20)

A Summary Definition: Communication does not take place
in isolation; it is a reciprocal process that may be the servant of those
who want to be trusting and trust-building. In its simplest form the communication
process includes:

  • a message that is understood and formulated
  • by a messenger, or sender, who has intended
  • transmitted through
  • a selected medium, or even several media,
  • to a receiver, who understands the message;
    and based on the receiver’s understanding
  • responds to the message and its sender
  • in behavior or action, that may be positive
    or negative to the message sender.
    (Adapted from pp. 31-34 of Blueprints, by Lloyd Elder)

Communications, as trust-building practices, are like building
bridges for relationships and leadership. Bridges along the roadways we travel
are built of the right material, structure, and size sufficient to carry planned
wheel-loads across rivers, barriers, and chasms. Just so, our communication
practices are like bridges to experiences along life’s journey.

Ephesians 4:28-29 teaches us that we are to do good things and to say good
words. The text clearly teaches that through good [beneficial, useful, helpful,
winsome] words and deeds we contribute to the welfare of others and build
those we serve in the congregation. Communication bridges connect
us to others near and far, and so must be appropriate for the messages to
be carried across barriers and on to our destination. Not to press the analogy
too far, we must remember that we cross bridges by trust, and most often,
we are not alone on the roadway of life and leadership. In summary, effective
communications that build trust are significant, truthful, open, clear,
timely; they are intended to be understood and helpful.

These communication traits, and others, are seen in a word picture recorded
in Phil. 1:27. Let’s look at several translations of
this verse:

  • King James Version: “Let your
    conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ;”
  • New International Version: “Whatever
    happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ;”
  • Williams New Testament: “Only
    you must practice living lives that are worthy of the good news,”
  • Amplified Bible: “Only be sure
    as citizens so to conduct yourselves [that] your manner of life [will be]
    worthy of the good news of Christ;”

Trust-building communication in the congregation, is more than “a
conversation” (as implied in the KJV), meaning simply to speak to one
another. Rather, it means “a way of life, a lifestyle, or behavior.”
In fact, the text means “living lives that are worthy of our citizenship,
as those who are followers of Christ.” This means that we are to are
to practice Christian communication consistent with our whole being:
who we are, what we do, and what we say.
Each one of us has the choice
to employ communication within our leadership and ministry that builds trust.

1: an act or instance of transmitting; 2a: information communicated; 2b: a
verbal or written message; 3a: a process by which information is exchanged
between individuals through a common system of signs, or behavior communication;
4a: a system (as of telephones) for communicating; 4b: a system of routes
for moving troops, support vehicles; 4c: personnel engaged in communicating;
5a: a technique for expressing ideas effectively; 5b: technology of the transmission
of information. —Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

2. Let the Scripture Teach

  • Ephesians 4:29: “Do not
    let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful
    for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those
    who listen.”
    (NIV) Comment: Words matter! The text clearly
    teaches that good [beneficial, useful, winsome] speaking communication contributes
    to the welfare and building up of those we serve in the congregation.
    Zondervan Commentary: Not only will Christians do “the good”
    (v. 28): they will speak it too (“what is helpful,” agathos).
    No unhealthy language will pass through their lips. “Unwholesome”
    (sapros) is that which is itself rotten and disseminates rottenness.
    In connection with “talk” (logos), it may signify not
    simply bad language but malicious gossip and slander. Anything that injures
    others and sparks dissension is covered by the expression. Christians, however,
    will only say what is calculated to build up the church (Eph 2:21, 22; 4:12,
    16) by encouraging its members.

  • Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak
    up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are
    destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

    (NIV) This wisdom text from the Proverbs is clear and significant. What we
    say in the public forum has an ethical component; we should become the champion
    of those who have no voice in society, or even in the congregation.
    Zondervan Commentary: The king is to open his mouth (peth ah-pika
    i.e., “speak up for”) those who are dumb (‘illem probably
    signifying “those who cannot speak for themselves”). It is the
    responsibility of the king to champion the rights of the poor and the needy,
    those who are left desolate by the cruelties of life.

  • James 1:19: “My dear brothers,
    take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and
    slow to become angry.”
    (NIV) Communication that builds trust
    leads by listening, waits about speaking his/her own mind, and does not build
    toward angry.
    Zondervan Commentary: In vv. 19-21a, James is attempting to clear the
    way for the reception of God’s truth (v. 21b). He begins by calling for the
    readers’ attention: “Take note of this.” The reception of the
    Word demands a readiness “to listen.” Reluctance at this point
    will block the acceptance of truth. It also demands restrained speech. . .
    . And a fiercely argumentative attitude is not conducive to the humble reception
    of truth.

  • 2 John 1:12:I have much
    to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to
    visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”

    (NIV) Comment: If we follow the example of the Beloved Apostle, we will use
    every medium of communication appropriately, sometimes in writing, and better
    still, face-to-face. Of course in our day, let us appropriately use telephone
    (even cell phones), e-mail, fax, websites, radio, TV, publications, small
    groups, and within the congregation total life and systems.

3. Interpersonal Communication Factors

The following communication factors flow out of the concept in the graphic
below; the presentation helps us to view the role of communication, whether
consciously seeking to build trust or not. (from SkillTrack®
7.3- Interpersonal Communications)


  • Believe the message and its worth. Effective communication depends on senders
    passionately believing their message and believing that it will make a difference
    in the lives of the receivers. Trust the message.

  • Be friends with the receivers. The “friendship factor” in communication
    paves the way for trust, reception and acceptance of the message. Friendship
    paves the way for trust.

  • Be trustworthy. Every sender’s personality includes assets and liabilities;
    not everyone finds it easy to communicate friendship, but can be authentic.
  • Confirm your communication. Personally check with your receiver to see
    if the message actually did get across and find out what the receiver plans
    to do in response to the message. Feedback completes the communication trust
  • Match messages with the right demeanor. Messages are best received when
    the demeanor–tone, outward appearance, and bearing–matches the content;
    trust is transparent.
  • React appropriately to personal criticism of your communication. Know how
    to value criticism and profit by it. (These factors involved in personal communication
    contribute to trust-building; they are adapted from SkillTrack®
    Vol. 6 – Congregational Communications by Godwin and Elder)

4. Trust-Building Communication: Tasks and Practices

How will you utilize the communication process to build trust between you
and another person, or with your working team, or within the congregation?
The following suggestions may assist you in making an assessment of your present
practices, or plan your actions for further development. These behavior actions
may also help you to install communication as a component of a trust-climate
within the channels of your life and ministry. Remember, trust-building communication
involves your whole being: who you are, what you do, and what you say. Each
one of us has choices about building bridges of communication and using trusting
communication in the many tasks of ministry:

First–Ministry Leadership Tasks Requiring Trusting Communications:

  • sharing information, giving instructions
  • supervising employees; directing volunteers
  • counseling, guiding, comforting
  • building trust and confidence
  • nurturing fellowship, “hanging out”
  • making and keeping appointments
  • mentoring, coaching, team building
  • evangelistic witnessing, sharing testimony
  • fact-finding, idea structuring
  • coordination, channeling, planning
  • negotiation, bargaining
  • evaluating programs and performance
  • training; developing skills
  • business contracting
  • influencing, motivating
  • delegating, making assignments
  • decision-making and problem solving
  • leading staff meetings, team meetings
  • correcting, disciplining

Second–Communication Practices that Build Trust:

  • Communication begins with your spirit; be positive, joyful, and confident.
    Let your words convey Proverbs 25:11: “A
    word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
  • Communicate through your presence, facial expressions and body language.
    A teacher has helped me at this point: “Communicate the gospel
    in every way; if necessary use words.”
  • Be open, disclose yourself to others, especially with those in your significant
    circle; give them an opportunity to reflect and respond.
  • Share your thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams with others. “I
    feel very deeply that our congregation should get more involved in ministering
    to the disadvantaged in our community.”
  • Listen to what others say to you; really listen to them; one of the most
    powerful forces in the communication systems of the church is to let the
    members tell their stories.
  • When you send a message, seek feedback for clarification and concurrence;
    or perhaps you want to create true dialogue between divergent viewpoints.
  • Act helpfully on communication shared with you. What does the other person
    really mean and what is expected for you to do, or not to do.
  • Think before you speak; understand what you want to say before you say
    it. Words spoken are often impossible to recall or undo.
  • Say what you really mean; mean what you say, as the Scripture says, “let
    your “yes” be “yes”, and your “no” be
    “no.” This should not diminish the flow of pleasure in casual
    or humorous conversation.
  • Share accurate, timely, significant information. “Need to know”
    is one test of trust-building within the congregation, or between you and
    your team. There is no place for misinformation or disinformation in trusting
  • Do not disguise issues and problems: “Our team has an issue
    to face; as I understand it, the issue has two parts. First,_______________;
  • Discuss alternatives and options: “No one of us has the best
    answer. For the next 30 minutes, let us suggest and discuss options that
    we could consider; then we will move ahead.”
  • Follow up on previous communications; move forward in the cycle of conversation
    or team discussion or decisions. Meet your assignments and keep your promises.

A closing thought from Warren Bennis to those who serve in
congregations today: “Leaders generate trust. Leaders will
have to be candid in their communications and show that they care. They’ve
got to be seen to be trustworthy. Most communication has to be done eyeball-to-eyeball,
rather than in newsletters, on videos, or via satellite.”

Focus, Bennis, p. 105

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© 2007; hosted and copyrighted
by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership