Interpersonal Leadership: Trust-Building
“Responsibility: Leading
by Example and Performance”


By Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack®
Vol. 7.2 – Trust-Building

1. Accept Your Responsibility for Trust-Building

  • Responsibility: Personal Refections
    • Object of this article: through biblical, professional,
      and practical studies, to explore three aspects of responsibility as a
      leadership component.

      • First, the essential of responsibility is expressed primarily by
        example and performance;
      • Second, ministry leaders have the responsibility to build trust
        within the congregation;
      • Third, responsibility is expressed by consistently and effectively
        performing the requirements of your ministry role.
    • Trust-building within a congregation is both a part of its mission
      and one of its services to its members; it is also one of the winsome
      witnesses to those who are yet asking the question, “Why follow
      Christ and why enter into this fellowship of believers?”
    • Meeting your responsibility is one of the critical elements of trust
      and of the expected ways of building a trusting climate within the congregation.
      Trust-building is not ambiguous–it is very practical and temporal. “Today,
      I will not only do my job, but I will also seek to build trust within
      the congregation. That also is my job.”
    • Trust-building works on a “trickle-down” basis. If those
      who are in positions and roles of responsibility seek to build trust,
      others will tend to pick up the same practices.
  • Individual Responsibility:
    The power of individual responsibility is expressed both in example
    of your life and effective performance. If the pastor and staff members are
    examples of trust-building in practice, instruction, and expectation, it will
    greatly add to their trusted leadership role within the congregation. Jesus
    taught this to his disciples, and others have affirmed this as a profound

    Luke 12:48–From everyone who has
    been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been
    entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
    Daniel Webster–“The most important thought
    I ever had was that of my individual responsibility to God.”

    John Stuart Mill“The feeling of a direct
    responsibility of the individual to God is almost wholly a creation of

  • Assessment: “I meet my responsibility to develop and
    maintain a trusting climate within the congregation.”

    • First, and of primary importance in trust-building,
      a leader has the responsibility to know and effectively do the assigned
      tasks required by the role or ministry position. We have also dealt with
      this in the article on “competency” (SL#79).
      Every ministry position description includes, or at least should, a statement
      of its primary objectives and specific responsibilities. Pursuing and
      achieving those is meeting one’s responsibility.
    • Second, and very specifically related to ministry
      leadership, is to build trust by setting an example of trusting, being
      trustworthy, and building trust within the congregation. This is another
      way of saying that a ministry leader has a responsibility for the people
      of the congregation, for its members and team leaders.
    • Throughout this article, keep in mind both of these dimensions of responsibility
      for trust-building: responsible for the congregation’s mission
      and members.

2. Rediscover the Meaning of Responsibility
for Us All

Now, let’s examine the meanings of “responsibility.” There
is a common body of words and concepts used for “responsible”
and “responsibility.” One way to move along toward developing
a working understanding of the concept is to review the basics found in dictionaries
and then apply these to ministry leadership. You may want to extend this learning
exercise into your own life and leadership.

  • Date of Origin and Use
    Use of the term “responsibility” is reported as early
    as 1780–90; [RESPONS(IBLE) + –IBILITY].
    A most popular, if oversimplified, use of the term has often been: “responsibility
    means response-ability,” that is to say “to be able
    to respond
  • Glossary: Definitions and Examples
    • Responsibility—(Webster’s Revised Unabridged

      • The state of being responsible, accountable, or answerable, as for
        a trust, debt, or obligation.
      • That for which anyone is responsible or accountable; as the responsibilities
        of power.
      • Ability to answer in payment; means of paying.
    • Responsibility— (WordNet®
      1.6, ©1997 Princeton University)

      • The social force that binds you to your obligations and the courses
        of action demanded by that force: We must instill a sense of duty
        in our children; every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity,
        an obligation; every possession, a duty
        . (John D. Rockefeller
      • The proper sphere or extent of your activities: It was his
        province to take care of himself
      • Ability or necessity to answer for or be responsible for one’s
        conduct; the state or fact of being responsible: “He holds
        a position of great responsibility.”
        “Young children
        on a farm are often given responsibilities.”
    • Responsibility— Synonyms adapted from several sources:
      At least three uses of the term responsibility may be emphasized
      by three sets of its synonyms; selected examples are offered:

      • A state of being responsible, or charged with responsibility: under
        obligation, accountable, answerable, liable, subject, bound, constrained,
        pledged, assigned, delegated. “The minister of youth is
        a very responsible member of the staff.”
      • Capable of receiving, assuming and meeting responsibility: trustworthy,
        reliable, steadfast, dutiful, dependable, able, competent, upright,
        dutiful, honest, tried and proven, self-reliant, stable, capable,
        efficient, effective. “She has had five good years of effective
        and reliable performance.”
      • Required to acknowledge and face up to failed responsibility; hold
        responsible, liable, make restitution, restoration, payable, blame,
        at fault, mistake: “The chairman of the youth council acknowledged
        his responsibility for the failure of the youth retreat.”
  • Application of Responsibility that Builds Trust
    Drawn from definitions and synonyms of responsibility, let us reflect
    on the Christian minister’s life and leadership. The following selected
    examples of how we apply the various uses of the word responsibility
    and its synonyms:

    • State of character: “You are trusted because you are seen
      as a responsible and trustworthy person.”
    • Role or position: “You have the responsible stewardship for
      the overall education ministry of the congregation.”
    • Assignment: “You are assigned eight specific, interrelated
      responsibilities in your job description.”
    • Performance: “Acceptable response in your ministry will be
      measured by your ability to perform effectively and to lead your team
      to achieve the expected results.”
    • Obligation/duty: “In areas you feel unprepared, you must
      persistently develop your knowledge, skills, and relationships.”
    • Accountability: “You are answerable for your performance
      and results to the senior minister and the Christian Education Council.”
    • Liability/Restoration: “When you make mistakes, take the
      responsibility, make amends, learn valuable lessons, and move on with
      renewed behavior and performance.”
    • Example: “As you live a responsible life and perform the
      responsibilities of your ministry position, you will provide an example
      to the congregation and specifically those serving on your team.”

3. Study What the Scripture Teaches about Responsibility

The Bible is rich with examples of human responsibility, both of
faithful performances and of failed attempts. In addition, instructions to
the followers of Christ are replete with the language of responsibility. Jesus
set the ultimate example of responsibility. From beginning to end, the life
of Jesus was about responsibility. As a youth at the temple, He responded
to Mary and Joseph as worried parents “that I must be about my Father’s
(Luke 2:49, KJV) At the close of His earthly journey,
Jesus prayed with agony in the gardens “not my will, but thine,
be done.”
(Luke 22:42, KJV) The following selected references apply
primarily to those of us wanting to be responsible in the service of God:

  • Luke 12:47-48: “That servant who knows his master’s
    will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten
    with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment
    will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much
    will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much
    more will be asked.”

Zondervan Commentary: This punishment seems too severe;
the explanation of God’s principle of judgment now clarifies matters. The
servant in v. 47 may represent those who sin “with a high hand,”
committing “presumptuous sins” (Num 15:30-31; Ps 19:13, RSV).
If so, the servant who “does not know” (v. 48) sins “unwittingly”
and has “hidden faults” (Num 15:27-29; Ps 19:12, RSV). In either
case there is some definite personal responsibility and therefore judgment,
because the servant should have made it his business to know his master’s
will. All have some knowledge of God (Rom 1:20), and God judges according
to individual levels of responsibility (Rom 2:12-13). The closing statement
(v. 48) would apply especially to the apostles and church leaders throughout
the successive centuries.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:6-9: “I planted the seed, Apollos
    watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters
    is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the
    man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his
    own labor.”
    Application: There are many servants
    of the Lord down through the passing of years, and many serving together within
    the congregation at the same time. Some of these may be in staff leadership
    and others lay team members, all with the same divine purpose. Each one has
    his own gift, opportunity, or assignment; but all are dependent on the sovereign
    Lord of all. God actually makes it happen! And, God gives to each servant
    rewards appropriate to the finished work.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:9-15: Through a building analogy, Paul
    addresses the function of Christian responsibility as wise master builders.
    Verse 9 continues the larger passage: “For we are God’s fellow
    workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
    Today, as servant leaders in the cause of Christ, let us glean applications
    for this example and instruction from the apostle Paul:

    • We are responsible to serve in God’s enterprise as His fellow
      workers, an expectation and honor of the highest order and deepest motivation
      for faithful service.
    • We are responsible to understand and accept our nature as His people
      interwoven with the functions and tasks given to us; we are His workers,
      field, and building.
    • We are responsible to build the Christian body of believers, each one
      of us with our own gifts and skills.
    • We are responsible to build carefully, only on the foundation of Jesus
    • We are responsible to choose enduring building materials, and to reject
      perishable materials.
    • We are responsible to work and to stand firm in the service of Christ,
      and for the quality of our work to withstand the severest testing as of
      lasting worth.
  • Responsibility as Accountability (from selected texts):
    • Romans 14:12–“So then, each of us will give an account of
      himself to God.”
    • Galatians 6:2-5–“Carry each other’s burdens, and in
      this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something
      when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own
      actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself
      to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.”
    • 1 Peter 4:5–“But they will have to give account to him who
      is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

4. Listen to the Wisdom of Others about

“Nothing helps individuals more than to place responsibility upon
them and to let them know that you trust them.”
–Booker T. Washington

  • Servant Responsibility—from Servant Leadership:

    In his foundational book, Robert K. Greenleaf elaborated on the role of servant
    responsibility within a bureaucratic society. His emphasis of the inward and
    the outward has immediate application to those of us in servant leadership
    within a Christian congregation:

Most definitions of responsibility imply conformity with conventional
expectations, conventional morality, or being deterred by considerations
of known sanctions or consequences. . . . I prefer not to use the word responsibility
to mean conformity to expectations (although a sensible person always does
some of that). Rather I think of responsibility as beginning with a concern
for self, to receive that inward growth that gives serenity of spirit without
which someone cannot truly say, “I am free.” One moves, then,
to a response to one’s environment, whatever it is, so as to make
a pertinent force of one’s concern for one’s neighbor—as
a member of a family, a work group, a community [or congregation], a world
society. The outward and the inward are seen as parts of the same fabric.
Responsible people have both.
(from pp 292-93)

  • Responsibility and Choices—from The Leadership Challenge:

    Kouzes and Posner report the process and power of choice in the development
    of commitment, and commitment to the role of responsibility in human behavior
    and actions:

People are likely to become committed to a course of action when three
conditions are present: when they experience a sense of choice about their
decision, when their actions (choices) are made visible to others, and when
their choices are difficult to back out of or revoke. . . . Once people
have “signed up” for the project and put many hours into its
success, they are unlikely to easily give up. Giving up implies an admission
that they made a mistake and that their previous efforts were worthless.

What does it mean to experience a sense of choice? Essentially, it
means that you feel personally responsible for the decision or action. It
was your own choice, you were not forced. . . . Choice is the cement that
binds one’s actions to the person, motivating individuals to accept
the implications of their acts. It is the personal acceptance of responsibility
for your actions.
(from pp. 226-27)

  • Responsibility and Resolutions—from Principle-Centered
    Stephen R. Covey conveys four essential aspects of growth and change,
    including assessment, commitment, feedback, and follow-through: “Accountability
    [for these] breeds response-ability. . . . Remember: Response-ability is the
    ability to choose our response to any circumstance or condition. When we are
    response-able, our commitment becomes more powerful than our mood or circumstances,
    and we keep the promises and resolutions we make.”
    (p. 49) Because
    we are Christian servants we need to weave into our understanding of responsibility
    something that mirrors Covey’s three universal resolutions (adapted
    from pp 50-54):

First, to overcome the restraining forces of appetites and passions,
I resolve to exercise self-discipline and self-denial.

Second, to overcome the restraining forces of pride and pretension,
I resolve to work on character and competence.

Third, to overcome the restraining forces of unbridled aspiration
and ambition, I resolve to dedicate my talents and resources to noble purposes
and to provide service to others.

  • Responsibility and Leadership Competencies—from Thoughts
    on Leadership
    “Responsibility is being accountable for one’s decisions
    and actions.”
    That definition, very simple and focused; is presented
    as one of 25 specific leadership competencies. According to William D. Hitt,
    responsibility is an element of the highest rung on the ladder of
    self-development for “The Model Leader.” His basic thesis
    is that the effective leader is, first and foremost, a fully functioning person.
    He develops five dimensions of the character of a leader, including reasoning,
    coping, knowing, believing, and being.
    When he discusses the “being” of the leader, responsibility
    is among five vital competencies; the other four are identity, independence,
    authenticity, and courage. Application: This context is significant
    to the overall trust-building task of the ministry leader, because competency
    is also a characteristic of one who would build trust. (adapted from pp. ix-xxiv)
  • Responsibility and Learning from Failures—from The 108
    Skills of Natural Born Leaders
    “Exceptional leaders free themselves from the belief that
    they ‘failed’ by using the experience as a learning event. . . .
    developing this skill by taking full responsibility for your
    Researcher and author, Warren Blank, explores this
    concept suggesting specific responses: recall a specific time of failure to
    achieve desired results; recognize your own key choices; consider what would
    happen if you had chosen to do nothing, complained, or simply blamed others.
    Or, Blank concludes “you could commit to changing yourself by using
    the experience as a learning event. This response describes what it means
    to take full responsibility.”
    (pp. 50-51) Application:
    Servant leaders build trust within the congregation by taking responsibility
    for their actions and learning from their mistakes.
  • From the “U.S. Army’s Eleven Leadership Principles”:
    As you recall, military terms and concepts are used in the biblical witness
    to teach enduring spiritual lessons. In that mind-set I am presenting the
    following eleven U.S. Army leadership principles because they seem to focus
    on the extraordinary characteristic of responsibility:

    • Be tactically and technically proficient
    • Know yourself and seek self-improvement
    • Know your soldiers and look out for their welfare
    • Keep your soldiers informed
    • Set the example
    • Ensure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished
    • Train your soldiers as a team
    • Make sound and timely decisions
    • Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates
    • Employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities
    • Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

Application: As soldiers of Christ, it could be beneficial
for us to think through our life and ministry, and then to develop Principles
of Responsible Ministry Leadership.

5. Conclusion: Ten Leadership Responsibility Practices

Now in conclusion (too often an abused promise) let me offer a checklist
of ten leadership practices as a guide for your own creative ownership of

  • Reflect on this article, it’s principles, examples, and practices;
  • Review your role and assignment as a ministry leader;
  • Assess below (1 low-to-5 high) the level of your present practices; and,
  • Develop your own action plan for responsible ministry leadership.

    1.___Take responsibility for your choices and actions: “I
    have to man-up” my college granddaughter recently told me
    about her personal accountability for her life.” (I was proud.)

2.___ Model the role of trust-building through responsibility: Walk
your talk; set an example. People notice responsible actions, and
it tends to filter into the congregation.

3.___Share trust-building with team members and lay leaders:
Give special attention to the core leadership; be a responsible leader and
develop responsible servant leaders.

4.___Use the biblical concept of stewardship as your goal of responsible
“It is required of stewards, that a person be
found faithful.” “To whom much is given much is required.”

5.___Know your part of the congregation’s mission, your job
and its assignment:
Understand what you are expected to do, “sign
off on it,” and consistently do it.

6.___ Do well what you are supposed to do and when you should do
Responsibility is seen in actions and results, in kept promises
and honored relationships.

7.___Care for others, about their rights and responsibilities:
Take care of co-workers as they reach their goals: of church members in their
healthy growth, and of those in minority positions to be accepted. To build
trust, appeal to the heart of your people.

8.___Live responsibly by the majestic truth, “This is my
Father’s world”
Serve as Christ’s follower
in shared responsibility for global concerns of society, of environment, and
of the generations to come.

9.___Learn responsible leadership from your failures and mistakes:
Learn well your lessons from such stern teachers and make amends
every way possible; but don’t whine, wallow in pity, or blame others.
As a responsible person, move on to new challenges.

10.__Let a healthy sense of responsibility give you freedom and satisfaction:
Set your own values and priorities; do not simply be restrained or constrained
by external expectations, but by the inward awareness of accountability for
your life to a loving God.

In closing: “Leadership is about striving
for, it’s about anticipating, it’s about reaching, it’s
almost a yearning, and creating a sense of opportunity.”
Rapp in Spiritual Leadership: 52 Ways to Build Trust, (p. 108)

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© 2008;
hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership