Interpersonal Leadership: Trust-Building
“Trustworthy: Living
the Self-Examined Life”

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

The thesis of this article: “Wherever you journey, whatever you do, live
an examined, trustworthy life.” That may not be an all inclusive view
of being worthy of trust, but it is a beginning point. To be trustworthy means
to live the self-examined life showing evidence of faithfulness in your relationship
to Christ, to your role in His kingdom work, to yourself as a person, and to
others touching your life. That is an essential requirement when a servant leader
sets out to be a trust-builder. The Apostle Paul writes as much in a personal,
congregational, and timeless truth to the troubled church at Corinth, and to
us as followers today:

1 Corinthians 4:2-“Now
it is required
[necessary, vital, mandatory,
essential] that those who have been given a trust [have been entrusted
as a steward of the property of another] must prove [show, demonstrate]
evidence of being faithful
[trustworthy, truthful, and honest].”

1. Toward Trustworthy: Self-Examination

The development of this article will seek to provide tools to examine and
develop trustworthiness in life and leadership. Throughout Holy Scripture,
we are admonished to live an examined life, one that looks for verifying evidence.
OT and NT texts demonstrate the concepts of both examination and trustworthiness;

    Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and
    know my heart: test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any
    offensive way in me, and lead me in the ways everlasting.”


    1 Corinthians 11:31: “But if we judged [examined]
    ourselves, we would not come under judged.”

    2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves
    to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”
    Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail
    the test?

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character of Polonius prepares
his son, Laertes, for travel abroad with instruction for the youth to carry
in his memory a few precepts. One of his most celebrated and valuable bits
of wisdom has been quoted often:

    “This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou cans’t not be false to any man.”

And, in the fifth century B.C., Greek philosopher Socrates, or perhaps Plato,
has left us with a memorable injunction for our recall and reflection:
“The unexamined life is not worth living for man.”
I can
agree and state it as I did as the thesis of this article: Wherever you journey
and whatever you do in life, live an examined and trustworthy life.

2. Trustworthy: Examine Contemporary Understandings

How often do you use the word “trust” or “trustworthy”
in everyday conversation? It’s really rather uncomplicated, isn’t it?
I have a friend who often punctuates a comment he makes by lifting his hand
in the oath position and saying, “Trust me!” But using
this phrase feels even more significant when
you confess: “I am trustworthy and faithful as a person and as a minister
in my relationship and service to others!” What if each one of us could
make such a worthy confession?

Contemporary Uses: To be trustworthy is a core quality within
a person, to be worthy of trust, what you really are down on the inside of
you. Flip Wilson’s “What you see is what you get”
may be what you say about yourself to others as they take a view from the
outside. But “What you get is who I really am” is the
inside reality others most often look for. What does it mean? Others can rely
on your actions to be helpful and not harmful. You use power and authority
in a way that respects others, their rights, feelings, ideas, and possessions.
You practice your belief in the God you confess to serve, and you believe
in yourself as His servant. Other such descriptive behavior patterns and actions
of trust-building are included throughout this article.

Glossary: When you think of the terms used for trustworthy,
or trustworthiness, it may enrich an initial understanding; words such as:
faithful, integrity, dependability, reliable, truthful, responsible, honorable,
and principled. Dictionaries further report:

  • trustworthy: 1–worthy of trust or belief; “a trustworthy
    report”; “an experienced and trustworthy traveling companion
    [syn.: trusty] [ant: untrustworthy]. 2–taking responsibility for one’s
    conduct and obligations; “trustworthy public servants” (WordNet®
    1.6, ©1997 Princeton University).
  • trust: 1–assured reliance on the character, ability,
    strength, or truth of someone or something; 2–dependence on something future
    or contingent: HOPE; 3–a charge or duty imposed in faith or confidence
    or as a condition of some relationship. (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate


3. Scripture Teaching About Trustworthiness

To examine and to develop our lives for trustworthy life and leadership we
place priority on the biblical witness. In the New Testament, there is a family
of Greek words that clearly and extensively carry the meaning “to
trust, trusting, and trustworthy”

  • “pisteuo” – to believe, to trust, to have faith, to have
  • “pistis” – faithfulness, reliability; or, trust, confidence,
  • “pistos” – trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring
    trust or faith
  • “pistoõ” – to show oneself faithful, trustworthy;
    to prove oneself trustworthy; to feel confidence, to be convinced

A selection of texts illustrates how these terms are used:

  • 1 Cor. 1:9 and 10:13 – “God
    alone is worthy of complete trust; He is entirely trustworthy in all His
    dealings with us and in bringing us into fellowship through Christ.”
  • Hebrews 2:17 – “Christ,
    unlike human priests, was a faithful, reliable high priest.”
  • Romans 10:8-10 – “’Faith’
    or ‘trust’ in Christ is the connecting experience between people and the
    Lord’s salvation.”
  • Heb. 3:5 – “Moses was
    faithful, trustworthy in all things in his house.”
  • 1 Cor. 7:25 – “Paul’s
    claim to be trustworthy was his basis to claim to be heard.”

Applying key biblical concepts: Review these texts for teachings
of critical leadership lessons about trustworthiness. Your discovery may include
some of the following insights into trustworthy:

  • It is developed, starting with the small things of others.
  • It is the basis for handling the larger consequences of truth.
  • It consummates in being trusted with your own property.
  • It is required of anyone who has been given a trust.
  • It requires “due diligence” day and night.
  • It is a refreshing experience to those who extend the trust.

Luke 16:10-12–“Whoever
can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much and whoever
is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you
have not been trustworthy
[faithful, dependable,
reliable] in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?
And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will
give you property of your own?”
Zondervan Commentary
: The theme of stewardship is now discussed in terms
of trustworthiness as over against dishonesty (v. 10). “Worldly wealth”
(v. 11) appears for the second time (cf. v. 9). The property here is “someone
else’s” (v. 12), presumably God’s, in contrast to the parable’s imagery
in which . . . the amount forgiven was the manager’s own commission. . . .
The addition of “servant” stresses the point that though one may
have both God and money, we cannot serve them both.

1 Corinthians 4:2–“Now
it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Zondervan Commentary
: “Those entrusted with” (oikonomous
– house stewards) refers to a position often held by a slave (Joseph, Gen
39:2-19), who managed the affairs of the household entrusted to him. “The
secret things of God” indicates those mysteries of salvation God has
revealed in His Word (Rom 16:25; Eph 1:9; 3:3, 4; 1Tim 3:16)–the things man
cannot discover by his human wisdom. (See note on “mystery” under
1 Cor. 2:1.) These truths of the cross have been entrusted to Christian workers
to be carefully used and guarded. As subordinate servants of Christ, they
have no right of authority over those truths, but minister them in Christ’s
name to God’s people.

Luke 19:12-19–Jesus tells a story, one of His amazing
parables, about a nobleman departing on a long journey, leaving behind ten
servants with stewardship tasks, resources, and initiative. Upon his return,
he singles out three of the ten servants as examples. The first two did well
(vv. 16, 18), one did so well as to receive a special commendation for being
“trustworthy” (v. 17). The test seems to be “small”
(i.e., on a small scale), both because the amount itself was so small, but
also because of its relative insignificance in comparison to the cities awarded
the trustworthy servants (vv. 17, 19). The third servant, unworthy in his
stewardship of time, opportunity, and resources, was dismissed with the severest
of judgment (v. 24). (Adapted from Zondervan Commentary; for other
references see also Prov. 11:13; Prov. 13:17; 1 Tim. 3:11; Heb.3:5-6.)

Proverbs 25:13–“Like the
coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send
him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters.”
Zondervan Commentary
: A faithful messenger lifts up the spirits of those
who sent him on the mission. . . . These suggestions, and others, attempt
to clarify the simile; but the lesson itself is clear enough–a faithful messenger
is refreshing. To “refresh the spirit” is literally wenepesh
. . . yashib
the idea being that someone who sends the messenger entrusts
his life (i.e, his soul) to him; and a mission faithfully accomplished “restores”
it to him. Faithfulness is always refreshing.

4. Trustworthy
Leadership for Today

A growing body of research and writings support the view that trust-building
is a critical leadership task, and that to be trustworthy is the essential
starting place. See Excerpts:

  • Reaching Out: Johnson’s definition focuses on the social,
    psychological, and relationship dimensions of being trustworthy:

    “You are trustworthy when you are willing
    to respond to another person’s risk-taking in a way that ensures
    that the other person will experience beneficial consequences. More
    specifically, you are trustworthy when you express acceptance of, support
    for, and cooperative (intentions) towards the other person, as when
    you reciprocate his or her disclosures.”
    (see Johnson, p.

  • Credibility: Kouzes and Posner describe what it means to be trustworthy
    as a leader. They report research showing that certain key behaviors contribute
    to whether or not others perceive one as trustworthy:

    “Examining your daily actions with the following four questions
    in mind will go a long way toward enhancing your reputation as someone
    trustworthy. 1) Is my behavior predictable or erratic?
    2) Do I communicate clearly or carelessly? 3) Do I treat promises seriously
    or lightly? 4) Am I forthright or dishonest?”
    (see pp. 108-09)

  • On Leadership: In his chapter on “leader-constituent interaction,”
    Gardner emphasis the role of trust and trustworthiness;
    he names steadiness and reliability as prerequisites. In this context he
    recalls a senior law partner stressing the importance of client-trust in
    leadership, emphasizing the issue he adds:

    “One ambitious young lawyer asked how one went about winning
    trust, and the senior partner said dryly, ‘Try being trustworthy.’

    (see p. 33)

  • Servant Leadership Practices: In this SkillTrack®
    volume (pp. 17-29), I offered my description of the components of servant
    leadership after the pattern of Christ; these elements could well serve
    as my understanding of trustworthy leadership:

    • Empowered leadership by the presence, pattern, and power of Jesus
      “Doing the right things in His power.
    • Ethical leadership–guided by biblical beliefs, principles and character.
      “Doing the right things for the right reasons.”
    • Enabling leadership, expressed in trusting relationship and mutual
      “Doing the right things together.”
    • Effective leadership, achieving a kingdom mission and common goals.
      “Doing the right things on purpose.”
    • Efficient leadership, competent in skills, processes, and functions.
      “Doing the right things in the right way.”

5. Trustworthy Practices in Life and

How do I become trustworthy as a servant leader in the service of Christ?
The following log of assembled behavior patterns and practices seeks to respond
to that critical question. The checklist may facilitate an assessment of your
present level of trustworthy behavior; and, the following components could
indicate what practices or actions you choose to develop or improve. But first,
consider the “Four Gatekeepers” from an Old Testament era; they
may be vivid examples of trustworthiness in even the smallest places of service:

  • 1 Chron. 9:26-27–“But
    the four principal gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted with the
    responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God. They would
    spend the night stationed around the house of God, because they had to guard
    it; and they had charge of the key for opening it each morning.”

Trustworthy behavior and practices are stated here and are further developed
in this series of articles on “Trust-building”
in the Servant Leaders Library:

  • Be trustworthy in all your handling of the gospel of Christ; let your
    pronouncements be true to the biblical witness.
  • Regard what is best for the life and work of the congregation to be a
    core element of your faithfulness and high purpose.
  • Meeting the responsibility of your specific set of tasks is a component
    of your trustworthiness; if you do your job well it will make a difference
    in the larger effort; and it will cascade into the lives of others.
  • Be forward-looking in attitude and action; don’t get stuck in the
    past. A vision embracing the cause of Christ really does matter, so plant
    your life in the future.
  • Practice what you preach; consistently demonstrate your true inner integrity,
  • Be faithful to yourself, to your beliefs and values; do not be easily
    swayed by swirling opinions, fads, or actions.
  • Be wise enough to seek devout and informed council; also, listen to criticism
    and measure its value; learn from unrequested advice.
  • Express a cooperative, mutual spirit in working together; build that into
    your own behavior.
  • Be reliable as the basis of trusting others and being trusted by them.
  • Accept others and hold in high regards their ideas, actions, and feelings;
    really care for others and keep their best interests in the total picture.
  • Support and sustain others in their efforts to achieve their goals; empower
    them for quality life and effective service.
  • Do good and not harm to others; do not add unnecessary burdens to their
  • Do not take advantage of the openness, weakness, or vulnerability of others.
  • Your trustworthiness breeds trust among others on the team or in the congregation.
  • Take your time in relating to others and making changes; be patient, and
    don’t rush in.
  • Handle your emotions and mood swings; be aware of the “wake”
    you leave in your storms.
  • Be sure to take the long look into building and nurturing relationships;
    trust does not spring up overnight.
  • Be consistently competent in your ministry functions; if you are not in
    some areas, make that your growing place; let others know you practice assessment
    and improvement.

Conclusion: To be worthy of trust is
to live the examined life, and to express that in your leadership and service.
Max DePree does not use the term “trustworthy” but he does give
us a quiet reminder of its essence: “In every church and monastery
in Celtic Britain and Ireland, a fire was kept burning as a sign of God’s
presence. This is the way I as a Christian see moral purpose–as a sign of God’s
presence in our leadership.”
–Max DePree in Focus, p. 94

I am reminded by experience, observation, and research, and in complete agreement
with the conclusion that because of its very nature, “Trust must be
earned; it cannot be demanded and it does not come automatically with the position.”

(Kouzes & Posner, Credibility) So let’s all grab our picks
and shovels, books and Bibles, and with hearts and souls stay at this essential
leadership task.

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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