Interpersonal Leadership: Trust-Building
“Trustworthy: Living the Self-Examined Life” (SL#74)
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].” (NIV)

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; examples:

    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.” (NIV)

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

    2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” (NIV) 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:


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”:

A selection of texts illustrates how these terms are used:

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:

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?” (NIV)
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.” (NIV)
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.” (NIV)
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:

5. Trustworthy Practices in Life and Leadership

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:

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

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