As a Navy veteran I have been frustrated for the past few days over the recent apology Brian Williams issued for his statements that he was aboard a helicopter that was hit by rocket propelled grenades during the invasion of Iraq. Eyewitnesses of the event in question claim that Williams' account is false and that the aircraft he was in arrived in the area about an hour later. Although Williams has repeated his story, even as late as 2013 on the David Letterman show, he now says that he somehow conflated one aircraft with another. I personally find it difficult to understand how one is confused about which helicopter one is on when one has been hit by enemy fire and the other wasn't. I think most people would know which chopper they were on. As a result of this issue, some are now questioning some of the claims he made as he reported on things he saw as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
NBC news is conducting an investigation of Williams' claims although some sources are now saying that Williams himself is not being investigated. Williams has removed himself from his anchor news chair for a few days while this investigation continues. There are calls for his resignation, but there is a widespread belief that the network has too much invested in Williams for that to occur. Regardless of what happens, his credibility as a journalist will now be questioned by many and it will be interesting to see how his ratings will be impacted if he does return to his anchor chair. Personally, I have watched NBC news since the Huntley-Brinkley days, but since this has occurred I've decided it's time to check out the other network news. If Williams returns to his anchor chair, I will switch to another news source because I frankly can't trust him to report the news accurately.
For a person to be successful in a leadership position they must earn the trust of the people the serve. Without credibility one cannot earn that trust. Credibility occurs when one is honest, treats people with respect, keeps his or her promises, maintains confidences, and does his or her job with excellence.
Credibility is essential for those of us in ministry just as it is for anyone in leadership positions. When church leaders fail morally, ethically, or financially they lose credibility with those they had been leading. Often, they are never able to regain that credibility. It takes time to earn the trust of people, and if that trust is violated it takes even longer to gain it back. Sometimes, such trust is never regained and the opportunity to return to ministry is lost forever.
How do ministers maintain credibility with those we lead? First, do what you say you are going to do. Maybe you realize you agreed to something that will be more difficult that you thought. Too bad, do it anyway because you said you would. If you find out it is impossible to keep your word, immediately contact the person and explain why you can't. Secondly, be honest in your dealings with people both inside and outside your congregation. No church wants to hear that their minister has been involved in shady dealings with people in the community. Third, treat people with respect. You may not agree with their theological beliefs, their lifestyle choices, or anything else about them, but never forget that they are persons for whom Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross so that they can be saved. That makes them persons of great worth and persons who should always be treated with respect.
Fourth, maintain confidences. Your counseling session on Tuesday should not be your sermon illustration on Sunday. Fifth, communicate to the people in your church. I hear from so many church members who complain that their pastor never seeks their advice but just does whatever he or she wants to do. Most churches want a leader; they do not want a dictator. Sixth, pay your tithe to the church. I'm sorry, but your service to the church is not your tithe. If you want to teach stewardship you must first model stewardship, and it begins with the tithe. Seventh, serve your church with excellence. Most ministers I know work very hard and put in long hours. However, the ministry is also a great place for lazy people, and I've known a few ministers who would fall into that category. God has called you into ministry; your church has called you to be their minister, so do your ministry with excellence. Last, but not least, serve your family well. Most churches appreciate the minister who refuses to sacrifice his or her family on the alter of ministerial success. Those who don't appreciate that don't deserve to have a minister. Be an example of how one should love his or her spouse and children.
Will you always do all these things perfectly? No, none of us will. I have found that most people will be very forgiving if we will quickly admit when we fail. I have made many mistakes in the ministry, but people were willing to forgive me because they knew that these mistakes were not intentional. I never set out to deceive them, and when I realized I had made a mistake I quickly admitted it and asked for their forgiveness. If you do that, you will likely find that most people will forgive you as well.
Credibility is essential if you want to enjoy an effective ministry. If you will follow the eight recommendations listed above, you will enjoy great credibility with those you lead.