Building (or Rebuilding) TRUST

TRUST formula (Wolfe)

In one season or another, every one of us has needed to either build or rebuild trust: the new pastor coming into the church; the husband or wife whose marriage is enduring the heartbreak of hurtful decisions; the political leader balancing what is just with what is popular; the parent speaking timely wisdom to his or her teenager; the friend who needs to lovingly confront someone close. The trust issue is a human issue. Building it is crucial to every budding relationship. Rebuilding it is crucial to every damaged one.

Deception is the devil’s game. The very first words recorded of him in the Bible are, “Did God really say?…” He used his first words and his illusive charisma to provoke distrust between God and mankind. This distrust would lead to broken relationships not only between God and man, but between man and man as well. It is no wonder Jesus calls him “a liar and the father of lies,” (John 8:44). The devil is his name. Deception is his game. Deception leads to distrust. Distrust leads to broken relationships.

So how do we build or rebuild trust? Over the years, I have often used this formula: TRUST = (Truth + Transparency) Time. They didn’t teach us math in seminary, but this simple equation seems pretty straight forward to me. Over the years I have used it in crisis marriage counseling, premarital counseling, deacon training, transitional pastor training, conflict mediation, and more. It has proven to be accurate and helpful, so I thought I would share it with the world. This is not a magic formula, but a good framework. No matter your specific relational circumstance, I invite you to begin working this formula out today, and watch how trust will come with time.

TRUST = (Truth + Transparency) Time

Trust. Trust is not something anyone can demand. It must be earned, and at the same time it must be given. Admittedly, trust is not something a magic formula can produce.  But it is something for which one can intentionally and consistently build a foundation.  You cannot force trust, but you can work to be the kind of person who can be trusted. On the results end of this equation, it must be acknowledged that real trust is not ever a product of positional influence. Rather, even those who hold positional influence must come to grips with the fact that trust requires relational influence. Everything on the business end of this equation is something the one who desires trust must do. Trust, on the results end of the equation, is something one can only work toward earning. “I have trusted in your unfailing love,” (Psalm 13:5). Trusting the Lord is the psalmist’s choice. Trust is his to invest wherever he deems appropriate. God has earned his trust, so he gladly chooses to give it. Work to be the kind of person who can be trusted.

Truth. Truth is about what you communicate, and trust will never come without truth. If you are longing to be trusted while being untruthful, you are only delaying the inevitable. What’s worse, if you build trust on the foundation of a lie (or an important undisclosed truth), when trust comes crashing down it will be exponentially harder to rebuild. Pull every skeleton out of the closet now. Find out a true “ground zero” and start there. In Jeremiah 7:8, God rebukes his people because they have been “trusting in deceitful words that cannot help.” When you build your relationship on a lie of any kind, you are only deceiving yourself and the ones you love. This is the devil’s game. In contrast, the Lord instructs John, in Revelation 21:5, to “Write these words because they are faithful and true.” Words that are faithful and true are paving stones toward meaningful, healthy relationships. They can be counted on when remembered, and trusted in when called to question. I cannot stress this strongly enough. If you are hiding or denying the truth, what you build may look like trust, but it is only a façade. It will come crashing down eventually, and the pieces will be exponentially more difficult to put back together. Tell the truth now. Find a true ground zero. Then build on it.

Transparency. Truth is about what you communicate. Transparency is about who you are. It refers to your character. Your integrity. Your motives. Nothing can be hidden where trust is being built or rebuilt. Speaking truth is often not popular; truth sometimes cuts the hearer to the core, producing either conviction or resistance. In those moments it is imperative that the deliverer of this truth possesses the good rapport necessary to be a foundation for the truth he or she speaks. The same truth can be either received or rejected, depending on the mouth from which it is delivered. People receive difficult truth from those they believe live with integrity, whose motives are evidently pure. Transparency of both character and motive is the key. In Romans 15:13, God is described as the “God of hope,” who gives the believer the ability to “overflow with hope” when he or she “trusts in him.” Hope is needed where assurance is faint. The believer trusts in the hope that God gives because God’s character is one of proven hope: He is “the God of hope.” If you expect to deliver difficult truth in a package of sincerity, you must work ahead of time to become a person of transparency and of good character. Own guilt when it is yours and apologize wherever possible. Exercise gracious honesty in the small things. Live with integrity. Be transparent in your motives. Transparency in relationships means that nothing can be hidden where trust is being built or rebuilt.

Time. Time is something you cannot rush. However, trust is increased multiplicatively when truth and transparency are evident over time. The longer you are truthful and transparent, the more trust will become a reality in your relationship(s). The new pastor who makes major changes immediately may have truth and transparency, but he has no time. Likewise, for the offending spouse in a broken marriage where both parties are newly committed to reconciliation, he or she must begin with truth and transparency, understanding that trust will be given incrementally over time. To have earned the right to speak into your wayward teenager’s life, loving truth and transparency must have been evident in your relationship over time. Time is the great multiplier of trust, wherever truth and transparency are in the equation. In Psalm 9:10, the Lord God is said to be trusted by “those who know his name,” because He has “not abandoned” them. God’s past faithfulness is the foundation for trust in his present and future faithfulness. The longer one walks with God, the more he or she trusts Him. To multiply trust, you must walk with someone, in truth and transparency, over time.

That’s it… the formula for building or rebuilding trust in your relationships. There are no quick fixes, no substitutes, and no shortcuts. At the same time, this is not a magic formula. Trust should be earned, but it also must be given. It is possible to do your part of this equation and never receive the trust you desire. But in as much as it depends on you, be the kind of person who can be trusted. Begin today to be completely, humbly, genuinely truthful and transparent. The longer you do this, the more trust will become a possibility in your relationship(s).

Grace and Peace,



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