Telling the Difference Between Breaking Trust and Making a Mistake


Leaders fail when they accuse someone of breaking trust when all the person did was make an honest mistake. It’s demoralizing for the accused. Leaders also fail when they dismiss betrayal, thinking that betrayer was simply mistaken. That’s dangerous for the leader.

I’ve made mistakes as a leader. One in particular stands out. The pre-filled-peel-and-partake communion cups were a mistake. I thought they would make the Lord’s Supper process more efficient. Apparently, no one cares about efficiency in worship when the communion cups randomly explode after being exposed to freezing weather during the shipping process. After a few years, I can laugh about it. No one laughed then. 

Leaders make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes occur for many reasons: laziness, stubbornness, misinformation, miscalculations, and ineptitude. Even the most competent of people, however, make honest mistakes, like when communion cups become grape juice grenades. 

Making a mistake is different than breaking trust—qualitatively different. Breaking trust is never appropriate. Breaking trust is a form of betrayal. It’s one thing for communion cups to explode. It’s another thing to work behind the scenes to undermine or deceive a friend. The mistake stains clothes. The betrayal stains a soul. 

Your team will make mistakes. You should expect others to make mistakes. In fact, you should give your team the freedom to make mistakes. But you should also maintain zero tolerance for a betrayal of trust. As a church leader, how can you tell the difference between a mistake and betrayal? 

Ask before jumping to conclusions. If you believe someone has made a major mistake that could rise to the level of breaking trust, then your first step is to talk to the individual. Too often leaders jump to conclusions without hearing the other side. Too often this leap is due to the leader’s own insecurities. 

Don’t micro-analyze every mistake. If insecure leaders jump to conclusions, overbearing leaders will micro-analyze everyone’s mistakes. When someone on your team makes an honest mistake, move on. Good team members will learn from their own mistakes. Splitting hairs creates splitting headaches. 

Don’t project past offenses on others. Someone from your past betrayed you. Just because another person has a similar personality doesn’t mean he or she will betray you too. You should not project someone’s past offenses on another person. 

Look for a pattern. A few mistakes every now and then is normal. Making the same mistake multiple times after multiple warnings is a pattern you cannot ignore.   

Consider the intent. When someone breaks your trust, intent exists. When someone makes a mistake, they don’t intend to do so. 

Consider the whole of a person. No one wants to be judged by an isolated mistake. Even in the case of something substantial, consider the entirety of a person. All people make mistakes. In fact, all people have sin. As a leader, you must look at all of who a person is, not just who they are in a bad moment.

Mistakes are inevitable. Leading change and taking risk will produce mistakes. Indeed, you can’t move forward without incurring some mistakes. Your team will make mistakes too. Just don’t mistake them for breaking trust.  

Posted on August 4, 2020

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Robin G Jordan says on

    We were a new church plant and for more than a year we used pita bread for our weekly Lord’s Supper services. I usually bought the pita bread. I made the mistake of grabbing the wrong package–onion pita bread. It created an uproar. One segment of the congregation wanted to switch to communion wafers; another segment wanted to keep using pita bread. A compromise was reached but it was not a happy compromise.