Collegiate DiscipleMaker College Ministry

Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism

Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism

I have noticed a trend among college students for a while, but it has been amplified even more the last several years: a general mistrust for those in authority. Gone are the days when a person is respected simply because of their title or position. I really don’t think that abuse or misuse of power is anything new (a quick look at history makes that apparent), but with the social media boom, increased awareness has been brought to every instance of it. While some of this attention is a positive thing,  a culture of skepticism toward authority and institutions has become normal. 

"Gone are the days when a person is respected simply because of their title or position." -@YarnellKarin #collegiatedisciplemaker Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism Click To Tweet

This has affected the way college students view those in positions of spiritual authority as well. With all the headlines of a pastor, apologist, youth worker, or Christian college president caught in a scandal or criminal behavior, it is no wonder that college students are distrustful of those in positions of spiritual leadership. The very ones who should be some of the most trusted, faithful people on this planet have used their influence for evil and have hurt scores of individuals. This is traumatic for those who have been directly hurt, and it causes the rest to be naturally wary of anyone else in Christian leadership.

Even if you have done nothing to warrant distrust from your students, this culture of skepticism will affect you directly if you are a ministry leader. It may be frustrating to have to rebuild trust that you aren’t responsible for tearing down in the first place, but your ministry will fare far better if you work hard to do so anyway. 

Here are ten simple things you can do to combat this culture of skepticism and build trust among your students.

  1. Actually be trustworthy and safe. Don’t be manipulative or hypocritical. If there is something in your life or behavior that is shameful or harmful to others, repent and seek help. The Missouri Baptist Convention has confidential resources available to you. 
  2. Don’t take it personally or be offended if a student is skeptical of you. Understand that they might have been burned before by a youth pastor or someone else in a position of spiritual leadership. Once you’ve been burned, it can be so difficult to trust again. Be patient with them.
  3. Be humble and ask others how you come across to them. You might be unaware of social cues and habits you have that need to be adjusted. If students find you creepy or intimidating, you can work to adjust your body language and demeanor.
  4. Smile more. I know this can seem silly or even absurd, but if a student finds you at all intimidating, smiling can make a huge difference.
  5. Simply say a kind “hello” to students, using their name if you know it. Students want to know you care about them.
  6. Soften your features and body language. Be aware of your surroundings, and try not to “corner” a student. If possible, keep a few feet away from a new student until you know they are comfortable with you. I know this might feel like a lot, but please trust me. For a woman, especially one who has been abused, feeling like you are trapped can cause flashbacks and an immediate sense of danger. 
  7. Meet in safe spaces. If you are meeting with a student, I suggest meeting with them in a public area or in your office with the door open, or at least letting them sit close to the door. Allow them to pick the location they are comfortable with. Note that this isn’t just true for meetings with students of the opposite gender as you.
  8. Be careful with sarcasm and verbal irony. I understand that many use sarcasm as a way of communication and connection. Personally, it took me a long time to understand that. I still often struggle to know if someone is being sarcastic in a playful way or if they are just being mean. I grew up in a family where sarcasm was not a practice, and many of your students will have the same background. Until you get to know them well, I would keep sarcasm to a minimum or at least make it very obvious that you are joking.
  9. Be kind in all your interactions with students, and if you mess up, be ready to apologize and make things right.
  10. Remember that you are an ambassador of Christ. See all students as our Heavenly Father sees them. They are made in His image and are valued and loved by Him. We are to treat them with dignity, respect and love.

“Remember that building trust takes time.”

Karin Yarnell

     I know this can be difficult, but it’s worth it. Remember that building trust takes time. There are just some things that cannot be rushed. It is unfortunate and so frustrating that headlines keep popping up creating more distrust for those of us in ministry. They are making our job harder, but we can make a difference. We can reach this next generation for Jesus and show them what it is to be faithful to Him. Not all Christians are out to hurt others. We can show them this, because ultimately, we want to help them follow and trust Jesus the rest of their lives.




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