I have a confession. When my children were in elementary school, I was notorious for picking them up late. It began when I was in seminary across town and had to speed back to our side of town to get them. The teachers were amazing and understood my situation because they knew I wasn’t being neglectful or careless. However, once I graduated, no matter how many times I promised and showed up on time; my kids would remind me over and over what time they got out. I realized after the fact, that my kids didn’t have the same level of understanding their teachers did and no matter how many times they were reassured, the stress of waiting and always being the last couple of kids to be picked up left a scar. Sometimes even now as high schoolers when there’s a change in schedule, an unplanned delay or they’re just stressed about something else, they’re distrust of me picking them up on time rears its ugly head. To be clear I never forgot to pick them up and they never had to stay unusually long, but their faith in me picking them up on time is still tender.
As a mom, it’s a tough admission because I don’t trust your collective ability to read this and not judge me. I know the “perfect” parent brigade and the holy rollers will try to shame me for my parental short comings. I know others will console themselves with my situation by thinking “at least I always picked my kids up on time” and yet others will read this and wonder why I am even sharing this here; we’re supposed to be thinking through church leadership. I’ll cut to the chase, I’m writing this because it illustrates the ways that we prove ourselves untrustworthy every day and the way our lack of trust in ourselves and others creates an atmosphere of distrust. My kids sometimes still struggle to trust me to pick them up on time, I don’t trust many of you to read this and not judge me even though I don’t know you, and some of you have already dismissed this blog post because you don’t trust me to make this, make sense for you. It’s this type of insidious, invisible distrust that has nothing and everything to do with us as the church that shows up in our pews and online every Sunday and makes it really difficult to call ourselves the beloved community or to see one another as children of God.
In her book “Trust by Design: The Beautiful Behaviors of an Effective Church Culture” Amy Valdez Barker writes, “Trust is the design God gives us to discover our interwoven nature, which brings about goodness, peace, and possibility in the world. Through our trust-filled, trustworthy actions, attitudes, and behaviors, we strengthen our faith in God and faith in each other. We strengthen our hope for the world, hope for creation, hope for the beloved body of Christ. And we strengthen and confirm the love God has for us and the love we have for one another. That’s the beautiful vision for our world given to us by the creator.”
Being in community, especially Christian community should mean that we can trust each other in big ways and small.
- We should be able to trust that our leaders have a devotional life and are seeking God first to lead our congregations with Godly discernment and wisdom.
- That our tithes and offerings are being handled with integrity according to Godly principles and Christian values.
- That there is nothing nefarious happening behind the scenes in our churches and if something occurs it will be handled transparently and appropriately.
- That we will be shown empathy and compassion when one of us is struggling and that we will also model that same compassion and empathy when the stranger among us is struggling.
- That our righteous indignation will make us stand with and care for the marginalized and least of these even when it’s unpopular, uncomfortable, or political.
- That the love of Christ will be so palpable and evident among us that it will draw others to Him and to the church.
The problem is too many times we have been found untrustworthy in these and other ways, which makes trusting the community and the church at large especially difficult. We are all experiencing a global trust crisis and it’s easy to assume that it’s someone else’s job to build trust and mend our fraying social fabric, However, the reality is the responsibility lies within each of us do to all we can, when and where we can to make ourselves, our communities, and churches more trustworthy. It isn’t just the job of the title holders…the pastor, the ministerial staff, the officers, the session or the worship team. We each are responsible for being a thread in the tapestry of communal trust and faith that undergirds us and “the beautiful vision for our world given to us by the creator”.
When it came to my kids, at some point I realized it was ridiculous to expect my children to trust my ability to pick them up on time if I was still routinely late. It was and still is my job to consistently show up and show myself trustworthy to the extent that I can. As a result, if you have a meeting with me around 3pm I’ll probably be in my car in the carpool line and after reading this I trust that you will understand. My children have learned to trust me again and know that even if I’m unexpectedly delayed, I’ll be there. We can no longer expect people to trust us, our communities, and churches “just because”. We no longer have that privilege partially because of our own institutional lack of trustworthiness that we must wrestle and account for, and partially because of the culture of distrust that we all live in. Perhaps though it is a privilege we never should’ve had in the first place.
Jesus spent His earthly ministry showing up among the sick, the lost, the disenfranchised, the least and the hopeless; and showing himself trustworthy. He refused to shame the woman allegedly caught in adultery. He went to Zacchaeus home and ate with he and his outlaw friends. He took a little boy’s lunch, fed the multitude, and gave them doggie bags. He expected more from the rich, young ruler than he expected from himself and didn’t chastise him when he walked away. He kept the party going at the wedding at Cana providing better wine than they had to begin with. In each instance Jesus handled each person and situation in love. He was confrontational of sin but not combative toward people. He was principled but not petrified of discomfort and offending those around Him. He was humble but didn’t let His humility make him helpless and impotent. He was trustworthy and faithfully loved each person and community He encountered even when they rejected Him, or His love went against convention, tradition, or the law.
Amy Valdez Barker puts it powerfully and beautifully when she writes, “As leaders in the church, trust is a sacred asset that must be carefully handled with deep respect and priceless value. As leaders, we strive toward a complete Christian maturity that offers the world a vision of Christ here and now. We want people to discover the gift of our trustworthy Savior through our own lived witness and our own trust in Christ. But it isn’t solely in our hands; mutual trust is the gift of the Holy Spirit who uses our faithfulness to reach all of God’s creation. When we put our whole trust in Christ and live and act as trustworthy leaders, our lives are evidence of God’s beautiful work through the dearly loved Christian community because of God’s love for us.” The question that must be asked is, am I, are you trustworthy?