Monday, July 26, 2010


This week I had two different opportunities to have significant conversations about trust. One was a with a rector who was dealing with a sr.warden who described herself as 'a detail person who needs to know all the ins and outs, reasons why decisions are made in order to trust'. The other was a search committee which had members who weren't sure they could 'trust the diocese and the manner in which it handles potential rector candidates to be considered'. I found these conversations led to the whole topic of communication, clarity, transparency, confidentiality and how well we do these things.

There is no debate that trust is a human issue that translates across all cultures, organizations and any time two or more people are gathered together. I have found that there is a deep, unspoken expectation of trust on the part of everyone in Christian community. When that trust is broken, wounds form and lasting scars of betrayal have the power to live on in stories that are passed down for generations until they no longer entertain. People like to relish in the weakness of others. The act of breaking trust and the inability of people to forgive are equally sinful and destructive, especially in churches.

Leaders in Christian community are called to demonstrate trust; trust in God, each other in relational bonds and the community as a whole. This is a godly thing. It is foundational. It is tough to do. Trustworthiness at the top filters down into the community. Years of trustworthiness can change cultures of behavior, especially as persons recognize that they can trust and act in accordance. Trustworthy leaders hold the power to reflect God's love for us, belief in us, trust in us. This is life changing power that must be judiciously and thoughtfully used.

What are some practical and wise ways to instill trust? Probably the most powerful thing a leader can do is live and model what trustworthiness looks like. This involves obvious, faithful ways of living and interacting with each other. It calls for wise and sensitive communication; when to talk, when to listen. Missionary leaders are called to seek God's holy counsel to reveal what is important, appropriate and necessary to say, and what is not. This maturity and wisdom only comes from a vibrant and ongoing relationship with God which supports and informs us as leaders.

Taking time to build relationships, being thoughtfully honest and transparent, and seeing the good in people will go a long way toward building trust. I am convinced that this includes affirming God-given giftedness, skills and talents in each other and using our influence as leaders to steer people into ministry opportunities that will utilize these things.

There is also tremendous power in admitting wrongs, acting in sincere humility, seeking forgiveness. Broken trust only heals with forgiveness. This too is a God enabled act. Trust will be enabled by your teaching people what it means to forgive.

The challenge is for each one of us as leaders to consider how we can foster trust building in our churches. Believe me, somewhere in your community is a need for renewed trust and forgiveness. What will you do to respond to this need?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alaska or Next Door

I am just back from two weeks of vacation in spectacular Alaska! Interesting to me that I kept thinking how difficult it would be to plant a new congregation there. I kept hearing that Alaska was the 'last frontier' full of 'young people' who were drawn to that place 'from all over the world'. People who were seeking new beginnings, opportunity, and change from whatever they considered familiar. People from diverse cultures, native languages and lives left behind which made for a melting pot of population spread across magnificent wilderess in small villages, towns and cities.

I am very familiar with the challenge of planting new churches. What kept running through my mind as I met these modern pioneers was, 'what would it take to collect such diverse young adults into worshipping communities?' I knew for sure it would look nothing like the institutional church. I believe it would take getting to the heart of knowing each other very quickly to establish connection. It would take authenticity, caring, relationship building and time. It would take courage to share the Gospel unabashedly through stories of personal experiences with God to establish spiritual awareness and commonality. It was obvious that these young adults didn't care much for material things. Many had left high paying careers in order to be in this place. So the trappings of the church, including expensive buildings, would probably hold little value to these folks. That was obvious just looking around Alaskan cities and finding very few churches that had a significant presence visa vi property and buildings. Simplicity appeared to be a high value in Alaska.

The more I considered this challenge the more I realized how getting down to the basics of Christian community are core to establishing new congregations. This messes with Episcopalians. We like our trappings. We 'respect' others so much that we dare not speak of our intimate spiritual experiences with God. We are highly educated and appreciate intellectual exchange. We have a hard time being simple and getting back to basics.

I understand that the Diocese of Massachusetts has a new program called 'Relational Evangelism' geared toward establishing small groups of young adults who learn to share their personal faith stories so that they can go out and share them with their friends. These small, open, inclusive groups are intimate, caring and safe. Sounds like these groups are right on target with how to respond to the needs of young generations in America. Sounds like what it would take to plant congregations in Alaska, or frankly anywhere.

My question is, do we, as missionary leaders, have the courage to focus time and energy on these activities? How bogged down are we in the day to day maintenance operations of our congregations with little time left to be creative? Are we so committed to social justice and human needs ministries that we fail to share our Christian motivation for doing them? As Loren Mead said twenty years ago, we are in a post-christendom era, we are beginning to look like the early church. And, in order to impact the world for Christ, we must go back to the basics, meeting in small groups, sharing the faith, caring for one another, and courageously going out into the world with the good news of Christ Jesus. A world that doesn't value Jesus as much as we do.

It takes alot of self examination to determine how valuably we spend our time and efforts. It takes hard work for congregations to do internal assessments, attempting to measure how effectively they impact lives for Christ's sake. How far away have we gotten from the basics? Perhaps this is a question worth asking whether ministering in Alaska or next door.