The Church as an Icon of Trust


51jli3J10SL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Steven Covey Jnr has written a remarkable book on the importance of trust in the corporate environment and, indeed, in everyday life. This book should be required reading for every Minister and Elder in the Presbyterian Church because it deals with something which should be at the heart of our life as a Church and as Christians.

Do we trust one another or, more to the point, do we trust our organization from the minister through to the elders and on to the Presbytery and from there to the Assembly Office? It may seem like a shocking question to ask but my feeling is that trust is at an all-time low for a variety of reasons.

To some extent the causes are external. The constant claim by atheistic secularism that the Christian narrative is both historically inaccurate and philosophically empty has continued to erode both confidence and trust in the Gospel. Add to this a form of Theology which became popular in the 20 century which bought into this claim and you may add further erosion from within to the trust quotient within the Church.

A further and important problem has arisen within every main denomination which must also be taken into account. This is the inability of our ecclesiology to adapt to the changing culture in the West and, thereby, to convict and convert new generations to Christ. In particular,  the Reform Church by its very nature understood the requirement placed on its ecclesiology for it to change in response to the missiological imperative to be ‘all things to all people.’ It’s fundamental self-definition that ‘Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda’ – the Reformed Church must continually be reformed, was seen as being vital to both the Church’s life and its mission because its life depends on its mission and its mission depends on its ability to incarnate the Gospel in every culture. To do that it must be open to being reformed.

We find ourselves in an age when our unwillingness to be reformed has created a major crisis in Church vitality in the West and this is nowhere better seen than in the low level of trust the Church engenders from the community within which it resides and more so within itself.

Covey’s main thesis is that Trust is the key driver of corporate success as well as providing the most important measure of health in any organisation and it is so because it constitutes the crucial driver of cooperation in society. With trust people will give of themselves freely and fully to the task allocated to them. Without it, despite good rewards, clear goals and very nice environments, people will not give fully and freely of themselves. And this is not just a productivity issue. Where lack of trust really bites is in relationships. Trust is the lifeblood of healthy relationships and where it is lacking dysfunction results.

We all know the terrible cost of relationship breakdown to society in regard to marriage, but I believe we may trace many other significant social losses to this basic deficit.

Violence, poor physical and mental health to say nothing of spiritual health, political disillusionment and disconnection, general distrust of authority and poor educational outcomes are all deep and persistent problems for Western society in general which derive in large part from relationship breakdown. Furthermore they constitute a major source of economic underperformance to say nothing of the effect they have on the West’s ability to help developing countries.

My concern and message to the Church has been about the importance of Hope but it is clear to me that without trust Hope becomes impossible. Therefore, we must address those things which both undermine trust and which promote it. Covey’s book provides a major resource for the Church in this task.

Covey’s approach is both anecdotal and yet intensively analytic. He begins by dividing Trust into two main categories – character and competence. Character is a constant and is required for trust under any circumstances although this does not mean we can’t change and improve in this area. Competence is situational meaning that the requirements for trust will change dependent on circumstances.

From here he works through 5 waves of trust which build on each other acting as a metaphor for how trust works in our lives and communities. These waves move from the personal through to the organisational. At the end with the fifth wave, they take on board a global perspective by looking at developing societal trust. What becomes clear from the beginning is that trust cannot operate unless we are prepared to begin with ourselves – a Gospel parallel which shouldn’t be missed.

The first wave begins with the individual and their ability to develop ‘self-trust.’ Personal behavioural goals which lead to ‘self-trust’ are divided into the following: Integrity, Intent, Capabilities and Results. These are called the four cores of credibility and provide the basis of trust both in ourselves and of ourselves. As Ralph Waldo Emerson says,

Self-trust is the first secret of success . . . the essence of heroism[1].’

These four cores allow us both to see what self-trust means and how we might improve it.

The second wave makes explicit what is implicit in the four cores – behaviours that amount to trustworthiness. In his own words…

The Second Wave— Relationship Trust— is all about behavior . . . consistent behavior. It’s about learning how to interact with others in ways that increase trust and avoid interacting in ways that destroy it.[2]

These 13 behaviours are; Talk Straight, Demonstrate Respect, Create Transparency, Right Wrongs, Show Loyalty, Deliver Results, Get Better, Confront Reality, Clarify Expectations, Practice Accountability, Listen First, Keep Commitments, Extend Trust.

These behaviours grow out of the four cores, they are actionable and they are universal. They provide a real handle on how to understand and to grow trust.

The third, fourth and fifth waves are really an exposition of how to apply these cores and behaviours to 3 different situations – organisations, the market and society. Clearly the Church should be interested in all three but the first is perhaps most crucial for if we cannot inspire trust within our structures and if we remain a low trust organisation in the community the future looks bleak.

Trust is a key Christian value. It lies at the heart of the New Testament as a cognate of belief. Trust and belief are almost inseparable. The question I want to ask is this… if we’re asking people to believe us and to believe the Gospel do we act in a manner that is trustworthy and do we organise ourselves so that trust is built into our way of being as a church? If not it is hardly credible that we should ask people to trust us with a message of trust is it?

Trust should be a primary goal as a Church I believe. It should be developed as a fundamental concern of discipleship and from there extend into the way we structure our life together. It should drip from every pore of our body life and it should be an unspoken witness to the incredible way God has entrusted us with His love for the world. More simply, we should be the message we bring.

Read the book. Listen to what the Spirit is saying.

God Bless,

Richard D.

[1] Covey, Stephen M.R.; Merrill, Rebecca R.. The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything (p. 46). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Covey, Stephen M.R.; Merrill, Rebecca R.. The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything (p. 125). Free Press. Kindle Edition.


Mental Health and Church


June 2017

Mental Health Disease is the modern leprosy. We prefer it to be hidden away. It is a label, despite the wonderful work of Sir John Kirwan, of shame. There is also a kind of mystery around it for it can hit anyone in society no matter how healthy they look on the outside. Chronically underfunded and suffering from what might be called a significant class war between the medically trained psychiatric service and the somewhat less recognised counselling based service of psychologically trained professionals people get lost in the cracks of this landscape all the time. Professionals such as Ministers of Religion have little place in this menagerie until they can show that they can abide by the unspoken rules of the system – which may well be fair enough since this really only amounts to professional courtesy but try challenging the assumptions of those in charge and all bets are off.

However, I don’t want this to become another mental health services bashing exercise. I’m sure all those who serve there are doing their best. We in the Church need to put our house in order first and that’s why I simply want to put the question to us all – what are we doing about mental health in our churches? Have we ever preached on it? Have we ever tried to help the people in our church who are struggling with mental health feel as if their illness doesn’t define their humanity? Have we ever tried to understand a little more about mental illness?

The first thing that must happen if we are to break the curse of mental health is to talk about it openly and honestly. I myself have had a brief brush with depression. It was when I was 14 and after a very bad year at school. So dark was that year that I had nightmares about it for years afterwards and the memory of how I felt brought dread to my soul well into adulthood. But my journey was nothing compared to the people I’ve met along the way in my ministry. People whose lives have been brutally broken by long periods of depression; whose marriages have fallen victim to these episodes and whose families have struggled to understand and relate to their illness. And others whose illness has become such a poison to the family that the only thing they could do was separate themselves from the family member with the illness further isolating the victim and delivering them to a life on the streets.

It’s a highly destructive disease which we must work to both understand and deliver the best of our healing science to. I don’t think we’re there yet – do you?



pentecost1June 2017

Where is home for you? Perhaps I should ask what is home for you for home may not be a place. It may be a people, a period of your life, a position or even a poem. Words have great power to evoke our deepest needs and desires as is the case with the Psalms. The notion of ‘home’ is one of those words which evoke so much longing in us. For me, when I think of home I immediately go to memories not of my place of growing up but of my grandparent’s orchard in the North Island which we visited for several weeks every summer at Christmas time. So many good things flowed from that visit not least the wonderful welcome we received from my grandparents and the special world which was their home. It became a place of peace, of joy, of adventure and of deep deep belonging; in short, it became home for me. At Pentecost the Spirit created such a place for the Christian Church – it created ‘home’ for the Church.

Home is, so they say, ‘where the heart is,’ and if this is the case then just about anywhere can be home. I wonder if you’ve ever visited a place and found yourself so taken with it, with the beauty, with the peace, with the atmosphere, that it felt, quite literally, like you’d come home? I believe this is something of what Paul comes to in that amazing passage in 2 Corinthians 5…

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Paul here uses the idea of ‘home’ to redefine heaven as our true place of belonging because it is where the God who loves us is. So, while he recognizes our natural connection with this life and, indeed, with our bodily existence he also recognizes that despite the strong connection we all have with these things there is another home that is more desirable and, indeed, more complete – the place where God is.

When the Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost of the Christian Church not only was the Church properly founded but God created a true home for the followers of Christ. Not a home built of anything material but a home of deep relationship with God and with each other. Furthermore, it was a home which called and calls us into mission because the whole aim and goal of the Spirit’s presence and power was to proclaim Christ in a manner which could not be denied. How we need this today!

The Church’s true home is to be in mission – to be reaching people who are far from God with the amazing power of the Gospel; a power which has healed and held and helped people into the Kingdom of Heaven from the beginning.

As we celebrate this event this year let us be mindful again of the relationship between the Spirit and Space for it is the spirit that transforms every space into a place we may call home; a place we can sense God’s welcome and God’s belonging and a place where the welcome of God is extended in power to all who feel and who are disconnected from their true home which is God’s love.