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.