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.



FloodedDear friends,

On behalf of our friends in the Whakatane parish and their minister Rev Chris Barnard I draw your attention to the needs of the communities who have been badly affected by the floods of last week.

As you will have seen and heard in the news, the town of Edgecumbe was worst effected by the floods and a majority of the town was submerged. Many have still not been allowed back into their houses. The damage will be significant.

EdgecumbeFlooding1AfterI am sure you are wondering how you can help and I am also sure that some of you have already responded with prayer, time and money.

While there are a number of appeals for those affected by the floods, the Whakatane parish are also working hand-in-hand with other churches to help in any way they can. Together they seek to raise funds to assist.

Donations can be made through their trust, ‘Have a Heart,’ and these funds would be available on application.

Can I encourage you to give direct to the Have a Heart Charitable Trust – account number 06 0489 0242960 00 (you can read about the trust on the Charities Services website

full_file3-1All money donated will be used to give people who really need it a hand up. Small donations of even a  few dollars are most welcome.

Please join me in prayer for those affected by the floods.

In Christ

Richard Dawson

Moderator: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand



Engage With the World: Easter Hope

Cross1I read a good quote the other day. It goes: ”Everything good is uphill”. It’s true in my experience. No matter what we do, the good stuff costs. It costs time, it costs energy, it costs all the other things that we could be doing which may be more enjoyable for us. Easter is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of the truth of the saying. The very best thing in the universe cost the life of the very best person – Jesus Christ, the son of God.

There’s a kind of “cargo-cult” around the Church these days that insists that it’s God’s job to just give us stuff and that somehow we are all owed the best of everything. Now, I believe God is our provider and I believe that God wants the Church to be a place of abundance, but I don’t believe that God ever just lands us with that abundance because we want it.

As a parent I know that doing something like this for my own children would never have been good for them. Learning the cost of something was always necessary for them to understand the value of anything.

At Easter we’re given the greatest gift of all – time: the gift of a new relationship with God, free, gratis and for nothing. God is ready and willing to engage with anyone who will take God’s word for it. Believe and receive, but this means we must engage. The Gospel is the greatest message of hope in the world. But how can we let the world know in this day and age of incredible apathy and cynicism around Christianity?

The answer begins with the same dynamic that characterises the whole Easter event in the Gospels – we must engage. The Church has arisen from God’s deliberate plan to engage a rebellious and lost world. We need to follow this example and engage the world with the Easter story. Up and down the country churches are preparing to invite their communities to experience Easter by holding walk-through or even drive-through audio-visual experiences of the Easter story. Others are holding special invitational services, and some are trying other

new things that are creative and engaging.

I would love to highlight what you’ve done this Easter, so please record the event and send me some pictures and a description of what you did and how it was received by the wider community. Let us know so we can post something about it on the Church Facebook page. Share with our wider family the hope you are bringing to your community.

He is truly the hope of the world. Let’s help the world to realise this!

God Bless you and yours this Easter.

Richard D.

Mucking In

Just spent the last few days on our Marae Te Maungarongo at Ohope. This is a special place for anyone who identifies with the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and it is so because it was founded in association with the man who best embodies the missionary heart of Presbyterians in this country J G Laughton.
Laughton started his ministry in Piopio and soon developed a love for the local Maori picking up the language and particularly the tikanga (fundamental value system and customs associated with those values). Laughton then developed a ministry with the great Maori prophet Rua Kenana which though marked by some theological tension led to the establishment of a wonderful Christian community at Maungapohatu. Later, ‘Totally committed to a renaissance of the Maori language, Laughton founded a press, Te Waka Karaitiana. This published journals of the same name, Maori translations of portions of Scripture, and general news of the Christian churches.’
This mission and goal still lies at the heart of Presbyterian tikanga in this country and I would suggest we work towards reviving it within our parishes in whatever way we can.
Check out…/biograp…/4l4/laughton-john-george

Waitangi Day Greeting 2017

Greetings to you all on this fine Waitangi Weekend.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

I begin with a traditional Maori karakia which I pray for and over the whole Church…

He hōnore, he korōria ki te Atua
He maungārongo ki te whenua
He whakaaro pai ki ngā tāngata katoa
Hangā e te Atua he ngākau hou
Ki roto, ki tēnā, ki tēnā o mātou
Whakatōngia to wairua tapu
Hei awhina, hei tohutohu i a mātou
Hei ako hoki i ngā mahi mō tēnei rā


Honour and glory to God
Peace on Earth
Goodwill to all people
Lord, develop a new heart
Inside all of us
Instill in us your sacred spirit
Help us, guide us
In all the things we need to learn today

It is fitting, is it not, to pray for the whole nation on what is our nation’s proper birthday – Waitangi! It is fitting also to think about what Waitangi means for each of us because one thing is clear, if we don’t take some personal responsibility for making Waitangi truly a part of our own hearts then we will not see the blessing that can flow from a united country and united peoples.

The Maori proverb says it all really…

He waka eke noa (A canoe which we are all in with no exception)

In other words, whether we like it or not we are all in this land together so we may as well start working together for each other and leave no one behind.

We started this nation with a deep sense that we should create a fair and just society and we should not lose sight of this precisely because there are still deep injustices to be dealt with today. Let us welcome all into our canoe. Let us help all to know they belong here. Let us work while it is still light!

In Christ,

Richard Dawson (Moderator)

Live Like You Believe

As we start the New Year can I encourage you to be positive about the future. There is so much negativity about the Church in the media, in society and even in the Church itself that we are often tempted to be if not to feel hopeless. I am convinced that our first job as Christians and particularly as leaders is to put aside these things including the inconsistencies of our own life and of the Church’s life and simply live like we believe. I know this may sound a little hypocritical but I suspect we have little other choice.

When belief lives in doubt it has ceased to be belief and, while all belief must cope with doubt it shouldn’t be shaped by it. An old Rugby coach of mine used to repeat the adage ‘Hesitate and you’re lost’ as a primary rule of thumb for playing the game well. By this was meant, of course, that one had to commit to one’s chosen course of action on the Rugby field 100% or the hesitation alone would give the opposition all the chance they needed. There is too much hesitation in today’s Church; too much living out our doubts rather than our belief in a loving God; too much fear of failure driving us.

The Church doesn’t have to be triumphalist to be confident in God. We have a God who loves the Church. Why wouldn’t God want the Church to be successful in both preaching and living out the Gospel? We don’t have to become self-effacing and lack-lustre to represent the Gospel. We can be confident in it because it is the foundation of a well-lived life and a fair society and the best way to represent this is to live confidently in the Gospel – to commit to it whole-heartedly and joyfully.

Perhaps the greatest single factor in the loss of confidence within the Church is what is perceived to be the failure of the institution and of certain individuals within it. We cannot deny the statistics and the loss of status within Western society over the last 100 years. For all the work the Spirit does within us we all continue to struggle with sin and with brokenness and yet this shouldn’t be a reason for despair but for rejoicing. The brokenness of the Church and of its people and leaders only confirms and glorifies the grace of God in continuing to bless it and raise up followers from within society. We will always have to contend with less than perfect people and less than perfect leaders and yet doesn’t this enable us time and again to look upon those outside the Church with the eyes of mercy?

Living confidently out of our belief in God’s love won’t fix everything but it will encourage those around us to look also to the God whose love we are reflecting. Living confidently out of our belief in God’s love won’t change the world but it may well change the bit of the world which revolves around us. Living confidently out of our belief in God’s love won’t make us perfect but it will help us to try again when we fall because we know that God’s grace is real.

Can I then encourage us all to be confident in the gospel as we begin this year, not because we are in any way superior to others but because we believe and are committed to the God whose love never gives up.

Happy New Year!

Richard D.

Starting Out

As I begin my reasonably short period as Moderator of the PCANZ I want to make a few things clear to whomever might read this blog and wonder about the job and the title.

It seems to me that for those looking in from the outside a title such as the Moderator of the General assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is not only a mouthful but is also somewhat pretentious. While I agree with the first opinion I don’t with the second. This job like so many others in the church is a highly pragmatic one which is dominated largely by the need to make decisions about real life situations and real people. It begins, at present, with the running of a key meeting in our church, the General Assembly and this is a meeting which can either encourage or discourage a lot of people if it’s not done well.

It continues with the development of key relationships within the National Office and with key stakeholders around the church and it demands a knowledge of the wider Church as well as the need to represent the church within the regional and global family arises.

On top of this one must deal with the day to day concerns of those within our church who have or are experiencing something quite shattering – a loss, a disease, a mistake, a very bad decision… the consequences of which are causing them and their families and friends significant pain. A significant part of the Moderator’s job is to be at least the voice of the Church’s care and concern for its leaders and its people. A classic example of this is the Kaikoura earthquake and all the downstream consequences for people’s lives and livelihoods in that area of the country.

Then there’s the important task of representing the Church in numerous roles and relationships from those with our neighbouring denominations to interfaith meetings and worldwide communions – all of which keep us both informed and resourced in many ways.

These and a myriad of other duties make the role a full-time one if not an over-full-time one. It is certainly not merely a ‘figurehead’ role and it provides an important conduit of relations both within and without the Church.

Finally I believe the Moderator should bring to the Church something of the special work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. In short, the Moderator should be able to help the Church focus on some important part of the mission of God which they themselves have been developing in response to the work and call of God’s Spirit in their lives.

This is certainly what I will be committing to over the next 18 months or so and I hope that in doing so I will help the whole Church rediscover something of the great hope upon which it is founded and through which it can bring hope into an often dark and hopeless world.