The last of Vaters’ “5 Massive Changes Coming to Your Church” is tremendously important and devastating for the church.
5. The Way People Trust Is Changing
Again, I quibble with the way this is worded. You cannot change the way you trust. You either trust or you don’t. Trust means opening your heart, giving yourself to something or someone. Trust requires a measure of vulnerability and willingness to be hurt and let down. The way people trust cannot change.
But what or who you trust may certainly change. And here Vaters makes a powerful point that we in the church must not ignore.
People used to trust the church and clergy until we gave them a reason not to.
But we’ve given them plenty of reasons not to. And we’ve we lost their trust.
Now, people don’t trust the church or clergy until we give them plenty of reasons to trust us. We have to earn it. Then we have to work hard to keep it.
Churches are not alone in having lost the trust of the general population. No one trusts politicians any more. Many people are deeply cynical about the way business is conducted in the world today. Even medical professionals are not immune to the cynicism of our day.
The lack of trust for traditional institutions in any area of the human community can be seen in the alternative forms for accessing almost anything that proliferate today. Alternative schools and ways of educating children abound. The health care field is filled with an abundance of healing modalities that depart from the traditional scientistic medical model. And certainly, in the spiritual realm, there is a vast smorgasbord of options from which to choose in pursuing a spiritual path.
Vaters is right, churches have all too frequently betrayed the trust of the people we exist to serve. We have manipulated, badgered, abused, and hurt people with our dishonesty, hypocrisy and self-serving agendas. How can we rebuild that trust we have so wantonly squandered?
Vaters suggests trust can only be rebuilt
One church at a time. One Christian at a time. One pastor at a time. One act of decency and integrity at a time.
The problem with seeking to rebuild trust is of course that none of us is ultimately fully trustworthy.
The truth is, as much as it saddens me to admit it, I will let you down. I will betray your trust. There will be some time when you think I should have showed up and I will not be there. I will speak an ill-timed or foolish word that may cause you hurt. I will not hear you fully. I will misinterpret something you say or do. I am sorry about my shortcomings, but powerless to entirely eliminate them. I am not alone in the flawed nature of my leadership in the church.
This is why Vaters’ final point is the most important thing to say about trust:
No, we may never win back a general trust of the institutions of church and clergy. But we can get out of the way and let people see that Jesus is, and always will be trustworthy.
Indeed, the whole purpose of church is to enable us to see that there is a deep steady stream of faithfulness at the heart of all life in which we can put absolute trust. There is a love at the core of the universe upon which we can rest. As we give ourselves to this current of love, we will be drawn together with those who share our desire to live more deeply in this love. In this way, the church will grow in love, and no one will be concerned about whether or not this translates into more people in church, or more financial stability in our bank account. We will live together in deep confidence in the work of Christ among us and grow in the freedom for which Christ has set us free.