Trust is something that takes time. I think the phrase is that “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”
Perhaps there was a day, many years ago (and perhaps in a galaxy far, far away), where a pastor could walk or ride on into a town and the mere fact that they were a pastor–a card-carrying elder of this or that church–they could be trusted to lead. Perhaps there was a time that, when the Bishop appointed a Methodist pastor to a congregation, the congregation believed that the vision of the new pastor would be good and right and holy and should be listened to. Perhaps there was a time where the authority that came with having a “Reverend” before one’s name was enough to get persons to follow to march of into battle against the evils of this world to march off into missions or to march off towards a new vision for their congregation.
But we’re past that time now, if, indeed, it ever really existed.
We have too much “water under the bridge.” We’ve seen too many “godly” men and women disgraced by their own actions. We’ve seen too many congregations led in ways that ensured their gradual (or even sudden) decline. We’ve seen too many persons with “Reverend” before their name who seemed far less than reverent and whose words have seemed so far removed from the words of Jesus. We have seen clergy living lives that looked far more worldly than heavenly.
I think the present media attention focused on the new Catholic Pope Francis is evidence to this. For here is someone who has called his church leaders into question for living lives of luxury at the expense of their parishes. Unlike many, he has shown mercy to those of other faiths and those who have been forgotten by society in general. By his actions, I would argue, he is building up some trust again in a church that has, very publicly, had to deal with issue of abuse within their walls.
And so too, I think it’s true that congregations need more than a title to get behind at this point. They need more than the promise of good things ahead, even vague notions of an eternal life. They need clergy to show themselves trustworthy first. They need clergy to lead by example and show themselves worthy of being followed.
I hope to God that I’ve built up some trust with these congregations in Seward and Moose Pass over the first year here. I hope that they can see that I actually do love them and that love comes from the my love of and faith in Christ. I hope that they believe that I’m a pretty bright person with some common sense and some ability to see the big picture of ministry. I hope they believe that I’m spiritually rooted and supported by my United Methodist connection and am not some “lone ranger” off on my own. I hope that they trust me enough to let me lead them.
I hope all this because I have ideas. It has taken most of this year to formulate them…even just the rudimentary shell of them. After watching and observing and living and loving for this time I have a vision. I see some areas for growth. I have a direction (a general direction) I believe God wants us to head. We have a faith to live out in this world. And I don’t want to push them too much. And I don’t want to take a leap of faith and find no one willing to come with me. And I know I don’t have the personality to maintain the status quo. I can’t sit still for long. I need to be headed somewhere. I need to be moving. I need direction.
I once served in a church where I had very little authority. Perhaps I was too young. Perhaps I hadn’t been around long enough to build up trust. Regardless, the vision I had shared for outreach and community involvement and discipleship turned out to be little more than a solo mission. The congregation wasn’t ready to follow and that difference of opinion for where we needed to be going led to other interpersonal problems. It turned out to be painful for us all. And, I’m not blaming the congregation any more than I could blame myself. I hadn’t done the leg work to make refocusing the vision make sense. I pushed in ways they weren’t ready for and, perhaps, were inappropriate at the time. I hadn’t built up enough trust with the congregation. I’ll take the blame.
I say this all as I’ve now introduced some “new things” for the Seward portion of my charge…a new way to look at our administrative structure…a renewed focus on stewardship…a new focus on “missional” ministry in our community…even the presentation of a plan for a new “community based missional community.” These aren’t small things. They are big things. And we have a lot more irons in the fire as well–dreams of some alternative worship, dreams of new discipleship opportunities, dreams of new ways to care for each other.
I ask them to trust me here.
And, one more thing. Something I realize more now than at earlier points in my ministry is that I also need to trust them.