From Suspicion to Trust

Sorry I missed the last few days. Busy days!

OK, to go along with the last post about a more empowered and centralized leadership culture, I wanted to talk about something I observed in Kenya that created the hospitable ecosystem for this reality. In fact, what I want to address today I think is the back story to why a lot of churches run the way they do. Do churches have cultures and systems driven by suspicion or trust in leadership? Congregations may trust specific godly people but do they trust in the idea and the office of leadership? Do they trust human authority?

Let me get down to the nitty gritty. There are a lot of people in the American church, and in our church, that have been burned by church leadership. They have been burned by the leaders themselves. They have been  burned by the decisions those leaders have made. They feel burned by the authority and actions those leaders manifested. Some people have had to leave beloved former churches over very hurtful experiences. I get how those experiences have affected many people’s view of a certain kind of leadership style and also a certain kind of governance model. If you are reading this and these descriptions kind of fit you, hear me out. I validate what you are feeling. I validate that you had truly bad experiences with certain churches and their leaders. I don’t want to dismiss that at all. I could probably name the movements, networks, churches, and leaders that some of you wince at. You know, I love it that you have found the Bible Church to be a place that is different. A place that you can rest in. I hope that never leads us to pride or the thought that we are better than other churches. But, I am glad that BC makes grace that clear and that we want to be a church that is not about power grabbing and celebrity and simply being awesome for the sake of being awesome. We will continue to be that by God’s grace, BUT…

Here is the deal. While I understand and validate those experiences and consequent feelings, if this rings true for you, may I ask you as your pastor to consider something I think will be a huge blessing to you and to the leadership here…and yes, to me. This is a big ask. I would ask that you consider a process (not a overnight transformation) of seeking to move on and to find healing. I would ask that you not conflate proper Biblical accountability, and healthy church life, with a certain type of governance, full of protections, counter balances, and pressure valves. May I suggest what happened at a former church or amidst other leaders had very little to do with centralized leadership vs. decentralized, or one governance model vs. another, but had everything to do with character, maturity of leadership, and other issues that no human method or document can ultimately promote, control, or keep in check? This is a big ask. This will require some thinking, re-thinking, and some wrestling even, maybe a conversation with me. So, what I am asking you for is not to condone a governance model, but that you seek God to enable you to trust not only specific people, but the very idea and office of leadership and authority. The rest tends to be gravy. I think we know this. Once that trust sets in, systems follow. Maybe we hold onto those negative feelings because the pain we feel is so connected to a system that by not letting go we keep our passion going to protect our claim on a system that seems to protect us from more pain. That was a long sentence. Bottom line, some of us are in a bit of a catch 22. Not sure, but I find myself in those catch 22’s. So, the next step may be a step of faith…

Back to Kenya. Our Kenyan family is good at this. Well, isn’t it native to their culture? Yes and no. Within the United States one can find church that have this culture. Godly people lead, they lead well, and people trust and depend on their leadership and allow the systems to reflect this. But yes, there is something to other non-American cultures that allow them to trust leaders in a way we don’t. Also, we Americans not only have our own struggles with negative experiences, but we have American democracy, don’t we? That is a whole book length implication, so I will leave that one there. But back again to Kenya. I took it seriously when you told me as a church that these partnerships were such actual partnerships that we as an American church wanted to learn from them. So, I learned from them. I learn as multi-national man who has felt the tug of different cultures within my story, and the wonderful blessings but also curses each culture brings to the table. I would love for us all to learn from Mavuno’s trust in leadership. They have a trust model. I would love for us to move from a model that is sometimes hampered by suspicion to a model freed by trust.

Those are some of my bolder reflections. I offer them with conviction and love.



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9 responses to “From Suspicion to Trust

  1. Mike

    Very much worth reflection, and prayer. Thanks.

  2. charles herbst

    Jay you hit the nail on the head in that the system is not the problem, the the grace in which a pastor leads is what leads to trust in pastoral/elder authority.. And unfortunately when a person is hurt from a past experience, it becomes difficult for that person to trust again. We are all conditioned by past experiences. I think this is why there are so many people leaving many churches today. They have been hurt and don’t want to be vulnerable and hurt again. Others try again. That is why ‘pastoral leadership’ is the most difficult of jobs. I am sure there are people in our church who have been hurt elsewhere and are giving church another chance. You need our prayers and certainly have mine.


  3. hank

    Based on my last comment for #3 reflection, we do need guidelines for approaching leaders with questions, differences, and suggestions. Maybe not written, but reviewed from time to time. Leadership in the BC through the years has had its ups and downs, but God has been SOOOOOOOOOOO gracious, and I pray this continues to be a highlight of our fellowship–I think the shpeherding program will be a huge help to allow true growth as a body to show the world His love.

    One other comment from your musings: we have been “partnering” with Nairobi since about 1994 when some of us first met Oscar via one of their elders, Meredith Long-one of our missionaries then with MAP, now not supported by us, but with World Concern and doing a great work of service. I think our interchange through the years has really be a highlight of our global outreach!!

    BUT, being apart of the Missions Soup and Prayer life grp. for over 30 years( whose mission is to pray weekly for our missionaries and partnerships–“holding the rope, as they go out”) has helped me to see that partnerships are not the only way to go–in fact, if you look at the work of our “long termers” through the years(most over 20 years of service) and how they have grown and found unbelieveable avenues of service and ways to pass on the Gospel — we need to continue to tell the congregation of all they do, and welcome them regularly when here. There are SOOOOOOOOOOOOO many ways that God is going to get His Gospel spread–
    Lord, we are so thankful for your wonderful care for all
    people!! Hank

    • Good points, Hank. In terms of partnerships, I did want to say that partnerships will not and cannot be our exclusive means of cross cultural discipleship, because there are only so many places on this earth that have established church. Some stats say that 2 billion people are unreached with the gospel. That means we definitely need to send career missionaries in order to bring the gospel to those places. But, those missionaries need to work themselves out of a job as soon as possible. They need to plant churches, or foster the planting of churches, and then get those churches to be indigenously led, hopefully as movement churches that plant more churches. That seems to be the missionary strategy of Paul in the NT. In that light, we are not done with career missionaries, mission agencies, and the lot. But, one of the best ways to leverage resources and talent is to partner up with our partner churches to do this – just like Berlin! Praise God for what he is doing with Berlin, because it has forged a pattern of ministry I hope to keep doing with our partners.

  4. Kathy

    Not to belabor a “minor” point here, but, in answer to Jay’s question, “we have American democracy, don’t we?” No, we don’t. We have a Democratic Republic. They are two different animals. Correct terminology in this area is critical.

    • Nuance received. I’ll let our church pundits debate these terms over coffee. You all know I love nuance, though. I think the spirit of the point is clear, though, right? Our American governmental experience shapes our view of how organizations should be led and conditioned?

      • By the way, to be totally clear, I do want to play my cards that I believe what may be best for a macro institution like a geo political state, or the system of academic process at a university or college, is not necessarily the best form of organization for a local church. In fact, the realities of those systems are check and balance shaped (suspicion), not freedom and trust based. That may be great for a government and large university. Not so great for a local church – whether democracy or republic is your favored terms. Hope that helps clarify.
        By the way, I can hear the boos. But, I offer this with conviction and love.

  5. Having read an article on the difference between a democracy and a republic…see Kathy what you made me do!…I now realize that the church is neither. So, I grew in my understanding of individual vs group authority and my conviction that Jesus rules the church in a way that transcends both. I’m done now.

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