Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Matter of Trust

In my study and practice of Christian discipleship, one issue has never really crossed my mind until recently.  There is something to be said about the context in which one learns and grows as a disciple.  I believe that there must be a certain sense of trust in the system.

If we think about the word “disciple” itself, from the Greek methetes, we can see we are talking about a student or apprentice.  For one to truly gain from being a student or apprentice, one must have a certain amount of trust in the teacher.  If one were training to become a plumber and entered into an apprentice relationship with the plumber, but didn’t trust the plumber, there would be something lacking in the process.  If it were me and I were the student, I could find myself second guessing the plumber.  “Is he teaching me correctly?  Does he know what he is doing?  Is he trying to mislead me?”

In some ways this is easy for us.  The one we are following is Jesus Christ and as Christians we can put our full trust in Jesus Christ.  However, and here is the sticky part, the Holy Spirit calls and equips others to be the hands and feet of Jesus in all aspect of the church including in helping people to learn and grow in Jesus’ image.  This includes preachers, teachers and leaders.  While we may put our trust in Jesus Christ, if we do not trust the ones working for Jesus we may find ourselves in the place of my imaginary plumber’s apprentice.

This is not as easy as it sounds.  While, through faith, we put all our trust in God through Jesus Christ, we know better than to blindly trust human beings.  Nearly all of us have heard of people being led astray and some of us have been led astray ourselves.  However, in the journey of discipleship – of looking to Jesus that we might look like Jesus – at some point we have to make a choice.  At some point, we have to prayerfully evaluate those in the faith community around us and decide if we will walk with them or even allow them to lead us in our faith journeys.  We can always reevaluate but there is one thing that we clearly can’t do:  we can’t decide to follow or even walk with someone in a spirit of distrust.

In some ways, the commitment to Christian discipleship is a lot like marriage.  In marriage, we have to establish some level of trust.  We have to believe that our spouse really means the vows that were said in the ceremony.  We have to believe that she won’t harm us, that he won’t betray us, that she will work to protect us.  Of course, if that trust is violated we are devastated; but at the same time, we cannot live in the spirit of distrust assuming that our spouse will intentionally wrong us.  I have seen relationships where that was the case and they did not last very long.

Any pastor who has moved to a new church and any church that has received a new pastor knows that there is always a time of testing and transition.  Conflict is likely to arise over seemingly simple things: the new pastor wants the communion table in a new place, wants to change the order of worship or has a different style of preaching.  Change always creates stress because it creates uncertainty which can lead to fear.  Often this period of uncertainty is quickly resolved because the members of the church decide to trust their new pastor.  This does not mean that they will never question what the pastor is doing, but they are less likely to question the integrity of the pastor.

Let me try one of my previous examples.  I trust my wife.  I trust that when she says she loves me that she means it.  Because of this, if it were my birthday and there were no cake, no card, no present, I would assume either a) she has a surprise in store or b) she got so busy taking care of our child that she forgot.  I would not assume that she was purposely ignoring my birthday to hurt my feelings.

It works the same way with our church leaders.  At some point we have to decide if we trust that they: love Jesus, love the church and want to do everything they can to connect people with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  We might still disagree with what they do or how they do it but we assume that they are doing it for the right reasons.  We can disagree but there is one thing that we clearly can’t do:  we can’t decide to follow or even walk with someone in a spirit of distrust.

Often I don’t see that.  In an effort to make disciples of Jesus Christ, I make so many decisions every day that I can’t even count.  I realize that all of these decisions are not perfect and sometimes they are totally wrong.  But I believe they always represent my best efforts to use my gifts to spread the love of Jesus Christ.  But, too often, people respond out of a lack of trust concluding that my action or inaction represents something devious or even unchristian.

As a clergy person, I am not off the hook here.  I have to make that same commitment every day with the Christians that surround me.  I have to believe that the people around me, no matter what their behavior, are trying to grow in the image and likeness of Christ.

This comes up for me now in my thinking about discipleship because if that trust is not there at some level we will be stranded on our journeys unable to embrace the gift of community that Jesus gave us with his gift of the church because we are too busy protecting ourselves that we cannot be open to the direction of others.

One of the worst theologians of our time, Billy Joel says it well in his song A Matter of Trust:

I've lived long enough to have learned
The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned 
But that won't happen to us 
'Cause it's always been a matter of trust

Joel is talking about a different kind of love but we are talking about the powerful love of God in Jesus Christ, a love that we are called to share with each other.  That kind of love and that kind of trust will burn us sometimes, but if we don’t let go we will put a giant stumbling block in the path that leads us to recreation in God’s image.  Jesus surely knew that this kind of love had consequences but he also knew that the power and love of God was way greater than any human consequences.

May God bless you on your journey of discipleship.







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