Trust doesn’t just happen. Trust is earned. Trust is learned. This is the heart of Dr Amy Valdez Barker’s exploration of trust in her timely book Trust by Design: the Beautiful Behaviors of an Effective Church Culture (Abingdon, 2017).
The importance of trust
Trust is essential for the effective working of any social relationships. Dr Valdez Barker names the painful reality that in many churches, including her own, trust has broken down. As a result there is discord, division and hopelessness about the future. However, she refuses to lose hope and calls her readers to find the foundations for trust through their trust in God. Ultimately trust is an act of faith. Faith that God has designed a world in which trust is possible and necessary.
The thesis of Trust by Design
Trust by Design looks at Biblical examples of change and contemporary examples of where systems of trust are being designed. Then this material is followed by opportunity for personal reflection.
Readers are encouraged to recognise that the lack of trust in their context. And to see that it is due to the absence of the faith foundations on which trust is built. Through the chapter headings trust and faith; trust and hope, trust and love Christians are called to examine the quality of their discipleship – personal and corporate; and to identify the places where the foundations of trust are lacking.
Faith in God’s goodness leads us to trust. When there is faith in God that makes it possible to have trust in others who bear the name of Christ. Hope makes it possible to trust as we believe that our actions play a part in making our hopes to come to realization. Having hope / goals provides us with paths / steps that we can take, confident that we have some agency in bringing about that for which God hopes.
At pages 59 and 60 Dr Valdez Barker calls out Christians. “We have fallen out of love with one another.” Our lack of love for each other “has caused us to distrust one another and the institutions that once held us together.”
How to use this book
Readers are offered a tool through which to diagnose the theological / faith reasons for why there is a lack of trust in their community. Her hope is that once recognised, leaders will work at rebuilding the faith in God, lack of hope and the abandonment of love that has resulted in a breakdown of trust. The book would have been helpful to a wider audience by the inclusion of some practical tools and guidance about how this might be done. Not everyone is able to devise the ways of doing this theological work and some worksheets or illustrations would have been helpful.
As I read the book I was moved to prayer and reflection. I remembered situations where trust was lacking in my life – in me or others. My mind raced with examples and wonderings about what to do in the face of these realities. I wanted a prayer journal next to me so that I could write down the people, places and things that the text was bringing to mind. I encourage readers to use this book as a devotional text. It can draw you into deep prayer and honest reflection about your part in the trust systems of your church.
The author understands very well that it is hard to restore broken trust. So she offers many examples about how trust is formed and rebuilt in society, as well as churches.
In the face of sad and harsh realities Dr Valdez Barker refuses to let the members of her church off lightly. She challenges them that it is not an option to decide to not trust each other. In this way she takes the stance of the Old Testament prophet. She calls out the unfaithfulness of God’s people and points them to what the living God expects of them.
At the end of the day trust is not an optional extra in the Christian life. Trust is a core practice that arises from faith. Belief in God’s goodness, the hope and the capacity for love that God has put in us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes trust a core test of our faithfulness to Jesus.