By: Rev. Craig Shepperd
In the 2000 comedy hit, Meet the Parents, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller’s character) meets his future in-laws for the first time. Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) wants to make sure Greg is worthy of his daughter. Jack lays out several tests for Greg to pass to insure he is capable of being inside the family circle of trust. For many, church life seems to be a struggle of finding one’s place in the circle of trust. Often what is experienced is the most “overpromised and underdelivered” aspect of church: community.
So, how do we formulate a community of trust? This will not be an exhaustive offering by any stretch of the imagination. However, let me offer steps to guide our journey in community.
Warmth: “Warm is the new cool.” People want to know they are more than invited, and they are more than just a number. They want a safe place to belong to. Warm relationship trumps programming. One pastor in the Growing Young research admitted, “We can hire and buy cool, but we can’t hire or fake warmth.” I would urge churches to consider warmth as not only a part of their welcoming team, coffee in the lobby, or the free gift they offer to first time guests. Moreover, it is the ongoing hospitality and openness provided to allow others time and space to be included and discover how they belong. For warmth to truly occur, adoption into the body has to occur.
Time: Most of us have committed to one day a week for less than two hours and called that “church”. If we would actually look at the habits of churchgoers, we would find even the best parishioners only attend on average of two to three times a month. That is not a lot of time to build trust. Trust requires presence. Community, communion, and comraderie along with spiritual transformation take place incrementally over time with others. We cannot sidestep the process of getting to know others and allowing others to get to know us.
Vulnerability: Ruth Haley Barton states, “In community, others become agents of God’s troubling grace for our further growth and transformation, and we become the same for them; as each part functions properly, it promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). For this to occur there has to be vulnerability present. Vulnerability is the giving of you to the other, and at the same time receiving the other for who they are. Psychologist Brenee Brown states, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” Vulnerability is hard work, and it does not happen over night. Yet, I am convinced most of us want a place where we feel safe to expose who we truly are, and the weight we carry. The Church as a Community of trust ought to be THE place for this difficult work to occur. “If you have no honesty, you have no intimacy. If you have no intimacy, you have no community.” Community starts with our willingness to be honest with who we truly are in the light of Jesus Christ. When we risk this adventure, intimacy and community follow in time.
Treasure: We must learn to value the journey of those who we are in community with. We find our treasure first in Christ, and second through the community he has placed us in. Every person has something to offer us if we will pay attention to how God is using them. “It seems that one of the main reasons we are confused about community is that we make it primarily about us—our experiences and feelings, our natural affinities, our life situation, what we think we want or need…”
Story: We offer our own story told with grace and truth, humility and authenticity. We discover then in community that God is intersecting our story with His story. We learn over time God is taking our story and He is grafting it into His story, which also happens to be the story of the Church. “The more stories—shaped and framed by the biblical story—the church provides, the more opportunities people have to ‘story’—frame and reframe—their experiences of God in more nuanced ways.” Proclaiming the biblical story equips folks with the language to interpret and share their experiences of God. We must share story.
Experience: We are relational creatures. The pandemic has reminded us even the biggest introvert among us needs some social interaction occasionally. Thus, we formulate trust not only through the stories we share, but the experiences that shape those stories. The more shared experiences we create the more intimacy is developed.
Questions: “Transforming community continues to unfold and deepen among us as we ask good questions and learn how to stand still and wait with one another in the midst of shattered hopes and dreams and the great unfixables of life.” We often feel it is our Christian duty to fix things or offer advice. This may or may not be helpful. We too quickly forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Over time we learn we are not just listening for the other’s sake, but we are also listening to the voice of God. The art of questioning and listening must come full circle. One of the primary functions of transforming community is to be a community of discernment “in which we assist one another in noticing and eliminating the obstacles to such seeing.”
Servanthood: In an unbelievable act of humility, hospitality, and service we see Jesus in John 13 wash the feet of his disciples. It was the role of a servant, and the master is willing to take it on in order that we as his students may know this is the posture we are to embody. Trust becomes easier when we serve one another.
Again, you may want to add your own characteristics that lead to a trusting community. I think we are probably just getting started. If we truly want to be a Church where we are a community we have to build trust. It is hard work. We are a messy people, but we serve a trustworthy God who is shaping us in His image. May we become the people God has called us to be.
 Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, Brad Griffin. Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 2016. 163.
 Powell, Mulder, Griffin. 168.
 Ruth Haley Barton. Life Together in Christ: Experience Transformation in Community. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP), 2014. 13.
 Brenee Brown. “The Best Brenee Brown Quotes on Vulnerability, love, and Belonging.”
https://bookriot.com/2018/04/16/brene-brown-quotes/ April 16, 2018. (Last accessed on April 21, 2020.)
 Scott Cormode. Lecture at Growing Young Cohort Summit. Feb. 14, 2020.
 Barton. 21.
 Brandon K. McKoy. Youth Ministry from the Outside In: How Relationships and Stories Shape Identity. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP), 2013. 28.
 Barton. 55.
 Barton 141.