The Scripture commands us to love our enemies but never to trust them. On the other hand, while we love our friends and family members, we know from experiences that they do disappoint us because they are human too. In an ideal world, love and trust go hand in hand. Since we live in a broken world, love and trust often do not go hand in hand. From our experience, we know that we trust some family members or friends more than others. How do we decide whom to trust more than others?
Criteria of Trustworthiness
There are at least three criteria. The first is competency (Pro 22:29). Although competency means different things in different contexts, we trust a person because he is skillful. The second is character. While people may have different standard about character, there are at least three qualities that defined a trustworthy character. The three qualities are truthfulness or honesty (Pro 12:19), a gentle tongue (Pro 15:4a) and a discerning ear (Pro 18:13). The third criterion is confidentiality (Pro 11:13). The author of Proverbs warns against breaking confidentiality. It can separate close friends (16:28). If a person regularly leaks others’ confidential information, this person’s trustworthiness will come to ruin (13:3, 18:7).
When a person meets these three criteria, our trust for this person will go up. On the other hands, if a person repeatedly fails to meet these criteria, our trust for this person will go down. Similarly, when a congregation like Praise fails to meet these three criteria, we will become a congregation that is less trustworthy. On the other hands, if we keep seeking to meet these criteria, we will become more trustworthy as a congregation.
A loving community must be a trustworthy community because if we love people, we would avoid doing things that betrayed their trust. This is the responsibility of every individual in the congregation, not just the pastors and elders. The trustworthiness profile of a congregation is tied to every individual in the congregation.
Since this is every member’s responsibility, there are congregational practices that every member is responsible to follow in order to increase the trustworthiness of the congregation. As our congregation becomes more trustworthy, this effect will benefit ourselves because we have a safe haven to share our personal struggles. The new friends will learn over time that they too can share their struggles in a safe environment. While we do not expect all individuals to share their needs publicly, our congregation must be a safe haven for people to share their struggles in small or big gatherings.
Congregational Practices that Build Trust
In the previous article, I already mentioned two congregational practices. First, we should avoid discussing in public gatherings the struggles or problems of other individuals. It should not be made into a prayer request unless prior permission is sought from the individual concern. If there is no permission, we should not mention the problem of the individual in public.
Second, we should avoid asking each other for an update about another individual’s problem. There is the danger of distortion when sharing is relayed. In addition, it is unhealthy to single out an individual as a topic of discussion in any big or small group gatherings. Nobody like to be in the limelight especially when he or she is struggling.
Besides these two practices, there are at least four other practices. The third practice is to talk about one’s own struggle instead of discussing about others. If I am willing to share my personal struggle, then others will be more open to share theirs. If I am willing to trust others to keep my sharing confidential, then others will be more open to trust me with their struggles. If I am willing to be honest with others, then others will be more willing to be honest with me. If I am willing to trust others to speak gently and listen discerningly to me when I shared my struggles, the others will trust me to be gentle and discerning toward them.
This brings us to the fourth practices. No one should compel anyone to share. If anyone does not want to share, we must respect the person’s decision. No manipulation or coercion must be used. If I shared my struggle, I must not insist that others do the same. Each one must be given the freedom of choice to voluntarily share or not to share. Anyone who shares is free to share at the level that he or she is comfortable. Trust must be given voluntarily.
The fifth practice is to pray with anyone who shares their struggles with you. The best way to pray is to ask the person how he or she wants you to pray for them. While we may have some ideas as to how we should pray, it would be better to ask the person. In this way, we are encouraging the person to share what he or she needs spiritually to overcome their struggle.
The sixth practice is to assume that all personal matters shared is confidential. When a person is sharing their deep struggle, this person may not be thinking straight or be aware of their own vulnerability. Regardless of the person’s emotional condition, we are building trust when we assume that every personal matter being shared is confidential. This means we should not share with others what we have heard. The responsibility, then, is on the listener to keep it confidential.
There are only three exceptional conditions where we might seriously consider breaking confidentiality. The first is that we have sufficient reasons to believe that there is a high chance for a person to attempt suicide. In such situation, there is a need to ask for intervention. Anyone who is involved in the intervention is to keep it confidential.
The second is that we have sufficient reasons to believe that another person might be able to help the person in need. The discussion is restricted to how best to help the person in need. If the discussion could be made without name being mentioned, this would be better although it not possible in every situation. This discussion with the other person must remain confidential.
The third is that we find ourselves trapped by the person whom we are helping. We sense that the relationship is no longer healthy between us and the person in need. We are being drained spiritually and emotionally by the relationship. Then, it is better to seek help from a few persons who can help us. The discussion is restricted to how best we can take care of ourselves so that we do not burn out. The discussion with others who are helping us should also be confidential.
This practice of maintaining confidentiality must be pursued by everyone in the congregation. The practice applies to all sharing with regard to personal’s struggle with sins or about one’s private life. It is a thumb of rule to assume that every personal matter is confidential unless permission has been given to share.
Personal Practices that Build Trust
The above congregational practices are what everyone needs to practice in the congregation. As an individual, we need to develop good habits so that others may trust us. The three criteria of trustworthiness apply to each of us.
The criterion of competency applies to every member. In the context of the church, we are not expecting every member to be skilful in knowing everything or in doing many things. In 1st Peter 4:10-11, Peter makes it clear that each believer should use their gift to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. The goal of serving one another is “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” This implies that believers are to glorify God with what they have, and not what they don’t have.
Competency, in the context of the church, is to be skilful in our service to one another. In some ministries, to be skilful means attending training to be equipped. In other services, to be skilful means learning well the rope of what you are doing, such as operating the projector, serving as ushers, or learning a new song as backup singers. In other situations, to be skilful means coming for practices or rehearsal such as choir rehearsal or worship practices or doing a trial run on an outreach project. Thus, each believer is to become skilful in what they are doing for one another.
The second criterion is character. Besides the qualities of honesty, a gentle tongue and a discerning ear, the characteristics of love in 1st Corinthians 13:4-7, the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and the Christian virtues in 2nd Peter 1:5-8 are benchmark for our character. We need to ask God for grace to grow toward such characteristics, fruit and virtues. When we are consistently exhibiting these characteristics, it will encourage others to trust us more.
The third criterion is described in Proverbs 11:12-13. The author of Proverbs exhorts us to be a person of understanding. Such an understanding person will remain silent and will keep a thing covered (confidential). An understanding person will not belittle another person by revealing secrets. Although in many situations a person who leaks secret (confidential matter) may mean no harm, the author of proverbs describes such a person as lacking sense and is slandering others. Thus, it is prudent to restrain one’s lips rather than talking too much, and increasing the possibility of leaks (Pro 10:19).
If our goal is to become a loving and caring community, we must establish trust among ourselves. Individually, we must work toward becoming a trustworthy person, being skilful in our service, growing in godly character and being a person who restrains the lips. As a congregation, we avoid discussing about another’s personal struggle or problem in small or big groups. Instead, we focus on talking about our own problem or struggle. We maintain strict confidentiality in all personal and private matter shared.