Cultivating Trust

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Brian Wallace
Associate Minister for Emerging Ministries &
Acting Head of Staff
Thursday, November 9, 2023

Cultivating Trust

I had the good fortune of graduating from seminary and beginning my first full-time ministry role a month later, on July 1.  One of my first events, and I’m talking like two weeks in, was a Sr. High mission trip to Tennessee.  While there were other adults who were going, I was in charge of the trip.  Me, 25-year-old, just graduated from seminary me.  At that point in my life, I was better equipped to parse Greek verbs than lead a mission trip with high schoolers I had just met.  20+ kids, four vehicles (including one of those old school 15-passenger vans that was just a 12-passenger van with a 15-passenger body on it), a week of ladders, paint brushes, and hedge trimmers, all while running on fewer hours of sleep than any of us would like to admit.  And they let me be in charge of this? In hindsight, 17 years later, only one question comes to mind: What were the parents thinking?

The trip ended up being fine, even good.  Everyone got there and home safely, relationships were made, Jesus was worshipped, and kids grew in faith.  And, in hindsight, I’ve realized just how much those people must have trusted me.  If there’s one thing my extensive history of youth ministry has taught me, it’s about the importance of trust for ministry to be effective.  When I started that first ministry role, I knew earning the parent’s trust was paramount.  And not only with their kid’s physical well-being but also their emotional and spiritual well-being and that of their whole family.

One of the most truly striking (perhaps shocking?) New Testament stories is Jesus’ calling of his first disciples.  At face value, what transpires is just nuts.  A random dude (Jesus) is walking along and yells at a couple of guys in a boat to come and follow him, and they leave everything and do it.  New Testament Scholars tell us that that’s not exactly how it happened.  The more likely scenario is that the first disciples were aware of and had known of Jesus, mainly through John the Baptist, and so when Jesus called them, they responded with excitement and enthusiasm.  But even so, it’s a little nuts.  I mean, look, I’m not a big fan of the unknown and living in the moment, and I’ll admit that.  But even for my dear readers who are spur-of-the-moment, let’s go on an adventure at the drop of a hat types; you’ve gotten to admit it’s still a little crazy what happened.

As I reflect on those passages, there is only one plausible explanation: They trusted Jesus with their whole lives.  They didn’t know what was in store for them, but they trusted Jesus enough to take that chance.  For some of us, our stories of entering into ministry are along those same lines.  We weren’t sure about it, but we trusted Jesus enough to take the leap.

That’s the funny thing about trust: trust doesn’t mean believing that everything will go smoothly. Instead, it’s knowing that if/when an issue arises, the person can handle it appropriately.  I know everything didn’t go smoothly on the trips I led.  In my time, I’ve made a couple of trips to the ER/Urgent Care with kids (and sometimes leaders) for breaks, sprains, and even a concussion or two.  And now that I am on the sending end, where I am dropping kids off for youth group trips, I realize that ultimately, my trust isn’t that everything will be perfect, but that if it’s not, I trust the adults to make the right decisions and have my kids’ best interest in mind.  In short, trusting someone is believing that in everything they do, they will embody in their decision-making the second of the greatest commandments: To love others as ourselves.

As we turn the calendar toward November, we’re approaching the one-year mark in our Presbytery’s leadership transition.  Most of you will recall that we started our leadership transition process by completing the Landscape Study.  With the first significant steps in the transition process behind us (job description and position posting approved, revised purpose and strategy statements approved, special nominating committee off and running), I’ve begun to turn my attention to other aspects of the Landscape report.

In the “Future Priorities” section, respondents identified areas where they wanted additional energy placed.  The first, third, and fourth priorities all start similarly: “Equip…”  Those priorities make perfect sense and are easy to act on.  But the second priority is more nebulous and is the one that lives rent-free in my head: “Cultivate a higher level of trust within our Presbytery.”  And perhaps most striking and significant in my mind is the “Very High” rating assigned to this priority.  This means that, compared to other Presbyteries, we identified cultivating trust as being far more critical for our Presbytery than is typical.  To put it more directly (and to give a bit of my interpretation): People don’t sense a great deal of trust within the Presbytery.  To expand upon that, I offer two further interpretations:

  1. There isn’t a lot of trust within the Presbytery community
  2. Our members don’t have a lot of trust in the Presbytery’s system (staff, committees, and commissions)

From my perspective, I think both interpretations are true.  I could spend a lot of time surmising why that might be, but I’ll say for now: I’ve felt that lack of trust in numerous ways.  And, if I’m more blunt than I like to be, I’ll say this: Our lack of trust in each other and the system is detrimental to our mission and ministry.  If there’s a second lesson I’ve learned about ministry and trust it’s this: It’s hard to do anything, and even harder to do something and enjoy it if there isn’t trust within a group.

What I want to write next, I can’t.  I want to lay out the greatest three-step build-trust-in-the-Presbytery-plan that would wow and impress you.  I want it to be so good you’d bring it to your next Session meeting and talk about how brilliant of a plan it is.  But the truth is, I don’t have that plan, and even if I did, you wouldn’t be that impressed by it, and the off chance you were, it definitely wouldn’t work.  You can’t manufacture trust; you can only cultivate it.  And so, as I sit here, looking for a nice bow to wrap this letter up with, I feel unsettled.  I don’t like just naming issues and walking away.  It makes me uncomfortable.  But maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly how I should be feeling.  Sometimes, discomfort is good for us because it drives us to change.  That’s my hope anyway, and that’s my commitment to you: As long as I’m part of this Presbytery, regardless of my role, I’m going to do what I can to cultivate trust – both in the Presbytery system as well as within our community – and I hope you will too.  Not in the hope that our landscape scores will improve the next time around, but rather that a greater sense of trust might foster a stronger life together as a community and a more vital witness to Jesus Christ within our congregations.

In Christ,


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