Clergy and congregations are in an awkward dance together these days as they suffer from anxiety and conflict inside and outside the walls of the church. These concerns have existed for generations, but the price of r the conflict has gone up.

These changes have landed unbidden on the shores of congregations as they live in a liminal period of social change. Long-held religious assumptions on complicated social issues have been opened up for re-examination in a time not faced in the last few generations.

From Distrust to Trust: Controversies and Conversations in Faith Communities, Matthew B. Sturtevant and Timothy J. Bonner, Judson Press, 2023

From Distrust to Trust is written to help congregations encounter these shifts with honest dialogue and hopeful trust. This book ably describes health-giving trust as a means to explore these changes. It is a helpful guide in examining the power of trust in a congregation. The authors, Matthew B. Sturtevant and Timothy J. Bonner, are both active participants in the community of the church.

From Distrust to Trust is not meant to be a book of solutions but is rather an exploration of processes to help congregational leaders determine how a healthy conversation can be held on controversial topics. As the authors admit, “Churches do not practice trust-building by accident.” These are animated conversations because the stakes are so high.

At the core of this book, there is the issue of health both for church staff and lay leadership as they navigate the troubled waters of racial justice, vaccination and relationship distinctions, generally represented by the welcoming and affirming issues, and opposing political differences on a wide array of issues. Many churches are actively engaging in these conversations, but many others are being forced to consider how they will respond as a congregation.

From Distrust to Trust explores how the congregation understands the vibrant diversity of the other, recognizing that how this is done demonstrates its capacity to practice elasticity. The authors paint a compelling picture of the community of God that can flex with those who affiliate and seek to practice their faith together.

Building trust is the pathway congregational leaders can take to intentionally open up this vibrant diversity. Clearly, these steps along the pathway of building trust are spiritual steps that allow the congregation to serve God and build fellowship with one another until they come to experience the trust that will allow them to open themselves up to others in their midst.

On the pathway from mistrust to trust, congregational leaders are encouraged to draw upon the resources of their faith by exploring vulnerability, taking risks, and deepening interpersonal relationships in the congregation.

The authors are diligent researchers bringing together resources to stimulate congregational leaders who work to create meaningful conversations that the faith community might consider. The authors are practitioners in the church and wisely recognize that churches come in all sizes and all dispositions. 

But their conversations are remarkably similar in that they all face the challenge of a spirited conversation with the wish that they find solutions and avoid the problem of fighting over issues which can lead to division.

We are living in a time of ever-deepening complexities that challenge the internal culture of the church. We will not agree on all things and must contend with the reality that we need to navigate these complicated issues with truth and commitment.

Matthew B. Sturtevant and Timothy J. Bonner’s From Distrust to Trust: Controversies and Conversations in Faith Communities recognizes the need and offers a thoughtful response.

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