“One day, while my son Zac and I were out in the country, climbing around in some cliffs, I heard a voice from above me yell, ‘Hey Dad! Catch me!’ I turned around to see Zac joyfully jumping off a rock straight at me. He had jumped and then yelled ‘Hey Dad’ I became an instant circus act, catching him. We both fell to the ground. For a moment after I caught him I could hardly talk. When I found my voice again, I gasped in exasperation: ‘Zac! Can you give me one good reason why you did that???’
He responded with remarkable calmness: ‘Sure, because you’re my Dad.’ His complete assurance was based on the fact that his father was trustworthy. He could live life to the hilt because I could be trusted. Isn’t this even more true for a Christian?” -Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat
In the previous post, I have been approaching the concept of race relations from a theoretical point of view. However, in this post, I want to give you some practical things to help make the task seem less daunting. When we work with congregations who ask us for the magic bullet to reach their community, we have just one word for them. If you want to know the secret to be relevant in your community, come closer, and I will tell you. A little closer. The secret is RELATIONSHIPS!
John Maxwell once said about leadership, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Any hope we have of overcoming racial tension, any hope of seeing beyond color, is based on our ability to build authentic relationships. On to the task at hand, how do you develop a circle of trust? I believe there are five key elements.
1. Establish and maintain integrity.
It is the foundation of trust in any relationship. Integrity, by definition, means keeping promises and always telling the truth, no matter how difficult it might be. It is so easy in a relationship not to say what needs to be said. We do that because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. However, if we are going to have an authentic relationship we need to have the freedom to share open and honest truths. If the relationship you are developing has integrity, it can stand the test of time.
2. Open and Clear Communication is important.
I love this quote; it so often defines what happens. We communicate in general. “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Do you ever feel that way when you are talking to someone very different than yourself? That what they heard is not at all what you meant. As the relationship develops with people from diverse backgrounds, you learn as you spend more time in an authentic relationship to interpret what people are saying. In the beginning, there is lots of time devoted to explaining what you meant. So be patient with each other.
3. Consider each other as equal partners in the relationship.
Trust is established when you begin this relationship as equals. Now that may sound strange, but often we enter into a relationship with a sense of superiority. “I have something valuable to offer you.” If the relationship begins with a hierarchical mindset it will start at a huge disadvantage for both parties. You don’t develop authentic, healthy relationships when one partner feels superior. It is hard to respect and find value in someone you think is beneath you.
4. Focus on shared interest and values.
When you are developing a relationship, it helps if you can focus on your similarities rather than always focusing on that which makes you diverse. What do you both commonly value? God? Family? Golf? What are the things you have in common? What are your passions, your fears, your struggles? What lessons have you learned from a shared experience that might help the person you are building this new fledgling relationship better understand? It is often in this situation that the deepest and strongest connections will be formed, through the fires of trials.
5. Be willing to be vulnerable regardless of personal risk.
How does that look? It requires a willingness to be transparent, authentic and willing to share your mistakes and faults. When you are vulnerable and have nothing to hide, you radiate trust.
In closing, for those who thought the theoretical was hard, now we get down to the nuts and bolts. If you want to change the culture, it happens slowly, over time, through forming deep and authentic communities, one relationship at a time. I pray you keep following. I believe in the power of the Almighty God; he can use us to change the world.
Another blog post in this series: