How to Build Trust in New Relationships
In October of 2016 (six weeks from this blog posting), the next Division on Ministries with Young People (DMYP) will meet for the first time. The DMYP is a representative body of the global United Methodist Church. It is a group of around 40 people. Teams of three, representing the US jurisdictions and Central Conferences, make up the DMYP. Each team is made up of one youth, one young adult, and one adult worker. The DMYP also includes two members of the UM Student Movement steering committee and up to three additional members to provide inclusiveness and balance. These names are provided to our staff from the various jurisdictions, conferences, and organizations they represent. Our staff brings them together four times over the course of four years, coordinating international travel in the process. This collection of people, who speak many different languages, will work with the staff of our office (Young People’s Ministries of Discipleship Ministries) to connect young people to God, the church, and the world over the next four years.
The Division on Ministries with Young People starts as a collection of people, seeking to know each other and understand their purpose. This diverse group of leaders sees many of the challenges faced by organizers at all levels of the church. At local, district, conference, and jurisdictional levels, teams of strangers are tasked with making decisions, ordering the life of the church, and living into the mission of the UMC, all while having limited meeting time and lots of other “life” to navigate.
Admittedly, each Division is different. Therefore, the process of becoming a productive group will differ. However, in my experience at different levels of the church, developing trust and relationship early on in the life of a team is key to any future productivity. This idea actually has some historical Methodist roots in the concept of “Holy Conferencing” or “Christian Conferencing.” John Wesley, along with other early leaders of the Methodist movement, included conferencing as a part of an active faith life. They made time to get to know each other, asking deep questions like “How is it with your soul?” and supported each other in their lives as Christians. The ability to keep each other accountable in faith development sprang from their familiarity with each other and their shared commitment to a common goal – the transformation of their lives and the transformation of the world.
Young people that we gather today and task with the leadership of the church can share the same goal: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Leaders today will perform at their best in groups, when they know each other first. They must know more than first names. Young leaders will inevitably engage in some vital conversations and difficult decisions during their time together. No matter how regularly a group meets, you as the convener should offer intentional time, space, and activities for the individuals to encounter and learn about each other as fellow Christians on the same journey. Invite the individuals to share about their home churches, culture, who they represent, and hopes and struggles in faith. These activities plant seeds that can bloom into trust through problem-solving activities or team building.
Leadership in groups like the DMYP means the ability to engage in meaningful conversations, openly hear different points of view, and build consensus. Those three things can only happen when a familiarity and trust has been built among the individuals in the group.
As you bring together teams of young leaders, take a cue from the founders of Methodism. Craft intentional space for the individuals on the team to know each other and their similarities before they know their differences. Build trusting relationships around a shared goal so that difficult conversations are voiced and heard faithfully. Allow time for everyone to share with each other about how their life reflects their faith.
Only in trust can we hold each other, and the mission of the church, up for introspection and guidance.