The elders, including the Minister, were responsible for spiritual matters. They made their decisions after praying together. They didn’t trust the deacons, who seemed to work more on business principles without much time for prayer. The deacons were responsible for administrative and financial matters, and sought to make their decisions based on governance best practice. They didn’t trust the elders who, from their perspective, didn’t use much common sense when making decisions.

A made-up illustration? Sadly not. A one-off situation? If only that were true!

In every church there is a group who have trustee responsibilities, whether or not the church is registered individually as a charity. The clue is in the name: Trustee! Trust is fundamental to their role, and in Baptist churches it is usually the responsibility of the deacons.

Trust must be earned

There was a time when most people trusted a church Minister or doctor. Not anymore! Ministers and those in other church leadership roles now have to earn the trust of their congregation and local community, and sometimes even of each other. The disagreement between the elders and deacons quoted above was damaging the whole church.

Daniel and Nehemiah both give us excellent biblical models of people who were trusted. When the king planned to set Daniel over his whole kingdom, there was an outcry. However, his opponents:

could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
(Daniel 6:4)

Nehemiah had the huge responsibility of being cupbearer to another king. Wall building was way out of his experience, and to accomplish the task he made massive demands on the residents of Jerusalem. They trusted him, that his vision of rebuilding the wall was achievable. When it was completed, his enemies:

realised that this work had been done with the help of our God.
(Nehemiah 6:16)

Trust inside and outside the church

Trust matters. Inside the church, the biblical principle of unity needs to go beyond agreeing on theology. It should impact our relationships, how we treat one another and how we make decisions. In a Baptist context it needs to be quite clear who is responsible for which decisions: the Minister, the elders, the deacons or the church meeting? Are those decisions recorded in a way which would stand up to scrutiny if necessary? Trust is vital to vision and strategy: if a congregation doesn’t understand or agree with the direction the church is taking it can quickly lead to disunity or worse. Setting, agreeing and communicating vision is so important, though there’s no space here to expand on that!

Dealing with the nitty-gritty of governance can seem a time-consuming and irrelevant chore. The increasing legislation on safeguarding, employment or health and safety can feel as though the work of God in our community is being restricted. But being trustworthy demands that we not only tackle such issues, but are seen to do so. Are local parents certain that the church club is a safe place where their children won’t be abused? Are parents assured that a youth outing has been carefully planned and risk-assessed? Do those who use the kitchen equipment know how to do so safely? Pretending these things don’t matter fails to honour God and can damage our outreach.

More and more churches are involved in social action locally, especially since Covid. That is built on trust: ‘What you are offering us is valuable and you won’t take advantage of us.’ What’s more, social action can be prophetic. It says to the community, ‘We care about you’, and to local authorities, ‘We support our community in some of the ways you can’t’. Above all, it is a practical demonstration of God’s love. But it can involve taking risks.

Risk taking

When Daniel became aware of the new law forbidding prayer to anyone except the king, what did he do? He prayed in front of his open window as usual (Daniel 6:10)! He finished up in the lions’ den as a result, but God was honoured in the outcome. Nehemiah faced determined enemies, but he brought in strategies which enabled the work to continue (Nehemiah 4:9).

It is negligent to ignore health and safety regulations or fail to make sure a safeguarding policy is being implemented. However, some ministry inherently involves risk, for example working with prostitutes, the homeless or drug addicts. Churches can also be ambivalent about financial risks. Do we start the new building project before we have all the money? Dare we set a negative budget if we believe God is calling us to take a specific path?

Trust underlines so much of what we do in churches, from vision to preaching, youth work to community action. It is fundamental to our faith, and it needs to undergird how we work out that faith day to day.


Heather Wraight

Heather Wraight has served as a Baptist deacon and as a trustee for multiple charities.

Drawing on this extensive experience, she has written a comprehensive, biblically based book for trustees of churches and Christian charities, called Tracks of Trustworthiness. It deals in depth with the issues raised in this article, as well as many others – visit her website where you can read a chapter and order a copy. This valuable book is also available from bookshops and online retailers.



Tracks of Trustworthiness: Biblical and contemporary insights for church or charity trustees

Are you a charity trustee or PCC member?

Fulfilling such legal roles with skill and integrity is fundamental to the success of any charity or ministry, and can feel like a daunting task – but this need not be the case.

Sharing incisive examples from her own and others’ experience and looking at the lives and administrative gifts of Nehemiah and Daniel, Heather Wraight shows us how being a Christian trustee need not be a burden to carry but a privilege to fulfil. With clarity and precision, Heather outlines trustee responsibilities, both legal and otherwise, and provides carefully researched examples of how they can be met together with a comprehensive guide to further resources.

Whether it’s running and preparing for meetings, succession planning, overseeing budgets, or adjusting to statutory changes, this book reveals distinctive, well-worn tracks of trustworthiness that Christian trustees can confidently follow.

Published October 2020 (Instant Apostle), £10.99 / £6.99 Kindle


Photo by Ronda Dorsey on Unsplash


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