Recently, I had a great conversation with some friends I've been talking with about forming missional communities (extended families on mission with God together). One asked how do we hold people accountable to do what they say they are going to do. I answered that a signed, detailed covenant is my tool of choice. That sparked an hour conversation about the pros and cons of covenants. I won't recount that fiery conversation here. But I will share my thoughts on covenants in churches and missional communities a few days after it.
In no particular order...
The Missional Community (MC) process lets the members who are “all in” shape their covenant. The covenant answers the question:
“What are we committing to as an extended family on mission this year?"
The covenant expresses and clarifies who’s “All in” and what they’re “All in” on. It’s clarifying the vision (for that church or MC) and how we’re going to flesh it out together.
The covenant is for those who are “in”. It’s not for anyone else. Like disciples showed they were committed to following Jesus, we show our intentions beginning with a signature or public acknowledgement.
Seth, my ministry coach, said, "It's funny that people will willingly sign a contract to get a mortgage but they won't sign a covenant for the mission amongst family."
Yes, it does create categories or levels between those who choose to commit and those who don’t yet. I believe this is ok.
Jesus had levels of access as well. He had the 72, "the 12" and even the 3. This could easily have seemed like he was playing favorites. In fact, there are indications in the gospels that the other 9 disciples were jealous of the 3 (Peter, James and John). In Jesus' mind, he was simply giving more time to those who he perceived or observed were more committed or “All in.” The covenant has this clarifying effect.
It’s not about the signature. You don’t have to sign anything. But a visual nod or audible "I'm in" tells others making the same commitment that you’re “All in.” How else can we know who’s in and who’s not. I think this matters.
It's okay to have some who are still working through the concept of being a family on mission together and the associated commitments. If you are always bringing in new people to Christ, this will be a normal part of the rhythm of your missional community.
A covenant clarifies what a “win” for our family on mission is. That’s why it’s specific. Vague covenants leave you wondering if you accomplished anything.
Specifics on the covenant should be things you have control over.
For example, you don't have control over how many people you lead to Christ in a year. But you do have control over how many times you attempt to share Christ's gospel with people over the next year. You can measure both but you can't control how many trust Christ.
Signing a covenant that includes something like, "I will share the gospel 12X/year" is simply a tool to help keep what's important in front of it. It's like coming up with your own goals for 2016 and then signing them. It just solidifies your resolve and adds gravity to something that you deem very important. The signature adds weight. (That's why we're talking about it.) Therefore, it has the power to add gravity to something that deserves it.
Sure it can become twisted into a legalistic hammer or source of religious pride. That's why we remind ourselves and each other that it's all about grace. God is the one who graces us to succeed. He gets the credit. Even in this, the covenant can reveal our heart and again be a good tool for leading us to holiness and obedience rooted in faith.
We must be careful comparing a business (job) to the church. The church is a community of people linked together by the covenant of Christ. It is inclusive. It's NOT based on performance. It's based on being saved into the family of God by grace through faith. A business is not inclusive--it's exclusive. You apply, interview and are chosen to be hired. Then to maintain your employment you must perform. If you don't, you're let go. Accountability is important in both. But your place in the community is secure in one (Church) but not the other (job).
At the end of the day, our life is living in such a way that we make Dad visible to the world showing him off in all his glory through the way we think, speak and live. Are you doing this? Is this your mindset? That's what it means to live for the glory of God.
We remember who we are (child of God, child of the King). We show Dad off. We show Jesus off. We shine the spotlight on him. That's what we do because that's who we are. We get to be his kids. My prayer is that we'll use every tool necessary, by God's grace, to become more faithful families on mission with God together.