Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Covenant Clarification: What a covenant is and why we are using them.

Recently our church has instituted a signing of covenants for those who are committing to ministry which has met with some resistance and/or questioning.  The term covenant, a word which most people know, is not used regularly in today's society.  It shouldn't be a common word tossed around for it entails a deep understanding of commitment.  Unfortunately commitment is another concept which this generation struggles with.  So it is very understandable as to why so many people have a problem with or at least a question about the term itself and the use of covenants within a church.

Christians are very wary of anything that is not "traditional."  Covenants can be seen as something legalistic, guilt-laden and/or some type of strong-arm tactic.  To be honest, the institution of covenants are like many other things.  They can be spawned by pure or harmful intentions.  Our hope is that our pure intentions are clearly seen.  But before I go any further...

What is a covenant?  Simply put, a covenant is a promise or agreement.  It can be one or two sided.  Examples of covenants are found all throughout scripture.  God made a covenant with Abraham that involved two parties.  As long as Abraham did his part in obeying God, God would keep his promise.  The covenant God made with the earth after the flood is an example of a one sided covenant.  God promised that he would never flood the earth again.

Covenants can be verbal or written.  In Old Testament scripture most covenants were verbal, but they were usually accompanied by some type of ceremony that helped establish the importance of the covenant in each of the covenant party's mind.  With Abraham God did an elaborate ceremony that involved the sacrifice of an animal, the dividing of the animal in half and the passing of the parties between the two halves.  In the case of the covenant made after the flood God memorialized it in the minds of man through the rainbow.

Covenants are different then oaths.  A covenant is a promise to do something.  An oath may involve a promise, but it differs from a covenant in that a person invokes God's name, or some substitute for it, to guarantee the truth of one's statement.  This is usually done because there is a question concerning a person's integrity.  This is pointed out for the reason that some may argue that Scripture says to let your yes be yes and your no be no.  This is in reference to oaths, not covenants.  A Christian should present themselves in such a way where their integrity should never be called into question.

Another question could be raised concerning covenants in the Bible.  If most of the covenants were verbal covenants then why a written covenant.  As was stated, most covenants had some type of act that went with them.  The signing of a written covenant is merely an act that helps solidify the agreement being made.  It continues to be a promise that is stated without an oath.  The signing does not call into question someone's integrity.  It is simply an act, alongside the covenant being made, which serves to solidify the promise within the minds of those making it.

Honestly, covenants are made everyday and actions go with them.  Whenever a two people come to an agreement and shake a covenant has been made.  It can be as simple as that.

The decision to use written covenants does not call into question a person's integrity.  It does serve to inform as to what is going to be required of a person who is volunteering in a ministry for an indefinite period of time.  Because of the "indefiniteness" of the ministry it has been decided to limit the covenant to at most a year in order to give a person the opportunity to choose whether they will continue to serve in the same capacity or serve in other areas of interest or other ministry.

The signing of the written covenant is the act we have chosen to solidify the commitment being made within the minds of the ministry leaders and the ministry volunteer.  It is not a legal binding document.  It will not be used in a manner as to be held over a volunteer's head.  Again, it is the act chosen to solidify the commitment.

Hopefully this clears up any misconceptions of what a covenant is and will help people see the value of covenants with in ministry.  They solidify the commitment being made.  They help prevent volunteers from getting burned out or feeling that they are stuck in a ministry they no longer feel committed to, and they will hopefully prevent ministry leaders from getting burned by volunteers who are not truly committed.  It is our desire that everyone views their ministry they serve in as covenant worthy.  If they cannot be "covenant committed" to a particular ministry then they should reconsider joining that ministry and find one where they can be "covenant committed."  God deserves our best.


Anonymous said...

PB Thanks for the definition,It helped as far as understanding the term, But I still have a question,Is it our place as meer mortals to make a covenant with the church? My Fear would be that what if I were to fail for whatever reason,how guilty I would feel for letting my church family down.I guess I am talking about fear of failure on behalf of the lord, I'm new at this, so please forgive my ignorance of the Bible.Still Praising God and asking for understanding.

Pastor Brian B Van Dyke said...

I think you have a great question. I can easily see how someone would be afraid of failure. The honest truth is, we all fail. None of us are perfect even after receiving Christ. I think it is something we need to accept. Jesus isn't looking for perfection because he knows we can't be perfect. He is looking for commitment and our best try. We have worded our covenants in such a way where we have tried to express this. We completely understand that a person could get into something and not realize that they really don't have the time they thought, and we know that life just gets in the way sometimes preventing a person from staying committed. The best thing is just to be honest with oneself. Hopefully these covenants will help with honesty. Too many Christians feel like they are failing and honestly don't know how to handle it. The best way to handle failure is open communication and honesty. The nice thing about failure is we always learn from it and we wouldn't know what success is unless we have tasted failure. Just do your best!!! That's what God wants.

Anonymous said...

We, personally, don't have any issues with signing a "Covenant Agreement." Volunteers need to recognize that they are COMMITTING to a ministry and that the ministry head is counting on them to be there when they are supposed to be. When I was over the Nursery Ministry, and scheduled nursery workers, for example, I had to KNOW they were serious about their committment and that I could count on the volunteers to be there when they were scheduled to take care of the children. On occassion, volunteers would not show or call and whoever happened to notice no one was in Nursery would step up and fill in the vacancy. But, it gave newcomers the impression that the Nursery was flakey and undependable. That's bad.

Also, years ago, before we were tithers, the church we attended had us complete a tithe pledge card. They needed to know how much income they expected so they could plan their annual budget. It was because of that "pledge" (covenant) that we got into the habit of faithfully giving God the first 10% of the income which He provided for us.