This is excerpted from Psyche and Spirit, a web-based journal of brief clergy wellness articles for busy pastors. We are inviting our congregation to consider signing this covenant as part of their Lenten discipline.
There is meant to be a healing power in Christian community, but often it is a source of wounding as well. Part of what shapes our behavior and helps us keep each other in line is the agreements we have about how we will act. Many businesses have behavioral agreements that help with things like gossip and triangulation. Here is a copy of the behavioral covenant that I worked up to help promote civil behavior in congregations. Many of our readers have reported positive results from the use of such covenants.
Congregational Behavioral Covenant
by Arden Mahlberg
As members of the Christian community of _________ Church in __________, ________, we, being sinners and falling short, agree, with the help of God, to relate to each other through Christ, and thus hold ourselves and each other to:
Listen to each other. "Let everyone be quick to hear and slow to speak..." James 1:19. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has stated: "The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them." Life Together p. 97
Respect the Privacy of Those Who Confide. "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret." Proverbs 11:13
Challenge each other with the truth. Be willing to confront when it is important. "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love." Ephesians 4:15-16
Deal with people directly; don't complain to others. "If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you." Matthew 18:15. If someone complains to you about another member, help that person follow this principle.
Strengthen each other. "[Speak] only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29) Likewise, the test of true fellowship is to "make the individual free, strong and mature," not "weak and dependent." Bonhoeffer, p.88
Be gentle with one another. "My friends, you are spiritual. So if someone is trapped in sin, you should gently lead that person back to the right path. But watch out, and don’t be tempted yourself." Galatians: 6:1
Do not speak ill of others in the fellowship. "Do not grumble about each other or you will be judged, and the judge is right outside the door." James 5:9
Do not judge each other. "Some of you accuse others of doing wrong. But there is no excuse for what you do. When you judge others, you condemn yourselves, because you are guilty of doing the very same things." Romans 2:1
Pray for one another. James 5:16
Confess One's Wrongs to Another. James 5:9
Forgive One Another. "Give and it will be given to you." Luke 6:38
Freely participate in the Body of Christ according to our gifts and talents. "Freely you have received, freely give." Matthew 10:8
(Add items important to your situation.)
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