The start of a new year is a good time for Covenant Discipleship groups to evaluate and, perhaps, revise their covenant. The group covenant is not a static document. Its purpose is to center the group members in their daily witness to Jesus Christ in the world. As time passes and relationships develop within the group it’s natural and expected that the discipleship of members will change and grow. If the covenant is going to meet the needs of the group, it too needs to change and grow.
- Do you have clauses that are routine for everyone in the group? By this I mean week after week everyone in the group reports doing that act of compassion, justice, worship or devotion.
- Do you have a clause the group regularly neglects? Is there a clause you and other members of the group either cannot or will not do?
- Does your covenant have a clause that is clumsy, out dated, unclear, or poorly written?
- As you read the covenant preamble do you feel it no longer reflects the character or goals of the group?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then it’s time to revise your group’s covenant. A good place to begin is for the group to get copies of Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation through Mutual Accountability by David Lowes Watson and read Chapter 7 (“Writing a Covenant). This provides a helpful refresher on the purpose, character, and structure of the covenant. It is essential that the group keep the covenant revision process centered in Jesus Christ and shaped by the General Rule of Discipleship:
To witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Begin the process of revising your covenant by re-familiarizing the group with the General Rule. “Drawing on the early Methodist General Rules and on the theological principles of John Wesley, the General Rule is designed to provide faithful disciples with a simple and straightforward method for Christian living in the world” (David Lowes Watson, Covenant Discipleship, page 81). The General Rule and the group covenant are centered in Jesus and equipping his disciples to lead the church to participate in his mission for the world. They do this by helping disciples to form habits that lead to holiness of heart and life.
Holiness of heart and life is the ultimate goal of the covenant and the weekly group meeting. It is formed as disciples are encouraged through the weekly accountability and support for following Jesus’ teachings, summarized by him in Matthew 22:37-40. When asked to define holiness Wesley quoted these words of Jesus:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’”
Identify the clauses that need to be adjusted or replaced. Select a member of the group to serve as scribe for the revision process. All members must agree to the parts of the covenant to be revised. All members must agree to the changes before they become part of the revised covenant.
One way to do the work of revision is to agree that the weekly meetings during the first months of the year will include time to work out the changes that need to be made to fit the current and future development of the group. Keep in mind that the covenant’s purpose is to prompt growth in holiness of heart and life that leads to disciples who help the church to make disciples. Agree that the first 45 minutes of these meetings will be devoted to mutual accountability for discipleship. The remaining 15 minutes are devoted to working out the revisions to the covenant.
This process requires that group members do some homework. First, each member needs to pray daily for the leading of the Holy Spirit in the work of revising the group’s covenant. The entire process must be steeped in prayer and invoking the leading of the Holy Spirit. Second, members need to give prayerful thought to the changes they believe will best help themselves and the group to grow in holiness of heart and life. Take notes and bring the notes to the weekly meeting to be shared with the group.
Technology may be used to facilitate and speed the revision process. Social media like Facebook can used to enhance conversation and sharing of ideas between meetings. Google Docs and Dropbox are other helpful tools that enable the group to edit and add their ideas to the covenant revision.
After the desired changes are made to everyone’s satisfaction the revised covenant is then signed. Copies are made and distributed to the group members and to the pastor. You may want to invite the pastor to attend the meeting when the new covenant is signed and ask him or her to serve the Eucharist as a way of ratifying the covenant.
The covenant shared by a Covenant Discipleship group is a living document. As the group grows and matures in holiness of heart and life, the covenant needs to help the growth to continue. If your group has been living with a covenant for more than a year, it may be time for the group to evaluate and revise it. The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to recommit, renew or revise your group’s covenant.