A new Covenant (but not The New Covenant)

I am convinced that our covenants (written agreements) for our small groups will become more powerful and meaninful if we allow the groups themselves to write them, within certain guidelines.

Until now, we’ve all signed the same piece of paper.  That covenant wasn’t bad.  But it wasn’t a unique expression of who the group was or what they wanted to do.  I’d like the groups to have this.

Marty (see his link in the Blogroll) and I have formulated this plan.  The first step I’ve begun:

I started with the four defining values of our small groups (Authenticity, Transformation, Outward-Reaching, Multiplication).  I’ve attempted a definition of each one, and then I’ve attempted to nail down how these definitions play out in real life.

This is no small task.  It’s important foundations for the next step.  So it’s important to me that I get this right.  That’s part of why I’m posting it here.

I’m particularly interested in feedback from folks who are currently connected to a small group (whether this small group is at FC or elsewhere)  What do you think of the definitions and  examples beneath each definition?  Is there anything that should be changed, added, or deleted?  What should we do to make the covenants more powerful and personal?  Is there anything else we should be considering?

At any rate, the document is below.  Please, pretty pretty please, let me know what you think!

Authenticity: We are engaged in transparent, supportive, and loving relationships with other members of the group and the church.
Questions: What should we commit to in order to grow these relationships?
A) Regular attendance

B) Respectful actions

C) Accountabality
 

Transformation: We are commited to seeking out Christ and conforming ourselves to his image. 
Question: What should we commit to in order to maximize our growth in Christ?

A) Regular prayer for each other.

B) Submission to the needs of the group.

C) Application of Biblical principles.
 

Outward Reaching: We will work to bring about the Kingdom of God.
Question: What should we do? 
How much should we do it?

A) Social justice

B) Evangelism

C) Formal service projects

D) Informal, spontaneous help
 

Multiplication: We are committed to growing small groups through out New Englad.
Question: What steps can we take toward multiplying?

A) Shared leadership to develop gifts

B) Apprentice others in things we do within the group

C) Seek out to be apprenticed by someone else.

D) Participate in multiplying groups.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “A new Covenant (but not The New Covenant)”

  1. Hi Jeff,
    A couple of thoughts. With the first two questions it seems like the right answer is all of the items, whereas on the last two it seems reasonable that the group might select just a few to focus on.
    One thing missing is the topic of confidentiality. I’ve been in groups where this was a serious problem. People tend to assume different levels of confidentiality unless it is made explicit. I think it is the teller’s responsibility to inform the group if something is sensitive–sometimes it is not obvious to the hearers.
    In general I like the idea of writing these things down, discussing them, and asking people to commit to them.

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  2. Thanks Vance!
    I hope there are folks in your “real” (as opposed to online) life who can utilize you as a mentor. You seem to possess an even handed, insightful resource.

    How could I have missed confidentiality?
    We take a slightly different track: generally the assumption would be toward confidentiality with the caveat that working up the church’s chain of command doesn’t constitute a breach of confidentiality when the group leader is seeking counsel about an issue that’s beyond their ability and experience.
    Your last sentence is exactly right: it’s not the case that the current, universal covenants are bad. But they do tend to be viewed more or less as a formality: I have this group that having to create their own will stir reflection around what the groups’ members are looking for and maybe generate some buy-in toward values they helped establish.

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  3. Hi Jeff, Thanks for your kind comment. I am in a weekly fellowship with a couple of other men. I really count on that to help keep me on the right path. Nothing like real face to face conversation to strip away the facades that I like to carry around.

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  4. Hey Jeff,

    I think you’ve really hit a home run with this idea. Giving each group the right and responsibility to create their own covenant will really allow the memebers to “own” it.

    I have 2 suggestions:
    1. Provide a non-negotiable, so to speak, portion that every Life Group must commit to. Then encourage and provide them the opportunity to create their own along with the church provided ones.

    I think this will create uniformity and provide some needed structure in our groups, which are things we want. A model keeps people on the same track. Also, this will ensure some accountability from the groups to the church as a wholem, and provide us some way of measuring their success. Not sure if that is exactly what i mean, but …

    2. Provide scripture references with the non-negotiable parts, and require that for the groups indivdually created ones. I think this will ensure a could of thins.

    a. we want to be sure that we don’t just come up with agenda items, because they sound good or we like them. This will give people that read it, an oportunity to see: “this” is “what” we do and “this” is “why.”

    b. I think the scripture shows that we ( Fellowship Church) submit to Biblical Authority, require our leaders in all areas to do that, and require it in our covenenants. Committment to this can really show where someone’ heart is.

    I’m not trying to come off as hard or harsh, but thought these ideas might be useful.

    Al

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  5. Al-
    Outstanding ideas. Thank you. I’ve been thinking about the negotiable/nonnegotiable portions and wondering how to create something that is flexible on the one hand, doesn’t compromise the non-negotiables on the other hand, and is also user friendly. I’d starting putting together some things which made tax forms look fun and easy. Upon this realization, I decided that I needed to go back to the drawing board.

    Scriptural references is also an excellent idea… The first hurdle that comes to mind on this front is how to avoid the “concordance effect”: I have this fear that it would be easy for people to take a single verse out of context (by looking up a related concept in a concordance) and would be able to justify a quite un-biblical idea… On the other hand, somebody might have a concept that is quite well supported by the grand, sweeping movements in scripture but which can’t easily be pinned down…
    As I write this, my first thought about how to avoid this is to ask for scriptural justification, rather than references… justification might be summarizing an important biblical concept or theme, where as reference implies it’s short enough to write down.
    These ideas that I just pluck out of my brain, I find that often there’s really simple problems that I just don’t see. So Al, or anybody else, I’d love for your 2 cents on the idea of scriptural justification vs. sciptural references.
    And Al, seriously… If this is you’re idea of harsh I’d hate to see what you count as supportive and insightful.

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