As the group begins its covenant writing process there must be an agreement of mutual respect among the members. The process requires that the members respect and listen to one another. Because there must be consensus about every part of the covenant, members must be willing to compromise. This requires openness to negotiation. Of course, the entire process must be supported by prayer and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The covenant is 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.
This General Rule serves as the framework around which the covenant is built by the group. The group covenant puts flesh on the bones of the General Rule. It is a statement of how the group intends to follow Jesus Christ in the world.
A simple five step process will help your write its covenant:
Step 1: The Introductory Meeting
The first meeting is lead by the pastor or a lay person who has experience in Covenant Discipleship groups. The leader gives a brief overview of the General Rule of Discipleship and the structure of the group covenant: Preamble, Clauses, & Conclusion. Distribute to the group copies of Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation Through Mutual Accountability by David Lowes Watson. This book will serve as a valuable guide for the group.
At the conclusion of the meeting the leader tells the group to think and pray about the acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion they are willing and able to day and want included in the covenant. Each member is to bring to the next meeting four clauses: an act of compassion, an act of justice, an act of worship, and an act of devotion he or she is willing and able to practice and to give a weekly account.
Step 2: The Clauses
The materials needed for this session are four pieces of newsprint, post-it notes, pens, and masking tape (to hang the newsprint on the walls around the room). At the top of each piece of newsprint write, in large letters, one of the covenant categories: COMPASSION, JUSTICE, WORSHIP, DEVOTION. Hang the newsprint sheets on the wall around the room.
Distribute post-it notes to each member of the group. You may want to have four different colors, each corresponding to the four categories of clauses: compassion, justice, worship, devotion. Instruct group members to write each clause on one post-it note. When they have finished writing, place the notes on the appropriate newsprint sheet. Acts of compassion go on the sheet titled COMPASSION, acts of justice go on the sheet titled JUSTICE, etc.
After everyone has placed their post-it notes on the four newsprint sheets, instruct everyone to go to each sheet and read all the clauses posted there. Group together clauses that are very similar. Repeat this process until all clauses have been sorted.
In my experience the group will find much duplication of clauses. This tells the groups what is important to the group. The task remaining is to edit the similar clauses into one clause. Repeat this process until the group has reached consensus on at least one clause in each of the four areas. There should be no more than two clauses in each area.
Most groups following this process will reach consensus on all the covenant clauses in no more than two meetings.
When the group has completed their clauses, instruct the group to think and pray about the covenant preamble. Each member is to bring with him or herto the next meeting a proposed preamble.
Step 3: The Preamble
A process similar to the one described above is used for writing the preamble. The only difference is that only twosheets of newsprint is needed and a supply of slightly larger post-it notes.
At the beginning of the meeting distribute large post-it notes to the group. Ask the members to write the preamble he or she has brought to the meeting on the post-it note. When they complete their writing, each person posts their preamble on the sheet of newsprint. After everyone has posted their preambles invite the group to silently read the collected preambles. Look for common phrases and ideas.
On a second piece of newsprint write phrases and ideas found in the collected preambles. The group then begins a process of editing until the preamble is completed. This will usually be finished in one meeting. If needed, finish the preamble writing at the beginning of the next meeting.
At the conclusion of the meeting that completes the writing of the covenant preamble, tell the group to bring to the next meeting a one or two sentence conclusion for the group covenant.
Step 4: The Conclusion
The process for completing the preamble conclusion is identical to the preamble writing process. Most groups will finish their conclusion in a single meeting.
Step 5: Signing the Covenant
When the group has reached consensus on every part of the covenant, it is ready for everyone’s signature. Print a master copy of the covenant for everyone to sign and date. Copies of the signed covenant are then distributed to the group.
A copy of the signed and dated covenant should be given to the pastor and posted on a bulletin board in the church and on the congregation’s web site. Everyone in the congregation should be able to see the covenant. This helps everyone to know that Covenant Discipleship groups are an expression of the congregation’s mission of disciple-making and leader formation.
Points to Note
- A single leader should lead the group through the covenant writing process. The ideal leader is someone who has experience participating in Covenant Discipleship groups. This provides continuity for the writing process.
- Limit your covenant to no more than 10 clauses. Clauses should be balanced between all four areas of the General Rule of Discipleship: acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion. Your covenant should fit on one side of a single 8 ½ x 11 inch size piece of paper with one inch margins and 12 point font. If your covenant spills over to a second page, the group must edit it down to fit only one page.
- Keep clauses concise and specific. This practice keeps the covenant practicable. Avoid generalized clauses. For example, "We will endeavor to oppose injustice." This is much to general. A better clause is "I will communicate regularly with elected officials regarding issues of justice." or "I will join with Amnesty International to write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience." Rather than make general statements, state what the group is willing and able to do to follow Jesus’ teachings.
- Begin where you are, not where you think you should be. Avoid including in your covenant acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion you think you should be doing. Rather include only acts everyone is willing and able to do now. It is okay to include practices you are already doing. The group will help you to be more disciplined in your practice because everyone will give a weekly account.
- Place the clauses in the same order they are named in the General Rule of Discipleship. This means the first category of clauses to appear in the covenant is the acts of compassion, followed by the acts of justice, worship, and devotion. This assures that the acts of justice, which are always the most difficult and frequently avoided, will remain at the top of the group agenda.
- A slightly modified version of this process may used when it is time to revise your covenant. We recommend groups evaluate and revise their covenant at least once a year.
- Following this simple process will help your group to complete its covenant in no more than four meetings. It’s okay if you need a meeting or two more. This process assures that everyone’s voice is heard and contributes to the covenant writing process. When everyone participates equally, everyone is invested in the success of the group.