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The Wesley Covenant Prayer: An Affirmation of Missional Discipleship

Many United Methodist congregations are familiar with the "Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition." It is #607 in The United Methodist Hymnal. If this prayer is used at all it is likely used during the first or second Sundays in January as a way to begin the new year. It is part of the Covenant Renewal Service developed by John Wesley and used by Methodists in Britain regularly since 1755.

The God to whom the Covenant Prayer is addressed is the God who is revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Covenant prayer is jarring to the 21st century ear. Its language is antiquated. Its petitions are demanding. (Please note that older editions of the hymnal contain a mistake in the prayer. The fifth line should read, "exalted for thee or brought low for thee" not "…brought low by thee." This mistake was corrected in later editions.) I have heard some fellow United Methodists tell me they cannot pray the prayer. They say that it describes a god they do not recognize.

The God to whom the Covenant Prayer is addressed is the God who is revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The prayer is a description of what is required of people who take up Jesus’ challenge when he said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

The God addressed in the Covenant Prayer is the One into whom we are baptized. The prayer is a reaffirmation of the baptismal promises to:

  • "…renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin…"
  • "… accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves…"
  • "… confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races…"

The God addressed in the Covenant Prayer is the One who invites us to his table where he offers his flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine when we pray, "Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet."

The Covenant Prayer is a radical declaration of love and loyalty to the God whose nature and name is Love.

The Covenant Prayer is a radical declaration of love and loyalty to the God whose nature and name is Love. I say "radical" because the prayer directs those who pray it to the source, or origin, of love and life. It re-focuses our life upon the One who is Love. It re-orders and re-aligns our life and mission with the life and mission of God. It is a pledge of missional discipleship that directs us beyond ourselves, towards unity with Christ in the world that God loves.

I hope that your congregation prays this prayer at least once a year. It is a powerful way to help Christians remember who and whose they are: children of God adopted by grace and citizens of God’s reign:

I am no longer my own by yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Please go to the Wesleyan Leadership blog and leave a comment: http://wesleyanleadership.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/the-wesley-covenant-prayer-as-a-declaration-of-missional-discipleship/.

Supporting Covenant Discipleship Groups

Like other small groups, Covenant Discipleship groups require intentional support. The need support from the congregation and the pastor. Otherwise, the groups will eventually dwindle away and disappear. They will be like a "rope of sand" that has little or no impact on the mission of the congregation.

There are a number of proven methods for supporting Covenant Discipleship groups. The first is for each group to appoint a member to serve as "Convener." He or she is responsible for meeting regularly with the pastor, or appropriate member of the church staff, to give regular reports on the group’s life. The role of the Convener is to keep the various groups connected to the mission of church and to alert the pastor or appropriate staff member when a problem arises.

Covenant Discipleship Council

The Conveners, the pastor and staff or volunteer responsible for coordinating small groups function as a Covenant Discipleship Council for the congregation. They should meet at least quarterly and may meet monthly if desired. The purpose of the meetings is to take the pulse of the various CD groups, to celebrate joys and address concerns and any problems. The Council is also responsible for planning and leading the second important means of supporting CD groups: The Quarterly Conference.

Quarterly Conference

The Quarterly Conference is a time for fellowship, worship, and testimony for all Covenant Discipleship group members. Because Jesus did much of his ministry with his disciples at table sharing food and drink, we recommend the same when all the Covenant Discipleship groups get together. Either bring food in or have a covered dish meal. Breaking bread with fellow Christians helps to create community and an atmosphere of trust. Plan for a time of informal praise, prayer, and testimony.

The Quarterly Conference is an excellent time to hold a Love Feast. See the information about the Love Feast beginning on page 581 of The United Methodist Book of Worship.

For more information about conveners and the Covenant Discipleship Council, please see the article here: Conveners, Councils, & Coordinators.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at [email protected] or call 877-899-2780, ext. 1765.

Please post your comments at the Wesleyan Leadership blog:http://wesleyanleadership.wordpress.com.

Steven W. Manskar is the Director of Wesleyan Leadership for the Discipleship Ministries.

Recommended Reading

A Disciple's Journal: Daily Bible Reading and Guidance for Reflection (Year A)
The new A Disciple’s Journal is now available from CreateSpace.com. Readers of the Covenant Discipleship Connection get a 20% discount.
This book is sold online only. To get the 20% discount, go here: www.createspace.com/3494021. Select the quantity of books you want. On the order review page, enter the discount code: 5CJQXYAS.

Grace to Lead: Practicing Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition
Designed specifically for Christian leaders and teachers, Grace to Lead: Practicing Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition delves deep into Wesleyan scholarship to guide readers into effective contemporary leadership, from a solidly Wesleyan perspective. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward (Mississippi Annual Conference), calls this book "an essential resource for all who lead and teach in the Wesleyan tradition".
Calling upon peerless insights from the 1700’s Wesleyan revival in England, authors Carder and Warner will help motivate, form, and guide church leaders in the twenty-first century and beyond.
Available from Cokesbury.

Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation through Mutual Accountability
David Lowes Watson has updated the original handbook for covenant discipleship groups. This new version should prove valuable in leading existing groups to a deeper level of discipleship, and newcomers to a fresh discovery of the best of the Methodist tradition.
Available fromWipf & Stock Publishers for $17.60.

Accountable Discipleship: Living in God’s Household
This book focuses on pastoral leadership in the Wesleyan tradition. Those who read and study this book will be invited to discover their own ministry as pastoral leaders.
Available fromCokesbury for $12.00.

A Perfect Love: Understanding John Wesley’s 'A Plain Account of Christian Perfection'
What makes this version unique is that the author has edited Wesley's text and updated his language for the contemporary reader.
Available fromCokesbury for $11.20.

Mainline or Methodist: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission
Trying to be both mainline and Methodist is a deadly combination. In fact, it's a leading cause for the denomination's spiritual and numerical decline.
Available fromCokesbury for $10.40.

A Blueprint for Discipleship
This approach builds on the foundation of the General Rules and the practice of "watching over one another in love" through small-group accountability.
Available fromCokesbury for $12.00.

Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community
by Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker
Delving into the widespread, contemporary longing for a more serious and communal experience of Christianity, this book provides important theoretical underpinnings and casts a vision for a new monasticism within the Wesleyan tradition.
Available from http://wipfandstock.com.

Upcoming Events

Leave for Leaders, 3 sessions for 2011:
January 31 - February 4
April 25 - 29
October 24 - 28
For details go to /lead-your-church/leave-for-leaders

Wesleyan Leadership Conference: "A New Vision for Wesleyan Community"
with Dr. Elaine Heath
October 13-15, 2011

Wesley Pilgrimage in England
November 7-17, 2011
Sarum College
Salisbury, England
Contact: Steve Manskar for information
[email protected]
877- 899-2780, ext 1765

Discipleship Resources

Roxburgh Missional Network:

The United Methodist Way

This20-minute Flash presentation shows how following John Wesley’s rules in both doctrine and practice leads to transformed lives and a transformed world.
Also available as a download for use in your church.

Covenant Discipleship web site:

John Wesley’s Sermons
http://gbgm-umc.org/UMHISTORY/ Wesley/sermons/

Duke Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition

Methodist Review: A Journal of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies