by Chris Ritter
Those who lead or teach in the church I serve are expected to sign a Leadership Covenant annually. The concept of a covenant for leaders was in place before I was appointed to the church. I am told that the idea was met with significant resistance at first. Eventually, the wisdom of defining an expected set of leadership practices was embraced as a needed measure for the long-term health of the congregation. We undertook a group process to strengthen the covenant within six months after I arrived at First Methodist.
Our current covenant grew out of Bible study. You will see that scriptural references are provided for each point in the five categories. (It is probably a bit longer than it needs to be, but that happens in documents prepared by committees.) Some of the covenant relates to personal morals and being an example of committed church membership. Most of the covenant describes behaviors that favorably impact the unity of the church and fosters a supportive leadership environment.
A Leadership Covenant is based on the idea that leaders must be held to a higher standard… a very New Testament concept. We have lists of requirements for leaders in Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3, and 1 Peter 5 that are higher than the general expectations of all church members. James 3:1 (my least favorite verse in the Bible) says that those who teach will be judged more strictly. Servant leadership is never based on a person’s right to lead but about whether one’s leadership is good for the Mission.
It was initially a bit difficult to discern who should sign the covenant. After all, we have a robust understanding of the Priesthood of All Believers. Every member is in ministry, ideally. Our lives lead others whether we want them to or not. We settled on requiring the covenant for all who are elected to offices, hold teaching positions, or preside in worship. Our Nominating Committee does their work with the covenant in hand. Sunday School teachers and small group leaders are required to sign, as well.
After living with the leadership covenant for eight years, I can say that its effect has been very positive. We review it together when we hold leadership training. Our key leaders are very willing to share how the covenant works in their own lives. When something potentially inappropriate happens, the covenant gives us a basis for conversation. Part of the covenant is an open invitation for leaders to hold one another accountable.
Church unity is the product of diligent and faithful leadership. Being explicit with Gospel expectations for leaders is an important first step. We take a “whosoever will” approach to church participation. When it comes to leadership, we expect more. True leaders gladly accept the challenge to rise to a higher level of integrity and service.