In the weeks of transition between the last two churches I pastored, I took a breath and reevaluated how I wanted to do life and ministry going forward. I called my home church for some sage advice from my pastor David Dykes. David encouraged me to start my new pastorate with a pastor-member covenant, which ended up setting the direction for my ministry and life for the next fourteen years.
Ideally, a pastor-member covenant should be on the front end of your ministry, but some of you do not have that option. This can be done this month, as a sort of pre-game pep talk before your fall ministries kick off. A covenant of this kind is not a legalistic list of enforceable expectations. It is gut-level shepherding at its best. Lead your people by telling them what they can expect of you in this ministry (or year), as well as what you expect of them.
This is the covenant I shared with my new church on my very first Sunday fourteen years ago.
- I Will Pray for You Daily / You Will Pray for My Family & Staff. I admit that I over-promised here. I meant well when I told them I would pray from our church directory every day. I genuinely regret not praying more for my church family because I would have loved them deeper and recalled their names better if I had. I know many of them prayed for me regularly, as well as my family and staff. These prayer warriors were the unsung heroes of our church.
- I Will Love You Unconditionally / You Will Love Me Unconditionally. Having just left a church I planted, loved, and served for a decade in Tennessee, I was wading through my new church in a mixed fog of exhaustion and exhilaration. Exhausted from the tearful good-byes; exhilarated by what lay ahead in a church 633 miles away in Arkansas. I didn’t just have a new job, I had a new family. I needed their love up front, and I told them so. They deserved the same from their new pastor. I asked for 100% unconditional love, as well as some grace for the inevitable mistakes I would make along the way. They delivered.
- I Will Lead You Diligently / You Will Follow My Leadership. I was not shy about asking them to follow a complete stranger because it was God’s will and because that is what they told me they wanted. Your church is looking for you to be a leader not a lord. They already have one of those. They followed me by taking several bold steps of faith in our community and around the world. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief” (Hebrews 13:17).
- I Promise To Feed You Spiritually / You Will Show Up On Sundays. This is when I shared my specific study schedule, as well as the motives behind it. I shared my biblical convictions about prioritizing prayer and the ministry of the Word. In addition to respecting my sermon prep time, I also expected them to show up for services and bring a friend. Not all members kept their word, but those who did still own my heart.
- I Promise To Love You Less Than My Family / You Will Respect That This was perhaps the most important part of our covenant for both my biological and spiritual families. My wife and kids needed to hear that they would always be my VIPs. My church needed to hear it because my predecessor’s ministry ended when his marriage ended almost two years earlier. In making my boundaries and expectations clear, we all left with our hearts and heads aligned. Our clearly aligned expectations instilled optimism about the days ahead.
This covenant service ended with every member standing in agreement to their part of the covenant. In the next fourteen years, the love we shared was deep, personal, and intentional.