A Covenantal Relationship
Recently I was asked to speak at an ordination service at one of our association churches, giving the “Charge to the Congregation.” I share it with you, slightly adapted as a word of appreciation for how I have seen our relationship for what you have been particularly good at:
Church to pastor is first, a relationship of family to brother (or sister). But this is also a sacred relationship. Not a life-long covenant, though hopefully with something special remaining always after this time together. But for as long as this relationship is active as pastor and congregation, it must be a promise, a covenant of love and service. Marked by acceptance and trust and respect and appreciation. Appreciation by a pastor for a colorful congregation with distinctive gifts, like none other.
Appreciation by a congregation for a pastor who brings distinctive gifts and experience, which no one else could bring in the same way. Appreciation of your pastor as God’s gift to care for you and guide and teach you, to help carry out the Lord’s purpose for you in this community, at this time. As has been shown by 10+ years together, another level of ministry together is possible when that covenant lasts long enough to work out a church’s challenges openly and together. And to allow blossoms of possibilities to mature into fruit.
The first description of a Xn congregation in Acts 2, notes that the congregation was devoted. Devoted to the teaching and to the fellowship and to worship and prayer. A NJB motto calls our churches to be X-centered, mission-focused and pastoral, that is loving and peaceful, in spirit. Romans 13 reminds us of the on-going debt of love to each other, which we can never completely pay up. Before and beyond we seek to be lively and creative and diverse, which have been among your strengths, we seek to be X-honoring and Gospel-based and devoted to each other, featuring mutual devotion between congregation and pastor.
One of the least quoted biblical statements in ABC circles comes in the last chapter of Hebrews, which enjoins congregations to: Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men (and women) who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden. Does the Bible really say that? We should note that leaders is plural, and that more than the pastor may be referred to. And in our post-apostolic age, I may not be watering it down too much to paraphrase this way: Respect your pastor and key leaders, regard their words and example, and recognize that in our equality as brothers and sisters in X, there is also the authority entrusted to lead, as well as to feed and encourage. Your pastor is here especially for your spiritual benefit, so help him enjoy the ride and so to succeed for your sake.
These are truly challenging times for the established, denominational church in America. I affirm you for continuing for more than 222 years in a turbulent environment where not many out there recognize that you have something that they need, even in a somewhat traditional format that most of our ABC churches share. It takes perseverance and dedication and genuine faith. And especially, a sweet and strong and serving covenantal spirit.
Colossians calls us, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive any grievances. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Friends, may you continue as a fellowship enriched by a gentle and persevering and thankful spirit, which blesses all within and near you. Including your pastor, as he serves among you.