Why have a Behavioral Covenant?

Why have a Behavioral Covenant?

I’m often told that Christians don’t need written rules for how to behave because we have the Bible. A Behavioral Covenant sets out clearly what people can expect of each other – based on Biblical principles. Therefore it makes explicit what people assume that they can expect of each other. Importantly, it holds people accountable for their actions.

Sometimes in the midst of deciding issues tempers flare, communication suffers, and people tend to make things too personal.  Even in the most polite groups, things can get out of hand and feelings can get hurt. This often happens when an important decision is on the line and the issue really matters. Yes, even in church! So we need clear and agreed benchmarks for the way we behave with each other.

What is a Behavioral Covenant?

A Behavioral Covenant is a written agreement that guides how people will treat one another. It states clearly how people will behave with each other in the spirit of Christian love.  A Behavioral Covenant states what God is calling the group to do and how the group will conduct itself.  It outlines the expectations that members of the group can depend on from one another.  Basically, it details how the community will live out its faith in loving, respectful ways.

How do you create a Behavioral Covenant?

The key leadership group is well placed to draft a Behavioral Covenant. They understand what is needed to support healthy communication and respect in a group / congregation.

While the drafting can be done by a few people, involve as many people as possible  in identifying the content. A congregational meeting to explain Behavioral Covenants and why they’re important can get the process off to a good start.  Read passages of Scripture that guide our life together:  Matt. 5:9; 23-24, Luke 6:27-36, John 13:34, Romans 8:28-29 & 12:10, 1 Cor. 12, 2 Cor. 10:5, Ephesians 4:1-6, Gal. 5:19-26, 1 Cor. 11:1, Titus 2:7, Col. 3:12-17, Phil. 2:3-4, 1 Thes. 5:12-26, James 1:2-4, 19, etc. Specifically, I ask people how they want others to treat them and gather a list of those qualities.

The responses provide the content for a small writing group to develop into the draft Behavioral Covenant.  Once this is accomplished, it should be presented to the Church Council for support and revisions.  Arrange a time to present the final version to the church so people can ask questions and understand it.

How do you make it work?

People need to agree to the Behavioral Covenant.  Signing an official church copy and / or committing to it in the context of worship are ways of showing agreement.

Regularly remind embers of the church  of the content of the Behavioral Covenant and encourage them to abide by it. Include the Covenant in the induction process for Committee members. Membership classes and regular liturgical affirmation of the Behavioral Covenant are important ways to embed the values in a congregation.

Each member of the group has a role in the Covenant.  Mutuality is vital. It helps keep people accountable for their actions. When behavior turns disresepctful, a quiet reminder of your agreement is enough to rein in improper behavior.

Benefits

There are many benefits of a Behavioral Covenant:

  • forms community that is respectful and loving
  • gives support to bearing one another’s burdens (Galatian 6:2)
  • clarifies what you can expect from the group and what they can expect from you
  • helps people discern and discuss difficult issues n a civil manner without a win/loose mentality
  • keeps the well-being of the group primary (not a segment or small part of the congregation)
  • makes each person responsible for the behavior of the group
  • models how a Christian community should act

What to include

A Behavioral Covenant has 6 basic parts:

  1. A sense of shared purpose based on your mission (name of church, location, and why the group exists).
  2. Loving ways to treat one another.  This is based on your shared values and sense of identity as a Christian community.
  3.  Agreement to abide by the Covenant as members of the church.  Most churches make it a necessity to agree to the covenant in order to serve in a leadership position. Ideas to consider include:-
    • to pray for one another
    • regularly attend worship and study
    • practice direct, open communication – not gossip
    • use ‘I’ statements to express yourself
    • listen respectfully, ask questions for clarification
    • seek to understand rather than judge
    • be honest
    • avoid stereotyping
    • speak the truth in love, gentleness and patience
    • recognize that other viewpoints and opinions may be valid
    • forgive one another
    • focus on common interests and not positions/opinions
    • trust one another
    • be hard on issues and soft on people
    • honor and support the decisions made by the group
    • electronic communication (phone calls, and email) should be treated the same as face-to-face conversation
    • what would you add?
    1. Brief paragraph about your intent to honor this Behavioral Covenant and to live as a people of faith in witness to the world around us.
    2. Set a date for evaluation and review of how the Covenant is working
    3. Gather signatures and date.

Congregations find it helpful to keep the Behavioral Covenant before the congregation in a wide variety of ways so that their efforts are effective: Web page, Poster framed in the church, Book mark, Bulletin insert, Sermon series, Bible Study, etc.  Use the Behavioral Covenant regularly in your leadership training. People are more likely to support something when they are clear about expectations for behavior.

Relationships Undermined by Twitter

Australian politician Ed Husic has signed off Twitter because it is “an accelerant for hyper-partisanship”. Relationships are undermined when you only speak to people in bursts of 140 characters. The Twitter mindset is anathema to consensus building. Can Christians value relationships more than they value cultural practices like Twitter?

Thinking about Twitter, reflect on what practices work against the  relationships that Christ wants us to have with one another.

What does Twitter achieve?

1.  It saves time

Twitter is made for purpose in a world that is information rich and time poor. Sharing information in short, sharp bursts takes very little time to prepare or to take in. With only 140 characters to work with Twittees (is that the word?) can push out information fast. Even a slow reader can take less than a minute to read a Twitter post.

2.  Talking is more important than listening and relationships

A whole new collection of relationships are possible with the ability to deliver and receive information so quickly . Twitter users don’t need to actually know who is at the other end of the “relationship”. The important thing is to get out ones own message. Some people have millions of Twitter followers. Somehow I don’t think they are reading all those replies to their tweets.

3.  Oversimplifies issues

I don’t know too may great ideas that can be conveyed in 140 or less characters. Twitter encourages a lack of subtlety and attention to detail. Hyperbole thrives in the world of sharp and strongly worded tweets.

4.  Encourages aggression and divisiveness

Of course many Twitter users are respectful of their audience and take care not to offend. Yet there are some very well known examples of Twitter users who do not care the least for how readers will experience their tweet. In fact it is the more aggressive and confrontational tweets that get noticed and get responses.

Relationships need the opposite of Twitter

1.  They take the time that is needed

2.  The opinions of others are valued more highly than ones own views

3.  People in relationships understand that issues are complicated

4.  Quality relationships scale down tension and value collaboration

Break with the culture – support relationships

When Ed Husic indicated that he was withdrawing from Twitter people called to ask if he was OK. He was told how foolish he was in withdrawing from such an important tool of communication. To his credit Mr Husic said that the down side of Twitter was worse than any upside. Describing Twitter as a “bully pulpit” and a medium that fuels “outrage and argument” he quit.

Can Christians who value relationships within the family of Jesus be as brave as Mr Husic? Can we abandon the dominant practices of our culture when they do not serve to build up the body of Christ. Or do we fret that if we do not use the ways of the world then we will not get our message out?

I am not talking about Twitter here. There are many culturally accepted practices in the church that hold too many Christians in their thrall. They do so even when they oppose Christian values and character. Yet many Christians continue with them because they think they will lose influence, power and connections if they abandon them.

Far too many Christians embrace the aggressive practices of contemporary politics. They belittle, attack, lie and manipulate because that is the way to get things done. The way that the world works has infected the church.

Do you have the courage to break with the culture? If you understand that taking a political approach to church problems is at odds with the gospel – are you brave enough to leave that approach behind? If you do then people will wonder if you are OK. Some will say that you are a fool. Others will assure you that your enemies will step in and fill  the vacuum that you have left behind.

Resurrection requires a death. New life comes after an ending. Christ’s hope, and the discipleship to which we are called, needs us to take up a cross. The cross that the church needs to take up now is the abandonment of the way in which the world deals with difference and to carry – in risk and suffering – the cross of Christ’s way.