Why You Need 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.

 

Community based decision-making process – 1st step: Preparation

Be prepared for anything

A sound decision-making process needs good preparation. So put in place the steps to be effective. This series of four posts walks you through the steps required for effective community based decision-making. The first step is preparation. Step 2 is invitation. Step 3 is deliberation and decision.The final step 4 is to implement the decision.

How you begin the work of making decisions affects how you complete it. Preparation is the crucial first step. “The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” expands on this material in pages 86 – 92; and the Checklist on page 184. You can get your copy from Cokesbury or Amazon.

Preparation

In this step of the process focus on organisation. Therefore give attention to the following elements. Then you will cover all the important parts of this phase. Overlooking any of the following six steps can lead to significant negative consequences. Do not underestimate the value of good preparation!

  1. Name the decision to be made

    People need to know what is being asked of them. So put clearly into words the issue, and the form of the proposal. This clarifies what is being considered. Then people can pray and think wisely about the issue.

    Provide information about the possible decision (i.e. the proposal). Also include how and when the decision will be made. People in an organisation are more likely to accept a decision if there is transparency. People need to understand and trust the process or they will want to go over the issue again and again. So tell them the process!

    You have told people the issue / proposal being considered. They know when it will be considered ,and the process that will be used to come to a decision. In addition people need to know who is making the decision. In a local church context this may seem obvious. However when a decision is contentious it is well worth reminding the wider group who has been trusted to lead in this area of decision-making. This is a way of building confidence and trust. If there is an external facilitator involved it is important to share, widely, who they are and why they have been selected.

    The first stage of preparation is to let the decision makers, and those affected by the decision, know what is happening. Be as clear as you can.

  2.  Design the Process

    Consider forming a Process Planning Group to assist in this task. This group will take the leadership (perhaps the responsibility) for designing an effective process. Their role is to draw a road map for the journey towards discernment. On this map will be:

    + Communication strategies for the community affected by the decision.

    + Communication strategies for the decision makers.

    + A process for use within the meeting. It will cover information sharing, ways to explore an issue, strategizing about how to include all voices and how to generate creative options to resolve the matter, etc.

    + The timeline for making a decision – it doesn’t all have to be in one meeting!

  3. Fill key leadership roles

    Name the meeting chair (this is often a person already elected). If you decide to have small group discussion as a part of the process, design the groups and ensure they are inclusive. Recruit small group leaders and schedule as many training sessions as required to make them ready. When making decisions on matters that have a profound impact on your organisation we recommend that you utilize a trained facilitator to guide the process.

  4. Support the entire process with prayer and other spiritual practices

    Don’t forget to call a season of prayer, and if appropriate, fasting for the entire process. If there are Bible passages that people can helpfully study and meditate on, make these known. Immerse your community in the process. Provide knowledge about what is happening. It is nothing less than discerning the will of Christ for His church on this issue, in this place, at this time. This is a spiritual undertaking.

  5. Set Meeting Guidelines

    Be clear about who can participate in the process. Also be able to say what they need to know in order to participate. Now is the time to list respectful ways to work together (listen deeply, ask clarifying questions, be in a spirit of prayer, etc). If you don’t have a Behavioral Covenant now may be a good time to make one. Make these guidelines known well ahead of time.

  6. Provide a safe environment to meet

The location of the meeting matters. The space you choose should allow for people to clearly see and hear each other. We recommend setting the room up in a circular pattern to promote a sense of community. If necessary have a sound system. Think about hospitality and comfort – respect and care for the people who are making the decision.

If you do not already have one, consider establishing a behavioral covenant to guide respectful interactions with people. If you have one ensure that it is before people and they commit to following it.

Do not assume that people know to communicate well with one another. Encourage people to listen before speaking, to ask clarifying questions so they understand what is said, not to monopolize the conversation, etc.

Conclusion

If you take  time to prepare your decision-making process, you will lay the groundwork for a good experience and make better decisions. The goal of your preparation is to give people confidence in the process and therefore to be better able to accept the outcome.