Covenants are as ancient as the world itself. From the beginning of the new world (post flood) God made a covenant with humans and creation. The Hebrew word BRT suggests a contract, agreement, relationship, and promise. It involved at least two parties and required commitment from both. While some today might suggest that a covenant was “one sided” (meaning that one party remained in the relationship regardless of the actions of the other) this belief was foreign to the ancient world. Covenants required/assumed that both people would uphold their commitments.
When God saved Noah and his family, a covenant was made (Gen 6:18; 8:21; 9:9-17). Since humans struggled to resist evil, it was God who took the lead. No more destroying the world because of human sin. The response—creation would obey (as they have from the beginning), and humans…well you know that story. However, the Biblical text indicates that God is faithful, loving, compassionate, just, honorable, merciful, and forgiving. This meant that God’s side of the relationship was always upheld and maintained by truth. This led the Apostle Paul to write that God does not lie (Titus 1:2). Humans, however, struggle with this.
The character and integrity of Yahweh is displayed by a willingness to establish relationships and a faithfulness that keeps promises and maintains a relationship. How people respond or act in this relationship reflects their own character and integrity, not God’s.
I have a photo that I keep that is over 20 years old. In 1998, when we moved to Portland, someone took this picture of Lori and I on my first Sunday preaching at the Metro Church of Christ. In the image the congregation of almost 300 are surrounding us, hands placed on both Lori and I, and praying for us. That has always been a reminder to me of the responsibility that this calling carries. On my office wall is the document from April 12, 1987, a date when the elders at a church of Christ in Chillicothe, Missouri, surrounded me, placed their hands on me, and ordained me as an Evangelist. In addition to this, every year since we planted the Agape Church of Christ in Portland, Lori and I have read a covenant to Agape pledging our commitment to our position as ministers. These are reminders to me that being a Christian leader carries tremendous responsibility. Kairos Church Planting encourages all church planters to sign this covenant because it reminds all of us of the awesome responsibility that goes with being called to ministry.
Our Churches Need Leaders
Ministry is hard—so hard that Multnomah Bible Seminary tells incoming students that 1/3 of them will be in ministry after ten years. I would suggest that this is true, there is a %33 endurance rate in ministry. Church planting is even lower. Why would anyone choose a career where 1 out of 3 people actually survived?
Over the decades I have witnessed colleagues deal with the stress of ministry negatively. Some use or abuse alcohol and/or drugs. Some turn to pornography, sexual affairs, or left their families. Some became bitter and treated people harshly. Some stole money. Some mistreated their spouses, families, and close friends. Some put up walls to shut people out. Some quit ministry and left church altogether. I believe that there is a difference between quitting ministry and quitting discipleship with Jesus. I understand that people need a break, but taking a “break” from my relationship with Jesus is like walking away from your spouse because you want to find out who you are. A relationship, a marriage, a covenant is more than meeting my own needs. Even more those who leave never find out how wonderful a relationship can be when we work through the difficult times “together.” However, this is the pain of ministry—it can crush men and women.
I am grateful for the many other ministers who finished well. Their coping mechanism was to endure. They realized that God’s calling was to be faithful to the calling of ministry. They did not see themselves as perfect—just committed. I have fond memories of ministers, leaders, and ministry couples who believed that no matter what people did, they had an obligation to be faithful to God, their calling, and those they were called to love. I have fond memories of students who struggle in their ministries but acknowledge that, “This is my calling—it is what Jesus has given me to do.” I am constantly inspired by the men and women in other countries who are persecuted, tortured, and oppressed because they are Christian leaders; yet they remain faithful. I am thankful for the loyal men and women who modeled ministry for me. I can only hope to provide that example for others.
Our Communities and World Needs Leaders
We live in a time when people use different words to describe who people are. One term is Transparency. People live their lives so others see them, although few are actually transparent. Another term is Real. I am who I am, take it or leave it. Finally, the newer term I am hearing today is Authenticity. Authentic means that I am who I say I am. Authentic means I am authentically Christian, I am authentically a Christian leader, I am authentically like Jesus. Being Transparent and Real does not transform people—only Authenticity.
We live in a world that can seem inauthentic. Social media offers us an image of people that is not always real. Yet when people in our world meet authenticity, they desire change, transformation, and support. Authentic Christian leaders have a powerful witness to the resurrection and integrity of Jesus. Authentic Christians are more than transparent or real—they are true. Jesus calls us “salt” and “light.” Salt and light are authentic—they transform, preserve, and illuminate so that others can be better.
For the first time in my 30+ years of ministry I left a community agency where I volunteered. I have always made it a point to work within many local agencies by practicing tolerance. However, I could not support a view of humans that was developing within some of the individuals. While I believe that offenders should be held accountable, I believe that they are humans who are in the image of God. All people need compassion and need to be treated with respect. One of the statements in our covenant is, “We will speak as ones who have been with Jesus—full of grace and truth. We will guard against sarcastic, caustic and cynical language. We will speak of Jesus and the kingdom of God.” We live in a culture that claims “Christians” are judgmental, yet it is a world that many times refuses to admit its own inauthenticity and judgmentalism. We can’t save the world, but as leaders we can be authentic. This is our covenant, promise, and relationship with Jesus, those we lead, and those we serve. It is what people should come to expect of us—because we know that it is what we have come to expect with Jesus. Jesus is who he says he is, and he promises to be who we need him to be.
Pray for your leaders today.
Encourage your leaders today.
The Hebrew writer tells us to remember our leaders, imitate their way of life, and listen to them so that they may feel a sense of joy rather than frustration in their calling from God (Hebrews 12:7-8, 17).