Messenger November 2017 - Covenant

Jim East

I trained to be a teacher back in the 1990s.  It was fascinating to learn the fundamental principles of ‘classroom management’, as it was then known.  As you can imagine, there were a few techniques taught and conclusions drawn from research that have since been discredited – or, simply, become unfashionable.  And each subject had its own set of ‘in things’ that all new teachers must be seen to be doing.  For the Religious Education trainees of that era, the talk was all about ‘Classroom Contracts’.
 
A Classroom Contract is not a difficult thing create or describe: the students and the teacher chat about what is reasonable behaviour during a lesson; the teacher writes down everything that’s agreed; the teacher and the kids sign it; the teacher sticks it on a wall, often with contracts agreed by other classes.  In my experience, the result of taking a little time to do this was invariably positive.  At the beginning of an academic year, all members of a class have a chance to reflect on what they’d like the class to be like.  The sentences about what should and shouldn’t take place are both laudable and achievable.  If a student (or a teacher!) breaks the contract in some way, anyone can point to the piece of paper on the wall and say, “We all agreed to do this thing and not to do that thing.”
 
Classroom Contracts can be used in any teaching subject.  However, they were of particular use in Religious Education (RE).  As the name implies, RE would involve exploring world religions, philosophies and ideas.  A few years ago, RE was also linked with another subject: the neatly entitled, Personal, Social, Health and Moral Education (PSHME).  This unwieldy collection of important things was taught on a spinning carousel timetable.  Various groups would have just one or two lessons on subjects like sex, hygiene, citizenship, applying for jobs, regrouting a bathroom, and so forth.  Once a small aspect of this curriculum was complete, the students were whisked away to the next teacher and the next PSHME nugget of wisdom.  The discussions which took place in such diverse lessons always ran a risk of causing confusion, upset or offence.  Classroom Contracts offered genuine help.  It was possible to preempt most difficulties by using the contract to define the boundaries of discussions.  For example, the agreed sentences would often emphasise the need for individuals to be profoundly respectful of people with differing ideas, or with differing levels of sophistication or naivety.
 
In addition to the very practical benefits I describe above, as a Baptist Christian, I felt what I can best describe as a religious familiarity with Classroom Contracts.  The practice of producing one bears an uncanny resemblance to the old Baptist practice of having a Church Covenant.
 
When Baptists referred to a covenant they used be thinking about it in terms of a two dimensional agreement between God, themselves and their Christian brothers and sisters.  These two dimensions have often been described as being ‘vertical and horizontal aspects of covenant’.  The ‘vertical aspect’ refers to the covenant between God and humankind wherein He sent His Son to die for our sins on the cross – the eternal covenant of grace.  The ‘horizontal aspect’ refers to that covenant among Christians that is formed when they are drawn together by the Holy Spirit into the Church and into a church to, ‘walk together in the fear of the Lord’ (Covenant of Benjamin and Elias Keech, 1697).
 
I felt that same sense of religious familiarity when I read through the Fit For Life Leadership Covenant materials that the Baptist Union sent to our church.  (These are the materials that helped the new leadership team to agree and write the Leaders’ Covenant presented at our last Church Meeting.)
 
At many times during the production of our Leaders’ Covenant, I found myself thinking of the contracts I wrote with my school students, the lovely expectations and firm reassurance they provided everyone.  I thought, too, of the early Baptist covenants.  I reflected on how men and women of Faith wrote down the Biblical expectations of being a church.  Their covenants expressed their desire to support each other as they served their Master together.
 
And now, reading back through our covenant, I find myself praying that it will be so much more than an exercise, done and then forgotten.  I pray that it will be an ongoing reminder of our lovely expectations and our desire to support each other in the Faith.
 
I encourage you all to read the Leaders’ Covenant (below) once again and to pray that its words and Scriptures guide us well as we ‘walk together in the fear of the Lord’.
 
St A’s Leaders’ Covenant – 9th October 2017
 
For the health and growth of the congregation and its ministry, and in order to facilitate their individual and collective ministries, the leaders (ministers, deacons, church secretary and treasurer) make the following covenant.
As leaders, we recognise first and foremost the headship of Jesus Christ.  We recognise that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus' (Romans 3:23-24).  As a team, we seek to: celebrate our strengths; understand and delight in our God-given differences; acknowledge our weaknesses and our need for God’s guidance.

  1. We will love God and encourage and pray for one another.  We will seek to support our fellow leaders as we grow in faith and Christian maturity. Mark 12:30; 2 Thessalonians 1:11
  2. We will try to live balanced lives; working responsibly and hard as leaders; caring for and nurturing family relationships; and not neglecting humour and rest. 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Timothy 5:8; Genesis 2:2
  3. We will seek to honour one another.  We will view ourselves as trusted supporters of each other, brothers and sisters in God’s family, and colleagues in the work of ministry. Romans 12:10
  4. Before any action we will seek to discern God’s will through prayer, study of His Scriptures and reflection. We consider discernment of God’s will to be the heart of decision making. Romans 12:2; Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 16:3
  5. After discussion, once decisions have been made by the leaders, we will speak and act in unity and in full support of those decisions. Acts 15:25
  6. We acknowledge the central role of the church meeting in discerning God's will together and in making decisions through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and under the Lordship of Christ, as affirmed in our Constitution (paragraph 7.2). In seeking to give spiritual and practical leadership, we shall strive to be diligent and timely in our communication with church members, to enable all to be involved in this process. 1 Corinthians 2:11-16
  7. We will carry out our responsibilities and tasks with diligence and close collaboration with each other, communicating regularly, sharing both the joys and stresses of our ministries.  We will discuss what we like about our teamwork and what we would like changed. 1 Corinthians 15:58; Colossians 3:23
  8. We welcome open and honest communication, constructive criticism and courteous disagreement as part of healthy decision-making. 2 Corinthians 4:2; James 1:19-20
  9. We will refrain from criticising another leader to someone else, and will seek to believe the best of each other.  We will refrain from commiserating with persons who complain about another leader. Instead we will encourage the person(s) to go to the other leader with the complaint. In either case, we will share the information with the other leader. Ephesians 4:29; Matthew 18:15-17
  10. As members and leaders of St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church we will aspire to attend and participate in: leadership team meetings, Church Meetings, prayer meetings and Sunday worship. Hebrews 10:25
  11. We acknowledge our role in facilitating ‘every member ministry’ and in seeking to develop the gifts of our Christian brothers and sisters. 1 Peter 4:10
  12. At least once each year we will review this covenant, changing and renewing it as we mutually agree. Proverbs 19:20-21