A few days ago Erika Haub concluded a post with the statement, "I do love the Covenant!"
It got me thinking. I rarely hear people raving about their tribal connections in the same way that Covenant people seem to get excited about their group -- our group. Yes, I hear other people excited about local churches but rarely does anyone get totally jazzed about "a denomination." And if the term were not so loaded I might even suggest that the Covenant has a cult following.
Well, I love the Covenant, too. And having just left the annual meeting I'm all the more pumped about the Covenant.
It's not that I'm blind to the weaknesses or naive about the challenges ahead. But I always leave these gatherings with a greater awareness of how God is at work in our midst. Let me take a shot at listing some of the things which get me excited:
1. While we have politics (what group doesn't!) the politics don't define the Covenant. People never seem to be jockeying for positions or offices -- at least not aggresively.I could go on and on -- but perhaps others have "I love the Covenant" reasons that they'd like to add to the list.
2. The administrators and chief leaders don't seem to have any trouble stepping in to help take down folding chairs or set-up tables when needed.
3. The Covenant seems to have no trouble with the idea that the mission of Christ involves both evangelism and ministries of justice, mercy, and compassion. Discipleship is understood in a pretty holistic sense -- individual and communal.
4. No one gets too rattled when we talk about our weaknesses. There aren't really any undiscussed elephants in the room.
5. Even when we disagree with each other it is generally done civilly and we remain good friends.
6. Red, and yellow, black and white -- and a lot of brown, too. This is the most obvious change in the last 25 years. When I first became a pastor we were still mostly a group of white second, third, and fourth generation Scandinavian-Americans. But now, we're this incredibly diverse group. (23% of our congregations are now "ethnic" or multi-ethnic.) I've heard African-American pastors talk about how grateful they are that we made room at the table for them. But they don't realize that we're all thinking that we're the blessed group because they've all joined us -- and helped to change us! We're better because of them.
7. Even with all the growing diversity, the issues of race and gender are still secondary issues. We're very aware of the ethnicity and race issues but we aren't really defined by them. When it comes to getting to know others I don't sense that people really think in terms of ethnicity and race.
8. The church continues to grow through conversions. In 1991 there were about 94,000 people worshiping in Covenant churches on any given Sunday. Today, 15 years later, that number stands about about 170,000.
9. Quality and competent people. I enjoy being around them.
10. We maintain a good sense of our roots -- without letting the heritage limit the future.
11. There is an openness to trying new things -- on both the megachurch and emerging church levels. There is openness to innovation.
12. There is great openness to innovation and creativity in the world mission department. I'm not so sure that if we had brought a proposal 25 years ago to establish a mission partnership with PIBC (where we serve) that the world mission people would have had the freedom to bless that. They are looking for ways to say "yes."
13. There is a commitment to care for the needs of pastors.
14. There are institutional commitments to ministries of benevolence -- Covenant World Relief, retirement centers, homes for disabled adults... The Covenant tries to put its money where its mouth is.
15. The authority of the Bible remains central -- without getting hung-up on secondary issues. The main things remain the main things.