Covenantal Leadership through a Leadership Covenant

The following is taken from Faith-Based: A Biblical, Practical Guide to Strategic Planning in the Churchby Michael Gafa:

I have found that having a well discerned, easy to understand Leadership Covenant is a great way to uphold core values and biblical truths in tandem with promoting cohesion and unity in Christ.

The Leadership Covenant example that follows is one I have used for several years.  It was adapted from a similar covenant I had come across many years ago, but I have been unable to find the original source.

The covenant encapsulates what we most ardently wish for our staff and leaders to commit to, understanding that if we are together on these things, the church as a whole will be more likely to follow suit.

The covenant is used in four ways:

  1. As a pre-employment requirement for staff members
  2. As a pre-nominations requirement for elders and deacons
  3. As an annual requirement for current staff members, elders, and deacons
  4. And, on occasion, a tool for helping to resolve conflict.

There are two cautions that come with using a Leadership Covenant.

1. The first is to avoid making the covenant legalistic, both in content and application.

Don’t include every minute theological position you hold, but rather, list what you believe to be most essential for leaders to agree on.

Then, after the covenant is signed, refrain from monitoring individual adherence to the covenant.

The covenant is meant to be entered into with good faith and best intentions, and pestering people about how they’re doing with it will create an environment of legalism and mistrust.  Once people sign it, trust that they’ll own it for themselves.

2. The second caution is simply to recognize that while Leadership Covenants are helpful, they are not a cure all. 

If you have a staff or leadership team that is marked by dissension, lethargy, or conflict-avoidance, a Leadership Covenant will not in itself alter those behaviors. The covenant will help, but it cannot solve deeply rooted issues.

Nevertheless, I encourage you to develop a Leadership Covenant that lists what is most essential for leaders to agree on, and trust your leaders to make good on their commitment.


_____ I concur with the mission and core values that [Your Church] holds, and with God’s help will endeavor to actively support and conduct myself in accordance with all.

_____ I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, as evidenced in my commitment to worship, Bible study, discipleship, fellowship and prayer.

“Let us not give up meeting together… let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)

“They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer … they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread together with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:42, 46)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  (Colossians 3:16)

_____ I am committed to the ministry of [Your Church], excited about the possibilities for ministry in our community and beyond, and supportive of the leadership of the church.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:16-20)

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

“Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:7)

_____ I bring a teachable spirit into my position.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

“By grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of Christ lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9)

_____ I trust God and have made (or will now make) a faithful commitment to joyfully, regularly, generously and sacrificially give my time, talents, and treasure to [Your Church].  

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room for it.” (Malachi 3:10)

_____ I realize that the Biblical pattern of leadership is by example.  I will strive to be of a humble spirit, speaking in patience and love, following the example of Jesus.  I will never ask of others what I am unwilling to do myself.

“Here is a trustworthy saying: if anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.  Now an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” (1 Timothy 3:1-3)

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.  Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

_____ I will support the staff at [Your Church] by my behavior, prayers, and presence.  I will not speak ill of them to others but will bring any concerns I have directly to their attention.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you …” (Matthew 18:15)

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join with me in my struggle by praying to God for me.” (Romans 15:30)

_____ I understand that I am called to serve those I lead and that this servanthood is essentially in matters spiritual, bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to others and doing my part to live healthy and vibrantly in accordance with the Gospel. I commit myself to these biblical standards because I want the best for the Body of Christ at [Your Church].

“The King will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)


I agree with, and am in compliance to, each of the points above.


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Is it I, Lord?

“When it was evening, he reclined at the table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:20-22)

Jesus’ disciples got so many things wrong!

Consider … after Jesus had invested three years with them, had washed their feet and shared one last supper with them, had been betrayed by one of them, and had commanded them to love one another as he had loved them, they respond by arguing while on the way to Gethsemane about which of them is the greatest, falling asleep when Jesus needed them the most, and – in Peter’s case – cutting off the ear of a servant of the high priest and denying ever knowing Jesus.

Suffice to say, Jesus’ disciples were flawed. But let us not lose sight that everything the disciples experienced was unprecedented. What we read in the Gospel accounts was unfolding before their eyes in real time. We read the stories; they lived the stories.

On that note, imagine for a moment that you’re at the Passover Meal with Jesus and the other disciples. As you’re eating, seemingly out of nowhere Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

How will you respond to Jesus? Will you point a finger at the disciple you most suspect? Will you ask Jesus to quickly reveal the betrayer so that you and others might be absolved? Will you issue a quick denial? Or will you, out of intense sorrow, ask Jesus “Is it I, Lord?”

Amazingly, by virtue of asking this question all of the disciples acknowledge their capability to betray Jesus. Only one of them actually did betray Jesus, but the other eleven understood that they were capable of betrayal. In this moment, intense sorrow meets profound self-awareness, and the result is breathtakingly beautiful.

In the denomination that I am a part of – the Reformed Church in America – our General Synod Assembly is right around the corner. By design, it will look, feel, and be different this year. But perhaps the most significant breakthrough that can be made is moving from “It is them, Lord” to “Is it I, Lord?”

May it be so.

The Tyranny of Approval

“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:42-43)

The struggle is real. As church/ministry leaders, we are constantly challenged to determine whether our allegiance will be to God, or to people. The temptation to appease others, be approved by others, and be liked by others is ever present. After all, we like our churches packed and our people happy. But is it even possible to preach, teach, and live out the Gospel without offending at least some in our congregation? I think not!

There was a time when Jesus’ approval rating was off the charts. Huge crowds followed him, drawn in by miracles, intrigued by a Rabbi who taught with authority, and hopeful that Jesus might be the one to restore Israel to her rightful place. But after Jesus referred to himself as the “Bread of Life,” and further explained the significance of what he was conveying, many of his followers turned away, and Jesus’ approval ratings began to tumble.

We tend to think of the temptation of Christ as a singular event that took place over 40 days in a desert. But in his humanity – Jesus was fully human, after all – is it possible that Jesus was most vulnerable to temptation not when he was alone and isolated, but when his popularity had peaked, when he was surrounded by adoring crowds, when his approval rating was at its apex?

As it relates to Jesus, we can only speculate on the answer. But as it relates to ourselves, my belief (and experience) is that we are most vulnerable to pleasing people over God when we feel most appreciated, most approved, most liked. The struggle is real.

And to be fair, there is nothing inherently wrong with being appreciated, approved, and liked – provided that you are, with the utmost integrity, serving and leading to glorify God rather than to receive glory for yourself.

So …

Put on the armor of God daily.

Make prayer a priority rather than an afterthought.

Covenant with your leaders to lead together in the unity of Christ, with a shared commitment to glorify God rather than please people.

Find at least a few people that will hold your arms up when the battle is intense.

Discern and define values for your church or ministry that when followed will glorify God above all else.

Work to create a culture where change is normal and ongoing rather than exceptional and intermittent.

Be kind to yourself. The struggle is real.

 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24)

A Crisis of Kindness

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

On August 18, 1988, George H.W. Bush received the Republican Party nomination for president of the United States. In His acceptance speech, Bush famously called for America to be a “kinder, gentler” nation. Bush repeated the call at his inauguration speech the following January, and “kinder, gentler” became part of the American lexicon. But predictably, just a few years later the phrase became more of a punchline than a clarion call. And thirty years later, following the recent passing of the nation’s 41st president, it can be argued that America is less kind and less gentle than ever before. Kindness, it would seem, is in short supply.

While a blog post can only scratch the surface of why kindness is in such short supply, I believe that the four reasons that follow are a good starting point. Beyond the reasons I list below, please consider going deeper on this topic by reading Christians in the Age of Outrage, by Ed Stetzer.

  1. Kindness is in short supply because typecasting people is easier than relating with people.
    Because people are messy – and yes, that includes all of us – so too are relationships. But it’s only through forging relationships with people, especially those who don’t think, look, or act like ourselves, that we can truly begin to have empathy and build trust. Typecasting is easy; relationships aren’t. But to move toward kindness and away from typecasting, we must take the uncomfortable step of getting to know people who are different than ourselves.
  2. Kindness is in short supply because we are inclined to compete rather than collaborate.
    While competition has its place, an increasingly disproportionate emphasis on winning has significantly eroded our willingness to collaborate with one another. We have moved from Grantland Rice saying “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” to President Trump saying “We are gonna win, win, win … we’re going to win at everything.” The emphasis on winning is everywhere, and it is constant. A few months ago, as our church was preparing to join with the church across the street to celebrate Reformation Day, a teenage girl asked our pastors if our church competes with the church across the street. We assured her that not only do we not compete with them, we collaborate with them on a variety of things. But her question was an honest question, and I’m glad she asked it. Because whether we realize it or not, people are conditioned to believe that everything revolves around competition these days. For that reason, pastors and church leaders need to be at the forefront of pushing against competition, and for collaboration. Let it begin with us. 
  1. Kindness is in short supply because we are quick to ascribe intent rather than giving benefit of the doubt.
    When someone says or does something that you disagree with, are you quick to assume the motive for what was said or done? The tendency to ascribe intent – to assume we know exactly why a person says or acts in a certain manner – is prevalent in our rush-to-judgement culture. As church leaders, we see this all the time, don’t we? A change in worship style is perceived as leadership choosing to marginalize one group of people, rather than trying to more effectively reach another group that is harder to reach. A staff member who expresses concern about a leadership decision is perceived as a complainer rather than someone who cares enough to take the risk of sharing her opinion. A pastor’s exhortation for people to give generously is perceived as manipulation rather than an appeal to step into the fullness of life in Christ. When we ascribe intent, we play the role of judge. But as it relates to what lies within a person’s heart, that role is reserved for God alone.
  1. Kindness is in short supply because we rely on ourselves rather than the Holy Spirit.
    Galatians 5 includes kindness as a fruit of the Spirit. This means that try as we might, we cannot truly be kind to others on our own strength. Rather, we need to fully surrender ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to increasingly conform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Then – and only then – are we able to exude kindness that flows not from who we are, but what God has done (and is doing) in and through us. 

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
Galatians 5:25



The Great Rescue

This is a blog post I wrote for on July 16, 2018:

In the space of eighteen days, one of the most riveting stories of our time unfolded slowly and with great risk and uncertainty. By now you know the story …

On June 23, twelve boys and their assistant coach ventured into a cave network in northern Thailand after soccer practice, and were trapped when flood waters rose rapidly.

On June 24 rescue teams found evidence that the boys and their coach were trapped inside the cave, but before they could go further needed to pump water out to mitigate against rising waters. In the next several days, at least six nations provided experts to help support Thai army and navy troops, and volunteers.

On July 2 two British divers found all twelve boys and their coach on a shelf inside the cave. In the next three days, supplies were delivered while experts collaborated on how best to go undergo what was now clearly a perilous, uncertain rescue effort.

On July 6, former Thai Navy Seal Saman Kunan died after running out of oxygen while underwater. The next day, July 7, rescuers determined that they needed to initiate final rescue efforts immediately due to forecasts of heavy rain.

On July 8 the first four boys were brought to safety following an 11-hour rescue operation. On July 9 four more boys were rescued following a 9-hour rescue operation. And finally, on July 10 the remaining four boys and their coach were brought to safety. And there was much rejoicing throughout the world!

The rescue operation in Thailand is a wonderful reminder of the value of life and the willingness of people to sacrifice for the sake of others. And the end result of the rescue was significant indeed, as thirteen lives were prolonged.

For Christians, the rescue operation in Thailand ought to remind us of another rescue operation – the ultimate rescue operation – that does not merely prolong life, but leads to everlasting life. What’s more, what took place in Thailand has something to teach us about living as rescued people who have the joy and privilege of joining with Christ on His Great Rescue. Specifically …

Joining Christ on the Great Rescue means leaving what is comfortable.

Each of the divers in Thailand left the comfort and safety of dry land to search for the lost in uncertain, murky waters. What comfort zones might you need to leave to join Christ in pursuing the lost?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Joining Christ on the Great Rescue means giving grace to others.

While the events in Thailand have revealed the capacity for good in people, they have also revealed our propensity toward judgement and condemnation. It is well documented that Ekkapol Ake Chantawong, the soccer team’s 25-year old assistant coach, made a poor decision in guiding the team to a forbidden and dangerous area. But as “Coach Ek” was trapped in a cave and doing all he could to keep his team alive, others were taking to social media to ridicule and condemn the coach as reckless, selfish, and clearly undeserving of grace.

Are we too quick to assume the worst about others? And are we too slow to extend grace to others?

“Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’” (John 8:10-11)

Joining Christ on the Great Rescue means collaborating with others along the way.

While the rescue team discussed a variety of approaches for getting the boys and their coach out, the approach they settled on was to medicate the boys, then place each on a stretcher as they were passed from diver to diver through the cave. This is a marvelous picture of how collaboration works to achieve a result that no single individual could attain on their own. As Christians, God does not call us to go it alone, but to be joined in community with one another, bearing in mind that while we play a role in the Great Rescue, we don’t do the actual rescuing. After all, salvation comes not through people, but through Jesus Christ alone.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:6-7)

Joining Christ on the Great Rescue means joining in celebration when the lost are found.

When the last of the boys and their coach were rescued, the world rightly celebrated the miracle of a rescue that seemed improbable from the start. Do we join with heaven in celebrating the miracle of people eternally rescued by God? We should – it’s the best celebration this life has to offer!

“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

From Darkness to Light

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
Eph. 5:8-11

Darkness, which in essence is the absence of visible light, has some value, especially as a vital means of regulating our bodies and boosting our immune system through proper sleep. But darkness must be compartmentalized, because we were not created to live in darkness, but in light.

So why is it that so many of us – at least figuratively speaking – spend our days in shadows, in darkness? Could it be that we’re hiding from God, and from one another?

It’s telling that the Apostle Paul instructed the Ephesian believers – just as God instructs us – to have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness, but instead to expose them. But whose deeds are we to expose? The truth is that most of us are comfortable pointing out other people’s sin, but not so quick to expose our own sin. Yet that’s exactly what God calls us to do. And it can only happen if we step out of darkness and into light.

Think of it this way: If you were having some sort of surgical procedure done, would you ask the surgeon to perform it in the dark? Probably not!  Why then should we expect God to free us from our areas of struggle if we are unwilling to step into the light so that our sin is fully exposed?

Perhaps more than anything, living in the light means that we need to become unflinchingly honest with God, with one other, and with ourselves. After all, God has commanded us to love God with every fiber of our being, and to love others as we ourselves want to be loved, but in the absence of honesty our love is incomplete and insufficient. In the absence of honesty we remain in the shadows, hiding from God (as if!) and each other. And so living in the light starts with honesty.

How is your prayer life? Do you pray in a manner that is heartfelt rather than scripted or mundane?

How are your relationships? Are they healthy and vibrant, flavored with both grace and truth?

Who in your life are you able to share openly with about your areas of struggle? I certainly don’t recommend telling everyone you meet about your areas of struggle, but I do recommend that you find at least a few people you can do this with.

May the Lord bless you as you step out of darkness and into light.

Mission Critical

It has long been my belief that a clear, concise mission statement is essential for organizational success. For churches, the mission does not need to be discerned per se because it has been given to us by Jesus himself. The mission of every church is at its core the Great Commission given to us by Christ. Churches can restate the mission for their particular context, but the mission must encapsulate our call to make disciples, bringing people to Christ and helping people to become increasingly like Christ.

This brings us to a difficult reality check. Because if it’s true that the mission of every church is at its core to make disciples, then we must ask ourselves why so many churches have failed not only to make disciples of Jesus Christ, but to drift far, far away from the mission given to us by Jesus Christ.

The answer is nuanced, and like you I can think of a myriad of contributing factors. But for purposes of this post, we’ll consider two overarching reasons. If either of these brings a sense of conviction to you, I encourage you to pray about it, be open to what the Holy Spirit might speak to you, and discuss it with other leaders.

Our Tendency to Settle.
After God created Adam and Eve, He instructed them to, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). More than a thousand years later, after flooding the earth, “God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.’” (Gen. 9:1). Yet just a few generations after Noah, we read in Genesis 11:1 that, “As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” And you know the rest of the story – after the people “settled” in Shinar, they began construction of the Tower of Babel, a misguided construction project if ever there was one.

The problem with settling is that it runs contrary to movement and multiplication. It’s true in our individual lives, and it’s true in our churches. In both cases, when we settle for what is familiar or comfortable, we invariably move our focus off of Christ and other people, and onto ourselves. We have no effectiveness in fulfilling the Great Commission because we fail to heed the Great Commandment. Slowly and steadily, we become increasingly myopic, to the point where vision evaporates and mission is etched not on our hearts, but on an overlooked placard.

I do not believe it is possible to be fully engaged in mission while settling for what is familiar or comfortable. Rather we are to, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).

Our Tendency to Wander.
In my book, Faith-Based: A Biblical, Practical Guide to Strategic Planning in the Church, I wrote that, “It ought to be easy to craft a mission statement that encapsulates the Great Commission, but there are many pastors and church leaders who are consumed with developing a mission statement that is somehow more captivating, unique, cutting edge, than the mission Christ gave us. The result is that too many churches have mission statements that relegate the Great Commission to an afterthought … The demands on pastors, staff members, and lay leaders to do this and try that are never ending.  Hardly a day passes without being exposed to some new program, idea, or opportunity.  But the risk of constantly trying new things, or forever searching for the next big thing, is that we forget why we exist as a church.”

If settling leads to myopia, wandering leads to blurriness!

I encourage you to safeguard the mission Christ has given to you, and your church. And as you seek to fulfill the mission, I encourage you to be adventurous, creative, bold, humble, and prayerful – for the sake of the mission and the cause of Christ.