Congregations, like people, are born, grow up, grow old and eventually die. Along the way they experience sickness and health and exhibit greater or lesser faithfulness to God’s call to preach the gospel to all and to serve God’s children in the name of Jesus Christ with gladness of heart.
In the Presbyterian denomination, so much depends on the pastor and the session (and the diaconate for those congregations that give the diaconal function to a board separate from the session). We are a representative form of church government, and the ordained leadership given by God is critical for the health and the success of each congregation. A pastor and a congregation in love with each other — and God — is a rare gift, one of God’s greatest.
Unfortunately, many congregations can no longer afford a pastor or are in locations where most of today’s pastors do not want to go. Then there are churches that have had great difficulties with pastors, and seem not to be able to choose well. There are churches whose organization and mission is fine-tuned and effectively oriented toward particular needs in the community served. Another church may have no clue as to the community it wishes to serve, the particular mission initiatives it wants to undertake and the goals which it believes God has set before it to accomplish — goals that only this particular congregation, located in this particular place, can accomplish.
What will it mean for congregations to renew the covenant? To rethink every aspect of their life together, and to do so in the same way that an outsider looking in might do. In fact, any congregational self-study aimed at discovering how our neighbors see us should include the testimony of persons from the outside, who are intentionally (but confidentially) brought into the life of the church to provide an independent perspective on the character of the body and its parts.
If there is to be covenant renewal in our congregations, then, God’s people must choose their leaders prayerfully and wisely. Churches must be self-consciously introspective about their own unique gifts, challenges and opportunities, and prayerfully organize themselves, not only to provide ongoing preaching, teaching and fellowship to nurture the membership, but to identify particular missionary outreach which represents God’s unique call to them in that time and place.
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