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Doing Church Together

A family covenant can be an example for congregations.

One of the important questions we need to answer well if we are to live well is, how do we make community together? This question especially applies to our local churches, but, in my opinion, begins in our homes. 

Back in 1999, just before our eldest son became a teenager, my family – Grace, my wife, and our two boys, Mike and Geoff – asked ourselves the question, what kind of family do we want to be? Over the course of the next few weeks this became our dinner table talk. Out of these conversations we came up with a family covenant which we each signed. We agreed to aim for four lofty ideals (happy, helping, healthy and holy), and then we added specific ways on how to get there. 

First, we agreed to be a happy family. Well, duh! Who doesn’t want to be happy? This meant that we aimed to affirm one another by giving and receiving attention, affection and appreciation. Let’s face it; don’t we all yearn to receive these three affirmations? We also decided that we’d spend quality time together each week, as well as cultivate positive attitudes (which, as you know, is easier said than done). 

Second, we decided to be a helping family. We agreed that we would do our chores readily and without complaint. It had fallen to me to do the vacuuming, and, boy, do I hate that chore! But I decided that I love my family more than I hate vacuuming. Fast-forward 20 years: I’m still hauling the hose out of the closet. We also decided to give correction without condemnation, so self-righteousness was out. And we agreed to expect the best and do our best at home, school and work.

Third, we agreed to be a healthy family. Even though Grace is a medical doctor we had in mind not so much our physical health (I suppose we took that one for granted), but emotional and relational health. No one journeys through life without getting hurt. Intentionally or unintentionally, we hurt one another. So we decided to offer forgiveness and forgive each other, and accept responsibility for our actions. It also meant that we’d accept one another’s uniqueness, and therefore not project our strengths or weaknesses onto others. 

Finally, we resolved to be a holy family. Just because I am a pastor doesn’t mean this came automatically. So we decided to worship together, and to pray for and with each other. In addition, we agreed to believe that God would do great things in us and through us.

We each signed this covenant, and if you were to visit our home today you would still find it framed and hanging on the wall. 

What’s amazing is that after we were done we became the instant perfect family! … Not! But when things went off the rails, we would remind ourselves, for example, that we agreed to vacuum without complaining. 

Your local church is not a nuclear family. However, to help your congregation excel as a community that worships and serves together – no matter what your capacity or position – we need healthy relational guidelines. The apostle John writes, “Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions” (1 John 3:18). 

  • Walt is a campus pastor in Elim Village, a retirement community in Surrey, B.C.

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