Covenant Groups, Partners Build the Body of Christ


Editor's note: Bishop Keaton is on vacation and has asked that his executive assistant, the Rev. Janice Griffith, prepare this month's column for The Current.

As I returned home from my “boot camp” exercise class one hot, humid August evening, I found myself reflecting on what motivated me to change into the coolest exercise clothes I could find and go out into the heat only to return home an hour later bone-weary and covered with sweat.  As part of my personal commitment to get into better physical shape, I added the “boot camp” to my exercise routine about six months ago.  I had already been doing some one-on-one work with a fitness trainer in a studio.   I had definitely seen results, but I also realized that I had hit a plateau.  I had a sense that exercising with a group in which some were more physically fit would challenge me to step up to the next level.  Indeed it did, and the fruits of “boot camp” have been more pounds lost and a body that is in better shape now that it has been in at least a decade.

As I reflected on the factors that have made “boot camp” such an effective means of accomplishing my goals, I identified these four:

  1. The trainer does a terrific job of teaching us how to do each exercise in the right way – so that we don’t injure ourselves and so that we get the most benefit from our efforts.
  2. The trainer offers both words of encouragement as well as reminders about how to do the exercises correctly.
  3. The trainer nurtures a culture of supportiveness and teamwork among the members of the group. And, it is the norm for “boot camp” members to cheer each other on whenever any member is working hard to accomplish their goals – no matter their level of fitness nor ability.
  4. It is a climate in which there is no judgment about appearance or ability but in which every member is valued for who she is and for her desire for physical health.

“Boot camp” has been a blessing in my life. I feel a bond to these women whom I see only a couple times of week at class, but who care enough about me to support my goal of becoming whole and healthy. And likewise, I care about and encourage their health and wholeness.

I am reminded that I am also blessed to have other groups of persons who likewise support my goals toward health and wholeness – “covenant groups” whose focus is spiritual growth.  One of these groups has been together for more than 20 years, since I was in seminary. Although we are scattered widely now, so that we can only meet in person for three-day retreats a couple of times a year, we stay in touch by phone and e-mail. They have walked with me through the good times and the struggles of my life. They know my strengths and my weaknesses. And because they do, they can speak the truth in love in a way that keeps me on the path of becoming more Christ-like day by day. Every day, I wake up knowing that their desire is for me to be the best I can be as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

This supportive relationship is the result of the weekly meetings in the initial years we became a group. Some of those meetings were as strenuous spiritually as my “boot camps” are physically.  And yet, for similar reasons as those listed above, I continue to be motivated to stay connected to this covenant group:

  1. We hold before each other the Word of God which is our guide for growth as disciples of Jesus Christ
  2. Deep listening to each other’s telling of their experiences is the core of our “spiritual exercise” routine. Questions that promote theological reflection, deeper understanding, and spiritual growth are the means of guidance and encouragement.
  3. All are expected to share and all are encouraged no matter their current circumstances.  Laughter at “less than perfect” selves is always a part of our gatherings, as is the strong reminder of God’s amazing grace in our lives and God’s command to holy living.
  4. The deep sense of trust and mutual accountability that exists between us is the result of a culture in which there is no judgment, but a deep valuing of the sacred worth of each member.

Without covenant partners to stand by me and to challenge me to grow through some of the most difficult seasons of my spiritual journey, I would not be the person I am today. Participation in covenant groups has been an effective means of accomplishing the pledges made at my baptism.

How about you? What is motivating you to stay in shape?  What is your plan for health and wholeness as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a member of the Body of Christ? If you don’t have a plan, September is a good time to make and implement a new plan for spiritual growth. Join a study group or invite some friends to become part of a covenant group.  Your pastor can provide resources to help you do so.

It is essential for pastors to have covenant partners, too. If you are not already connected, reach out to your Superintendent or to the Chairs of the Orders and Fellowship to help.

In Ephesians 4 (CEB), the Apostle Paul gives us a plan for health and wholeness:

“Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.”

Paul talks about supporting ligaments and building up the Body of Christ. John Wesley called it watching over each other in love.

No matter what it is called, I can testify that I need people to speak to the truth with love to me. And I pray that I may do my part in speaking the truth in love for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.

May I be forever growing in Christ!