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January 16, 2014

Covenant and Change: Pastoral Covenant Groups


Anna’s Kent’s blog offered the big picture view of Pastoral Covenant Groups (PCGs). Now allow me to zoom in a bit.

This up-close perspective on PCGs comes from a meeting this week where Anna and I joined others in preparing to launch the new East Central Presbytery – or, as we in Richmond prefer to call it, the Presbytery of Virginia and Outlying Territories. (Ha!) Since I knew our discussion would include the state of Pastoral Covenant Groups, I decided to do a quick survey in preparation.

Here’s what I learned: about half of our pastors are already in groups, about a quarter are getting groups together, and the other quarter have hopes to get started, but no real plans. We also discovered that these groups have more flavors than the proverbial Baskin-Robbins:

  • Some are local and gather monthly, while others are spread broadly and gather by phone, or gather for a few days annually.
  • Some are all ECO, but many groups have a mix with PCUSA or other denominational flavors.
  • A few are using The Pastoral Rule, but most have a free flowing agenda of sharing, support, and accountability, with a few also adding study.

Despite the obvious variety, there is one trait I believe to be common in all groups – change. This conclusion comes from another kind of survey, namely a review of my own group’s course over its six years:

  • Six of us formed the group with a covenant of meeting monthly to share, encourage, and give account to one another. We were all PCUSA pastors of evangelical commitment, and about the same age and stage of life.
  • A year later one of us moved away, and we added another.
  • Three years later, three of us determined we must move toward ECO. This led to several hard conversations about the nature of our group, and whether we could continue. We decided we could, with a wait-and-see attitude.
  • One more moved, but continued to meet with us for a while by Skype. As he departed, we added another pastor who was new to the ECO stream.

Even with the same covenant and practices, we’re not really the same group. Add the additional changes in our own families, health, and ministries, and you’d have to say change has been a major factor in our lives.

Can it be any other way? I think not. Our covenant is with people in the midst of change. This makes our dependency on the Unchanging One in our midst all the more apparent.

What a privilege we have to be in covenant with Him and each other! May this facet of our ECO lives be used by God to enable His church to flourish in the midst of change.

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