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When WE Is YOU: What Is Covenant Membership?

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity narrates Christ’s call to commitment like this:

Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desire you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself; my own will shall become yours.[1]

That commitment to Christ for Mercy Hill is carried out through Covenant Membership. Historian “Charles Deweese has defined a church covenant as ‘a series of written pledges based on the Bible which members voluntarily make to God and to one another regarding their basic moral and spiritual commitments and the practice of their faith.’”[2] In looking at our Covenant Membership, I was reflecting on the eight things “We are Committed to…:”

-We are committed to essential and orthodox Christian doctrines as defined by Mercy Hill Church’s Articles of Faith.

-We are committed to the Bible as God’s Holy Word (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:16). 

-We are committed to salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (1 Cor. 15; Jude 3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6).

-We are committed to a unified body (Phil 2:1-11; Rom. 12:3-8; Heb. 10:24-25).

-We are committed to gathering ourselves together on a regular basis (Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:25).

-We are committed to biblically ordered church (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Mathew 18:15-18; 1 Peter 5).

-We are committed to giving generously to the mission, and living sacrificially for its progress (2 Cor. 8:9).

-We are committed to every member as a missionary (2 Cor. 5:20; 2 Tim. 2:2).

These eight commitments make a powerful statement about Mercy Hill Church.

Then I thought, who do people think the “we” refers to? It is easy to think, “Oh, that is the elders,” or “That is other people.” The truth of the matter is WE is YOU. When you raise your hand and say, “I want in as part of this family,” the WE is YOU. The transfer from WE to YOU is moving from connected to the crowd to committed to the family. Covenant Membership is giving up the idea of I and joining in on WE. I love how one pastor describes Covenant Membership:

. . . [W]e believe the body of Christ is most effectively realized in the context of the local church. The local church is a part of God’s design; we are a community on mission to make Him known . . . around the world. Covenant Membership is a way of gratefully belonging to this community of believers and is a very healthy next step for many in their faith journey. It’s not something you do in order to get something out of it, receive special rights or recognition. On the contrary, it’s something you do when you’re ready, when God has brought you from a place of ‘come and see’ to ‘come and live’ to ‘come and die.’ Covenant membership is just an outward expression of an inward work of grace in your life. Ultimately, it’s a commitment to this faith . . .[3]

Covenant Membership is all of us coming alongside one another and holding each other accountable, not only to the eight things “we are committed to” but to all of scripture and the mission. As an elder, I am held accountable to the other elders and the congregation, and I hold them accountable as well. Mercy Hill is committed to seeing the gospel spread in the Triad and throughout the world. If you follow Christ as Lord, you are to be on mission making disciples around the world. The church is God’s plan A for the world and there is no plan B. Covenant Membership is your way to say as a follower of Christ, “I will give up I and be WE to the Triad and beyond.”

The best way to check out Covenant Membership is through the Weekender here

If you have already attended a weekender, please fill out a Covenant Member Profile here

Paul Howington (Assimilation Associate Director)

[1] Lewis

[2] Dever, Mark. “The Church” in A Theology for the Church. first ed.

[3] Britt.

Teenagers and Preaching

With Pastor Andrew being away this week preaching at a youth camp we only thought it fitting to share an article that relates to the importance of preaching AND teenagers.  Mercy Hill places a huge value on reaching students and it our desire to reach them primarily through the preaching of God’s Words.  Here are a few thoughts on how to effectively do that thanks to our friends at TGC[1]

Rarely seen, never heard is how many churches prefer to treat teenagers, confined to separate ministries. But I also know of a traditional church where teenagers sat front and center each week. It’s no coincidence the senior pastor had been a youth minister and often addressed those teens specifically.

If we’re serious about passing the gospel to the next generation, what do we need to learn from youth about how we preach? Here are six suggestions youth would offer to their pastors.

1. We don’t know what sanctification means, but we know about the process of growing in grace.

I’m a word person. I majored in Latin and English and enjoyed SAT prep vocabulary flashcards. (Yes, I was a really cool kid.) I like big words, especially in the realm of theology. A mentor listened to a talk I gave to students and had a list of about seven theological terms the kids probably did not know. Kids mentally check out when they hear abundant, arcane jargon and the presumption that everyone knows what it means. Students need to learn how to define terms like justification, sanctification, imputation, and substitutionary atonement. Preachers should not shy away from using Christian terminology, but they should make sure to explain the terms in a way that is not condescending toward those who do not know it.

2. If you are personally vulnerable, we will listen to what you have to say.

In homiletics, many debate the level of vulnerability pastors should exercise. If you share too much, you risk sounding self-absorbed. If you never share any personal stories, you may appear aloof. Regardless, I can say with confidence that teenagers of this generation embrace people with a willingness to share their story, particularly those parts that reveal the preacher is an imperfect person with whom students can identify.

3. We can’t hear you when you’re yelling.

One week in Sunday school we discussed how we relate and minister to those of other religions. I showed video from a cable news network debate about whether Christians should participate in a certain exercise. The program featured a conservative pastor, with a penchant for yelling, and a somewhat liberal pastor with a mellow demeanor. Before showing the video I asked students about their view on the topic. For the most part, they sided with the the conservative preacher. However, after showing the video, most said they agreed with the liberal preacher. Upon further cross-examination, the students admitted that they generally would reject what the yelling preacher had to say because of his tone and volume. Meanwhile, they would be inclined to agree with and embrace a person with a calm, gentle, controlled tone.

Keep in mind that we get yelled at more as teenagers than any other season in life. Whether it is their parents, their football coach, or the store-owner at the mall, teenagers receive much static from adults (and sometimes provoke it). They naturally reject a strident voice without even considering the validity of the statements, while they give a “nice” tone the benefit of the doubt.

4. Sometimes you talk as if we are not in the room.

Kids often say they feel as if the sermon exclusively addresses the adults in sanctuary. But the truth of God’s Word and the gospel have universal relevance and applications, regardless of the age or context of the audience. Rarely, though, when listening to sermons online or in person do I hear a preacher make life-application examples that appeal to adolescents. Usually, pastors evoke examples related to adult matters, such as financial insecurity, marital conflict, job loss, anxiety over children, and so on. A pastor can win serious rapport with his teenage audience by using a life-application example that relates to teenage experience, such as the stress of exams, conflict with parents, or fear about seating arrangements on the first day of school.

5. We are all postmodern, unlike many of our pastors.

The greatest disconnect I see between older pastors and the teens in their pews relates to the massive difference in cultural worldview under which they have been socialized. Many pastors (including me) were raised with a modernist mindset. We moderns think in terms of evidence, logic, and proofs. The evidences of the resurrection along with some Josh McDowell sold me on Christianity.

The teenagers to whom I minister do not think like most of my preacher friends. While volumes can (and have) been written about the difference between postmodern teens and their modernist neighbors, I would say simply that pastors must engage the postmodern kid in heart and mind. Biblical exegesis and doctrine alone edify and feed me. For postmodern teens, they need stories and questions that appeal to experience and emotions and that illustrate the biblical truth being proclaimed.

6. Tell me how this affects me right now.

Instant gratification may be the worst trend in this generation of teenagers. They evaluate everything on how it immediately affects them. By contrast, most pastors grew up in a world where we had to wait for mom and dad to take us to the movies (or the movie store) to watch a flick. We had to wait our turn to use the phone. Not these kids. They can watch a movie . . . on their phone. They can dial up whatever they want on demand. While this trend has deleterious effects on teens, we cannot ignore their context. Insane it may sound, but offering teenagers salvation and eternal life when they die does not hardly resonate with them. To connect to their teenage constituency, pastors also must explain the realized benefits we enjoy in this life from following Jesus in addition to the deferred ones we enjoy upon death.

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[1] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/06/06/6-things-to-we-need-to-learn-from-youth-about-preaching/