An Example of a Covenant Between Pastor and Church

Not every church has a covenant, and many that do will define a covenant differently. Other churches might have a concept of membership but not have a covenant. The purpose of this article is not to stir up a theological debate but rather provide an example of a covenant between pastor and church.

Generally, a church covenant is a clearly stated way an individual member commits to the body and how the body, in turn, commits to the individual. As you commit to God, you commit to each other in the church. I believe some of the best church covenants focus on expectations. For example, the covenant at my church includes seven membership expectations: Worship, grow, serve, give, pray, seek unity, and share.   

I’ve found several examples of church covenants, but there are far fewer examples of a covenant between leadership and the church. When we revised our bylaws a few years ago, we included an additional covenant for pastors. 

I believe this covenant helps clarify the responsibilities of a pastor in addition to the responsibilities of membership. The church also needs to understand how to hold pastors accountable. Unmet expectations are often a source of tension between pastors and the church. When a clearly written covenant exists, there is less of a chance unmet expectations cause conflict. 

Here is our pastor’s covenant. I prefer the “I will” statements because they make explicit the actions and behavior expected of pastors.

 I commit as a pastor within the body of Christ to join West Bradenton Baptist Church and to fulfill the expectations of church membership. Additionally, I commit to the following expectations as a pastor:

  1. I will seek God’s guidance for West Bradenton Baptist Church in order to steward resources entrusted to the church in a way that gives God glory.
  1. I will shepherd, care for the church, and lead with grace, truth, and love.
  1. I will teach all of God’s Word at all costs.
  1. I will equip members of the church for the work of ministry. 
  1. I will protect the doctrine of West Bradenton Baptist, and I will guard the church against false teachers and false teaching.
  1. I will act in a way that is above reproach, making my family the priority of my ministry. I understand the way I live will affect the church I lead, and I will live in a way that elevates the reputation of West Bradenton Baptist Church. 
  1. I will lead the church in exercising discipline in a way that is gracious and loving, protecting the health of the church as a whole while guiding members towards reconciliation.

An additional covenant will certainly not solve all the problems that can occur in the relationship between pastor and church. But it’s a good starting point. Your expectations may be different than the seven listed for our church. Whatever you expect of pastors, and whether or not you desire a covenant, it’s a good practice to put them in writing.

Posted on December 16, 2020

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30 Comments

  • As a former elder to our former church, I was not able to hold our pastors accountable to their actions outside of church. Thank you for these examples.

  • Dave Schulze says on

    This is an excellent covenant, one that every church would be wise to create and use. Like a concise Mission Statement, this should be the basis for annual evaluation. It should also be communicated to the membership. I’d like to see the covenant for membership, because this conforms to Jesus’ idea of Luke 9:23.

  • Jared (Skip) Haines Pastor Fellowship Church Machias, NY says on

    I see a covenant like the marriage vows. It involves two people, or a pastor and the church, making promises concerning the treatment and actions one towards the other. These promises are made in front of others who are to directed to hold all parties accountable. Just as God holds us accountable. Correction must be done in love. One misstep is no reason for a split.

  • Assuming covenant finds expression and application in the overall doctrine of the church and the rest of the by-laws, these can be helpful to create and clarify boundaries and expectations. If they stand alone and are not woven into the overall doctrine the church teaches, the statement of faith, a clear theological confession (in my case the London Confession of 1689), etc., the covenant will not do anything but become a source of consternation and conflict.

  • Dr. Sam Rainer,

    In my experience, while seemingly helpful upfront as you clarify expectations, at the end of the day these covenants don’t work and carry ZERO biblical precedents. These covenants are reactionary and give a false sense of security for the pastor. Four years ago, a portion of our church began their coup, divisively tearing apart the congregation, and I promise you the breaking of the covenant was the last thing on their mind. After the war was over, even though I have grounds, do you think that I’m actually going to sue the church?
    These false prophets, intentionally divisive, disregard scripture and thus written covenants referencing scripture. However, we need to stop promoting covenants and begin promoting a plurality of elders with biblically qualified servant leader deacons. A strong biblical polity will prevent what the covenant is intended to prevent. Churches need biblical patterns of leadership, not pastoral covenants.

    Sincerely,
    God’s Pattern Works

    • Bobby ,
      Could you please suggest 3 additional items that would strengthen the 7 items already mentioned in Sams covenant. ( your covenant points 8,9,10)
      Such as biblically mandated leadership qualifications or other ideas you may have.
      This may be a constructive way to affirms Sams good work and add your observations.

      • While the covenant is helpful, we lead revitalization by and through the Word of God. The congregation and new pastor should have one tenet, We Will All Obey Scripture. (see Dean’s Comments). Rainers have ministered to me so much over the years; however, Church Leaders like Sam and Thom are mandated by scripture to promote God’s Word as authoritative, sufficient, necessary, and clear. For this, I do not apologize.

  • I think in addition to that should be what the church covenants to the Pastor.

  • Great article! Could you also post your Church covenant? I would like to see the breakdown of the 7 expectations: Worship, grow, serve, give, pray, seek unity, and share.

  • Bernard D. Glee says on

    This is interesting and a great idea. But it has been very few Pastors that I know that have actually joined the church that they Pastor. I have always been told that a Pastor needs to have a Pastor and membership in another church was the norm. What do you think about that?

  • I truly appreciate this covenant and would love to see your church’s covenant with you. I am a AMS and am constantly on the lookout for great examples of church relationships and church life worth considering. Thanks.

  • Thanks, Sam. Keeping the relationship between pastors and their congregations is critical to long, effective ministry. In our Lutheran tradition, these covenants are explicitly stated in the rite of Ordination and at the pastor’s Installation in a new congregation. Where we fail is to bring them out for review regularly. The congregation also vows to love, care for and respect their pastor and family. That would be a good one to review periodically also!

  • This is a great exercise and tool for accountability for all parties involved. Just curious: Is there a Church Revitalization Consultant Covenant? It might be beneficial to have a template as this is fairly new ground. The importance of having a document that all parties may refer to for clarification and accountability is always a healthy practive.
    Many thanks and blessings,
    Sue

    • The Church has a Covenant already. Christ gave us the articles of the covenant in the New Testament, (covenant). It works, man fails God Christ never fails. The elders,( this includes Pastors, ) have the leadership responsibilities in the Church. Deacons are servants of the Church not pulpit committees, not the financial responsibility of the Church. The Word of the New Covenant tells us to be led of the Spirit and you won’t do the works of the flesh is a great scripture to memorize.
      We have to much man and not enough scriptural teaching now. Jesus can can direct the leadership of the church check out Revelation chapter 1 through three. Maybe we have lost our first ❤ Love?
      If we have covenants, ( really a contractual agreement is a secular agreement, If we are called, is Christ not the head of the Church? Give him the opportunity to lead, HE is the head. Didn’t he say follow me and I will make you fishers of men?

      • Utilizing a man made covenant to govern the expectations of a pastor and congregation is the same as saying God’s word is not sufficient to establish and uphold his church. How can the word be sufficient for ecclesiology, but we still need to create a covenant of expectations? The pastor and the congregation are held accountable to the Word. God defined the responsibility of the Elders and deacons to govern the church 1 Tim. 3) and the body’s responsibility to search the scriptures (Acts 17:11) to hold our teachers accountable. When one goes outside of God’s parameters, he also gave us the process for handling it in church discipline (Matthew 18). Man made covenants are simply another attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. I have personally seen an attempt to create a “marriage covenant” because the “pastor” was not willing to adhere to the requirements of marriage as defined in scripture. This is quickly headed in the same direction, away from the Word.

      • Agreed Dean,
        This is my point exactly, at least speaking for my camp (SBC), going outside of scripture is a slippery slope. As a Christian, I am accountable to Scripture Alone. Having moved from Catholicism, I choose not to follow any more traditions of man. Additionally, having lived overseas planting churches, to hand a new indigenous church a covenant and say follow this would have caused extreme confusion. While the suggested covenant is “helpful” is it not sufficient.

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