COVENANT 24 Opportunities to Serve

Episode 1

Remember faith takes action:
During each Group Meeting Experience, a Covenant group is encouraged to put learning and faith formation into practice.  During this first episode the group learns about the value of being in a committed and accountable relationship with God and with each other.  In other words, simply showing up ready to learn and talk for Covenant Bible Study is a step in the right direction toward practicing the faith.
Remind group members that they are committing to a 24-week Covenant experience together where they will:

  • read the Bible daily and write responses in their participant guides;
  • pray for other members of the group each day;
  • meet with the group every week;
  • listen for God speaking through the Bible and each other; and
  • invite the Holy Spirit to change their lives through exposure to the good news of salvation through
  • the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, who is encountered in the scriptures.

Participants are encouraged to conceive and share tangible ways that each week’s readings will alter their priorities and perspectives and shape their behavior. Most vital Covenant groups will mature to the point where they put their faith into practice over twenty-four weeks. A well-balanced learning experience gives weight to piety (reading scripture, prayer, Christian conversation) as well as mercy (tangible signs of faithful love in the community).
Ask group participants who are willing to share how each has volunteered to serve or to help others in the past. Make a list of the tangible things they have done for others, and affirm the scope and range of their experiences. 

Something your group can do:

  • mowing an aging neighbor’s lawn as they recover from surgery; 
  • mission trips to build housing for impoverished families at home or abroad; 
  • repairing playground equipment at a local park; 
  • providing transportation to doctor visits for those who no longer drive; 
  • tutoring second graders in basic math at a local elementary school; 
  • honoring first responders; and so on.

Episode 2

Remember who we are:

Episode 2 on Torah: Genesis deals with a people born from promises that start with the community of life. For these writers, covenant faith has 

  • a concrete place, where a
  • a distinct people, 
  • accompanied by sacred saving presence, 
  • presents and provides blessings to the broader world

Something to Do:

Have someone in the group bring a map of your city/region. Identify places on the map where group members or your church's outreach ministries are already making an impact for good in your community. Add these to the map (virtual or hard copy) using markers or pins with post-it notes naming the what, where, and who of these outreach efforts.
Ask "how could our covenant group add to or enhance these acts of service?" Or "which ministries would our group like to pray for each week?" Or even, "how could our covenant group identify a place and group of people on the map that could use some grace and help?" 
See where this leads your group in imagining a better life for those in the community that surrounds your church. In the coming weeks identify one or two group ideas that you will implement some time during the 8 weeks of Creating the Covenant.
One example: Environment and creation care opportunities in your church or community.
    Begin a recycling program for cardboard, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles in your church or local elementary school. 
    Offer to clean up or adopt park/recreational space in economically distressed areas on your city's map.
    Choose a neighborhood close to your church and pick up trash on a Saturday morning.

Episode 3

Remember where we start:

Faith often begins its work at the scene of a wound (C. Winquist). The Exodus story starts with the pain and cry of a captive people and God's response by calling Moses to be the instrument of their liberation. But the starting point is another's need or hurt and their cry for help. 
So our thoughts on serving, like God's rescuing efforts, begin with hearts and ears carefully calibrated and tuned to hear another's cry for help. And hearing God's call in this cry almost always ends in being part of God's strategic aim to rescue perishing people by loving in tangible ways. 
Something to Do:

Write the names of each group participant on a whiteboard or flipchart page, creating a circle of names for the whole group (include your name). Then have each participant offer the name of one neighbor they know and one they are barely acquainted with (write these above and below their names). Have the group come up with ways to discover more about these known and unknown neighbors (listen to their story) and one way to help them in the coming weeks. Pledge to pray for neighbors during the 8 weeks of Creating the Covenant.

Episode 4

Remember the saving example of Jesus: 

Who teaches a counter-cultural way of life that brings healing, help, and a new covenant relationship with God where the last are first. 
Something to Do:

Jesus invites us to reverse the relationships of power that determine status and standing in the dominant culture. God's love empowers others to belong whom the society has assigned to lower ranks. 
Identify someone in your zip code who works a job typically viewed as less prestigious/status-conferring than higher wage occupations (food preparation, dishwashers, nursery/childcare, farmworkers, housekeeping cleaners, parking lot attendants, sanitation workers, etc.). 
Ask your group to think of something they can do this week to express appreciation for the important services these workers provide (say thank you, praise them to their supervisors, show gratitude by giving them a gift certificate to a local restaurant, etc.). 

Episode 5

Remember the gift of Jesus' faithfulness on the cross:

Grace is truly understood when it is extended to those with whom we disagree.
Something to Do: 

Before your group gathers this week, look online or in a local paper for a list of churches in your area with traditions significantly different than your own (theologically, socioeconomically, ethnicity or racial diversity, etc.). Print a screen shot of this church or email an image from their website to every group member and ask them to pray intentionally that God would use that church to make a powerful impact in the surrounding community. Some groups will want to add the pastors and/or staff of this church to their prayer list. Still others will create opportunities to partner with a Bible study/small group from this other church in some shared outreach ministry at their church  or even share a meal with them.

Episode 6

Remember that "a better covenant" is one where obstacles to God's presence are removed and fear is replaced with confident expectation of God's love and favor:

Celebrate the "downward mobility" of Israel's faith heroes who provide a reliable template for faithful life in Jesus (see Hebrews 11).
Something to do: 

Connect with a synagogue and/or rabbi in your area and invite them to share with your group some of the ways modern Judaism has rethought covenant life beyond the priestly sacrificial system that is no longer a part of Jewish faith. In silent gratitude for the gift of Jesus, offer to help support one of their community outreach efforts in a way that their rabbi finds appropriate and helpful.

Episode 7

Remember that the logic of the cross balances individual freedom with Christ-shaped responsibility for others:

Having the mind of Christ means laying aside "I can do what I want" for "how can I help?"
Something to do: 

Invite group participants find and identify a local shelter or ministry that works with victims of domestic abuse. Contact the organization and ask if your group can sponsor a baby shower for those who have newborns or babies on the way. Give your church and/or local vendors an opportunity to donate items for this event. Then throw a party with no other goal than to help this family with needed baby supplies.

Episode 8
Remember the first and greatest commandment to love God with all your heart and strength:

Our own security and plenty in the good land God promises can lead us to think our prosperity is our own possession and the work of our own hands. Sharing with others reminds us that God is our source and that we are called to be channels of God's favor in the hungering, thirsting lives of others.
Something to do: 

Ask the group to bring items for a complete meal (several courses) to support a local food pantry or outreach effort in your community that distributes food to persons in need. Use paper plates, napkins, etc., and set the table with the food items in the center. Lead the group in a prayer and imagine the members of the family who will enjoy eating each item brought. Ask God to help every participant see that the physical needs of others and the spiritual needs of Christ followers coincide when bread is shared. 
For those who want to do more: 
Assign a member of your study to be the liaison to the local help center or food pantry. They will communicate the ongoing needs of this ministry and organize efforts within your community of faith (or coordinate with those in the church already involved with this kind of ministry).

Episode 9

Remember that covenant is about relationships and a new identity that comes when previously unrelated individuals risk being bound together by faithful love:

God's "crazy" love for us is on full display in the generosity of Boaz, the faithfulness of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi, and the courage of Esther to take a risk to save her people. And it resonates in the passion of the Song of Songs, set in lush garden where delight in this life is always shared delight in God's good creation.
Something to do:

Explore creating a community garden sponsored by your group or church (or offer support to one in your area) that shares it's produce with families in need. 
For those who want to do more: 
If the landscape allows, encourage the donation of many 4'x8' plots to be tended by different groups/classes in your church. Invite these adopting groups to include families in need to adopt or share a plot and share a meal together. You may want to invite families selected by a local Help Center or relief agency to tend their own plots (with the church providing seeds, fertilizer, agricultural advice, and friendship in the process).

Episode 10

Remember those in your community and on its fringes who seem outside the boundaries of your church or other circles of believers.

In Luke and Acts the work of Jesus is to bring saving, helping love into conversation and contact with the lives of persons whose geography or social standing keeps them from enjoying the benefits of a healthy community.
Something to do: 

Identify places where people gather in your community on Sunday morning (or whenever your church worships). Plan a field trip to one of these places (soccer fields, coffee/donut shop, restaurant) and pray for the people you see/meet there (not ostentatiously or with public display). Ask God to guide your group in discovering places outside church walls where friendship and kind gestures can be shared. Treat this as an opportunity to find out what God is already doing in these places by listening to the stories of the people who gather there. Share these stories at your next Covenant Bible Study meeting.

Episode 11

Remember that preoccupation with power and the distractions of multiple "idols" clamoring for our attention can distract us from our loyalty to God:

Truth-tellers in our lives remind us that compassion for others is key to healthy relationships and the mark of a true leader.
Something to do: 

Have your group make a list of distractions in everyday life that masquerade as "three alarm fires," each demanding undivided, right now attention. How do they sound/what do they look like? Are they as important as they seem? What is the effect of these all together? Think of one demanding voice you can set aside this week and then try the suggestion below.
Something More:
Create (or support) a minor maintenance team in your church that helps single parents, widows/widowers, senior citizens, and others with basic home repair needs. For bigger projects, ask your pastor or other leaders to help compile a list of unofficial but trusted, affordable, and reliable contractors/plumbers/home repair professionals from your church to provide assistance/advice to folks with home repair needs.

Episode 12

Remember that the grace of God in Jesus is on full display in our lives (at home, on the job, and in our communities): 

Our example precedes and gives flesh to the witness of our words. We can make a tangible difference in the lives of those younger in the faith who are looking for models of faithfulness.
Something to do: 

Ask participants in your group to take the video segment activity in the leader guide 2 steps further: 
1. Write a letter or postcard to a younger version of themselves with advice that they would share with that younger self about how (specifically) to prioritize their life in Jesus (knowing what they know now). Address this to the time and location they imagine (example, their college self in the dorm, their first job self at work, early married life self in their first apartment or home, etc.).
2. Make themselves available to be a mentor or guide to those younger in the faith who need guidance like Timothy needed Paul's advice (for example, sponsor a Confirmation student, be a youth ministry volunteer, befriend newly married couples in the church/provide an example of healthy married life, lead a financial planning class with faith priorities and sound advice from your experience, offer to lead a parenting group, etc.). 

Episode 13
Remember that wisdom is the "on the ground" application of the right word at the right time: 

With a keen moral imagination born of time spent with Jesus, we "put a moment around proverbs" and use spiritual discernment instead of thoughtlessly "stapling" verses to situations.
Something to do - wisdom for others: 

Invite thoughtful persons in your group to be sensitive to someone in their circle of friends or acquaintances that needs a wise word spoken into their life this week. Encourage them to read the Bible on another's behalf and ask God for sound advice to share so it can become scripture in a friend's life. Better, suggest that it take the form of a story shared (how this passage was a good word from God in their own life).

Episode 14

Remember that reconciliation calls for both self-emptying sacrifice and a deep awareness that we belong to one another as equals in Christ:

Conflict is a part of our lives and the violations that mar our relationships often lead to resentment in the violated and overwhelming guilt in the violator. Only Jesus can shatter the power of these rift-hardening dynamics and free us to be reconciled in Christ.
Something to do: 

Identify a local church-sponsored prison ministry and do two things: (1) find a family hurt by the experience of incarceration and ask how some in your group might encourage/support the person imprisoned and their family; and, (2) find those in your community who have been victims of criminal activity and offer assistance, help, friendship, etc. under the guidance of victims advocacy organizations. Don’t do the former without doing the latter, too. Above all, do no harm and help in ways that create un-coerced opportunities for reconciliation.

Episode 15
Remember that God does not play favorites and is unimpressed by privilege and power: 

Covenant people are keenly aware of how words and gestures reveal who's really on our V.I.P. list. Beyond angels, we entertain the Savior when we welcome those who aren't our culture's A-list people.
Something to do: 

Ask people in your group to do an informal silent audit of how people are welcomed in their church or community. From parking lot to entry areas and educational space (even public spaces), have them observe who gets V.I.P. treatment (who is spoken of with esteem, highlighted, offered the best seat, get the most face time and smiles, etc.) and who does not. Instead of judging, create new V.I.P. treatment strategies for those who might not be on the radar (invite those who are not rich, strong, or the most attractive by cultural standards to places of honor). Example: what neighborhoods tend to be forgotten when your church looks for new families or members? Look for ways to roll out the red carpet for people in those geographies.

Episode 16

Remember that God’s deep pain and disappointment when we don’t care for one another doesn’t leave us there: 

God sends us messengers who not only illuminate our failures to love but also show us how to live faithfully by creating a more just world. This becomes a message of hope because God refuses to give up on a faithless people. 
Something to do: 

Have someone in your group to look up definitions of justice (beyond legal definitions of “just desserts” to the prophetic sense of the word as used by Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.—the kind of freedom where everyone in every zip code has the conditions for a dignified life where they can work, love, flourish, and be a blessing to others). 
Then listen to interviews or read accounts from persons who are crying out for this kind of justice. Specifically, listen for the pain in their voices as they describe being disrespected, forgotten, de-humanized, and ignored in their pain. Write down the words that speak pain and ask the group what it means to say their pain is God’s pain, their heartbreak, God’s heartbreak, their loss, God’s loss. 
Then carefully choose one group that fights for justice for the least or the last and ask how your group can help.

Episode 17
Remember that the "looking-for-us-first" God we meet in Jesus is the Word made flesh, the One who keeps coming into the world and going out of the way to be in relationship with us:

Jesus meets his followers and those thirsty for grace in whatever ways they need, always drawing them back into the community.
Something to do: 

Have your group picture 2 or 3 organizations/businesses in your community that would be really surprised to get a visit from Jesus (who wouldn't, right? The idea here is those places that wouldn't expect Jesus or his followers to show up): Liquor store? Bus station? Hedge fund manager's office? Youth detention facility? New age gift shop? Competing religious group with unorthodox beliefs? Then ask them to imagine something they could take with them to one of these places that would provide a material image of God's love in Jesus found in the Gospel of John (Living Water-John 4:10; Living Bread-John 6:51; Light-John 9:5; Gate-John 10:7; True Vine-John 15:1). So, for example, bottled water for prison security personnel or warm, home-made bread for a liquor store owner or bar tender, etc. Be creative but choose something to share that honors the real-life needs of the persons you meet.

Episode 18
Remember that songs, poems, and prayers express our deepest longings, greatest fears, and dearest hopes:

Psalms teach us to pray honestly in shouts of praise, cries for help, and expressions of gratitude to the God whose rescuing, faithful love lasts forever (Psalm 107).
Something to do: 

Identify an underserved retirement/assisted living facility in your zip code and arrange to take an accompanist and a group of volunteers with hymnals to sing old hymns once a month or quarter. Invite the people you are leading in song to pick the hymns and songs they would like to sing. Look for memories (however vague in some cases) of gratitude, praise, and lament as they play across the faces of this group of saints.

Episode 19
Remember that the suffering of the innocent (and the guilty) is something more than an intellectual puzzle to be solved:

We tell stories to account for the unaccountable, for the anguish and unspeakable suffering of those we love in a universe that seems indifferent to their pain. But the accounting can seem like bad math. Images of God as righteous judge, unjust tyrant, testing teacher, or even teaser of order out of necessary chaos leave us without comfort. But God is with us in ways even our friends can't explain. And while some of us are resigned to accept gains and losses without balancing the cosmic scales, others will never stop demanding an account and looking for God to meet the mess.
Something to do: 

Invite select persons in your group to connect with a chaplain at a children's hospital and ask how your group might offer support or encouragement to parents and children dealing with pediatric cancer or other health crises. If possible, identify a child/family to pray for, allowing your feeling response to unearned sorrow to shape your group's questions about God's presence and love. A caution: thoughtful groups will not try to offer reasons for suffering or defenses of God's action (or inaction). Simply be the friends Job should have had (according to the voice of God in Job 42:7b).

Episode 20
Remember that unsettling things happen which defy or even eclipse our expectations of how God acts in the world:

The disaster of exile can provoke a survivor's denial of reality, pretending that death and devastation are not all around us when we behold dry bones in the desert (Ezekiel 37). Yet God asks the priest and prophet in exile, Ezekiel, a question that only God can answer: "can these bones live again?" Ezekiel's answer ("LORD God, only you know") is a yielding to the One who promises to shepherd a people with remade hearts into a new covenant and breathe life into the seemingly hopeless dead zones of our lives.
Something to do: 

Ask group participants to identify and visit a hopeless place in their community (blighted zones of poverty, industrial waste, urban decay, or even empty places of excess and self-indulgent affluence). With the words of Ezekiel 37 in mind have someone ask God's question aloud and let the words hang in the air: "Human one, can these bones live again" (Ezek 37:3a)? Pause for 2-3 minutes of silence and then have the group respond together: "LORD God, only you know" (Ezek 37:3b). If someone in your group is bold enough, have them read Ezekiel 37:4-11 out loud. Encourage the group to identify one thing they will do that week to help create life in that place.

Episode 21

Remember that God is no regional deity tied to the places where we first encountered something sacred:

God the creator, comforter, restorer, and justice-bringer is always with us, in the chaos that washes us away and the fire that threatens to extinguish every memory of God's covenant love. We belong to God and our home is where God's love happens (Isaiah 43).
Something to do: 

Ask your group how they can make the promises of God to a people coming home from exile (don't be afraid, the One who formed you is with you, loves you, and will gather you home - Isaiah 43:1-7) real in the lives of disaster victims looking for a place to call home. Invite the group to identify and contact agencies that help refugees and/or those living in the wake of natural disasters (United Methodist Committee on Relief, the American Red Cross). They may want to connect with local organizations that help persons after the ravages of a house fire or flooding (local law enforcement agencies or social services programs are great points of contact, too). Find out if there are families in your area that your group could adopt as they rebuild their lives and make a new home. Then do this in Jesus' name.

Episode 22
Remember that coming home from exile and being restored to faith's homeland means making worship central to our life together:

Space matters. And worship is more than an afterthought or group-building exercise for those who would live as covenant people. Step one in the life of faith is God-esteem, carving out time and space to extol the excellence and beauty of the One who restores life and makes home-coming possible. 
Something to do: 

Ask group participants to spend time together in your faith community's primary worship space. Pray quietly for a few minutes and then look around. If there are furnishings or aspects of the environment that need upkeep or refreshing, have them contact the pastor, trustees, and worship leaders to find out ways the group could serve to make this space hospitable for experiences of the holy. In this way, they echo the priestly work of those returnees who rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem and brought home the "equipment" for worship together.

Episode 23

Remember that the court stories of Daniel show us hope, courage, and confidence in God's goodness when competing forces demand our loyalty:

Saying "no" and speaking truth to the powers of our age can be a perilous undertaking. Civil disobedience in the Book of Daniel is so much more than political action, though. It is the very revelation of faithfulness: God's saving faithfulness even in our captivities and our faithfulness to the One whose promised presence empowers the struggle against the pretentious idols of this world.
Something to do: 

Ask members of your group to identify those virtually un-questioned authorities in their community/world (political, cultural, religious, educational, etc.--the King Nebuchadnezzar's of our time). Have them recall instances when a small group stood up to the powers-that-be and defended what was right. Now identify persons currently resisting some top-down policy or law that needs changing. Ask several willing group members to pray for these folks and then offer them support (encouragement, financial help, organizational assistance), communicating that this is a matter of faithfulness to God for your group. Remind the group that this is risky business and that like Daniel (and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) such efforts should always be grounded  in prayer, vision, and trust in God.

Episode 24

Remember that Jesus is leading Covenant people in an Exodus to the New Jerusalem:

Faithful witnesses to God's love in Jesus do not wrestle against destructive forces with the same weapons used by the powers that be. Their loyalty and testimony is to God and the slain Lamb. And through faithful resistance and perseverance they fully trust in the God who makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Something to do: 

Invite members of your group to select 3 churches in your zip code, 3 churches from surrounding states, and 1 church outside the country. Have them do a little research on what these churches are known for (positive contributions to their community, welcoming strangers, caring for the poor, providing worship experiences that invite love and commitment, etc.). Then write seven letters (one to each church) naming the specific praiseworthy strength of that faith community. End the letters with thanks and encouragement to each church to continue as faithful witnesses of Jesus. Sign the letter from your Bible study group with a pledge to pray for each church's ongoing work in its community.