Experiencing Growth and Community in a Covenant Group
By Chad Goucher
In my life, I have made some good investments and some bad investments. Let me begin by telling you about one of the really bad ones.
I made what was perhaps my worst investment when I was in college. I took out a student loan and used the funds to purchase a membership at a local golf course. It’s the truth. I was in Bible college, and I obviously wasn’t majoring in finance. I loved golf and wasn’t fond of the classroom so—at the time—it made perfect sense to me. Make no mistake, my golf handicap improved dramatically during those months. However, the rate at which I lowered my golf scores paled when compared with the rate of decline in my GPA. The golf membership ended long before I paid off that student loan.
Investment advice, anyone?
Now that I have earned your trust and gained your confidence, I will share “insider information” on what by far has been my best investment. Here it is . . . I joined a covenant group. “What is a covenant group?” you might ask. “Can I still get in on the ground floor? What is the return on investment? What is the upfront expense? What are the historic results?”
I know there are lots of questions, so let me try to answer them by sharing my story of how this investment continues to pay off.
Recognizing the Need
I’m the type of person who likes to get things done. Allow me to clarify . . . I like to be left alone to get things done on my own. I’m not a fan of committees, meetings, group sessions, and those sorts of things. And I seemed to do pretty well on my own by keeping those things to a bare minimum. The church I was leading (and continue to lead) was growing, my family was doing well, and I seemed to be on cruise control. Until I wasn’t.
On that day in 2013—on what should have been one of the best days of my career—I realized there was a ceiling to what I could do both professionally and personally without having other people speak into my life.
It was the fifth anniversary celebration of the church I planted. We had record attendance and many people were baptized. The party atmosphere was electric. For everyone else. Personally, I couldn’t wait to get home and away from the church!
We had five weekend worship services and after each one I would text my wife, “1 service down, 4 to go” . . . “2 services down, 3 to go” . . . “4 services down, 1 to go” . . .
After that last one, she responded, “You are not well. This is not good. You need help!”
As you may already have concluded, my wife is the smart one in our relationship. She was right! I needed help and I needed it immediately. I had run too long, too fast . . . alone.
Her assessment led to some intense professional counseling that saved my ministry.
After my professional counseling sessions were completed, I saw the value in what I had learned and really understood the importance of letting some smart, caring people speak into my life. I also knew that I didn’t need ongoing professional help, but I did need to find some godly men who understood the unique challenges pastors deal with daily and who could regularly and freely speak into my life and ministry.
Up to that point, the relatively rare, informal gatherings I enjoyed with good ministry friends were filled with laughter and reminiscence. But those brief get-togethers rarely, if ever, involved heartfelt conversations about difficulties and issues we faced. We hit the highlights, but it just wasn’t enough.
The Right Kind of Help
Sometime later, during a virtual conference call, I heard about soul care covenant groups from Alan Ahlgrim, founder of Covenant Connections. I knew immediately it was something I could benefit from, and I desperately wanted to participate. So, during the meeting, I sent another attendee a private message asking if he might be interested in joining a covenant group. (I hereby apologize to those who were conducting the meeting.) My friend quickly replied, “YES!” We each agreed to reach out to a couple of guys we knew who might benefit from a soul care group. Surprisingly, our group of four men came together quickly.
Once we had our guys, I reached out to Alan and told him we were ready to start a group. Alan had a leader who was ready, and we were quickly off and running. It was simple.
Let me be very clear, our group is not designed as an accountability group (a term that has always sent bolts of fear down my spine), a discipleship group, or even a learning cohort. However, at different times—as our relationships have strengthened—it has been all of those. This band of brothers has become a source of encouragement, truth, inspiration, and some serious fun!
We prioritize our time together by using the following method laid out by Covenant Connections:
• We made an initial three-year commitment to the soul care group. We put the meetings on our calendars and we make them a priority.
• We agree to meet in-person two times per year—in the spring and fall—for 2.5-day retreats. These gatherings have become highlights of my year as we laugh, share, learn, and grow together.
• We meet via video conference once a month. This keeps us connected and current with each other.
Together, we also make an annual financial commitment to Covenant Connections to provide for the formation of more groups and to support the network that equips and supplies group leaders.
The exact “return on investment” from being in a covenant group is hard to quantify, but these things I know to be true:
• I am a better husband, father, and leader because these men are in my life.
• My emotional and mental health are better. Having like-minded fellow pastors who understand and relate to the life I lead has been invaluable.
• My church has benefitted because they get a better version of me. I am healthier, happier, and better resourced after being with my group.
I’ve heard that smart people learn from their mistakes, but geniuses learn from the mistakes of others. My early mistakes in investing (I did finally pay off that student loan, by the way) and in ministry (running too fast and too long all by myself) might be warnings to you. I encourage my fellow ministers to reach out, take the step, and get in a covenant group. A better version of yourself is waiting to emerge.
Learn more about Covenant Connections and how to join a soul care covenant group at www.covenantconnections.life.
Chad Goucher serves as lead pastor with Refinery Christian Church in Goodyear, Arizona.
_ _ _
READ THE SIDEBAR “SOUL CARE COVENANT GROUPS EXPLAINED,” BY ALAN AHLGRIM.