‘Relational Covenant’ helps International Falls pastor navigate COVID mask disagreement

Seth Bjornrud, Lead Pastor at International Falls Covenant Church, recently shared how he and a church member lived into their Relational Covenant, practicing civil engagement with each other in processing a disagreement over wearing masks at church.

May this encourage us all as a real-time example of godly conversation and committed community:

On Aug. 1, I accepted my first call to be Lead Pastor of the same church where I had served as youth and worship pastor. As I prayed about what my first sermon series would be, I knew it had to be about how we live together as brothers and sisters of Christ.

I found a document in our church called a “Relational Covenant” that was drafted by the leadership team over 10 years ago as a rule of life for how to treat each other and handle conflict in our church.

On the fourth Sunday of the series, I preached our promise to be “Considerate and Respectful.”

Under that heading our Relational Covenant says:

  1. We will offer our opinions with clarity and humility
  2. We will build each other up and not tear down

This is not the way we see disagreements being handled very often in our politically-polarized world. As I was preparing my message, I realized that I had experienced this Relational Covenant in action with someone in my congregation.

This person (who I will call John) told me one day that he did not agree with our church’s decision to require masks at our services during the COVID-19 pandemic. In our conversation we were able to discuss our disagreement while being considerate and respectful of each other. When we left, neither of us changed our opinions but we left appreciating each other more.

I asked John to join me up front on a recent Sunday where I shared about our conversation and we both got to answer these three questions in front of the congregation.

  1. What mischaracterization is said of your side of the argument that do you not appreciate?
  2. What is a strong point of the other person’s argument that challenges you and makes you think?
  3. What do you appreciate about the other person in your conversation with each other?

It was communion Sunday, and so we planned after the questions to take communion together in front of everyone else to show people how we can be considerate and respectful—even in our disagreements.

Jesus taught us not just to love the people who agree with us, but to love everyone. To me John is not a monster or an “other.” John is my brother in Christ.