Already in the late 1960s, sociologists and cultural analysts predicted the outcome of our individualistic, corporately driven modern society: fleeting relationships. People would be more and more lonely as they aged, leading to “future shock.”
Students in my graduate seminary days wanted to counter this and to build “intentional community” where people pledged to live out a biblical community together in a long-term way unless genuinely called away by the Spirit. Acts 2:42 was the ideal: that followers of Yeshua shared life, resources, and support at the highest level; plus mutual accountability for growth in righteousness and holiness.
Personal experiences in those days reinforced my concerns. After leaving a charismatic church that went heretical, we sought a vibrant church community during our (Patty and me) year of engagement. Most of the places that we visited were a disappointment, but we finally found one with good worship. I was in my last year of graduate school and would travel every weekend to see Patty. We were hoping to build relationships there, but it was very hard. One day, the announcement bulletin in the church noted that we would be meeting in small groups. As we left the sanctuary, I told the pastor I was excited about this, but he said it was not for long-term relationship-building but to discuss a building project!
One of the reasons I went into the ministry, instead of becoming a professor, was that I wanted to build the kind of community that I was NOT finding. In my first pastorate in Chicago, 1972-1977, we helped build such a community. Afterward, when Patty and I were called to leave, it was painful. People had identified with the message of covenant community! Forty-five of them lived within walking distance of one another and the fellowship was wonderful.
However, Yeshua promises that if we leave our close relationships for the sake of the Kingdom, we will indeed be given more. When we were called to move to the Washington DC area, we prayed that God would bring fellow leaders who would build their lives together in Kingdom work and that these relationships would last a lifetime, with open sharing, mutual support, and accountability.
Would God answer this prayer? He did. We soon found a contingent of leaders who would commit to one another and the Kingdom in a deep and long-term way. People explicitly came and said they wanted to build this way, the first being Asher Intrater (before he was even married) and Jerry and Jo Miller. Four decades later (!), a significant core of leaders going back to those days are still in committed relationships and serve together in Tikkun expressions. Asher wrote about how this works in his book Covenant Relationships. It has been amazing. And, of course, many dear, newer friends have joined in covenant with us – some 30 years ago, some 15 years ago, and some recently.
The goal of covenant relationships is supporting each other. It’s about shared accountability teamwork in mutual submission. At times, the covenant will be tested. Sometimes the disagreements are intense, but we work things out, as in a marriage, and we do not flee. We are committed to seeing love triumph.
We have been blessed to walk out an example of relational continuity in a world of fleeting relationships. Many of our younger leaders are walking in the same covenant relationships.
By God’s grace, it can be done.