Covenant Agreement: the Third Trait of Spiritual Camaraderie


The third trait of spiritual friendship is a covenant agreement. There are two sides to this agreement. On the one hand, I agree to open the windows and doors of my life so that you can see the inner workings of my heart. Does this mean that everything inside of me is exposed? Of course not. The point is not that every drawer gets emptied, the content being dumped in the light of the sun. Boredom (on the part of the listener) and narcissism (on the part of the speaker) is reason enough to avoid this. The point, rather, is that no closet is locked to bar entry. I state my intention to live in the light rather than in the darkness and to resist the powers of shame, guilt, and fear that would cause me to hide what needs to be laid bare.

On the other hand, I give you permission to speak truth to me in love. In the book Building Your Band of Brothers, Stephen Mansfield talks about the importance of setting up what he calls a ‘free-fire zone’.[1] A free-fire zone is a mutual commitment to one another, or to all members of a small band, that anything which needs to be said will be said for the sake of a higher good. Within spiritual friendship, cowardice must be resisted. To permit a man to veer off the path of righteousness is an act of hatred, not love. While friends must avoid being pugnacious, censorious, and nit-picky, they must also avoid being passive, permissive, and complacent. No spiritual friendship is genuine unless everyone involved is committed to speaking the truth, even if it stings.[2]

How important is spiritual friendship, really? The more men I speak to the smaller the percentage appears to be that has anything like the camaraderie I am describing. The general assumption seems to be that the recipe of church membership, participation in a small group, and a Christian spouse (at least among the married) ought to be sufficient to support spiritual growth. I think this is dangerously naïve. I am convinced that spiritual friendship is not an extra layer of icing that can or cannot be lathered over a cake. Spiritual friendship is an ingredient of the cake itself – like butter, salt, or sugar – which, if left out, affects the product as a whole. House groups are an important balance to large church gatherings, but they are too porous and diverse to enable a covenant agreement. A believing spouse is one of the greatest gifts that God can provide. But just as a house requires more than one load-bearing wall, so do Christian lives. To lean entirely on a wife for spiritual support is unfair to her and unwise for him. There are real differences between being a man and being a woman, and men need men just as women need women.

Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection

  1. Why do men avoid real and honest friendships with each other?

  2. What are the benefits of setting up a ‘free-fire zone’?

  3. What are the risks of setting up a ‘free-fire zone’?

  4. How do Christians learn how to ‘speak the truth with love’ without being overcritical and nitpicky? How do Christians learn how to ‘speak the truth with love’ without being cowardly and complacent?

[1] Stephen Mansfield, Building Your Band of Brothers (Nashville: Blackwatch Digital, 2016), p. 47-65.

[2] For the nuts and bolts of how to do this see Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John Doberstein (London: SCM, 1954), p. 69-85