By Larry Kreider

During the week after September 11 in 2001, I flew on five different planes traveling to five cities in the United States. Airports were deserted, and passengers were scared. As I boarded a flight from Denver, Colorado, to Washington DC, I could feel a cloud of fear settle on my fellow passengers.

Within moments, however, something changed. Before the plane pushed away from the ramp, the pilot greeted us. “Let’s talk about what happened last week,” he said with confidence in his voice. “The Constitution of the United States says, ‘We the people.’ We are in this together. If someone on this plane claims to have a weapon or a bomb and tries something stupid, there are one hundred of us on this plane and one of him. If you have a computer on your lap, throw it at him! Use your pillow or blanket to protect yourself, and jump on top of anyone who claims to have a weapon. Push him to the floor of the airplane, and we will bring him to justice.”

He paused for a few seconds, allowing our minds to take it all in, “Now, shake your neighbor’s hand, ask him if he is married, ask him how many children he has, ask where he works, and get to know him.” Within moments, the entire atmosphere on the plane changed. I believe it changed from fear to faith. The pilot was encouraging us to build relationships! Relationships, in turn, encourage trust, which builds faith! The pilot was on to something!

The Danger of Unholy Covenants

This is something that those involved in small groups know already. Small groups are greenhouses where relationships flourish and faith is built. But sadly, sometimes relationships are broken. A broken relationship is like a thin thread. If it is torn, it is hard to repair. Many times, healthy relationships in small groups are ruined by “unholy covenants” that bring great pain, destroying relationships rather than building them.

During the mid 1970’s a small group movement called the “discipleship movement” became popular in the United States and other western nations. Good discipleship principles were sometimes overshadowed by unhealthy one-on-one relationships where leaders required those under their authority to get their approval before making decisions such as dating, marriage, and even visiting relatives during holidays! In some cases, families were split apart and lives turned upside-down.

This movement led to unbiblical obedience to human leaders. The leaders twisted the biblical principle of accountability by stepping into others’ lives and attempting to make decisions for them. Occasionally, believers moved halfway across the country to follow their “spiritual parents” to a new location. They were told they were “in covenant” with their spiritual leaders and could not be separated from them.

A Holy Covenant vs. an Unholy Covenant

A holy covenant is a promise on the part of God. The only covenants that are holy and last for a lifetime are (1) the covenant I have with Christ to serve Him completely, (2) the covenant I have with my wife to love her and cherish her “until death do us part,” and (3) the covenant I have with the body of Christ to love her and be a blessing to the Lord’s bride.

While a holy covenant is a promise on the part of God, an unholy covenant is made with a person or group that hinders one from obeying the Holy Spirit’s leading in his life. For example, some believers were asked to stay at a certain church their entire lifetimes because they were “in covenant” with the leadership. This is unholy and unhealthy. We cannot be sure of the time frame of serving with those in our current small group or local church. This is up to the Lord, not up to us.

To say we will always have a close relationship with someone can become bondage. We must take the attitude of “if the Lord wills.” James 4:13-15 (NIV) tells us: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow…Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

If the Lord is calling someone in your small group or local church to serve elsewhere in another part of the Lord’s vineyard, don’t hold them back. Stay in relationship but release them. If possible, help them find where they can be most fruitful in the body of Christ and continue to grow in faith. This approach will keep everyone who is involved free from the pain of an unholy covenant.