The Relational Covenant

  1. Stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder
  2. Believe the Best
  3. Talk To, Not About

Read previous entries in this series:
An Introduction to The Relational Covenant


Today we’re thrilled to break down the cornerstone of The Relational Covenant: Standing Shoulder-to-Shoulder. This week’s post breaks down exactly what it means to stand shoulder-to-shoulder by using our new favorite “smarty pants” vocabulary term: the Ancient Greek Hoplite Phalanx Maneuver. Next week, we’ll explore the impact standing shoulder-to-shoulder has on discipleship, and provide a great tool for you to use!



To stand shoulder-to-shoulder with someone means to unite together to achieve a common goal. It means understanding that there is a greater Enemy than our own fears and problems; a greater Purpose to which we are called than our own simple self-interests. Most importantly, it means not only understanding but embracing that we are not in this battle alone, but that we are part of a Body, a unit, a team, and that the only way we can succeed is if we move forward together.

Biblically, standing shoulder-to-shoulder comes straight from John 17:20-22 [MSG]: “I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me [THAT’S US!!!]. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind — just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are — I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them in the same way you’ve loved me.” Jesus Himself prayed for us. And what was it that He prayed specifically for you and me? That we would be unified with all believers everywhere.

Our favorite picture of what it looks like to be unified, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, is found in the hoplite phalanx maneuver of the Ancient Greeks:

The hoplite phalanx of the Archaic and Classical periods in Greece (ca. 800–350 BC) was the formation in which the hoplites [shield-bearing soldiers] would line up in ranks in close order. The hoplites would lock their shields together, and the first few ranks of soldiers would project their spears out over the first rank of shields. The phalanx therefore presented a shield wall and a mass of spear points to the enemy, making frontal assaults against it very difficult. It also allowed a higher proportion of the soldiers to be actively engaged in combat at a given time (rather than just those in the front rank). . . .Each individual hoplite carried his shield on his left arm, protecting not only himself but also the soldier to the left.”2

Moreover, as the Greek poet Tyrateus explained this maneuver:

“For those who, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, dare to come to close quarters and to fight among the foremost, fewer die and they preserve those behind themAll of the courage of cowards is dissipated. . .”3


There are seven “shoulder-to-shoulder principles” we want to point out in these descriptions:

1. They would line up in close order.

They could neither fight nor protect one another effectively unless they were close together. What does that mean for us? We have to live life close together, and we can’t do that if we’re not overlapping in our day-to-day lives. This can mean anything from regular, intentional phone calls to meals or game nights together to showing up to clean each others’ kitchens when you know the other is feeling tired or overwhelmed. Mostly, it just means the heartbeat of discipleship: sharing life! When we’re not living in close proximity, we don’t know the real heart and life issues our friends are walking through. It’s practically impossible to develop authenticity or vulnerability without sharing real life, and we can’t share real life without actually living that life together.

2. They locked their shields together.

They were fully committed to each other. The design of the hoplite shield meant that the shield was very difficult to quickly drop or disconnect: once soldiers lined up and walked into battle together, they were fully committed to fight alongside the people they stood next to. That’s what standing shoulder-to-shoulder means: we are committed to do this thing called life with our community, the Body of Christ, even when it gets hard or overwhelming, even when all we want to do is drop our shields and retreat into isolationism or into relationships that might feel easier, even when we’re not entirely sure the person standing next to us is as committed to this battle as we are, because we know that if we fall, the line falls.

3. Soldiers carried their shields on their left sides to protect not only themselves but also the soldiers to the left. The shields provide a wall to protect those behind them and around them.

Plutarch, the Greek essayist, provides a deeper insight into this: “When someone asked Demaratus why the Spartans disgrace those who throw away their shields but not those who abandon their breastplates or helmets, he said that they put the latter on for their own sakes but the shield for the sake of the whole line.”5

The apostle Paul puts it like this in Philippians 2:3: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (ESV). Once we’re committed to the Body of Christ, we simply can’t think only of ourselves anymore; we must begin thinking about our brothers and sisters in Christ: how to love and serve them as Christ did us (sacrificially). Paul commands in 1 Corinthians 13 to remember that love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

4. Frontal assaults are difficult when we’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

Unity protects us. However, there is nothing the Enemy hates more than our unity because it radiantly reflects the love of Christ to the world around us. Therefore, we must carefully watch out for sneak attacks from the Enemy. It’s hard to say exactly what these look like, but the end result would be to kill, steal, and destroy the unity you’ve worked hard to achieve: anything that would cause you or others to become separated from the Body of Christ. This is why it’s so important to Believe the Best and Talk To, Not About, because these are the areas the Enemy usually has the most success in destroying unity. We’ll be explaining each in more depth in the next few weeks.

5. It allowed more soldiers to be actively engaged.

Because they trusted and were protected by their fellow soldiers to guard their backs and sides, they could totally focus on the objective directly in front of them. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder means we trust our Christ-siblings to walk with Jesus and stand with us, even providing protection through prayer and support when we stand against the Enemy. We’re not worrying about or judging the choices others are making, and we’re not wasting time in “selfish ambition or vain conceit,” as Paul puts it, by talking poorly about our siblings, either to other believers or to outsiders. Again, we’ll dive deeper into what this looks like in our next posts, but for now, the essential point we hope you walk away from this is that together, we can accomplish more, but only when we’re together shoulder-to-shoulder: fully trusting, fully protecting, fully committed, and close together.

6. Fewer died and they preserved those behind them.

This might seem a bit extreme when we’re just talking about a relationship tool. But pause to think a minute: how many people do you know who’ve been badly hurt by relationships, maybe even those in the Church? How many of your personal relationships have even been ‘mortally wounded’ due to seemingly impossible-to-resolve conflicts? When we don’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder, when we pull back and leave others unprotected and in the line of fire, relationships can be hurt and even killed. However, when we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, not only are there fewer casualties, but we also preserve those who come after us – those who are looking to our examples or who are impacted by the way our relationships pan out: our children, the people we are discipling, even our families and our friendship communities.

7. Leaning into others dissipates our fears. 

When we’re standing alone, by ourselves, and facing the seeming impenetrable forces of this world, our faith and courage will probably fail. But when those in the Body who are feeling timid about standing up for the faith or in opposition to the Enemy have the opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in complete unity with other brothers and sisters in Christ, they learn boldness and courage. What seems overwhelming or impossible alone suddenly becomes not only possible but probable when surrounded by people of equal vision, passion and commitment! And then, miraculously, those who would stand against us falter in the face of our unity – ‘the courage of cowards is dissipated’ – and sometimes, they are even drawn to the love and beauty of Christ.

It is, we believe, important to clarify that unity is not uniformity. By definition, uniformity means an “overall sameness, homogeneity, or regularity.” Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to be exactly the same as everyone around us! Unity, on the other hand, means “a whole combining all its parts into one”; that is, distinct parts that join together into a cohesive whole. Paul beautifully illustrates this in 1 Corinthians 12:15-27:

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it [NIV].

If we are in Christ Jesus, we are part of one body, but we are all created differently, for different purposes. When we embrace our role as part of the Body of Christ, unified and with one heart, we are healthy, strong, and effective. [For more on this, consider Ephesians 2:13-22, 4:1-16 and Romans 12:3-16.]

Moreover, unity doesn’t mean we’ll always agree with another’s choices or decisions. However, because we’re believing the best (more on this later), we’re trusting that Christ is working in and through that person to draw them closer to Himself. And if they’re not abiding in Christ and letting Him lead them, then we still choose to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them with eyes of compassion, knowing that they aren’t experiencing the fullness of love, peace and joy that are in Christ. Moreover, when we continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, this will often open the door for us to talk to the person about his or her choices, and gives us the discipline to not talk about them behind their backs. (More on that later, too!) Either way, it frees us of deciding whether or not a Christ -sibling is “worthy” of our support, because as a Christ-imitator, it doesn’t even matter!

We’re called to stand alongside our Body in unity, and we do this by standing shoulder-to-shoulder.



  1. Post Photo Credit:
  2. Phalanx. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
  3. Sage, M. 2002. Warfare in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook, 25-29,73-80,146
  4. “Roman Phalanx.” Image Credit: Jason Juta. Realm of History, Dattatreya Mandal. Karwansary Publishers, May 2016.
  5. Sage, M. 2002. Warfare in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook, 25-29,73-80,146
  6. “A Bronze Wall: Power of Spartan Shields.” Scala, Florence. National Geographic, Antonio Penades. “Bred for Battle: Understanding Ancient Sparta’s Military Machine.” Originally published in National Geographic History, November/December 2016.
  7. “The Phalanx.” Art Archive. National Geographic, Antonio Penades. “Bred for Battle: Understanding Ancient Sparta’s Military Machine.” Originally published in National Geographic History, November/December 2016.

©2018 by Jack McQueeney. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without express permission.

The Apprentice Approach is about helping every-day people master the art of disciplemaking and grew out of the fact that…. Many Christians struggle with making disciples, they feel busy, overwhelmed and not qualified. We understand this struggle which is why we created a Bible based framework so any believer can master the art of disciplemaking! One of our outcomes is seeing the folks we engage with walk away saying, “I can do that!”

Jack McQueeny
Jack McQueeney

Jack McQueeney is the founder of The Apprentice Approach and is wholehearted about helping people grow, develop, and deepen their walk with the Lord. He believes that as we grow in our love for Christ, we will serve, love, and trust God for the BIG things He calls us to. Jack has been on staff with The Navigators since 1982, serving in multiple roles from assistant to the President, to Collegiate Ministry and as the Executive Director of the Glen Eyrie Group, the camp and conference ministry of The Navigators.  

More posts by Jack
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

More about Leadership