Down To Earth Discipleship    .    Getting real with issues facing young Christians today
Chapter 1
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1. Fellowship in discipleship

  • Many of us experience very little of the potential in Christian fellowship.
  • The years before marriage are often the best time to establish rich relationships.
  • Accountability partnerships with prayer are a great means of blessing and source of strength.
  • Mentoring relationships are important.
  • Task-oriented fellowship has an important place.

We find our deepest fulfilment in relationships with others. Love is based on empathy, which is the means by which relational bonds are forged. And as Paul reminds us in chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians, love is absolute, while gifts and our present partial knowledge will eventually be obsolete.

This chapter talks particularly about relationships with fellow Christians in the community of faith, the next two about sexual relationships (especially before they are consummated). Both are relevant to our understanding of human relationships with God.

Christian discipleship today means being part of a worldview minority and consequent moral minority rather than any longer representing the cultural mainstream, and we need to get used to that. But worse is understanding that we are often seen as an intolerant minority due to our different beliefs related to liberal values. Therefore both our convictions and our lifestyle need to be actively nurtured, with the need to maintain both empathy for fellow humans and well-based principles.

1.1 A new family

Whatever our experience of human families - and that will be very diverse - our relationship with Christ brings us into new relationships with others of his people. We can ignore that fact, going on as if our human family and friends provided the full experience we can enjoy, or we can also embrace the new possibilities within the new family of others who have oriented their lives similarly. In fact trying to do the first would be denying our role as disciples of Christ, because we do belong to one another and there is no place for private faith which effectively denies this. In practice, we need to nurture empathy rather than autonomy, and look for where we can build up others rather than gain advantage from relationships

A new kind of friendship
Growing in spiritual maturity requires interaction with other people, not just prayer and bible study. Growing empathy and the ability to love needs not theory but practice! Relationships are essential, and those with fellow disciples are primary. If none of these are more than arm's length, formal and half-hearted, then we are betraying our new life in Christ and failing to enjoy his most important social provision for us. The more opportunity we take to love others in practical terms (including specific reliable prayer), the richer we are.

Today, due to how our western culture has evolved, all this is not straightforward. The issue is well expressed by Professor John Wyatt in a 2010 interview:
"I think there is a whole theology of friendship that, to a large extent, we've lost in the modern world. We don't understand friendship, don't see it as important - we don't value it. In the secular world we've collapsed the distinction between friendship and genital sexual relationships. To modern people, two people of the same gender who are very close friends are thought probably to be gay. The only way we can understand a close friendship is sexually. And yet in biblical thinking it seems to be that those two kinds of relationships are completely different. So there's a sexual relationship that is heterosexual, unique, lifelong, and exclusive, and then there's friendship, which is equally important but different. It is non-sexual, but intimate and open and vulnerable and committed.

"I have been very fortunate in having just a small number of those kinds of friendships which have been a wonderful experience of intimacy, of openness, of sharing and of mutual vulnerability. That kind of friendship has to be nurtured and is a precious thing. One of the things I always say to medical students and junior doctors is that now is the time to develop the friendships that will last a lifetime, and which are going to be a foundation and a resource. There's a wonderful thing that Bernard of Clairvaux said: that Christ himself 'kisses us' through the love of our friends."

This kind of friendship is also the experience of both authors of this book. We need to cultivate empathy which issues in love which has an intimacy and support which is expressed non-sexually. Such love can very fully meet emotional and intellectual needs with emotional and intellectual solutions, in a variety of contexts.

From a new basis
Of course the new relationships with other Christians are because the basis of life itself is changed if we are in relationship with Christ. We share the same spiritual DNA. So we need to learn to live out the new quality of life and to do so in joyful interaction with others who are in the same boat. It is not simply a question of adopting new standards (though we do), or a new world view. It is a matter of authentically expressing the changed nature within due to God's progressive action through his Holy Spirit, and resisting the inevitable pull to settle for something less.

So, if none of us is alone in God's family, how we relate to other Christians - called in some sense out of the world, yet remaining active in it - is important, because we have so much in common with them, being each called to obedience to the same Lord. The way we relate also says much about our spiritual health. We cannot expect actually to feel close to all our diverse spiritual brethren whom we encounter, in practice relationships will develop to varying degrees. However all our relationships with other Christians are enhanced by a sense of belonging together, praying on a common basis, steering by the same compass and setting priorities on the same basis.

Most of us barely begin to buy in to the potential richness and opportunities of Christian fellowship. We often do not trust the reality of that familial relationship with other Christians enough to drop our guard and be open, tender and vulnerable with even one or two others on that basis. But the way we love one another is supposed to show the reality of our lives in Christ. Jesus' disciples are called to love one another. That doesn't just (or even necessarily) mean having warm affection and admiration, it means joyfully taking responsibility for one another's wellbeing. Actively, like the Samaritan guy. Also we need to be open to being loved thus, not merely liked! The Lord's admonition in Matt 6:19-21 to "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven" has a prime application in investing in Christian fellowship relationships.

Pointers to ultimate reality
Two intimations of the reality beyond this world are said to be love and sex. Love is irrational and expresses or represents a quality of experience which is characteristic of the other world, of God's kingdom. The exercise of unconditional love is fundamental to our humanity, and to our discipleship. Eros love expressed in sex is even more beyond the rational objective and utilitarian reality of this world, consummated in incredible intimacy. We expand on that in chapter 2.

St Paul encourages us in Philippians 2:5-11 to be like Christ in our attitude to others. This is increasingly radical in a world where the most newsworthy individuals are often assertive, self-serving and power-hungry. These if given free rein are what will cause society to implode. But we are free and enabled to be different, in love and service! In learning to love we need to develop the capacity and readiness to receive love. This is not the same as being popular, with its ego-boost, but to be loved in a way which acknowledges a deeper need and dependency on others, and ultimately on God's grace in Jesus. This then affects our sense of identity.

While cultural and racial prejudices persist in a fallen world, part of the joy of Christian family identity is overlooking differences of race, sexuality, cultural sophistication, or whether friends' siblings might have different fathers. All these are inconsequential in God's sight and we can love regardless.

Social intimacy
We all need close emotional connections with one or a few people who love and understand us. All kinds of relationships have some potential for intimacy, which is a deep human need. The intimacy of friendship is accessible to all, and able to be developed and enjoyed in a range of relationships, contributing to a sense of personal and social fulfilment. Christian fellowship should be characterised by the flourishing of such links.

Apart from the intrinsic joy and benefit, proper intimacy in friendships will help us avoid loading all our needs for intimacy on to sexual relationships, as is common in our surrounding culture (and which is a major driver of sexual promiscuity). While the desire for intimacy is properly an important aspect of sexual relationships, we need to learn, understand and experience meaningful non-physical intimacy outside of such. No-one needs to enter a sexual relationship to find intimacy, or personal fulfilment.

Experiencing a few close intimate friendships is a good basis for romantic relationships, since one then knows what a close loving friendship feels like and the hormonal stuff we discuss in the next chapter is added to that rather than being a substitute. In effect it helpfully benchmarks what is needed for a lifelong close relationship.

There are some biblical examples of apparently very close friendhips, both peer-level and intergenerational: David and Jonathan 1, Eli and Samuel, Paul and Timothy.

Many people enjoy intimate same-sex friendships something like that of David and Jonathan, though they would hesitate to use the "L" word of them for fear of being misunderstood. CS Lewis in The Four Loves called these simply 'Friendships' expressing the Greek word philia, which in contemporary parlance and without any adjective rather understates their significance. Lewis spoke of the "naked personalities" among two or three in such relationships and the sense of grace engendered by the love that is expressed. For him, such relationships are a foretaste of heaven (whereas other loving relationships - familial, marital - are symbolic of God's love, not directly expressing it). In a specifically Christian discipleship context such close relationships have special meaning. But even here they can be misrepresented - by those who have not experienced them - as being somehow inappropriate. See also Section 1.3 on intimacy on close friendships.

Openness and sharing are essential in this, but they are only a beginning. Without dumping huge loads of intimacy on those who would not appreciate it, especially younger or weaker brethren, we do need to be open and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to a greater extent than is common outside the family context or most Christian contexts. Especially this is so in same-sex friendships, and while women are usually are more readily open with one another in close friendships, it is just as important for men. An apt translation of Galatians 6:2 is "Share each other's troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ." However, over-sharing is always possible, and we need to exercise some common sense and discernment in any relationship to avoid creating discomfort.

Trust is important in any relationship, and we need to note that it does involve some critical evaluation of a person - it is not the same as credulousness, nor should it be gullible, but it relies on some confidence in their integrity and character.

While openness is essentially reciprocal, depending very much on trust, we should seek out those who may benefit from our love and service. These people will probably be ones with whom we have some natural point of contact and we can make a special point of investing effort and time in those particular relationships. We need to take time to win the right to get close, to be invited into others' comfort zones, notably in relationships where romantic agendas are not an issue and so don't intrude. Such fellowship should be part of the church's promotion of a healthy masculinity/femininity where Christians can own and be honest about their emotions and be respected regardless, but without developing undue emotional dependency. For guys especially, this openness is not common outside Christian fellowship, but it needs to be valued and encouraged within it.

Much of this sharing does need to be face to face so that body language is part of the emotional connection. Phone and e-mail rank in order behind this, but are much better than lapsed connection.

Questions for the church
Much Christian fellowship however is not marked by close intimate friendships. And at the other extreme, often churches can devalue the Christian notion of fellowship by using that word for many activities which, although maybe valuable socially, do not enhance the sense of relationship and mutual belonging to a Lord who is the focus of each person's life. Christian fellowship is not simply socialising, though relaxing with friends is an important activity for anyone. It needs to be an authentic expression of family commitment, and those relationships are usually best cultivated over a meal.

One expression of fellowship within the church is often devalued by familiarity with it as ritual or simply part of the worship process. That expression is celebrating the Lord's Supper, an expression of communion whether at the large church or small group level, where - as originally - it can be centred on a meal. We can invest it with more symbolic meaning of our shared status in God's new family than we usually do.

There is much scope to improve and flesh out relationships with brethren in the family of God and to give expression to this new life we share together. John's first letter in the New Testament is germane on the need to love one another (I John 3:11-18), and perhaps we should see it more strongly as a challenge to action. 'We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers and sisters'. And Peter underlines this further - "have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart." (1 Peter 1:22). This love involves much more than reclusive sharing of restricted comfort zones in a social ghetto, or emotional indulgence giving us a warm and congenial glow inside. It involves constancy and reliability, and should mean that we venture to serve one another in love, with respect and vigour.

Human diversity with love
Serving one another is in recognition that we are all very different, and yet bound together in this new wide family. We need to learn to rejoice in the diversity of gifts that we have and progressively understand how these do in fact work together. We need to be unified but not uniform. The Bible uses the body metaphor, with each person being a vital organ of a living body, a necessary and complementary member (arm, toe, eye or whatever) connected organically to the others. This in fact gives us the English word membership, thought at has largely lost the fullness of its meaning.

CS Lewis in The Four Loves helpfully shows how the Greek word agapé puts a self-sacrificing overlay on several kinds of love, from congenial companionship, through deep philia friendship discussed above, to eros - the emotionally intense love which hugely and generously desires the other person. If we think and act in love we are likely to find that our feelings follow - love in this sense is not primarily or mainly a feeling, but a willing action.

Also we should learn to see the image of God in others and relate to them accordingly. The corollary of this is that we can enjoy a healthy sense of self as loved by God.

We need to develop a heart for accepting people who are different to us, while exercising some ethical discernment. This is strongly taught in the New Testament regarding 'parts of the body of Christ' in relation to gifting, but it is true more widely. For instance, those on the autism spectrum can be conspicuously different in the sense of awkward socially and/or hugely gifted. We need to love and accept them regardless, while giving scope for them to express their differences. Similarly with those on the sexuality spectrum, without endorsing what others will see as normal expressions of SSA any more than we endorse other full-on sexual behaviour outside marriage.

Small group structures
These within the church are often a locus of such expression of fellowship, and the community aspect of these is for most people a vital aspect of church life and sharing their journey as disciples. For many, such small groups can be very important in encouraging open relationships beyond the selected few. With younger singles - and certainly teenagers - there is a lot of benefit in having these as single-sex groups to encourage greater frankness and openness.

For those who have benefited from such small group ministry themselves there is usually the opportunity to lead younger people - particularly same-sex adolescents - and pass on the benefit in ministry. We each should look for opportunities to reach out in contact and prayer support for younger individuals, perhaps in youth group, high school or university contexts, and churches need to actively create such opportunities. Actually doing this effectively encourages others to extend and open themselves similarly. Our experience and observation makes it clear that this is a greatly rewarding experience, especially at late teenage level and it often marks the attainment of a level of spiritual adulthood. In fact the motivation and exercise of such ministry, both in the structures of the church (youth group etc) and informally, is very valuable leadership training for many young Christians and confers significant advantage in subsequent years.

Active encouragement is the key here, but we need to note that some conditions of low morale and self esteem need a bit more than increased attention. If someone is seriously depressed it is important that they get medical help to address the biochemical component of that. Christian friends can help a lot just by being with them and giving both time and gentle encouragement, without attempting amateur psychology.

1.1 Discussion questions:
What would you say are the main similarities and differences between your home family relationships and your Christian family relationships?
What do you think forms the "spiritual DNA" of the Christian family?
How do you avoid letting the Christian fellowship occupy all your time outside work and other immovable commitments?
In what respects are you most challenged in expressing love for other Christians?
In what respects are you most challenged in being open to being loved (as distinct from popular or respected)?
What opportunities are there for you to actively encourage younger Christians?

1.2 Prayer, encouragement and serving one another

In all maturing fellowship relationships there will be service in prayer support, seeking opportunities to encourage and support one another in other ways, and the desire for moral excellence in the other individuals. In this connection we need to commend and model positive values so that we help one another to move forward in growing relationship with God and to expand the horizons of vocation and ministry.

At least some of this needs to be on same-sex basis. As well as encouraging and affirming younger people there needs to be modeling of mature manhood and being a woman in life. Also having time with older men and women respectively provides opportunity to discuss and process issues which are not as readily opened up with members of the opposite sex. Of course, that discussion needs to be on a confidential basis when it gets into personal territory.

Constant servant application
By every means we should encourage one another in going forward. This should not be desultory or simply occasional, when convenient, but active and constant - a daily preoccupation (Hebrews 3:13). Towards younger brethren this may often mean pushing to keep options open and empowering them for future opportunities and possibilities, the fellowship here taking on mentoring characteristics. Every exercise of proactive fellowship will remind us that it is indeed more blessed to give than receive and should be an expression of God's grace.

As we submit to one another, or are subject to one another, out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21), we enjoy the counterintuitive richness of the Kingdom of God. This submission is a deliberate reversal of a major aspect of our fallen nature - the desire to control others. It means that we aim to develop the other person, not to better ourselves. This readily becomes a feature of leadership which is humble and motivated by a real love for those led. Servant leadership is not unique to the Christian context, but it does stand in marked contrast with ego-driven leadership which is motivated by status and power. The challenge is for us to love people without having the expectation that they will always be lovable, and serve them regardless.

A servant attitude needs to be developed through practice, both towards individuals, in the church, and more widely. It needs to start in small things, seizing opportunities as they present. It needs to be practical, not largely just a warm glow within, and characterized by faithfulness, reliability, and finishing what we start. It should also express a vulnerability which, like St Paul, is frank about our weakness and dependence on God's grace.

Developing this attitude of service and submission perhaps presents a particular challenge to men. But if the challenge is greater so perhaps are the opportunities and the rewards more significant. It was pointed out at an All Souls Church men's weekend that in our dominant culture over the last centuries males have been cast in the role of provider, protector and procreator. However now there is a real need for men to develop a culture of intimacy amongst themselves. For women this usually happens more readily, but men have the same need to share, in a secure context. Vulnerability and genuineness are better than fickle friendship - commitment and loyalty are basic.5 Male mentoring is often found to be tremendously valuable and effective, possibly because it needs to be a deliberate commitment both ways rather than implying independence in the one mentored, or protégé.

Developing and expressing sympathy and empathy are basic to real fellowship. This means understanding and entering into others' feelings and situations, maybe sharing them, then bearing them up in love and encouragement. It means a focus on feelings rather than facts initially at least. The aphorism that "people don't care what you know until they know that you care" is very true.

But for all of us, developing relationships involving some real intimacy is vital because we do in fact belong to one another in fellowship and need to express this meaningfully. One outcome of learning to do so is that we will not be as likely to pursue undue physical intimacy as substitute in romantic relationships for emotional intimacy - one of the ways in which these are debased in modern permissive culture.

Outward expression or symbolism
Sometimes it may be appropriate in close relationships to have some form of symbolism to emphasise their reality and nature. We have referred to the need to make more of celebrating the Lord's Supper and beyond that, following Jesus' example, perhaps washing one another's feet to symbolise the servant dimension of Christian fellowship can be a kind of private sacrament of friendship. Also it may be appropriate in a committed mentor relationship, to counterbalance the natural tendency for the mentor to be seen as something of a guru rather than as servant. Laying on of hands is another symbolic way to express identification and solidarity in special situations. But of course, it is far more important actually to take opportunities for even menial service of one another, which is the genuine expression of that servant task rather than just symbolism6. It is all too easy for symbolism to displace or replace what it is supposed to represent.

Sometimes we need to exercise the freedom to show our feelings, to be demonstrative on a more everyday basis, for instance with hugging as a greeting. This is much more a feature of today's young generation than older generations, and can often be correlated with a real culture of love, care and support in specific organisational settings. It is also true of other, eg Latin, cultures7. But how much more appropriate for Christians? Having said that, everyone has a different sense of personal space, and some have a fairly restricted emotional comfort zone for all sorts of reasons. For some people, hugging anyone outside the very near and dear is uncomfortable. Indiscriminate demonstration of affection or presumed intimacy outside established relationships is generally quite offensive. All this must be borne in mind when expressing affection, while perhaps being prepared to err a little on the warm side. Western culture has arguably downplayed the human need for touch in relationships, and actually stigmatised it many situations.

It is perhaps helpful to contrast all this with its opposite extreme, which also provides a powerful sense of belonging. Teenage gang culture fosters a sense of inclusion and belonging, with the excitement of being countercultural or at least antisocial, but which deceives in its implicit offer to be able to act with impunity and escape adverse consequences.

It is important to communicate, and not just sit back allowing others to do it. Today, apart from face to face conversation and greeting, we have a rich range of possibilities, each of which may suit our individual nature and circumstances. The point is, to be proactive in using them. Where they were formerly a prime means, snail mail letters have become unusual for interpersonal communication. But e-mails can be short or long, a quick "FYI" or reflective. Phone calls, texting, Facebook postings and light-hearted comments, and more are possibilities. But reflect: do you leave the communication initiative entirely to your friends? Or do you take some initiative too? Do you reply in an appropriate time frame? Are you using the many possible social media, texts and e-mails to enrich your friends and others with whom you have opportunity?

There are several things you can do with a personal e-mail or equivalent:

  1. Answer it immediately, possibly very briefly (eg "thanks, Bill"), maybe just as a holding reply pending 2.
  2. Answer it more thoughtfully within perhaps a week or so.
  3. File it without response, or otherwise ignore or forget it.
  4. Trash it.

Clearly two of these options nurture relationships, and two don't (4 is probably for unwanted correspondence). The third may be equivalent to going to sleep in the middle of a conversation if the sender has some expectation of reply!

There is for each of us a happy medium between being driven by e-mail traffic (as some of us tend to be because of our role in life) and being so laid back that we frustrate and don't keep faith with those who love us.

How we talk about people is major point of witness. Banter (male) & gossip (female) often tends to be putting down, or personal one-upmanship, instead of edifying, encouraging and empowering. Find positive things to say with good humour.

As Christians we need to walk in the truth, and cultivate honesty in our relationships rather than flattery, fawning or merely superficial jocularity. Friendship is based on listening - listening conveys love, especially as it flows on to engagement in earnest conversation or helpfulness and service in other ways. A corollary of this is care with confidentiality, especially regarding shared prayer points.

Active humility
Overall we need to be affirming and appreciating one another explicitly as part of God's creation and part of his church, demonstrating integrity in open relationships. In our individual circle of contacts, how many people could say that we have expressed love and appreciation to them in word or deed over recent weeks? - something a bit more than tagging them in memes? St Paul emphasized one aspect of this in saying "in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" in the fellowship of Christ (Philippians 2:3-4). In both attitude and action this is so basic and important that we really need to make sure we don't miss out on doing it in the worldly rush of busy lives. However shy, reserved or lacking in confidence we may be, standing off and apart is simply really not an option.

1.2 Discussion questions:
What are main respects in which you are actively encouraging, affirming and supporting others?
How does your prayer routine reflect this?
Have there been times when your being subject to a fellow Christian (Eph 5:21) has been a challenge?
Do you feel safe in expressing your thoughts and feelings to other Christians?
Are you helping to develop a strong and wholesome sense of belonging to and with other Christians?

1.3 Close friendships and intimacy

As mentioned above, all of us have a real need and usually a desire for intimacy and emotional connection with close friends, as an expression of love, and reciprocally to be known, accepted and loved. Loneliness is an unattractive and often destructive alternative, though individuals differ in what they seek emotionally. But friendships with potential to grow into close long-term ones are insufficiently esteemed and nurtured in our western culture today. This goes with a debasement of love as a prime human and godly attribute.

The biblical benchmark of this kind of close friendship is perhaps David and Jonathan, both young men but from very different backgrounds - lowly shepherd with warrior credentials, and royalty respectively. Though David was married to Jonathan's sister Michal, he could say in his lament for Jonathan "my brother" that "you were vey dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women." (2 Samuel 1:26) This clearly contrasts two categories of intimate love, one properly very physical, the other essentially not. It is always a joy to see such close male relationships today, expressing a richness of love that is all too uncommon. We earnestly wish that every young man could experience such a peer relationship at least once, and similarly for young women. Often this will be before the full expression of sexual love in marriage, and it will benchmark for the individual a kind of intimacy which is not hormone-driven. That then enables a more sensible decision re life partner, at a stage when when hormones are influential. The point here is that Christians in particular should be very open to it in expressing created human nature in the face of superficial culture.

Intimacy and sexuality
Relational intimacy is a basic human need, and a major driver for it is our sexuality. The most obvious human intimacy is in the marriage relationship, which is the human equivalent of the intimate relationship between Christ and his people (Eph 5:22f). But any intimate realtionship is where we can be fully known, and know another, transcending ordinary human relationships. We should note in this regard that while sexual union is the epitome of intimacy here today, Jesus' response to the Sadducees (Mark 12:18-25, Luke 20:27-36) suggests that sex will be subsumed in fuller and wider relationships in God's restored creation - 'like the angels in heaven'. So in the context of this book we primarily address intimacy outside of that marriage relationship - discussing what is good, appropriate and enriching.

The interplay of sexuality and emotional connectedness outside marriage can be confusing. It is plausibly addressed by an American psychologist, William Struthers: "When the need to be known is met regularly, the sexual drive is decreased. When it is not regularly satisfied, the force of it builds. As the drive increases, we become less able to make wise decisions about how we meet it. A starving man will eat anything that is put before him. An intimacy-neglected man will grasp at any available opportunity to know or be known. The need for intimacy will build without emotional connection, and he will look for this connection in unhealthy and unproductive places (such as pornography or prostitutes)" rather than with real people. "We all long for intimacy and for the transcendence that comes when we experience it. Intimacy is the process by which we understand and grow toward our purpose in life: to be conformed to the image of Christ. It requires that we do as Christ did, to give of ourselves in acts of loving kindness and servant sacrifice for the benefit of others." William Struthers, Wired for Intimacy - how pornography hijacks the male brain, IVP USA 2009. Chapter 7 on The Male Need for Intimacy.

In our western culture with ready acceptance of promiscuous sex, the prevalent notion of intimacy tends to be largely physical and sexual - a transient plumbing connection rather than an enduring heart connection. The hunger for intimacy is channelled into sexual gratification, and the intimacy is at best transient, or simply illusory. The casual sex encounter does not involve the sort of intimacy which satisfies the soul14c and soul intimacy of open sharing and emotional connectedness is often ignored, disparaged or dismissed. This becomes a real barrier to proper non-sexual intimacy, especially if it might have any physical expression (which it need not). In particular it may stigmatise same-sex friendships, and it creates an image of masculinity which simply does not allow for wholesome intimacy with other males. Yet for very many people, especially coming out of emotional deficiencies in family background, there is a huge need for building close plural relationships of this kind, and experiencing love as that word is used by Christians. There is a challenge for Christians to counter the cultural bias which plays down or stigmatises platonic intimacy, without courting scandal. Certainly the intimacy which should be part of everybody's experience (apart from marriage) does not need any physical expression, though it may be enhanced by a little of that.

Outside of marriage (for single as well as married people), there can be very meaningful intimacy which is non-sexual, with close friends regardless of gender. It is driven by the heart, not the hormones. It takes time and hanging out together to build the rapport involved - there is no proper intimacy that is instant or short-term. It involves sharing our life with others, and a sense of security and corresponding confidentiality. It involves a spirit of self-sacrifice and a willingness to invest in relationships. It will often lack the emotional intensity of 1:1 romantic relationships, but has much of the vulnerability of accountability partnerships. Being vulnerable is risky - it is easily violated, leading to real hurt, but it is a pathway to intimacy. However, the relationships can cultivate an appropriate kind of intimacy in mutual support.

There is love that is deeper and fuller than eros, and unrelated to sexuality or sex. It would seem that most younger people today don't experience it, burying the opportunity in sexual adventures of one kind and another in a quest for intimacy, and of course seldom finding it there. Physical intimacy may accompany but not likely lead to soul intimacy.

An isolated Christian is very vulnerable, and fair game for the opposition. Often he or she will be a dead duck spiritually. Practical love is needed with an intimacy and support that is vital, where people who really love them meet their emotional and intellectual needs with emotional and intellectual solutions. We all need to build and grow relationships which meet both our own needs and those of others. An unmet hunger for intimacy can drive a person to vicarious seeking of it in pornography, and this is one of the precursors of porn problems (see also 2.5).

What form does this intimacy take and how is it achieved?
Time and talk - sharing and trusting, in love - are basic. In other words, deep friendship in varying degrees. Openness and vulnerability come into it, with the concomitant possibility of hurt. (The closer we come to someone, the greater the potential for pain as well as joy.) Commitment in prayer supports it. Bitterness and pain can hinder it by stopping us reaching out to others.

John Wyatt, quoted in the introduction to this chapter, put it well. He spoke of "kinds of friendships which have been a wonderful experience of intimacy, of openness, of sharing and of mutual vulnerability. That kind of friendship has to be nurtured and is a precious thing." He encourages junior doctors and medical students to form them as a lifetime "foundation and resource", which of course they can be - and arguably need to be - for all of us.

While they are essentially non-physical, such close friendships may or may not have any physical expression beyond the occasional or regular hug, depending on cultural conditioning.14e For most of us, they don't need any physical expression.

Opening up
Being open and trustworthy, and expressing love effectively in service of one another is where we need to begin. Thus we engage with other individuals in self-giving and exercise the new quality of life that the Holy Spirit is creating in us. That and the accompanying feeling of humility will open opportunity for intimacy based on faithfulness and truth which can move us towards experiencing the quality of life which will characterise God's restored creation, free of self-seeking and other sin. But any shared activity can also develop this quality of friendship. This intimacy with trusted friends is both an emotional connection and reciprocal self-disclosure, openness and knowledge of one another - knowing and being known. It means being open and able to speak from the depths of our heart and reciprocally to be accepted.

It means feeling free to be largely uninhibited, with connfidentiality asssumed. Just as with marital intimacy, here too there is a corresponding divine template: Jesus when addressing a mixed audience said: "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father." (John 10:14-15) The reciprocal knowing of his people and Jesus reflects that between Father and Son. That sets a high standard for general as distinct from marital intimate relationships among God's "sheep".

Because our culture is so sexualised, in practice, non-sexual intimacy is often easiest to find with same-sex friends. One can have that kind of relationship with the opposite sex (where the hormones don't kick in to overlay the basic human love with eros), but it's not common. Many yearn for this soul intimacy, and would be fortified by it, but are frustrated because sexual opportunities divert and then disappoint them. And in anything like a dating situation outside of a Christian context, any failure to get laid very early in a relationship often implies disinterest.

A model for social intimacy is that which God's people have with Him, as described for instance in Psalm 139:1-6, and which is risk-free and secure. "You know me ... you are familiar with all my ways, ... you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty to attain." There is security in this intimacy, and to a lesser extent human intimacy can emulate it. Where sin, shame and fear cut across that intimacy with God and need to be dealt with by his grace, so too they must be dealt with by his word and spirit in human relationships.

To sustain intimacy requires some emotional maturity and self-awareness. It also develops those qualities, by practising sensitivity and tuning in to others, experiencing a bit of give and take. There is real joy in cultivating friendships with individuals who are trustworthy and reliable. These are built over time on truth and honesty, with gentleness and love.

For these reasons, close friendships without emotional intensity are incidentally good preparation for romantic relationships leading to marriage. In fact anything which encourages and develops emotional maturity will help the romantic prospects for the longer term. While a lot of hormonal charge properly gives romantic relationships an intensity absent from the close friendship kind of intimacy, the relationship-building attributes are similar, as is the need for shared values and a similarly-tuned moral compass. Being progressively open, trusting and vulnerable in non-sexual relationships is both training and confidence-building in relation to eventual marriage. Close romantic relationships are always provisional, so that all but one (pre marriage) get broken off if the lifelong prospects don't stack up, but the close friendships tend to be enduring, though over time they will wax and wane. They provide a stable emotional base for exploring the sometimes fraught romances leading towards marriage, and afterwards.

If a young person does not enjoy that kind of intimate loving relationship, then the need for intimacy will tend to be loaded on to sexual relationships, driving them too far and too fast into physical intimacy there, since that is where our instincts take us. Many people do not experience a proper kind of intimacy in their youth, and so when their instincts quite properly point them towards sexual experience, that with the first obliging sexual partner largely defines intimacy for them. Yet it isn't - it is merely putting the form of it before the substance. And vicarious sex in the form of pornography is one stage worse in its limitless opportunity for addiction and potential for depraving our ability to enjoy real sex.

Countercultural witness
It is worth reflecting on how much the sexualisation of our culture deprives us in this area, compared with what a Christian focus can achieve by infusing all aspects of life with God's values centred on Christ. Elevating sex to be an autonomous goal means other relationships tend to become depauperate, and all aspects of life are infused with it and subtly warped. But sex in the context of God's design and purpose is more than that (cf chapter 2) and it complements rather than diminishes other relationships, especially the intimacy discussed here.

In trusting friendships, for anything to be totally 'unmentionable' is a pretty effective way to see that it never gets properly addressed. With close friends, everything should be discussable! Sometimes that can be a great relief, too.

Jesus provides a model of human intimacy with his three closest disciples, Peter, James and John, apparently giving extra time and being more open with them as well as admitting them to particular experiences - notably the transfiguration. He was also close to several women. But we observe this from afar and from a different culture, so don't have too many pointers to apply.

Christians need to model intimacy which is not physical or basically sexual both among the brethren and in other friendships. It is a foretaste of heaven!

1.3 Discussion Questions
What are the shared values that you most enjoy expressing in friendships?
Are you apprehensive about being known by your close friends? Are you daunted by what they might share with you?
Which of your friends might have cause to thank God for your love and encouragement in the last couple of weeks?
What have been your frustrations in seeking non-sexual intimacy?
To what extent do you find yourself drawn to sex to achieve some sense of intimacy?
How do your non-Christian friends understand and experience intimacy? What are their hopes and desires?
Is the idea of openness and vulnerability in a relationship agreeable in principle? in practice?
How active are you in nurturing the close relationships referred to by Prof Wyatt?

1.4 Specific support relationships

All relationships within Christian fellowship involve a real measure of accountability and a renunciation of the independence of our culture along with its implicit assumption of personal privacy being paramount.

Accountability partnership
With a very few who are committed prayer partners, there can be a specific peer-level accountability relationship or partnership if we are serious about making our behaviour conform to our being disciples of Christ. In this we open ourselves very fully, acknowledging our specific concerns and weaknesses, confessing our lapses and being open (or even interrogated) regarding our points of weakness and vulnerability. This may be in one or two close one-to-one friendships (see 1.4), or in a small group of three or four, on a same-sex basis9. It can be a powerful aid to self-discipline and encouragement to godly behaviour, in the context of ruthless honesty, expressed graciously, enabled by loving trust and undergirded by committed prayer. Some complementarity of strengths and weaknesses is a good idea. But to work well there needs to be mutual regard and ready interaction.

Such an accountability partnership does require a good deal of trust, and reciprocally a persistence and relentless interest in the other person. It involves a proactive love which will ruthlessly cut through any denial and cover-up when things are wrong or seem to be heading off the rails.10 A partner must be willing to risk upsetting and insulting a brother or sister. In exploring possibilities maybe ask: do I trust you enough to be comfortable that you know the worst about me, am I willing to be vulnerable in exposing my flaws? Is your relentless probing into the dark parts of my life going to be joyfully cathartic for me? And do you love me enough to be really ruthless, as well as persistently prayerful and encouraging? It must be a strong enough love to risk the friendship at times. Questions must be specific, probing what needs to be brought into the light. Christians, like everyone, sometimes have an unfortunate capacity for self-deception. However hard it is to find a suitable accountability partner, don't give up! At least exercise some degree of that kind of relationship among those with whom you are closest.

There is a real sense in which an accountability partner models Christ to us. When we confront our own weakness and failings to that trusted friend, we know that they will not condemn or walk away, but will very firmly call us to see ourselves without the deceits of rationalizing, call us to more godly endeavor, and will love and support us in prayer. Our sense of being unburdened by that encounter is very much what we might sense from our daily prayer life. Often, if we're honest in our human weakness, the threat of opprobrium from an accountability partner is a much stronger reinforcement to conscience than any spiritual sense of responsibility to God.

Such accountability relationships are also a good antidote to pride because one needs to be so open and frank. Humility is very much about being honest to ourselves and others regarding our weaknesses, and in respect to others, thus being vulnerable. When one partner presses questions to another, this is not intrusive curiosity nor is it particularly implying doubt about the partner's godly intentions or self-discipline in pursuing them. But it is guarding the partner since he or she knows that those intrusive questions are part of the deal and will always come. They cannot be ducked. Sometimes an accountability partner needs to be a real intolerant bastard in order to effectively love his brother who is seduced by sin.

If necessary, confession and getting it off one's chest will be a relief, indeed cathartic, along with the reminder that the mor important confession to the Lord himself and repentance mean forgiveness and putting the sin behind once and for all. James (5:16) exhorts: "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed". It is immensely liberating to be able to spill your guts to someone who will love you even if you feel failed, rotten, and useless at times. The accountability partner(s) share the sorrow, encourage the repentance and then provide loving encouragement, prayer support and strength in going forward with clear assurance of forgiveness and renewed resolve. It can counter the cycle of good intentions - failure - guilt. 11a This is properly reciprocal. We need to be alert to the tendency of sharp and helpful accountability partnerships degenerating to merely comfortable "warm fuzzies talking shop" as one friend put it. If you really love someone you will be more concerned for their spiritual health than their immediate comfort, so don't hold back from challenging them regularly.

In a spiritual warfare perspective, accountability relationships centred on prayer mean that we fight for one another as well as encouraging, we acknowledge that we all have similar battles and that if Satan takes on one he takes on much more! But giving ourselves to others in this kind of way is very countercultural for men.

In practice, and especially over time, accountability partnerships, prayer partnerships and mentoring can merge or morph into one another. For example, some elements of accountability partnership are likely in a mentor relationship, and prayer support for one another is basic to any close relationship. However, accountability partnerships are mainly or at least substantially defensive in spiritual warfare, whereas mentor relationships are largely encouragement and support more positively. In contrast to the close friendships discussed in the previous section, none are necessarily long-term, though some prayer commitments tend to be. Accountability partnerships tend to change with our active circle of peer-level friends who are available to spend time with.

Dependency & trust.
Philip Yancey comments that he learned a vital lesson with respect to fellowship from a Christian in Alcoholics Anonymous. This Christian pointed out that all church fellowship he had encountered was shallow and merely emotional, whereas in AA one learned real dependency on others, with openness of confession and trust which was reciprocal. This contrasts with individualism which approaches fellowship from the standpoint of it (and other people) meeting my needs as if on a shopping trip - pious, optional and disengaged. Christian fellowship particularly and close friendships generally can be an effective voice of conscience in our lives.

However, in a fellowship context, narrowing the field unduly can lead to an unhealthy emotional dependency on one or two others, which becomes too emotionally intense. Balance and intelligent sensitivity is needed - real love is neither total individualism nor total co-dependency. Some fellowship gets very personal, with a lot of openness which can verge on being invasive, so each must be sensitive to what the other finds comfortable and helpful, not imposing his or her own agenda for personal satisfaction.

A prayer partnership - in the sense of mutual commitment to pray for one another and provide updates to enable this - is a healthy dependency. It is not contingent on being geographically close or synchronizing diaries in order to meet, but is an important means of mutual support and fellowship, as we bear one another's burdens and share one another's journey. A full-on prayer partnership is likely to involve commitment to pray daily for one another on a few key points, but most of us have a wider circle of lesser commitments in prayer, which may be reciprocal. If we ever feel we are too busy to pray properly, then a rearrangement of priorities is urgent. Prayer connection can be as important as social connection - hanging out together - and both together mean a lot.

Mentoring is an important and richly-rewarding form of fellowship, where an older or more experienced and mature person takes another under his or her wing, at their request. This builds on a friendship where the younger party invites the older to be proactive in challenging, caring, encouraging and praying. It can in addition be focused on particular issues where advice and guidance based on experience is sought. It is essentially purposeful love in this context.

The scope in extent and time horizon needs to be worked out in each case to meet the needs and expectations of the mentee. The scope of mentor relationships can be wide, or focused on vocational, study, or personal issues. Typically a mentor relationship will be for a year or two or three, with scope for extension at the mentee's discretion. But most of the value will be in a year or two of relatively intense relationship - perhaps meeting every four to six weeks and some communication in between to update the prayer agenda. A significant ongoing friendship often ensues. Undertaking mentoring is a huge privilege, and usually a joy, for the mentor as servant.

While there is no hard and fast definition of mentoring, the mentor's basic task is prayer and encouragement, and he or she needs to be fairly open to candidly sharing life experiences, and also explicitly open to being questioned on anything at all. A mentor is someone who has dealt with some of the challenges in life and gained wisdom, which can be passed on. He or she can anticipate challenges ahead of the mentee, and read their situation helpfully. St Paul's personal ministry to and support of Timothy is a good biblical model - albeit more of a full apprenticeship in ministry than most mentoring involves. All the attributes of fellowship mentioned above seem to be there, in the context of strong prayer commitment.

Mentoring involves at least prayer and communication, usually with proactive comment. It requires significant focus and commitment to encourage and serve over some time, coupled with an occasional reality check. It is likely to involve modelling relevant ministry, leadership, or other principles. It requires much more listening than suggesting, often as a sounding board. It will aim to cultivate a measure of thoughtful independence, certainly not any onging dependence. It involves taking responsibility for the younger person, though the scope of that responsibility will vary from simply spending a bit of time and praying for them to investing a lot of time and perhaps financial support as required, as part of stewardship. In a Christian context, it presupposes that the mentee attends to the basic spiritual disciplines of bible reading and prayer to keep in touch with God's Holy Spirit themselves. The mentor needs to be attentive, but not intrusive, and that is easier if the mentee has an active accountability partnership to deal with day to day issues such as sexual lust. In fact, such a peer-level partnership might be a precondition for mentoring.

Mentoring is an invaluable investment in the next generation of disciples and leaders, and in the church should be honoured as such, as an epitome of cross-generational fellowship. It is enormously valuable, usually for both parties, and any realistic opportunity for establishing mentor relationships should be taken up. In Ian's experience the maximum mentoring load is three or four, though this will depend on the nature and scope of each relationship. Mentors may also be significant in linking protégés with important resources (including financial) and networks. Often the most significant difference between Christians who grow strongly and those who don't is the involvement of a mentor.12a A modest mentor input in a person's early 20s can make a significant difference to that person's vocational trajectory. Time, prayer, love, connections, money can all play a part in that input. Whatever the limitations of the mentor's godliness, wisdom and experience, loving engagement with anyone through encouragement and focused prayer will be a significant blessing.

In complex circumstances such as when a headstrong mentee's life descends into chaos, the mentor role may become largely confined to prayer for some time, even a year or two. But that role is not diminished thereby!

It would be hard to overstate the significance of mentoring. Having more than one mentee at a time means that the relationship doesn't become too intense, but having headspace for more than about three would be unlikely in a busy life. Certainly Ian can say, in respect to his various pastoral and mentor relationships over many years, that he hasn't given anything to anyone where he hasn't himself been greatly enriched in the process.12b

A mentor prayer that Ian uses in initiating a mentor relationship is: to love him as you do - expressed in practical ways, to serve him as your servant and motivate him in the service of others, and to encourage him as an agent of your Holy Spirit. Broadly speaking the mentor role is to love deliberately and effectively.

Mentoring practicalities
There is no set procedure for mentoring, but Ian's way of going about it is as follows:
- Commit for approx. two years, with aim of then passing them on to someone else to take them forward.
- Meet for quality discussion time (preferably over a meal) every 4-6 weeks.
- Commit to daily specific prayer for them (eg 4-5 points), with need to update the specifics by occasional communication. Keep them fairly front of mind.
- Seek opportunities to involve them in my life - reflections, occasions (meetings, talks, 4WD trips, etc) and to benefit them in every practical way. Share thoughts and experiences.
- Be a servant, not guru. Available and attentive, but not intrusive.
- Encourage actively, look for practical opportunities to love them effectively.
- Give them access to a modest stewardship budget I control in order to take up particular opportunities.
- Strongly encourage the mentee to have/ get a peer-level accountability partner.
- stay out of mentee's social circle, be available but not intrusive.
- encourage the mentee to become a mentor to others, not merely a recipient of attention.

There is a clear contrast between mentoring and the leader-disciple or leader-apprentice relationship. In each case the junior party needs to decide upon and initiate the relationship, but while the mentee should set the terms of the relationship, the disciple accepts those of the leader in joining the team or cause. Also the disciple or apprentice aims to serve the leader and advance their purposes, while the mentor role is to serve the mentee and do whatever is opportune to advance their interests and broadly vocational prospects, within the scope agreed.

A mentor relationship is very appropriate for addressing situations where a young person's gifts and abilities are well beyond their vocational ambition (or the reverse). Also for where a deeply ingrained entitlement mentality needs to be replaced by a powerful sense of responsibility and generosity.

There is also a fairly clear contrast between mentor relationships and peer-level accountability partnerships. The mentor is normally in a different place in life, so any reciprocity of accountability is limited and it would be intrusive for mentor to be probing the porn/ sex/ lust stuff every time they meet, and mentee would likely not feel it appropriate to probe reciprocally - though occasional questions are always in order. All this is much better reciprocally at peer level. Secondly is the need to keep short accounts regarding immediate pressures and temptations - the 4-6 weeks of typical mentor meeting routine is too long. And while the accountability partner will often be part of the other person's social circle, the mentor will not.

Exit check from a mentoring relationship: Has the mentoring been all that you expected or hoped for? How might it have been better? Has it been too intrusive? Too distant? As you consider prospects for a new mentor, are you eager to take up a mentoring role yourself?

Task-oriented fellowship
In addition to more intimate fellowship, there is also a place for task-oriented fellowship, which is shallower as a personal relationship but substantial in engaging particular issues, academic dissertation, or other shared interests, ministry and vision. In the New Testament, this is what the word fellowship means - a shared partnership.

In task-oriented fellowship a central consideration is the interdependence of gifts, abilities and character and the way they are used so as to be complementary. The common tasks where this flourishes are especially those involving Christian service and ministry. Incidentally such fellowship provides an important opportunity in developing romantic relationships,

Sometimes such fellowship may be where there has simply not been time or opportunity to get close, or where the chemistry is different. But a more intellectual kind of fellowship certainly has its place and can be strongly encouraging and effective at serving, without engaging the emotions as much. It is a classic kind of male fellowship, non-demonstrative but side by side in common tasks. However it is certainly not confined to males.

Writing about one of the most significant eras in British political history, in Saints in Politics, E.M.Howse describes the largely Christian fellowship context of the monumental achievements of the period around 1800 and how the energy and commitment nurtured there led to the abolition of slavery and the very expensive emancipation of those enslaved13. This Christian-led movement to abolish slave-trading is regarded as an archetype of human rights-based social change. The group of Clapham friends led by Wilberforce became knit together around common evangelically-based values: "in an astonishing intimacy and solidarity, they planned and laboured like a committee that never was dissolved. At the Clapham mansions they congregated by common impulse in what they chose to call their 'Cabinet Councils' wherein they discussed the wrongs and injustices which were the reproach to their country, and the battles which would need to be fought to establish righteousness. And thereafter, in Parliament and out, they moved as one body, delegating to each man the work he could do best, that their common principles might be maintained and their common purposes be realised. In private intercourse they lived and acted almost as if they all belonged to an inner circle of one large family"14 . Not often is Christian fellowship central on the political stage, or at least empowering what goes on there in a major country, but there is room for it to be so. We should also note that Wilberforce was one of a number of Christian leaders closely mentored by John Newton, the great evangelical preacher and former slave trader

The Clapham influence didn't stop there, but was pervasive in commercial life. "If one asks how 19th century English merchants earned a reputation of being the most honest in the world (a very real factor in the primacy of English trade), the answer is because hell and heaven seemed as real to them as tomorrow's sunrise, and the last judgment as real as the week's balance sheet," according to historian Sir Robert Ensor, commenting on the social influence of evangelicalism in the period 1870-86.14a

Christian leadership
Leadership by Christians requires that we approach the task as servants, in the way outlined earlier. Humility in leadership and in fellowship generally is related to love, a focus on others not ourselves, and the cultivation of growth in those led. The stark contrast here is ego-driven leadership which is motivated by status and power. But pride in leadership is normally more subtle and hence debilitating without our realizing it. A leader in ministry needs to be able both to learn from their shortcomings and failures and to acknowledge them so that others develop a healthy appreciation of what is involved in leadership by fallible but faithful people. Especially in youth leadership a measure of hero worship can develop (the contrast with uncool parents helps that!) and this can mean that young people don't feel confident in exposing their own problems and weaknesses. Youth leaders should to some extent be vulnerable before the youth, acknowledging that they are struggling human beings who grapple with their own issues. This is not to diminish the importance of leaders being role models and setting a godly example, it is simply keeping it real and countering pride.

In the 20th century we saw two major political transformations which had Christian influence at their core. Communism in Eastern Europe collapsed for many reasons, but a key influence was the Polish Pope aligned with the witness of evangelical churches and those who took courage from both. In South Africa the peaceful overthrow of apartheid was accomplished with one remarkable man (Nelson Mandela, who claimed no Christian affiliation) as the movement's figurehead, plus a black African Archbishop who spent many hours in prayer each day and later presided over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which did much to heal the social wounds of the country. Both were evidently used by God to effect a change which was beyond the hopes of most.

1.4 Discussion questions:
Do you have an accountability partner (or two)?
How do you balance the tough love which may tend to be intrusive with letting him/her do their own thing?
Are you always fully honest with your accountability partner?
When did your accountability partner last make you feel uncomfortable?
What have been the highlights of your accountability relationship(s) and associated prayer?
What has been your experience of mentoring?
What experience are you gaining in leadership? What lessons from this?
Do you have experience of task-oriented fellowship?
Does this help you in developing a supportive style of working with non-Christians?
Can you see ways in which the power of Christian witness and prayer might address major social or political challenges on your radar?

1.5 Some ups and downs in new family relationships

As disciples of Christ, we need to inhabit a culture of praise and thanksgiving. This will point us in a diametrically opposite direction to much of the temptation which assails us in life, and much of the preoccupation with individual rights. "Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving." Instead of the fellowship of hedonism, we need to be filled with song, with thanksgiving and a willingness to submit to one another and take responsibility Ephesians 5:3-4, 18-21). Is that an obvious characteristic of our fellowship? Does our worship of God reinforce and assert an alternative reality to the worldview of our culture?

But sometimes it can feel like we are just 'going through the motions' in this and glorification of God seems a bit thin and repetitive. If so, we need to address just what it is that is leading us to feel as though what we are doing is a bit purposeless. Is it perhaps because at church we simply sing the words, or because we praise God in the same way each week? Maybe this can be an opportunity to try a different way to praise God in many parts of our week by simply following his promptings as we engage with tasks and relationships. This may lead us to worship in a new and exciting way in which we have not praised our maker before. More broadly we should see praise, worship and thanksgiving as something which we make our lifestyle, not just something switched on for special occasions.15

Fellowship involves communication
Simply being in Christian fellowship does not give us immunity to glitches in relationships due to pride, selfishness, thoughtlessness, gossip, and more. But it should enable us more readily to apologise, seek and bestow forgiveness, and achieve reconciliation - though these actions should not be confined to our Christian circle of fellowship. We should not let a disagreement or misunderstanding fester, but should address it as soon as possible and restore the relationship. Gossip can be deadly in a church context - avoid it absolutely.

There are however disagreements which should not impede fellowship. Christians in good conscience disagree about many things, perhaps most acutely in politics, but also cultural matters. Our fellowship needs to transcend those differences, even when they are profound. In fact it should be a major point of witness that it does so, and that we continue fulsomely to love those who disagree with us in matters that in the world are major.

Failure to respond to personally-addressed messages, e-mails, etc is effectively a renunciation of that fellowship. It can be as offensive as meeting a friend in the street and deliberately ignoring their greeting. Of course the response may be just a very short acknowledgment if there is not time and inclination for something longer and thoughtful, but total silence is far from golden. We all have limited time, but priorities must be applied here as elsewhere and for the Christian, people stuff should normally rank ahead of much else. And having almost unlimited time for verbal communication but ignoring e-mails doesn't make sense.

It is easy to forgive when someone wrongs us, realises it and asks for our forgiveness. It is much harder to forgive when they cannot or will not perceive any wrong or offence. Or when we feel that justice is avoided by our proffering forgiveness. Or when we feel that to be forgiving is to be weak. But forgiving is an act of grace from the heart more than the mind. Failure to forgive sows bitterness in us, and leaves the offending party unaffected. Forgiveness is not the same as indifference or tolerance - it is active, and it needs to be practiced in any fellowship context in response to sin, offence, or simply difference. In many respects it is a barometer of godliness. Occasionally, however, when an offence is particularly grievous, forgiveness can take time to develop, as we come to terms with what someone has done and its impact on us. Reciprocally, apology is a great boost to humility. If within Christian fellowship we cannot model forgiveness and reconciliation, we will find it much harder to achieve both in the world outside. Forgiveness cleans the slate, enabling us to forget about offences and to move on. (Past things may be recalled as a matter of fact, but not of significance, if they have been dealt with.)

Another aspect of our links with other Christians in fellowship is that we need to be prepared to take up issues and even admonish those close to us, if we are to love them effectively.15a This may be to the extent of curtailing their full participation in corporate expressions of fellowship if their behaviour demands it. As in any family, unconditional love does not issue in unlimited tolerance, though we need to be consistent and not simply focus on high-profile sins. And while one looks for opportunity to praise publicly, criticism must always be in private. We are accountable for engaging others in God's family, not always simply standing back (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).

Hypocrisy and judgment
Although we need always to be looking out for our brethren (Gal 6:1-10) we also need to be careful that we are not judging their sins in the sense of condemning them and withdrawing from personal fellowship with them, effectively writing them off. There is only one judge and it is important that we each live our lives secure in that knowledge. Reciprocally it means that we need to be open when people whom we respect and who are brethren with our best interests in mind approach us graciously to take up issues with us. They may proffer constructive suggestions, but without condemning us.

Similarly if each of us cannot go to someone to raise something without a spirit of condemnation, then we should be leaving it to someone else to approach them rather than doing it ourselves. Christians are often all too quick to judge one another, forgetting that to God a lie is just as much a sin as murder, and both separate us from God. To God we are all sinners and not worthy of his friendship other than through Christ having taken our sin upon himself. We need to be careful that we are not looking at other people and suggesting that their sinning ways are worse then our sinning ways.

In British and Australian cultures, but often not in US, a deliberate gentle rudeness is a delightful kind of "love language" (cf 3.3) which implies an affection that outweighs the alleged or indicated deficiencies in the other.

Initiative and witness
Christian fellowship is not purely inward-oriented, but has important implications for witness, drawing others in. If we display relationships with evident values, and if we have real contact outside (i.e. not being a closed ghetto), then there is much scope for the quality of fellowship being attractive as people see lives of holiness and love. "As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another." (John 13:34-35). Correspondingly, fellowship which makes us into little more than a congenial ghetto, rather than strengthening and encouraging our engagement with others, is seriously deficient and needs addressing. A good test of any close Christian fellowship relationship is whether, instead of tending to be exclusive, it makes both parties more actively loving and outreaching to others. Do we love our workplace colleagues more than the work itself? Do we love our sports teammates more than the sport itself?

Finally, let's emphasise that we each need to be proactive and intentional in fellowship, and not simply assume that the good things outlined here are what will somehow just happen to us. Especially we need to be proactive when we move to a new place, so that we establish significant Christian relationships there as soon as possible, not being deterred by any perceived cliquishness. New relationships are vital as we go forward, even though this often means allowing some old ones to diminish.

In summary, we need to attend to a few things in order to enjoy our family life in Christ: Are we really serving others? Are we praying with and for other individuals? Are we finding ways to encourage and help others? Do we draw strength and encouragement from one or two others? Are we available and open to others? Is the fellowship in the church such that singles are not made to feel second-class? We need to work hard at love!

1.5 Discussion questions:
Have you been able to make praise and thanksgiving central to your life? To your fellowship?
Are you reliable in communicating and responding to communications?
What have been the main challenges you have faced in forgiving others? In taking up issues with others?
How do you think your non-Christian friends perceive your Christian family relationships? Is John 13:34-35 true for you?
Are there other issues raised in the last paragraph above?

1.6 Sharing and maintaining values in community

As well as sharing new family relationships in Christ we progressively come to share new values that derive from a Christian worldview. These (or any) values have implications for our behaviour and lifestyle in discipleship. They can make us quite countercultural. Periodically we need to review our core values and check that our ideas, behaviour and socialising is in fact aligned with them.

Material matters
As prosperity increases, much of our western society is becoming consumerist - with values related to what we buy, and hedonist, with values related to how we please ourselves. The consumerism is countered to some extent by increasing environmental awareness, but waste due to both carelessness and extravagance is still widespread.

The hedonism has two dimensions: orientation of the pleasure-seeking or gratification and its timing. Not only is it seeking pleasure or self gratification rather than service and expressing love for others, it seeks it now - not significantly delayed, as is often a corollary of the Christian approach to life.

In any case, the question of people's values and how they are derived and expressed is a major issue driving both economics and politics. Christians can easily just go along with the mob, rather than being radical in deriving their values from their roots of faith, and reinforcing one another in sharing those. Jesus' words about not being preoccupied with material things, and certainly not letting our attachment to them divert our discipleship, remain true. More than that, they are perhaps more important to heed today than ever before.

That is not to say that there will be a uniform kind of Christian lifestyle, because cultural differences which are not derived from hedonism or consumerism are properly influential. God calls people initially in particular cultural settings even within western society, and he may or may not then call people from those into something else. Each of us needs to establish a lifestyle which is appropriate to our cultural setting and Christian values and faithful to other principles which are elaborated in later chapters.

Personal discipline
We do need to be disciplined in pursuing that lifestyle and those values - there is much New Testament exhortation in that regard. Discipline and discipleship go together!

The primary area of discipline is in keeping us connected with the source of our shared values, hence regular and intentional personal bible study. We easily underestimate the potential for drifting away from the perspective on reality that daily bible study gives us, however cursory or inadequate we may sometimes feel it is. Paying attention to God's word gives us confidence to persevere rather than drift. If we do drift from those values and change towards a perspective more aligned with the surrounding culture, we no longer have the basis of fellowship in any very meaningful sense. Development of a Christian mind is explored in a later chapter.

If we simply pursue the latest fads in our surrounding culture we inevitably end up embracing the trivial at the expense of the enduring values we espouse, and find ourselves at odds with the psalmist who prayed "Turn my eyes away from worthless things, renew my life according to your word" Psalm 119:37). There does need to be a deliberate rejection of what is of low or negative value and a disciplined pursuit of what is congruent with our new family relationships. . It is all too true that if you don't stand for something you will fall for anything!

While this discipline and the fellowship in shared values and discipleship is something we individually need to decide upon and put into practice, it also sets us up for experiencing a sense of community with other believers. Whether in some subset of the church, or in a parachurch group of some kind where we spend a lot of time, this community is a natural and necessary extension of fellowship, and it transcends the social and cultural barriers which commonly divide people. A later chapter deals with hospitality, which is also an aspect of building community. While much of the shape of community is given by circumstance, there is also a place for personal chemistry in determining where and how we interact most comfortably and productively. But comfort should never mean that community becomes exclusive rather than open, it will be richest where we are open to new people who broadly line up with the discipleship and associated values which brings us together in the first place.

Christian community and culture
Community is important because it provides a wider circle than individual fellowship relationship, and therefore opens up most readily the opportunities for new relationships. It also provides a social crucible in which to welcome new believers, with open hearts, homes and diaries rather than just a cup of coffee after the service on Sunday. In many ways the community of people who know and care for one another expresses church as the body of Christ more than the wider gathering (ekklesia) in a Sunday. We need to work at it and ensure that the scope of community for us expresses our unity in Christ enjoyed through the Holy Spirit and stands counter to the accepted divisions in our wider society. And collectively we need to be salt and light in a fallen world.

An aspect of fellowship is understanding and supporting one another in personal adversity and suffering. Such experiences do form Christian character not only in the one enduring them but also in those supporting. The Old Testament account of Job and his mates is instructive. While Job hung on to faith doggedly, his friends proffered only orthodox platitudes - generally true but inappropriate. When Job expressed his anger with God, his friends thought this was over the top. But God ended up commending Job and rebuking those who failed to tune in to him properly. Many of us experience prolonged pain or frustration and ask for God to fix things up according to our view of what is needed. Our brothers and sisters in Christ need to be involved with us in such times, even if understanding of the experience is elusive.

In respect to personal wealth and consumerism, we need to reject the notion that how much we earn dictates how much we spend. Certainly it should sensibly be seen as putting a cap on it, but there is no reason to live extravagantly simply or chiefly because we may earn a lot. A focus on personal wealth can be a very destructive of character. There are cost-effective ways of achieving many things such as being adequately fed, housed and clothed. But with all that there is also often a time-cost trade off. There is no virtue in living in such a way that one's work and ministry is compromised by penny pinching. We don't expect churches to work like that, and when one is in receipt of a good income it is silly to economise to such an extent that we compromise high priorities.

We can spend a lot or a little on leisure and recreation, but what actually achieves the sort of recreation we need, and can share with other Christians - having the same values but maybe different incomes, and with non Christians with whom we seek to identify - having different values but similar incomes? For the Christian, the stewardship budget will properly constrain things in this area too - see Chapter 6.

We need to encourage and challenge one another on how our fellowship is expressed in our valuesdisp-layed in discipleship and lifestyle. At the same time we need to avoid establishing as normative any behaviour which is unduly prescriptive, so that those who conform are seen as godly and virtuous, and those who don't are stigmatised in some degree. This is a modern manifestation of the pharisaism evident in the NT, and in our experience it has included alcohol abstinence, masturbation abstinence, and avoiding dancing. That is not to say these might not be appropriate for some or in some situations, but as universal behaviour expectations they are pharisaic and avoid the proper focus on self-control and on lust. Pharisaism is not where individuals in particular circumstances limit their own freedom - Paul talks about that, and it's often appropriate. It's where the group or culture imposes rules which are assumed to produce virtue or godliness, and where these may become more significant than the original objectives. When the church affirms particular ways of being acceptable or expects conformity to a range of practices which are more cultural than biblical, then people are shamed or stigmatized - a contrast with Jesus destigmatising people he encountered such as several women and Zacchaeus.

Coming out
For some who have grown up in a Christian family or even church fellowship there is a developing awareness that they don't belong, or don't want to belong. It is important that we understand that truth and integrity are more important than continuing what may have become a charade, and that we let them go with goodwill, respecting their decision and maintaining personal friendships as far as possible. The reasons for actually 'coming out' and disengaging may be intellectual (questions not satisfactorily answered), social (the feeling that the church fellowship is too much of a ghetto, with most friendships confined to it), moral (disagreeable stance on sexual issues), or most likely several of these.

Of course there is another sort of 'coming out' which is more widely understood, where a person, hopefully after having negotiated the uncertainties and ambivalence of teenage years, makes it known that their sexual orientation is stubbornly homophile / same-sex attracted (SSA). They too should be respected and loved, and every effort made to enrich their social interactions in the fellowship, but without special sympathy. Though their romantic prospects are severely limited if they are chaste, there is a sense in which their grappling with lust and self-control (and everything else) is much the same as anyone else's.

The spiritual context
In the world around us evil and injustice is evident at every level and in every place in diverse forms. There is also much that is good pushing back against this, by no means confined to God's people who acknowledge him. We should not be naive or complacent, but nor should we be unduly anxious or despairing. The Bible reminds us that evil will be ascendant before it is finally dealt with. We should be active agents of good and witnessing to that. Salt and light are relevant biblical metaphors, along with prayer as a constant basic need. See also chapter 11 on vocational guidance.

1.6 Discussion questions:
What would you say are the new values you have acquired since becoming a Christian?
What are the main challenges to you from material and worldly values?
How do you avoid consumerism and undue focus on material wealth?
How do you organise your personal devotional bible study? And prayer routine?
Do you sometimes get angry with God? How do you express this, and what is the outcome?
How have you reacted to friends who have left the fellowship or put themselves in some way out of tune with most people's expectations?

1.7 Failure, Flaws and Forgiveness

Failure is a feature of life we all need to grapple with! Sometimes we will fail dismally, or even spectacularly. The failure may be personal, known only to oneself, or it may range up to public and career-changing, apparently derailing us completely. But failure need never be terminal. There is always the opportunity for a way back, through seeking forgiveness, maybe reparation, perhaps healing, and reflecting on the lessons. The cause of failure may need to be addressed. But always look beyond failure to new opportunities!

Living with our flawed nature is a constant experience. This is failure in the sense of not living according to our redeemed and progressively re-made nature as individuals born into God's kingdom, ie 'sinning'. We need to deal with it daily. Most of us will have particular areas of vulnerability to such failure, and dealing with those means shoring up defences in a disciplined and deliberate way, but never expecting to be free of those flaws and mixed motives. We need to steer between the two dangers of complacency and despondency as we grapple with more or less constant failure to reflect and express the new nature we have started to experience. There is ample biblical precedent for God working through flawed individuals who seek his forgiveness, rather than super-spiritual people.

Beyond this daily challenge will be occasional lapses which are more significant, in areas which should be covered by the prayer and concern of accountability partners. These need more attention in maintaining our defences to try and avoid repetition, but they must never make us despair of our discipleship. We live by grace, not under any law or set of rules , and while human fallibility is a constant challenge, it does not disqualify discipleship. That is important to remember in relation to the following chapters of this book!

At the top end of the scale failure can involve leaving one's evident calling in life and needing to find a new one, moving from God's 'Plan A' for you to 'Plan B'. When King David effectively murdered Uriah and seduced Bathsheba, no-one would assert that the sorry tale was other than an abysmal failure. Yet 'Plan B' through Bathsheba yielded a descendant named Jesus (Matt 1:6), so even that spectacular failure was redeemed in God's purposes. And having sought forgiveness, David's reflection on his fallibility, not to mention his egregious sin, yielded some psalms which helpfully relate our failures and low points to God's grace. So our failures are salutary, but must not be allowed to sink us. No amount of self-indulgence is so great that it cannot be overwhelmed by God's grace at the end of the day!

Our churches and our jobs have a culture of performance, and if we feel we are not matching up, a sense of failure can creep in. Especially in the church, if the culture does not embody grace, that sense of failure can drive us to seek inward solace and isolation, making us vulnerable to attractions such as pornography, not to mention obsession with video games.

The uncontrolled sexual attraction of pornography, and some addiction to that porn, is epidemic in churches today. Essentially it is secret, so the sickness and rot is inside, not public, but it is powerfully debilitating just the same. This failure must be fought and overcome as a high priority in any person's life, and much more is said on it in section 2.5. According to John Piper, "The tragedy is that Satan uses guilt from these (sexual) failures to strip you of every radical dream you ever had or might have. In their place he gives you a happy, safe, secure, life of superficial pleasures, until you die in your lakeside rocking chair."17e

Less secret is obsession with video games online, which especially for males, can be addictive and require the same treatment as outlined in section 2.5 for pornography addiction.

The best-documented dismal failure in the gospel accounts is Peter's threefold denial of Jesus, but he went on to play a leading role in the early church after Jesus had confronted him and dealt with the matter. He, with David earlier, shows us that failure should never be terminal, and may in God's grace even prepare us for great things.

Socially and emotionally young men and women need to learn how to succeed through failure. There need to be real opportunities in life for failure and struggle so that there is learning and growth as a result, a fresh perspective on what is positive, and new energy to engage it. The late Steve Jobs is well known for being the driving force behind Apple computers and other products. He was also a failure. "Jobs failed better than anyone else in Silicon Valley, maybe better than anyone in corporate America," according to a commentator after he stepped down as Apple CEO. But he learned from his failures and the rest is history. "Steve Jobs is a reminder that failure is a good and necessary thing. And that sometimes the greatest glories are born of catastrophe."

1.7 Discussion questions
How have you coped with failures in your own discipleship?
Do you agree that failure is catalyst for success? How does this work in your experience?
What has tended to hinder you in seeking God's grace and forgiveness?
How have you been able to help others through periods of difficulty, perhaps involving their own failures?

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1 There have been unconvincing attempts to cast this as homophile - which says more about the modern incomprehension of non-sexual intimacy than anything in the text. This is especially so in that David was married to Jonathan's sister and had risked his life to achieve that union, as well as being strongly attracted to other women. Cf 1 Samuel 18:1, 20:16-17, 41-42, 2 Sam 1:26.

5 Roy McLoughry, November 2004.

6 Where it is not a merely casual or transient relationship and has emotional importance, or on a special occasion, symbolism of such kind makes sense and is valued by some. A friend of Ian's, who was headmaster of a large Christian school, washed the feet of his appointed student leaders in the primary school, as part of their public induction.

7 Jono Green comments: "while in South America I found that at the Lo Prado Church hugging and kissing on the cheeks was the common form of greeting EVERY time you met as well as every time you left each other's company — it gave a real sense of being part of a family rather than just a church — more like the family of God." This emotional openness is great in principle and in that Latin cultural context but cannot readily be imported into UK, US or Australian culture, and we need to learn to communicate real depth of feeling in those cultures in less demonstrative ways.

9 Some issues are most appropriately dealt with in same-sex context, because for reasons explicit later in the book, it is unrealistic to expect members of the opposite sex to have substantial empathetic understanding of them. More importantly, the accountability dynamic with its skeptical probing is completely inappropriate for a spouse or potential spouse.

10 There is one major difference between this and the essentially anonymous Catholic confessional - here the partner knows you all too well and should probe relentlessly on that basis! Also the interaction is the basis of committed and specific intercessory prayer.

11a Without implying that masturbation is wrong, for unmarried guys (at least) the accountability agenda arguably needs to include that.

12a A substantial US study found absolutely no relationship between what individuals did or experienced before age 20 and the likelihood of assuming very senior leadership roles in later life. What did make a profound difference was having a mentor in an organic relationship mutually entered into (not organized by others). "Christian institutions can create the ecosystem of opportunity out of which those relationships can develop." James K.A.Smith, View From the top: An inside look at how people in power see and shape the world, Wiley 2014.

12b For Ian, mentor relationships arise in this context: Apart from more specific prayer list (daily, weekly), I have a very general list with 60+ names of people in the Sunday evening (younger) congregation. Almost everyone whose name I know is on that list, which is my main focus once per week. So I start by superficial prayer for many young guys and women, and as opportunity permits I exchange a few comments when i see them, and escalate from there according to how they respond. If I occasionally have meaningful conversations I might ask them (if guys) for coffee or a meal, and find out what makes them tick a bit more fully. (if young women, just further conversations in public space.) Repeating that sets up a relationship within which a mentor request might come, and maybe I have moved them to a more serious/ specific position on the prayer list also. I take that to be God's leading (as I guess we all do in many areas of life) - it's certainly not complicated.

13 "The British people in a time of national stringency, laid upon themselves a tax of £20 million to give freedom to the Negroes of the British possessions," and a further £10 million was spent trying to end the illegitimate traffic. This in the currency of the early 1800s. Prabhu Guptara of UBS says the £20 million was equivalent to the entire US defence budget today.

14 Saints in Politics - the 'Clapham Sect' and the growth of freedom, E.M.Howse, 1953, 1971, George Allen & Unwin (Open University set book)

14a Oxford History of England: England 1870-1914, R C K Ensor, p138. See also Eric Metaxas, 2008, Amazing Grace - a brilliant biography of Wilberforce.

14c is a valuable comment on this. In the Christian context, clear commitment to abstinence before marriage allows proper intimacy between the sexes.

14e An occasional expression of openness, trust and vulnerability is nudity in family context, and also same-sex nudity as in peer-group locker room (where it can have a positive role team building in sports) or skinny dipping, etc. However, in this generation any nudity, along with some intimacy, has become somewhat sexualized with 'gay' stigma, as discussed also in 4.2.

15aProverbs 27:5-6 "Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." And Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" - if they are energetically engaged!

17e Gutsy Guilt, article in Christianity Today, October 2007, quoted in Tim Chester's book p88.