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Lovemarks and the Church - Intimacy

31 August, 2004 12:18 PM

It has been a while since I started the Lovemarks series - sorry for the delay - I got a little distracted.

This is the forth post in a four part series examining the book, Lovemarks, in relation to Spirituality and Church. Read my introduction to the series first and follow the links from there to read what proceeds this entry.

The last element focused upon in 'Lovemarks'. is Intimacy. Their theory is that products that exude intimacy are far more likely to capture the minds, and more importantly the hearts, of potential customers. I think we would all agree that as human beings we all have a desire - no a need - for intimacy - it is the way we've been created. To connect with another human being is a powerful thing. Marketers have latched onto this human trait and are now focussing their energies into presenting their products as intimate.

Consider how this can be seen in advertising. I was walking past a 'Sports Girl' store recently (an Aussie retail outlet selling clothes to young women) and noticed the advertising out the front of their shop. In the window hung a huge poster featuring 6 women - probably in their late teens. The thing that grabbed my attention about the ad was not the clothes the models were wearing but the fact that they were obviously having such a good time with one another. The image had little do do with clothes, in fact the clothes were out of focus and hardly noticeable, this image was selling companionship, fun, relationship and sisterhood. This is a common story in advertising these days - most car advertisements here in Australia these days are more about family and relationships than they are about engine size or specifications. Banking ads focus upon the security their products will bring to families than they do upon interest rates and account facilities. Intimacy sells.

Jesus was someone who obviously was big on Intimacy in his three years of ministry. The whole basis of his discipleship focus happened around relationships. When he called that group of fishermen to follow him that day he was not calling them to a program of speakers, a couple of intense camping experiences and a pastoral visit once or twice a year - he was calling them to live with him. They spent three years living in each other's pockets - hiking around the countryside together, sharing meals with one another, laying down at night beside each other and knowing each other intimately.

One of the things that got Jesus crucified was that he was just way to intimate with people. He ate with the wrong people, he touched the wrong people and he talked to the wrong people. I think we lose most of the significance of the social barriers he crossed. To eat with a sinner, to touch a leper, to be touched by a prostitute, to speak with a Samaritan woman were not just events to be frowned upon - they totally went against something the society was built around. People were never intimate in these ways with anyone outside their own level of purity - it just did not happen. Jesus sought intimacy with people from all walks of life - and people responded to him in powerful ways.

The early church continued to walk in this path of a life of intimacy - it only takes a quick look at the first few chapters of Acts to spot it. This was a group of people who didn't just see each other once or twice a week - they were in each other's homes, visiting the temple together, sharing meals with one another, sharing their possessions, reaching out to those in need etc. Faith was not something a group of individuals did - occasionally connecting - it was something a community did together.

So how does the church go with Intimacy?
As we've done previously with Mystery and Sensuality we could look through church history and find times and places where the church did intimacy both well and poorly. Likewise we can all probably think of churches of today that have both good and bad examples of people connecting intimately with one another. I know in the churches I've belonged to over the years I've both felt the warm embrace and the cold shoulder of fellow below believers.

Overall though I think there is a lot more 'the Church' can do to build intimacy into both our life of worship and mission. Of course I'm grossly generalizing here but most worship services I've been to over the years have done little to build a sense of togetherness with others within the congregation or, dare I say it, God. Sitting on an uncomfortable seat staring at the back of the head of my brothers or sisters in Christ while a small group of others do most of the activity to me is hardly an intimate moment - I can only speak for me but often I find this approach rather isolating and disconnecting. Of course we do have an opportunity to connect with one another after worship over a cup of coffee (usually the cheapest brand available) and a stale biscuit which is a step in the right direction - but I wonder sometimes if we're just making excuses and kidding ourselves about the community we have.

Probably the best times of community I've had within churches have happened in small groups/bible study groups/accountability groups. Obviously a small group breeds a different sort of environment which can open up deeper levels of relationship - but even then I wonder how much we've discovered of the way of discipleship of Jesus. I've written before about the traditional 'sharing time' of a small group where people go around the circle and share how their week has been so others can pray for them. Nice idea - but if we had true community wouldn't we already know a lot of what is shared in these times because we'd been connecting with each other, living with each other between meetings?

The other area I'd like to see intimacy explored more in is in 'mission'. The way Jesus drew people to God was usually incredibly personal. He spoke one on one with many, touched people, ate in small groups with them - developed relationship. I won't go on about it here today (this is getting too long as it is), but I wonder if in many of our approaches to mission we have sucked the intimacy out of what we do by programming missional encounters (this is a topic for another day - if I go down this track today we'll enter into 'rant land'.

I'm trying desperately here to remain positive about the state of play in the church today - please believe me when I say my experiences of intimacy in church are not all bad - I just strongly believe we could do so much better. I love the church friends - I want to see it reach its fullest potential - as a result when I see that marketing experts seem to be doing a better job of our core business than we are I get a little fired up.

'Lovemarks'. gives some pointers on building intimacy - here is a quick summary of some of their main points:
- Intimacy is a two way street - it isn't something we do to another person but something we have. Therefore it is something we have to allow ourselves to experience and enter into and not just expect others to do.
- Intimacy requires feelings.
- Intimacy is about empathy - 'empathy is created out of the tension between the sound of the voice and an intended silence' (ie it is about listening).
- Intimacy is about commitment - if you want it you have to be in for the long haul. People will not respond if they think you're about to take off halfway through a relationship.
- Intimacy is about passion - without passion even the best laid plans will whither and die.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of things we could say about intimacy - but it is a good starting point for a discussion on the topic.

Questions to explore Intimacy with your Community
We spent a bit of time talking through this issue a few weeks ago at LivingRoom - we're only just scratching the surface with intimacy in my opinion - we have a lot to learn but here are some of the questions we tossed around. Feel free to take and use them if you'd like - add your own below in comments.

How was Jesus intimate in his Ministry? What other times in Scripture do we see themes of intimacy, community, relationship? Describe times in your own journey when you've experienced deep intimacy? Describe how it arose - what were the circumstances/elements? How has the church used Intimacy over the centuries from the Early Church in Acts to now? (focus on the good and the bad). What dangers would there be in focussing too much upon 'intimacy' in a church context? What would the benefits of an increased focus upon it be? How are we as a community going in this area - where/how does intimacy exist - how could we build more? Is the way we worship an approach that buids intimacy with one another - with Gold? What about mission - are we approaching it in a relational way or do we program relationships out of the equation?

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