Peter Ahlin, Jeff Donnithorne, Dan Elliott and John Inazu were involved with InterVarsity at Duke University and graduated in 1997. Peter coordinated small groups while in college, went on to be a missionary, and is now an overseas businessman. Jeff was chapter president while at Duke and is now a United States Air Force pilot. Dan was Duke’s large-group coordinator and is now a doctor, and John went on to be a lawyer and is pursuing a Ph.D. after being a worship leader during his student days with InterVarsity.
“In college, Christian fellowship is handed to you on a silver platter; plenty of fun activities, Bible study and prayer, and really cool Christians are just down the hall or a short walk across campus,” reflects Peter Ahlin. “For me, the hardest part of leaving Duke was being geographically separated from my closest Christian friends and having to try to find fellowship that was even remotely as exciting and fulfilling as that which I enjoyed in college.”
Knowing they were facing a huge transition in life that would take them away from their college support network, these four guys were encouraged by their pastor to make a serious commitment to stick together—not just as friends, but as accountability brothers. Under the framework of a covenant, Jeff Donnithorne comments, “we felt like we needed to be in each others’ lives in an intentional way. Good intentions are not always enough and accountability really does require an extra level of commitment.” So these four guys created a written document on the day before graduation that “added a level of importance and seriousness when we put our names on it.”
Dan Elliott not only finds accountability within this covenant relationship, but also meaningful support among friends. “There is a great strength that comes from knowing that I could call in the middle of the night and realistically expect that Jeff, John or Peter would fly to my house in the morning if an emergency demanded.”
In being asked to be a part of this covenant, Peter says, “I was ecstatic. I remember once reading a quote from [the late] Paul Newman, who was asked how—in the midst of Hollywood’s rampant rates of divorce and unfaithfulness—he had managed to make his 1958 marriage to Joanne Woodward last so long. He said, ‘In a world of throw-away love, we decided to make ours last.’ I would argue that the normative biblical pattern [of friendship] is not transient, but rather lasting, relationships. Healthy, giving, lasting relationships are part of normal Christian life.”
And now, twelve years later, these four guys maintain their accountability relationship. Since graduation, Jeff notes that “the covenantal friendship has grown in different ways. At some point early on, we started an email accountability regimen in which we would write to each other on a regular basis, answering a variety of questions. Those questions have changed over the years, as
well as our practice of how often we write.” Their email correspondence, including the questions, continues to be an essential part of their four-way accountability.
In the absence of friends down the hall, this connection to college friendships has been a lifeline for John Inazu. “It gives me a base to go to whenever anything important happens—important life decisions. I was able to get their comfort and guidance leading up to marriage and discernment in marriage; being able to share candidly thoughts about commitment and get real tangible feedback from these guys.” Furthermore, “in dating my now-wife and the boundaries of our physical relationship in accountability to God, the guys, and her, there was a tangible check on keeping the relationship where it needed to be before we got married.”
Peter has similar thoughts about the impact in his own life of pursuing covenant friendships. “It’s very reassuring to know that this safety net of faithful, committed Christian brothers is there for me and for my family. First of all, the challenges of life can frequently bring discouragement; we need committed covenant partners to help us strengthen ourselves in God (1 Samuel 23:16). Secondly, there are so many Christian men who have become casualties to sexual sin as a result of a lack of consistent accountability in their lives; having accountability is one piece of a complete defense against falling into immorality.”
Being intentional in their friendships after college not only keeps these four guys close to each other but also close to God. “It’s a twofold purpose. As both of those are happening they reinforce each other,” says Jeff. Peter agrees, “I thank God for a team of men who are committed to me, as I am to them, for the preservation and prospering of our faith, our fidelity in marriage, and every other aspect of life.”
Relationships like these are atypical. If close friendships are not enough to fill accountability needs, Peter acknowledges that there are alternatives. “The good news is that there are so many vibrant, healthy, local churches in which to find this kind of fellowship; the tough part is that one has to work much harder to build deep relationships with the demands of work and kids (and not living just down the hall in college anymore).”
Prepared by InterVarsity, encouraged by their pastor, and ready to stand for something, Jeff says, “we drafted and signed a covenant which committed us to (among other things) a lifetime of loving each other as brothers, loving each other’s families as our own, praying for one another, being accountable to one another, speaking truth in love to one another and gathering together at least once a year for the rest of our lives.” Last winter at a beach house on the North Carolina coast, Jeff, Dan, John and Peter, with their wives and children, came together again to keep that covenant and encourage each other to stay committed to following Jesus. Or as Dan likes to say, “whether you like it or not you will be discipled in one way or another—either in the ways of God or the ways of the world.”