123 – How To Build a Men’s Ministry Around Relationships & Small Groups (Even Where There Is No Support)
There may be legitimate reasons why some pastors won’t be personally involved in men’s ministry. Pastors are busy with responsibilities to a multitude of constituencies. Said spiritually, they are shepherds of a flock. It is not only a high calling, but a demanding one as well. How many pastors have a lot of free time?
Many pastors have been burned by “men’s ministry.” In the past they supported it, threw resources at it, defended it, invested time, and gave creative energy. But men’s ministry “didn’t want to work.” Some have had two, three, maybe four cycles of failed attempts. Think of it this way…
How Men’s Ministry Gets a Bad Reputation
SCENE ONE: You own a business. You always look for the best opportunities. Someone brings you an idea. It excites you, and lines up with your vision. So you empower them to pursue it, and you throw some resources at the idea. It turns out badly. Lost time, money, burned out people, discouragement, disappointment, recriminations, finger pointing, lost momentum, and more.
SCENE TWO: Two years later, someone else wants to try the same idea again. You think, Maybe it was leadership. This person seems very competent. Maybe he will be able to make a go of it. So you say, “Yes,” again. Then he fails. Meanwhile, you have pumped a lot of time, money, and people into this idea twice over.
SCENE THREE: Three years later, one of your best employees—one that you can’t afford to alienate and lose—wants to take on the idea that has already twice failed. What do you do? You say, “Yes,” because you don’t want to lose a good person and, besides, maybe he can make a go of it. He fails.
SCENE FOUR: Several years later, long after you have written off this particular business idea as a non-starter, another employee gets all revved up about the idea. By now, you have such a low perception of the workability of the idea, you are so busy with other ideas that work, you finally put your foot down and say, “No.” (Or you just let it get lost in the queue of decisions to be made).
You might say, “What’s the use, then?” That is the voice of the devil. The devil wants nothing more than for us to quit the battle for men’s souls. If the devil can get us to “give up on men,” then he has won not only the battle but the war.
Is there a way to overcome the scenario just painted?
So how can you build men’s ministry in a church that is not warm (or is even hostile) to men’s ministry? The secret is that you don’t need a “program” to disciple men. Programs are valuable, but not necessary. Further, if you actually begin producing disciples, a smart pastor is going to support you and give you, within reason, whatever you need to get it done.
It’s Relationships, Not a Program
If you can’t get support for a men’s ministry program (or even if you can), you can still disciple men to be Godly men, husbands, and fathers. (Programs often fail, anyway). Here’s how. Invite a group of 4 to 8 men to work out together what it means to be a man of God in a broken world. First, find a small group resource (we can help you—ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org, tell me what you’re after, and we’ll make some recommendations). Second, invite men to join you for a six week study. Third, love them and help them talk about the resource you’re studying. Fourth, at the end of six weeks, ask them for six more weeks. Fifth, repeat.
Most meaningful change takes place in the context of relationships, anyway. It’s really about building relationships, not about building a program. Later, when the pastor sees men’s lives changing, he will welcome the opportunity to help you get others involved in more small groups—i.e., to organize what you’ve done into a “program.” In other words, don’t ask for resources to support a “theory.” Let the “evidence” speak for itself.
Approaches To Build A Successful Small Group
“My name is Pat, and I’m a small group addict.” I have been in over a dozen small groups—some which lasted a few weeks, and two of which are still going after 28 years and 19 years. Anything that gets men together so they can sharpen each other toward spiritual maturity is a winner.
What are some different things your small group might do?
Bible Study: Number one, if you can make it happen, is to study God’s word directly. Perhaps you are a Bible teacher, or know someone who is. If not, consider a study guide or watching the free webcast videos of The Man in the Mirror Bible Study and doing the downloadable discussion questions.
Discipleship Group (or Growth Group): Get men or couples to meet and work through study guides that help you discuss the Bible by topics.
Fellowship: Include opportunities for people to learn about each other, their families, work, and interests. You can allow some time before and/or after some teaching time, or you could have a special event like a picnic or backyard barbeque with children.
Prayer: Teach your men how to pray by praying. Ask different men to pray. Allow some time for prayer needs.
Accountability: In one church, several men were unfaithful to their wives within a few months of each other. Two and a half years later, one man who was in a small group has restored his marriage. How? The guys in his small group simply refused to let him walk away. Give men a voice to be vulnerable. Also, be willing to ask men how they’re really doing.
Service: I love relationships, but after talking for a couple of hours I need to get out and do something. Your men probably feel the same way. Organize projects (versus routine obligations) from time to time that give the men in your group an opportunity to serve Christ and bear fruit.
Sports: Sports leagues are a great way to get guys together. A team is a type of small group.
Mission Trips: Take your small group on a missions trip into a urban area or overseas.
Adventure Trips: Many men have found a deeper walk with Christ around a campfire after a long day of hiking or rafting.
Father/Child Studies: Five dads took their seven teenaged sons on a nine day boat trip. They planned to spend 30 minutes each day talking about manhood issues. By the end of the trip the 30 minutes had grown to 90.
Any combination of the above ideas can work. You can meet on any schedule you want (weekly is good if you can). You can meet for any length of time (one of my groups—a one on one—meets for an hour, and my other group meets for an hour and a half).
The best method is the one you will use.
The long term solution to turning around a series of failed attempts at men’s discipleship ministry is for men to actually start discipling other men in small groups. Getting one small group going in which authentic change takes place over time is a huge victory.
At the end of the day, the relationships are more important than the program anyway. If you’re not already in a small group, why not give it a try? It could be just the thing that reaches the other men in your church. You may even find it addicting.
For a complete treatment on “How to Lead a Weekly Men’s Small Group,” check out the A Look in the Mirror #94 of the same title.