141 – Sustaining Momentum Through Relationships
This excerpt adapted from No Man Left Behind helps leaders understand how to sustain spiritual progress with men.
Military history is filled with stories about soldiers griping about surrendering ground they shed their blood to gain. “Take that hill!” they are told. “It is an integral part of our strategy!” And they do it, fighting valiantly to defeat the enemy and capture the ground—only to abandon it when the strategic winds shift in the command center. Pretty soon, the soldier loses confidence that there is any strategy at all. The cost is too high, the reward too fleeting.
Every effort you make that draws a man forward in his spiritual journey has a cost of its own: the time, energy, and focus of the leaders who planned and participated; and the opportunity cost to the man who chooses to participate in this activity instead of some other priority in his life. If you work hard to gain ground in the battle for men’s time and attention but then don’t find ways to sustain that effort, you’ll just find yourself starting over. And the men themselves will begin to lose heart, feeling that nothing ever changes. As leaders, we must apply consistent effort, since progress in a man’s spiritual journey is usually measured in small steps over a long period of time.
A Long-Term Perspective
Almost always, discipleship takes place over a period of years in the context of significant relationships with other men. The only way to make this work is to raise up leaders committed to discipling other men.
In his book The Lost Art of Disciple Making, Leroy Eims tells the story of a missionary named John, who spent the bulk of his years of service meeting with a few young men. Abruptly, his work was cut short when all missionaries were suddenly asked to leave the country.
An observer who had once viewed John’s ministry with skepticism years later marveled, “I look at what has come out of John’s life. One of the men he worked with is now a professor mightily used of God to reach and train scores of university students. Another is leading a discipling team of about forty men and women. Another is in a nearby city with a group of thirty-five growing disciples. Three others have gone to other countries as missionaries. God is blessing their work.”
Keep your eye out for men who want to make disciples. Obviously, you need to be involved with men at all levels. But can there be any doubt? The greatest return on your time will come from investing in a few “FAT” men—men who are faithful, available, and teachable (2 Timothy 2:2).
The focus of a men’s ministry leader should be to make disciples of men who will in turn disciple others, and so on. This was the method of Jesus. Your ministry to men will grow in proportion to your ability to build not just disciples but disciple-makers.
Recruit Shepherds, Not Teachers
Possibly the most important aspect of sustaining momentum is to make sure each of your men really feels like somebody cares about him. Look for leaders who are eager to show men the love of Christ, not their own biblical knowledge. Clark Cothern draws the distinction between two types of small-group leaders: one is a “question asker,” the other, an “answer giver.” One, a “group guide,” the other, a “know-it-all narrator.” One is a “dialogue traffic cop,” the other, a “doctrine cop.”1 Men will respond best to leaders who help them find answers to questions without giving them the answer; guide men without showing off their knowledge; and help facilitate lively discussions, rather than show up men whose theology is still developing.
At a church of five thousand attenders in California, Wes Brown, the men’s minister (yes, full-time), experienced a quantum leap in effectiveness when he changed his leadership model from “teaching” to “shepherding.” In the beginning he recruited “teachers” to lead his small groups. Success was modest. After eleven years he had 137 men in small groups. Then he realized that what men really needed was someone who cared about them personally. He changed to a “shepherd” model and exploded to 750 men in just four years—a 550 percent increase!
Love Your Weak Men, Disciple Your Strong
Zechariah 11:15–16 explains the role of a shepherd further.
Then the LORD said to me, “Go again and play the part of a worthless shepherd. This will illustrate how I will give this nation a shepherd who will not care for the sheep that are threatened by death, nor look after the young, nor heal the injured, nor feed the healthy.” (NLT)
We can define the fourfold role of a good shepherd by looking at the opposite of the worthless shepherd in this passage:
He cares for the sheep that are young.
He cares for the injured.
He cares for those threatened by death.
He feeds the hungry.
This passage illustrates a basic rule for discipleship: Love your weak men, and disciple the strong. A good shepherd goes after those who are threatened by death. This might be men who don’t know Christ, or men who are on their way to making major mistakes in their life. He creates a safe place where men with broken wings can heal—men injured by financial crisis, divorce, grief, addictions, or emotional issues. He takes care of the young, both spiritually and physically.
There will always be some men who constantly drain your emotional and spiritual energy. Good shepherds are committed to loving their weak men.
At the same time, God wants you to invest in faithful men who can disciple others. The faithful shepherd makes sure he feeds the healthy. How do you know when you should stop making an investment in a man who seems to not be going anywhere? It has to be a matter of prayerful consideration between you and God. Don’t give up on any man—always be friendly, interested, and available—but there may come a time when God wants you to invest your time and energy in other men.
There are two errors leaders can make: to kick men out of the nest too soon, and to not challenge men to get out of the nest when it’s time. “Disciple the strong” means men need to grow. If you don’t help them, they will go to another church. We’ve all heard it said or said it ourselves: “I just didn’t feel like I was being fed there.” A good shepherd will “feed” the healthy.
In addition to feeding the healthy, a good shepherd propels strong men to take their next steps. He doesn’t let men become complacent in their spiritual progress. Instead, he challenges them to step up to new opportunities, encourages them to go deeper in their faith, and urges them to serve others.
If you raise up leaders who are passionate about discipling men in your church and community, you can see God transform men’s hearts. But you have to be committed to sustaining your efforts and the change in men’s lives.
1. How many leaders in your church are passionate about discipling men? Would you say that most of these men follow the “teacher” model, or the “shepherd” model? Why is this?
2. What is a next step you can take to rally more support for sustaining discipleship with the men of your church?
1Discipleship Journal’s 101 Best Small-Group Ideas, Deena Davis, comp. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1966), 22-23.
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Pat Morley is the Founder and CEO of Man in the Mirror.
© 2006. Pat Morley. All rights reserved. This article may be reproduced
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