With Men, Go Big for the Sake of Small
- Monday, July 28, 2008
I stood in a room full of forty pastors at the Crab Cooker in San Jose, California and could not get over the fact that all of them were coming together for one purpose – to reach their men.
Congregations of all shapes, sizes, denominations and dispensations were suspending the things that divide for this mission that united.
I was there to talk about men’s ministry - models that are working; things we've learned at Saddleback; and the upcoming San Jose Everyman Conference.
Most importantly, I impressed upon them the need and value of raising up and training leaders for the men’s small groups which would be forming out of the conference and planted back in their churches.
THIS, it seemed, made it worth the time and effort to participate in a large men’s event.
New thinking: I am willing to go big to get small
Getting Small is Good
At Every Man Ministries there is a lot of debate over the tools and methods of discipleship but there is no debate over the value of three to four men connecting for the purpose of spiritual growth. Guys who meet frequently, care about the spiritual welfare of other men in the body, and who can talk honestly about their struggles, make steady progress personally, spiritually and relationally.
Secrets lose their power as God’s men become God’s presence and deliver God’s provision for individuals in an Every Man group.
More specifically, God’s plan is not for a man to turn to himself for answers when he is in crisis. For men, turning to God alone seems fine, even preferred, because they can avoid the potential embarrassment that comes with vulnerability and confession.
We have all seen how men will - at great cost - choose isolation and endure frustration or unrelenting loneliness just to protect themselves or an image. The great failing of this approach (which the majority of churches perpetuate) is that the longer a man remains unsupported and alone with his struggles, the worse he becomes.
On the other hand, pastors everywhere are deciding to get small (through launching triads or men’s small groups) and helping men discover that they are not alone in their struggles sexually, or in their marriage, finances, careers, or spiritual growth – the truth is, other men share those struggles.
Solomon’s reflection “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecc. 1:9) is discovered when we get to know other men in the body.
The reason the devil works overtime to prevent churches from getting serious about connecting their men is that - once a church has moved from isolation to connection with men - the power of the isolation, which enslaves men, is broken.
Strategic thinking says: pursue strategies that help men find small group community with other men.
With Men: Getting to Small is Tricky
In the mind of a man “small” stands for a lot of things but in the context of his church connection, oddly enough, “small groups” translates to emotions, sharing, feelings, and nurture.
This is a bad start in the mind of a man because most men have trained themselves (culturally and emotionally) to treat emotions like smelly socks – something I stash away in the back of the drawer. Men of all cultures, generally speaking, avoid and neutralize the threat of unplanned rogue emotions.
So what on earth would make us think that getting guys together in “small groups” would be easy!
Growing healthy men’s community is the number one "Catch-22" facing pastors worldwide.
Why? For starters, a man's natural disposition: men hide and mask anger. Men internalize pressure, bury losses, and deny being hurt. Men withdraw in the face of hard truth, push people away, and close off.
On the other hand, men want and need caring friends in their space who lovingly confront, help them face the tough issues, accept responsibility, and strengthen them when they are weak. Men are stuck. The church is stuck. The women and children depending on them are stuck. The Body of Christ is poorer because men are not fully transparent.
David captured his own dilemma - as well as the one facing the church with regard to men - when he exclaimed to God:
"Don’t let me lust for evil things; don’t let me participate in acts of wickedness; don’t let me share in the delicacies of those who do evil. Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they reprove me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it." (Psalm 141:4-5, NLT)
We see a man with desires in conflict – at war within himself. He’s got God to talk to but that’s not enough. He knows he needs other men, but he also knows that he is naturally resistant to the very thing which will take him to the next level.
He begs God to help him connect and grow! (See also Psalm 101 on David’s desire for a first circle of brothers.)
Imaginative thinking says: solving this will unleash great spiritual power in and through the men in my church.
Using Big to Get Small
I will never forget when the men’s ministry at Saddleback decided to go big to get small for the first time. It was when we launched a series called Men at War: Addressing the Battles Men Face.
It was a large group Bible study (advertised topically) and about eighty guys showed up. We arranged the room with round tables so that we could facilitate group discussion as a part of the series.
For eight weeks we met on campus, taught through the material interactively and ended with 20 minutes of table discussion each session until the series was completed. On the final meeting day, we helped the guys who had been sitting together for the series connect into small groups so they could continue to meet off campus.
We gave them a new curriculum to begin the following week. At the end of the series, we launched 15 new men’s groups which continued meeting in the community. To our amazement it was not hard at all, not a push, and highly effective. We have never looked back.
At a recent Everyman Conference at Saddleback Church, we had 1,200 men show up for a day and a half conference. This conference had three small group discussion times built into it, one after each main session.
At the end we conducted a similar connection-type group formation. We were able to launch 84 new men’s groups in one day. For me to do this one-by-one might have taken five years!
My point: big is not bad if you use big to get small.
Plan your next retreat to include small group discussions after the main sessions, and identify leaders to lead each group as they answer some prepared questions. Form groups with the idea that they will meet regularly after the retreat is over.
Launch a centralized (campus-based) men’s morning Bible Study that is interactive and includes small group discussion.
Bring an Everyman Conference to your community. Go to www.everymanministries.com to find out how.
Promote and launch an Every Man Bible Study Series in your church, one that meets for eight weeks and then transforms the discussion groups into small groups who meet across the community. Make it topical. For more information, go to www.everymanministries.com and click on Resources.
Productive thinking says: multiply the impact of gatherings for connection of men and discipleship (raising up and deploying new leaders).
If I let a guy walk out of a men’s event with a bunch of content and no connection, then I feel I've failed him. He has not been given help in the way God says he needs to be helped.
Ringing in my ears is the admonition of Paul to Timothy on the topic of growing spiritually.
“Flee youthful lust and pursue righteousness, faith, joy and peace with those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22, NIV)
The way men begin to consistently say “no” to temptation and “yes” to God is through connection with other men who are headed in the same direction.
The result is a men’s culture in our churches that sparks a resurgence of godly purpose, radical trust in God, fun, adventure, and the peace of being connected and known by God and man.
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