Hardly any pastors we talk to are totally satisfied with what’s happening when it comes to their men. It seems the women’s ministry runs circles around the men’s. It’s not necessarily a budget thing either. It’s just this sense that there could be more. More participation, more depth, more passion, more commitment is possible.
Before we jump into the how, let’s talk about the why. Churches need leaders . . . strong leaders. Male and female. But especially male because when a man goes all-in for Jesus, his influence reverberates through to his wife, his kids, his workplace, his community, and his church. He becomes a disciple-maker if only through the sermon of his life. He’ll become a more generous giver, both of his time and his treasure. He’ll draw other men to Jesus and to himself and to his church. Over time, his friends will be attracted to what he has and how he lives. Men in the church will respect and follow him.
As a pastor, about the only thing you can do all by yourself is to prepare and preach sermons. You can visit the sick, do funerals and weddings, but the work of the church requires the effort of others. The first place you turn for help is your staff, but that resource gets exhausted pretty quickly. Depending on the size and budget of the church, you may have a few or a few hundred. One of the three largest churches in America has 400 staff people. You think, “Shoot, I could move mountains with that many people.” But imagine trying to minister to 50,000 people with 400 staffers. No way. At some point, you have to depend on laypeople . . . on volunteers . . . on men who are willing and able to roll up their sleeves and help. That large church has almost 5,000 volunteers who are the hands and feet of Jesus to its members and attenders. The larger the circle of committed volunteers you can count on, the more you can do to lead people to Jesus and minister to them.
Which brings us back to the criticality of a vibrant men’s ministry.
Here’s what we know. Men’s ministries tend to be event-driven. There’s usually one guy who spearheads everything. He pulls together an ad-hoc team to make events happen. Outsiders are always welcome but rarely come. There’s always fellowship, food, and some sort of speaker or program. When it’s over, the room is cleaned up and everyone goes their way until the next event. In some churches, there are men’s Bible studies and ongoing programs, but those tend to draw only the most faithful. They’re more curriculum-based than relational and the commitment level in terms of study time is significant. So most men’s ministries are bifurcated . . . events for the masses, intensive Bible study and training for the few, and no system for consistently producing the leaders your church needs.
We believe the best way to start (or restart) a men’s ministry is through small group mentoring. Why? Because that’s how Jesus did it. Scripture gives us a good picture of how Jesus started His men’s ministry . . .
- Jesus was on purpose – He came “that they might have life and have it to the full.” He gave us life . . . eternal life when He died on the cross for our sins. He gave us the invitation to “life to the full” by inviting us to be others-focused (the second commandment) and by giving us the job of making disciples. We can’t fulfill our purpose through selfishness. It’s only through caring for others that we can have a life to the full. God must raise up someone in your church to lead here. Maybe it’s you . . . maybe it’s someone you know. Or maybe it’s a prayer for Him to show you who it is.
- Jesus handpicked a few guys – We know Jesus had far more than twelve followers but He just picked a few to be his inner circle. We know He prayed intensely about His choices. Listening to the Father, He made no mistakes . . . even Judas. Our event mentality is all about numbers. Bigger numbers equal more success, right? No. Jesus started small. He poured into those twelve guys and they multiplied. And multiplied. And multiplied.
- They walked through life together – Rarely did He sit them in rows (or even around tables) and teach them stuff. When He was asked about paying taxes to Caesar, He took a coin and taught a huge life lesson. They learned “along the way,” from real-time situations and people. A core men’s ministry leadership group has to “do life together” for real bonding to happen. It can’t be a canned curriculum. It has to be real-time, authentic, flexible, and relevant to what’s happening in their lives.
- Jesus explained and lived Scripture – Again, it was “along the way.” But Jesus knew the Law. He brought it alive and made it relevant through His words and His deeds. His guys watched Him live it out through all kinds of circumstances. In a mentoring group, guys memorize key Scripture verses together, apply them to their lives, and talk about them regularly.
- Jesus prayed and taught them to pray – Jesus prayed with his guys, prayed for them, taught them a model prayer, and then gave them a glimpse of His intimate relationship with the Father by going off to pray alone. Guys who are in community with each other know how to pray for each other . . . and they will.
- A high level of commitment was required – Jesus’ disciples made huge time commitments to the work. They left their businesses and families to follow Jesus. And there’s no evidence of them not showing up. We believe a strong men’s ministry begins with a small group of guys who are committed to growing in their walk. If they spend a year of intense effort under the guidance of a mentor, they’ll emerge understanding how important Jesus is to them and how important the church is to Jesus.
- It was a community – These guys traveled, ate, slept, worshiped . . . pretty much did everything together. Jesus was there as their leader, but they spent time together, worked together, and challenged each other. They knew everything about each other. There’s no evidence of jealousy of the “group within the group” . . . Peter, James, and John, nor of John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The trust level was that high.
When you begin a men’s ministry by establishing a committed community of men (six to eight to begin with), they’ll replicate that community, just as the disciples created “ecclesias” . . . small gatherings of Jesus followers who became the church, these men will replicate their community with other men. This is the secret sauce of building a men’s ministry because men feel like they belong with the other guys in the church. It’s safe . . . and powerful.
- There was a defined period of time – Jesus chose these guys and poured into them for no more than three and a half years. Then He graduated them . . . sending them out to do the work of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). We’ve found that nine to twelve months is about the right amount of time for a group to be intensely connected. After that, it’s time to send them out, which is actually sending them in to do the work of the church . . . to lead, love, serve, and give.
- It was about multiplication, not addition – Jesus told them upfront, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” From the very beginning, it was His stated intention to pass the baton. We’ve seen how “groups beget groups” . . . how men who experience Jesus through a mentoring group are chomping at the bit to pay it forward to others. Not all of them, and not all at once, but enough to start building from.
Since every one of Jesus’ guys had been taught the Law from birth, this was not about information transfer. It wasn’t about content, it was about practical application. Jesus modeled a small group process that led to total commitment on the part of the guys and from that group, the church began.
About fifteen years ago, I began mentoring in what I now know to be a modern-day version of Jesus’ model . . . a system that can be used to launch a vibrant men’s ministry. It begins with you . . . the Senior Pastor. It begins with your commitment to seeing the men of your church go all-in for Jesus. You don’t have to do it personally, although we know pastors who’ll tell you that making disciples using this system brought huge new energy to them personally. But you must be committed to the process, leveraging your leadership position and personal influence to help get it launched.
Here’s the vision. Lay leaders of your church, each sitting at the end of their dining room table, pouring out their cups into the lives of six to eight younger men at a time for nine months to a year. Helping them find and follow Jesus . . . making disciple-makers a few at a time.
When Brian Moore, the Lead Pastor at Crosspointe Church in Yorba Linda, CA, tells his story, one can see and hear the impact of following Jesus’ model for relaunching ministries. Brian took over a church in disarray. Two previous pastors under indictment for misusing church funds. Membership dropping below 100. Budget woes like you wouldn’t believe. Desperate for leaders, Brian heard about the Radical Mentoring model and decided to give it a shot. He handpicked four lay leaders and four staff folks (all he had!) and began this process. At the end of a year, four of the eight were ready to lead another generation of potential leaders. At the end of that next year, he had about twenty leaders ready to go. Now approaching 1,000 members and attenders, Brian is now surrounded by motivated, all-in lay leaders. Forty people have now led groups of their own and 140 leaders have been developed through the process over four years.
Here’s a fly-by of the system we’ve distilled from Jesus’ model. It’s adapted to 21st-century culture, using tools that didn’t exist 2,000 years ago.
It begins with one leader. One spiritually, emotionally, and relationally mature man, handpicked by you. It can be a staff person or even yourself, but it has to be someone the men of your church look up to and respect. He has to be an on-purpose guy who loves Jesus and takes seriously the God-centric life. He is signing up to spend three hours with a group of guys in his home once a month. He must be willing to share his faith story . . . not just the Sunday school version, but “the good, the bad, and the ugly version.” Jesus must be real and alive in this guy. Once you’ve got his commitment, then it’s working together to create a list of younger guys from your church who are believers but have the potential to do more . . . to be sold-out for Jesus and assume leadership roles later on when they’re ready. They’re invited by you, on behalf of the church, to apply for the group. This is huge because it communicates the importance . . . the rarity of the opportunity. These guys make a covenant commitment to attend every monthly session, to do the homework, and to pay it forward (i.e., multiply) when God calls them. The process involves picking topics that are important from a spiritual formation perspective but also relevant to these men in their real lives. Each month, the men take on a topic together, read a book, memorize one or two Scriptures, do a relational homework assignment, pray, and connect one-on-one with another member of the group. At the beginning of the year (following the lead of their mentor), each man shares his full-on story with the group. Month-by-month, they learn about God (theology), who they are in Christ (identity), marriage, fatherhood . . . whatever topics you choose to take on, paying attention to the felt needs of the group God gives you. At the end of the season, there’s a Commencement Retreat where the guys are sent out to love and to lead. Some will move immediately into paying it forward, leading their first group right away. Some won’t be that quick. Some will use their gifting in other ways in the church. But all will grow through the process, including the mentor.
Do this a few times . . . through a few generations and you’ll have that core group of men God will use, not only to build a vibrant men’s ministry but to grow and deepen your church at large.
The beauty of this approach is its harmony with whatever you’re already doing. If you’re at a zero starting point . . . i.e. you have nothing going on for men, this is a great way to start small and build a strong foundation. Even if the mentor is you and you can only find 4 guys to invite, that’s enough to start. Watch God grow and energize four men and you’ll likely see more coming behind them . . . and more behind them. If you already have a men’s ministry, this system offers a ‘both/and’ option that’ll build leaders from what you already have going to take it to the next level.
If your current men’s ministry is stuck . . . or dying . . . or ineffective, this is a way to (indirectly) breathe new life into it. The results might not show up immediately. In fact, your current men’s ministry may not change at all for a while. But over time, no ministry can stand still when God grows all-in men and sends them on His mission for His church.
Breathe New Life Into Your Discipleship
Small group mentoring can help you engage your people, build your core group of leaders, and transform your church. Our free resources equip you with all the tools you need to launch a sustainable mentoring program.