By David VanAtter
A friend of mine is the minister of a church about an hour away. A few years ago he invited me to the church’s annual wild game dinner. I love events with food so I was happy to accept.
As a church planter, I wanted to catch a glimpse of a growing men’s ministry that was making a difference. They had been hosting this dinner for several years in a row and it was an enormous success. When I arrived, there was already a huge crowd and the line toward the food tent was steadily growing.
After saying hello to a few people I recognized, I took my place in the back of the line headed toward the food tent. Time passed quickly talking with the guys next to me and before I knew it I was welcomed with a barrage of aromas, most of which I could not identify. I grabbed my paper plate and plastic ware and stepped up to the first serving tray. The label read in bold letters, “Dove.” I’m not sure what I had expected at that point, but I definitely wasn’t ready for the dove entrée right out of the gate. As I looked down the table it didn’t get much better. I saw tags for venison, quail, and something called a wild game burgoo. My stomach slowly began to turn.
I was definitely out of my element. I don’t own any camouflage clothing, all of my hunting stories are comedies, and I really, really dislike deer meat. I’m much more comfortable in a coffee shop or comic book store. Both of those locations are refreshingly wildlife free. Still, it was a fun night and I spent time worshipping Jesus with some great people.
I began to take a look at what makes a group like that successful. If it’s the wild game then I’m in trouble. There had to be something more substantial that not only brought men back to church, but gave them an environment where they connected. How could we, as a church, become a place where men find Jesus and begin to thrive? After looking at several ministries that were making a difference, I witnessed these four essentials that I believe make men’s ministry flourish—even without deer meat.
Creating Serious Bonds
“After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18:1).
We all need real friends. I believe that men long for real brotherhood but as we get older, we are less and less equipped to make those kinds of friends. It’s easy to make surface level connections talking about the weather or our favorite teams. What we really crave, however, are the kinds of friends who are by our side even when going through life’s toughest moments. These strong bonds are hard to create and a ministry that facilitates these kinds of friendships has the potential for great influence.
It takes a team effort to cultivate that in a men’s ministry. Each person must be willing to create an environment that allows for real conversation. These conversations open the door to significant connection and those connections build the type of bonds we desperately need.
One of the traps in building these kinds of relationships is to become cliquish as the group grows closer together. This can allow a small group to seem close, but it closes off the group to newcomers. This will actually stifle the group’s ability to connect on a deeper level. A welcoming culture must be adopted early in the formation of these friendships. There is always room for one more in the group.
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
It appears as if there is an all-out assault against manhood. Media bombards us with false images of what today’s man looks like. You will not find a TV father who is faithful to his wife, leads his family well, works hard, and invests in the next generation. Instead, the images we are shown over and over again are of grown men who are more like an extra child in the family. They make comedic, dumb decisions and would never be the source of wisdom or spiritual leadership. When there is an absence of strong examples and intentional mentoring, this image becomes the standard and takes its toll on the family.
For men’s ministry to excel, godly men must provide examples of manliness. These are the kind of men who treat their wives with respect even when they are not present. They spend quality time with their families instead of pursuing selfish ambitions. Their love for God changes the way they act at home and wherever they go. When we equip these men to tell their stories, they add much value to the group and others are encouraged to become the men that God wants them to be.
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
When life throws its worst, who do you call to pray with you? Who are your spiritual compatriots? Effective men’s ministries progressively develop men into fervent followers of Christ. The group must move beyond the boy’s club and become a group of disciples who are fostering a vibrant relationship with Jesus.
It seems difficult to introduce a spiritual element into a group setting. I have been the one to ask if anyone wants to pray and heard crickets in response. Even if it’s hard, continue to make the discipleship component of the group central to all that you do. Keep praying, reading Scripture, memorizing key passages, and talking about practical application. God’s Word always makes an impact and, while it may be invisible for a while, keep investing. Before long those we have been entrusted with will be investing in others.
“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’” (Luke 18:16).
Children flocked to Jesus. This fact ignites my imagination as to Jesus’ disposition. Children generally don’t like to spend time with mean or dismissive people. There was something about him that drew people to him. We need to exercise a joy that overflows into our men’s groups. Being spiritual doesn’t mean all the fun has to be sucked out of the room.
God created us with the capacity to enjoy life. And those who are in Christ have the most to celebrate. We have been set free from sin and death and have been made alive in Jesus. Let’s live like those who are alive. Find something everyone can connect over and enjoy time with great friends. Create new stories to share and if you are having food, don’t hesitate to invite me. Just don’t expect me to bring the deer meat.
David VanAtter is the lead minister at Restoration Church in Frankfort, Kentucky.