Encouraging Vital Relationships
By Geoff Gorsuch
If you want to see a vibrant men’s ministry flourish in your church, you cannot afford to overlook the most essential ingredient of success: vital relationships. You can follow every step in this book, but if you neglect vital relationship building among your men, you’ll never see an effective men’s ministry grow in your church.
Successful small groups begin with leaders who model genuine Christ-like relationships. Are you willing to spend enough time together in your core group to develop vital relationships? Are you willing to share your hearts with one another, including both struggles and victories? Are you willing to rely on each other for personal prayer, encouragement, and exhortation in your relationship with Christ and others? Are you willing to serve your families and the men in your church in order to demonstrate godly leadership?
The process of building vital relationships among men can be likened to a base-ball diamond (fig. 4). Each base represents a stage of development. The process begins when we step up to the plate and declare our desire and determination to become more like Christ. Whether we get on base and how well we progress around the bases depends on our willingness to open ourselves up to other men.
The key to reaching first base in our relationships with other men is acceptance, “Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7 NASB). As we become acquainted with other men in the context of a small group, we should focus on the following objectives.
* Develop trust-building activities
* Accept one another as we are
* Establish parameters for ongoing relationship (who, what, when, where, why, and how we’re going to get together)
* Define our purpose as a group
* Agree on confidentiality
Effective men’s small groups include three key elements: (1) sharing and relationship building, (2) prayer for one another’s personal needs, and (3) applying God’s Word. In building a strong foundation in relationships, there’s no substitute for spending time together. The more opportunities the men in your group have to get together in a variety of activities, the quicker everyone will bond and trust will be established.
Though activities alone do not guarantee solid relationships, men need the interaction to get to know one another better. Men will enter more easily into the task of trust building when it is accomplished in the context of shared experiences. Activities may range from sporting events to social gatherings, depending upon the tastes of the men involved, but the goal is always the same: to help men accept one another in Christ.
Conversations at the acquaintance stage will be lighthearted and casual, but the important thing is that men learn how to listen to one another. As the relationships progress, your men will begin to explore options and will arrive at forms of activity and styles of communication that meet their needs. Although a fully developed purpose statement may not be determined until the group has been meeting for a while, the essential elements, what the group wants to do and why, should be settled as soon as possible. In most cases, the group’s purpose will be well established by the time it approaches second base.
Getting to First Base
1 What are some enjoyable activities that your church can sponsor to help your men get better acquainted?
2 What common interests, hobbies, or topics do your men have that would draw them to small groups?
3 How can your core group help the men in your church to become involved in men’s small groups?
4 How will you encourage your men’s small group leaders to share their hearts, pray for their men’s personal needs, and help the men in their group apply God’s Word to their lives?
At second base, the relationships progress to the level of friendship. The focus here is on encouraging one another, developing good discussion skills, and learning how to resolve conflict. “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians.5:11 NASB).
The word encourage comes from the same word as one of the names of the Holy Spirit. This word means “called alongside to help.” To encourage one another, then, is to be vitally involved in what the Spirit is doing in the lives of our brothers in Christ. Either verbally or through our actions, we can affirm God’s view of our brothers. In doing so, we move from accepting them to helping them. Encouragement is taking an active role in a brother’s life.
Sliding into second implies friction. When men commit to a small group gathering, their expectations for the group may need to be adjusted in an honest and respectful way. Conversations will pass from the superficial level to the level of ideas and opinions. It is important for the leader to model effective communication and conflict resolution as the group grows closer. Your small group leaders should be pre-pared to ask open-ended questions that encourage discussion and to use differences of opinion in their small groups to help their men develop mutual respect.
When men are encouraged to fully express themselves on men’s issues, they develop a bond of trust with each other. This trust produces a camaraderie based on mutual respect. Without this, the group will inevitably dissolve. Time and care must be taken to work through relational differences and to allow the men in the group to unite around common interests and commitments. Don’t try to steal second by rushing the process. It takes time for men to feel comfortable with each other.
Men need to know that after they’ve shared their lives, they will not be “benched” through betrayal of trust or a lack of commitment. Our small groups must be havens of safety, where “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18 NASB). As each man gives his best to God and each other, he will move out of isolation and into vital relationships. The team will learn what it means to live as brothers. They will grow toward Christ-likeness.
Sliding Into Second
1 How can you tell if the men in your small groups are sensing the freedom to share how they really feel?
2 What open-ended questions are your small group leaders asking to help their men to express their beliefs and ideas?
3 How will you help your small group leaders communicate to their men that it’s okay to disagree and that a goal for the group is to understand where each man is coming from, not winning arguments?
As communication and commitment to one another deepens, we round third base by teaching and exhorting one another. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16 NASB). Thus we become the brothers that Christ intends for us to be.
The apostle Paul says that speaking the truth in love, we are to grow in Christ (Ephesians 4:15). How do we grow spiritually! How do we become the men that God wants us to be? Growth comes from truth shared through meaningful relationships. Through “teaching,” we learn how God wants us to live. Admonishing involves helping each other apply those truths, even when it is difficult. We all fall short, but we must keep trying! An effective small group can become God’s means of loving correction to help us apply the truth to our lives. This is exhortation as God intended it to be�brothers lovingly prodding one another to do their best.
Brothers are the sons of a common father. If you are a child of God and I am a child of God, it is undeniable that we are brothers. The same royal blood has been shed for us. We are heirs of a common spiritual inheritance, so as brothers we should be available for one another. Brothers stand in defense of one another. Brothers fight for each other, and at times may even die for each other. In a manly way, they learn to love one another.
At third base, after much coaching and time spent together, we should feel free to exhort one another as we face life’s challenges together. At this point, as brothers, we are vitally interested in helping each other reach home plate: growth in Christ-likeness. Our focus at this stage is on team building, learning to worship together, establishing and honoring covenants, and allowing accountability.
Too many groups approach third base and then turn right! In other words, they never get around to exhortation. They never establish covenants or accountability. They never enter the struggle for moral excellence together. They never really worship. Part of the problem may be that they have cut across the diamond from first to third without establishing the necessary friendship dynamics at second base. Once men have genuinely accepted and encouraged each other, they should be ready to admonish one another and offer accountability. Having studied and discussed God’s Word together, they should have discovered where they really are in Christ and where they need to be. Cooperation based on mutually shared needs and respect for each other’s strengths should now replace old, self-protective patterns.
1 What are your small groups doing that demonstrate their interdependence as brothers?
2 How can your core group encourage the men in small groups to enter into covenants and commitments with God and one another?
3 From among the men in your core group, who can you ask to regularly check that you are following through on the commitments you’ve made to God and each other?
Your investment in the lives of the men in your small groups pays off as they become servant leaders to their families, friends, communities, and church. As each man is helped around the bases by his brothers, momentum builds toward Christ-likeness. This may be a lifelong commitment and process, but complementary skills will fall into place as men reap the benefits of teamwork and begin serving the body of Christ. As insight about life is shared, God’s truth will be applied in a frame-work of mutual accountability, encouragement, and prayer.
With the support of his brothers, the dream that each man had as he stepped up to the plate will be within his reach. Together we can become men of genuine integrity. We can become more like Christ! “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:23 NASB).
The focus during this stage is on teamwork, serving one another, defining and developing each man’s unique contribution to the body of Christ, and reaching the world for Jesus Christ.
Heading For Home
1 How can you tell if the men in your church are becoming servant leaders?
2 What are some ways that your core group can help your men to identify God’s calling in their lives and to discern what gifts and talents they have to fulfill that call?
3 If your small groups ended today, would your men have impacted any-one’s life for Jesus Christ outside of the groups? Why or why not?
NOT EVERY SWING IS A HIT
Being a mature man has never been easy, but the Bible teaches us that there are spiritual resources available to help us face the challenge. God has given us his Spirit, his Word, and one another so we don’t have to do the job alone. In that light, we must decide: Will we still insist on going it alone, or will we become part of a group of men and assume our role as a brother in Christ?
Each phase serves its purpose to keep us in the game, but each stage also has its limitations. Not every acquaintance we make will become a friend, and not every friend will be as close as a brother. Our emotional capacity and ability to draw close to others is too limited. However, if we keep stepping up to the plate and taking a few swings pursuing vital, meaningful relationships, we can become the brothers of a few. And that’s what the game is all about. “Let’s play ball!”
Dynamics To Avoid In Your Small Group Ministry
1 Domination Don’t allow one or two men in your small group to dominate the conversation or group discussion. Hogging the stage causes others to withdraw or not interact with the group, and these men will soon become disinterested spectators. The way of group domination is not the avenue for growth.
2 Intimidation Avoid intimidation at all costs. Some men in your group will be insecure. Others will have been intimidated most of their lives due to physical size, wealth, appearance, family, job, or how long they have been a Christian. Until you know where everyone in the group stands, be careful about going too deep or assuming that all members know all the Christian terms and their meanings.
3 Humiliation Some men belittle others in order to appear funny or secure. This habit of sarcasm or cutting remarks will undermine trust and intimacy in a group. If one person is picked on in jest by another and other people laugh, he might sense that everyone is ganging up on him.
4 Interrogation Most men will not open up when faced with a battery of questions that appear confrontational or “in your face.” Though shooting straight is the best way to approach a small group, grace is still a vital characteristic of a Christ-like attitude.
5 Fabrication To gain the most from a small group, all members must be honest with one another. The truthfulness of answers will depend greatly on the group’s commitment to confidentiality.
6 Agitation Not everyone has a great day every day. Coming to a small group and being confronted with personal shortcomings may not be pleasant. Treat one another with patience, grace, and gentleness.
7 Procrastination Follow up on action points within the group, to make sure that everyone is making time to grow in their commitments. If a brother stumbles, the others should pick him up and carry him, if necessary.
8 Hesitation When a man in your group has a definite need, don’t just say you will pray. Do it on the spot! If he has a physical need, pitch in and help him out.
9 Capitulation Never give up on the members of your small group. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9 NASB).
Good Habits For Small Groups
1 Concentration The key to establishing effective communication in a small group is good listening. Without good listening skills, there is no small group. Look at the man who is speaking, don’t interrupt, and don’t be distracted by thinking about what you are going to say next, listen and learn.
2 Facilitation Keep the conversation uplifting and progressive in growth. Make sure the discussion questions are open-ended and require more than a yes, no, or maybe response. Be sure that you leave enough time for everyone to be involved.
3 Punctuality Set a time for your small group meetings and be on time. Tardiness or consistently running over the allotted time will kill a group before long. Make your group a priority and stay within the time parameters.
4 Imitation Of Jesus Demonstrate the grace, acceptance, understanding, compassion, and unconditional love of Christ to the members of your group.
5 Participation If the group is to succeed, everyone must be involved. This involvement includes opening one’s life honestly before others.
Article “Encouraging Vital Relationships” written by Geoff Gorsuch is excerpted from Effective Mens Ministry: The Indispensable Toolkit For Your Church
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”