Sunday, December 9, 2007

Jump starting men's prayer groups...

Well, it isn't exactly jump starting. More like taking it down to the shop, having them tinker with it for a few weeks, then giving it another try.

Building ministry with men requires building trust. Many activities that churches might look down upon as trivial or "unspiritual" are the best places for men to feel at home with one another and are the precondition for their sharing fellowship with God. I heard Lyman Coleman of the Serendipity Bible Studies remark on the importance of Matthew 18:3 when explaining icebreakers for small groups. Playing together can put us in an open, childlike state and can open us up to God. Sometimes, Anglican intellectualism and aestheticism work against this. So give the church softball team a couple of seasons before you start badgering men to "be more spiritual."

When trust exists (and often, a desire to "go deeper" will come from some of the men if they haven't been hassled), here is a weekly format that's worked for me in a couple of churches:

One hour of prayer, using the "ACTS" prayer model.
  • 15 minutes of Adoration. You can use worship music, readings or extemporaneous prayer if you have some leaders who can voice praise for God. A really good thing to do with Anglicans is to have Prayer Books present, and do responsive readings from Psalms that focus on God (we used Psalms 103 & 104 the other night, and they were dynamite.) Use stuff that's really focused on God - guys tend to go "into their heads" and will wander into interpretation and moral application almost automatically. The group leader needs to keep pointing toward God. Ideally, once the group grows in comfort, leadership should be rotated with a different man leading the adoration period each week. He gets to pick the style of prayer and resources.
  • 15 minutes of Confession. Offer a penitential (but also inviting) Bible verse, such as I John 1:8-9. Invite each man to share a "struggle" or "challenge" he's dealing with as he tries to live a Christian life. You will be amazed at how quickly men can move into some honest and significant sharing when trust is present. There should be no comments or cross-talk when confessions are being made. The group must avoid any inference that some members are "above" or better than others. A technique that has worked well is to have all the guys turn their chairs toward the wall, and turn back toward the center of the room when they are ready to voice their confession. It is a good tactile experience of moving from estrangement to reconciliation. Once all have confessed, the weekly leader should offer Biblical words of assurance. The traditional "Comfortable Words" (p. 332 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) are perfect for this.
  • 15 minutes of Thanksgiving. Invite the guys to freely share good stuff in their lives for which they are thankful. One of the wonderful things that happens after a group is together for awhile is that guys will start giving thanks for spiritual progress, often with reference to things they've been confessing over the weeks.
  • 15 minutes of Supplication. Invite the guys to express prayer needs and to pray for one another. The most effective way I've found for this is a "hot seat." Put a chair in the middle, and have the guys take turns sitting in it. As each guy takes the seat, he can share his prayer requests - and then all of the other guys should place a hand on him and pray for him. All of the other group members should be given time to pray for the one in the chair. When all have had a turn in the hot seat, have the group join hands and close with the Lord's Prayer.

This is a bare bones explanation of the model I've used. Obviously, you need to employ many of the common techniques for small group effectiveness:

  • Group members make a firm committment and show up. A "covenant" is useful - the group members promise to make attendance an absolute priority for 6 weeks, say, and then have the option to continue or opt out.
  • Time, location, the presence or absence of refreshments and other practical details are up to the group.
  • Confidentiality is vital. What is said in the group stays there.
  • Good leadership needs to be modeled, especially in the first few meetings. Some guys will talk too much, intellectualize, go off on tangents, etc. Beware of, "I know this isn't exactly what we are talking about, but..." They need to be kept on track. Other guys will try to sit on the fringe and "observe." They need to be led into participation.
  • Keep it to an hour. Guys have obligations and time stewardship is a big deal. Also, it is better to have a meeting end with guys wanting more than to wander around until everybody is bored and exhausted.
  • Keep an open chair - newcomers should be welcomed and the group members should be welcome to invite friends into the group.
  • Once the group gets beyond about 8 men, it needs to subdivide. This is not a lecture or a liturgy. It needs to stay small enough to give each man time for real participation. Plan this in advance (who will be willing to lead a new group, when and where will it meet, etc.)

Finally, don't resist the Spirit. At one of my churches, some guys tried out the prayer group and didn't like the model, but went on to start a really good Christian book study group. Don't let any one format become an idol or a stumbling block to other ways that men might find growth as disciples.

2 comments:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Excellent! Following these recommendations will make a real difference. As a Christian woman I am rooting for more men to be strong in the Faith. To me, this is true manliness!

Chip Johnson+, cj said...

Tim+,

Fantastic program! My son was involved in setting up several similar groups as he helped 'grow' a church in Florida several years ago. The men's fellowship groups used this model very effectively.

That congregation grew from a house church spilt from a Wesleyan/Assembly of GOd core five years ago into a new 4.5 million dollar building last June, and this year the childrens ministries had the building (seats 3000)and the adults had to use the 5000 seat catering tents for their big church dinner day at the farm.

The basis of their growth was this small group practice, done well, and consistantly. They split each mixed family group when they reached eight families, and now run over 4000 per Sunday through 3 services.