Building an Effective Men’s Ministry
By Steve Rempe
men's ministry

Illustrations by Tim Peacock

For too many churches, men’s ministry is an afterthought. Much attention is given to equipping families, instructing children, and catechizing teens. Women’s studies are popular, and programs for seniors are essential as many of our churches age.

Yet for the men in our midst, the extent of ministry too often consists of an occasional event, outing, or monthly pancake breakfast with a short devotional at the end. For all the emphasis put on the importance of men serving as husbands, fathers, and church leaders, you’d think we’d do more, and do it better.

“As the men of the church go, so goes the church,” says Pete Alwinson, pastor emeritus and executive director of FORGE city wide ministry to men in Orlando, Florida. “A church never gets beyond the quality level of its men. When men flourish, so do women, children, churches, and culture.”

Developing “Whole Men”

Alwinson argues that simple theological instruction, while important, is not sufficient to fully develop men for their roles in families, churches, and communities. “I’ve long thought that the PCA should be focused on developing men,” he says. “We think we do it by pouring the Westminster Confession of Faith into their heads, but that alone doesn’t develop the whole man.”

The biggest challenge is relational. A 2000 study by Barna Group found that 95% of Christian men have no male best friend with whom they can share their spiritual battles. The study also revealed that only 5% have been or are currently in some sort of discipling relationship. It is this isolation and lack of growth that men’s ministry leaders such as Alwinson seek to address.

When it comes to initiating a men’s ministry, it’s never too early. “The best time to start a ministry is when you plant a church,” Alwinson says. “Get it in the DNA from the beginning.”

For existing churches, the objective should be no less visionary. Churches must “recruit to the vision,” says Gary Yagel, consultant on men’s ministry for the PCA’s Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) and founder of the Forging Bonds of Brotherhood Ministry. “Being captured by the importance of men’s discipleship is really the starting point,” according to Yagel. “It might be the guy who wants to start a men’s ministry, it could be the pastor who’s starting a new church, or an elder who wants to see it emphasized.

A healthy men’s group will benefit others in the church and serve the community.

“The job of the men’s ministry, just as it is the job of women’s and youth ministries, is to get their people relationally connected in truth-speaking relationships,” says Yagel. To accomplish this, the church must function both as organization (pastor, elders, preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments) and organism — that is, the body of Christ, serving each other and building each other up, “growing up in every way into Him who is the head, that is Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

The result is, Yagel says, a ministry that is “building a process, not planning an event.”

Dan Hindman, Indiana area director for Man in the Mirror Ministries, agrees. “It is important to take a long view and create a strategy that fits the size and culture of your church. There is no effective one-size-fits-all men’s ministry.”

“As with any ministry, a commitment by the pastor is essential. The senior pastor should be the point man,” says Alwinson. That allows him to get to know the men in his care better, helps to develop future leaders, and equips men to better lead their families.

But the senior pastor should not be doing the bulk of the work. In the book “No Man Left Behind,” authors Patrick Morley, David Delk, and Brett Clemmer suggest three strands of leadership — a pastor willing to cast a vison, a men’s ministry leader to oversee the work, and a ministry team to handle the details.

 “Churches should never say, ‘Hey, who wants to lead a men’s ministry?’” Alwinson says. “Most likely, you will not get a leader.”

Recruiting Leaders, Customizing Programs

So, who exactly should lead a men’s ministry? For starters, he should be someone who’s spiritually mature, who has a passion to see other men in discipling relationships. This would necessarily mean someone who’s been or is currently in a discipling relationship himself. He should be someone of vision who has a long-term idea of what the ministry can accomplish, and what steps must be taken to get there.

It is also important that any men’s ministry leaders be supportive of the senior pastor and his vision for the church as a whole. “No one should lead a ministry who is not in sync with or willing to subordinate his ideas to the vision of the senior pastor,” says Hindman. Ideally, both the pastor and men’s ministry leader would agree on how to develop men in the church and then work together to make that goal a reality.

Hindman offers a succinct summary of what a men’s ministry should seek to achieve: “The goal should be Word-based, relationship-driven, mission-focused, reproductive discipleship.”

men's ministry

How is this best accomplished? Yagel uses the imagery of train tracks to explain the process. One of the rails is a deeper understanding of God’s Word. The other is a deeper connection to the body of Christ. Only by advancing on both does discipleship occur, as men are able to move from nonbeliever to spiritual maturity.

This approach allows the church to assess men’s needs and meet them with custom-made programs and activities. Social gatherings and “Great Dads” seminars, for example, are effective ways to connect with nonbelievers and young Christians, while more in-depth study on sensitive issues such as overcoming lust and pornography will better serve Christians looking to go deeper in their faith. In both cases, there is the opportunity to lead men further down the tracks.

men's ministry

The best model for this two-pronged ministry is Christ Himself. While Jesus taught and served the multitudes, He reserved special instruction and fellowship for 12 men who were committed to Him. And when it came time to share His deepest thoughts and feelings in Gethsemane, He trusted an inner circle of Peter, James, and John.

“On the night of Jesus’ most severe spiritual battle, He wanted His three closest brothers with Him,” Yagel says. “Jesus models manhood connected to other men as brothers.”

While couples and mixed-sex studies serve an important role in the life of the church, they do not provide men with the opportunity to be open and vulnerable. “Men will not share their spiritual battles in mixed couples’ groups the way they will with a group of just men,” Yagel asserts. “How can a guy talk about his battle with lust in front of women, or his struggles with marriage in front of his wife? Men need to be with men, as Jesus was.”

Providing Value

The biggest challenge for any men’s ministry — especially those just getting started — is getting men to show up. Most men have other responsibilities that demand their time. They are husbands, fathers, employees, and volunteers. Where’s the time for one more thing? 

The value must be obvious. “Men need to see what they are missing,” says Yagel — not just the events themselves, but also the likely impact they might have in their families and communities.

The goal isn’t to study another book, but to develop relationships that will result in long-term discipleship. These relationships must develop organically over time as the Holy Spirit leads. “Don’t just buy a curriculum and think it’s a ministry,” Yagel warns. 

Serving the Larger Church Body

Of course, a men’s study does not exist in isolation from the rest of the church. Men’s ministry exists, in part, to build up the rest of the body and bless others.

Most men need to be needed. They want to contribute in some way, which presents a perfect opportunity to reach out to other ministries, whether that means working with the youth group, providing physical upkeep of the facilities, planning field trips or fund­raising events. A men’s group can be a valuable asset to the life of the church.

The idea that a men’s ministry will take away from other church programs is “a myth,” according to Alwinson. A healthy men’s group will benefit others in the church and serve the community. It will reach across generations, uniting young men, middle-aged fathers, and retired grandfathers. It will strengthen families and tighten the bonds between men. 

Resources to Strengthen Men’s Groups

For churches that are ready to start a men’s study or for those who’d like to refresh their men’s ministry, resources are available. 

The PCA’s Committee on Discipleship Ministries offers a number of resources on its website and hosts seminars and retreats to train ministry leaders. Stephen Estock, CDM coordinator, is working with other leaders to develop a coaching strategy that will be available in the near future. 

Man in the Mirror Ministries has worked with some 35,000 churches and millions of men since 1986. Man in the Mirror strives to “help leaders provide a discipleship pathway for every man” in the local church by serving pastors, equipping lay leaders, and transforming men by providing resources for their development. 

Other organizations such as FORGE and Forging Bonds of Brotherhood Ministry offer online videos, podcasts, and studies as well as networking opportunities.

“If men’s ministry can help men get it right, everybody wins,” says Yagel. “Wives have more sacrificial husbands, kids have more involved dads, the church has stronger leaders, the community has more Christlike citizens, and Jesus’ name is honored.”

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