Factotum #11: Models for men’s groups

Speaker at men’s function: You really must be aiming to lead your family spiritually. Get the Bible out after dinner, and work through a passage with your wife and kids. Make every effort to teach them the things of God.

Ordinary Christian Bloke: That’s all well and good. My only problem is that while I’ve been buried in the office for the last 25 years, my wife’s been to Women’s Bible Study weekly, finished a theological course by correspondence and runs the primary age Sunday School.

Speaker (blushing): Yes, er, good point, thank you. Of course, your wife has a great deal to contribute. In fact, come to think of it, you have sharpened my point. Is it not often the case that our wives have continued to grow, leaving us far behind?

Christian men need to read the Bible and pray with each other. It is no different for Christian women, but at the moment, the women in many of our churches are way ahead of the men. In many churches, women’s Bible studies have gone from strength to strength while men’s Bible studies continue to languish. In this ‘Factotum’, Colin Marshall looks at the problem, and takes a step towards the solution.

Why we don’t

1. Stages of life

Men into their 20s stay fairly active in ministries that push them on in Bible study and Christian growth. They lead youth groups, mission teams, Bible study groups and so on. These are usually child-free or toddler years, with studies completed and life settled into job and family routines.

In the 30s and 40s, life gets more complex. There are more children with increasing time and emotional needs. Often the wider family circle needs more attention with ageing parents. Success at work means promotion and increased demands. The net result is a decrease in ministry responsibility in other areas—especially in teaching the Bible to others. For some, the Sunday morning 20-minute sermon becomes the total weekly diet of Bible intake.

2. Time

There is a genuine time problem for men in this regard. Traditionally, women have had more discretionary time for personal Bible study and meeting in groups, especially during the day. However, this is changing as some women spend more time in the workforce. I imagine this will weaken the women’s Bible study movement.

Men have limited opportunities to meet for Bible study and prayer. Early mornings are hectic, lunchtime is uncertain, evenings are exhausting and weekends seem to be filled with chores and family needs.

3. The character of men

Let me generalize for a moment. Men are not often really comfortable in group situations where they have to bare their soul and discuss things. Women tend to do much better at this. Consequently, men shy away from Bible study groups and, instead, get into church committees where the discussion is impersonal and focused on a task. These are genuine ministries, but they can also be an indication that men are retreating from spiritual growth and leadership.

Why we should: leadership

Men are to be the spiritual leaders of the church and the home. Husbands are the head of their wives as Christ is for the church (Eph 5:23). Fathers are to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). The elders are godly men who teach the church (1 Tim 3:1ff, Tit 1:5ff). God’s word calls men to spiritual leadership in a way that is not assigned to women.

But in reality, it is Christian women who are the spiritual leaders. They study and pray and instruct each other and their children. Women often lead other women to Christ.

The solution, of course, is not the reduction of women’s ministry, which needs to increase and abound. Rather, men need to see that they have largely abdicated their role of spiritual leadership and actively re-train themselves.

Spiritual leadership training should be the rationale of men’s ministry. There will be times when men and women meet in Bible study groups together, but the value of men’s groups is in the training of each other as Christian leaders. This is best done with men on their own, where they can work through their particular issues of life, growth and ministry.

Models to avoid

There are two general models of men’s groups that are inadequate and misleading for Christian men.

1. The therapy model

The promoters of the men’s movement in our community work on the assumption that the masculine soul is sick and needs therapy. Men are seen to be insecure and unfulfilled because they are restless seekers. We are driven by an incurable ego that feeds on the esteem of other men as we compete for that woman, job, car or physique. And that’s our positive side!

There is a truth in this. Men are ultimately the perpetrators of much of the suffering of our world, whether it be war, domestic violence, crime or any form of oppressive use of power.

However, the therapy model does not get to the root problem of man’s sin and the divine remedy of the cross of Christ. No amount of sharing our feelings, getting in touch with our masculine side or male bonding will produce godly servants who lead their churches and families to heaven.

2. The accountability model

A popular form of men’s groups is to be accountable to each other to keep a set of rules or commitments. There are a number of ‘how to’ manuals for Christian men. They promise to sort out men’s problems by defining the principles and boundaries of life, and are appealing because they offer simple solutions to complex lives. If we not only read the manual, but someone checks up on our performance, this is a powerful motivation.

But motivation is the problem. In the end, the reason for godly living is not the grace of Christ in the gospel, but the weekly accountability session. The fear of men replaces the fear of God. Such groups, after a while, can operate without any reference to the gospel and, in fact, distort Christianity into legalism (Col 2:20-23).

Models to adopt

There are many ways to run men’s groups. Here are three suggestions, including a specific Bible study tool.

1. Prayer groups

Men need to come together for prayer and so give leadership in prayer. We need to train ourselves as prayer warriors.

2. Theological study

Instead of dropping out of in-depth Bible study and theological reading as the years progress, men need an ongoing programme that gives them a hunger for the knowledge of God and equips them for leadership. There are excellent Bible study resources and correspondence courses that men can do in groups together.

3. Reality check

Below is a new Bible study tool being developed with men in mind. The concept is that men need a constantly renewed vision of Christ. Caught up in the affairs of this world, only the word of God can give us a true perspective, drawing back the curtain, to reveal what is real (“things above”), the Son of God ruling the world and calling to himself a holy people. Without the word of God, we get locked into ‘false’ realities—the ‘earthly things’ of ambition, greed and self-indulgence.

By regaining a fresh vision of Christ through his word, what is real to us in this world takes on new meaning. In each facet, we are to be his holy people.

‘Reality check’ has several strengths:

  • It gets men reading the Bible and praying together
  • It shows men how to apply the Bible to their particular issues
  • It prevents men’s groups becoming ‘problem’-centered rather than ‘Bible’-centred
  • It can be used for men meeting one-to-one or in groups.
  • It is a ‘template’ for use with any portion of the Bible.
  • It can be used with or without preparation
  • It can help men use their limited time efficiently.

There are potential weaknesses to avoid:

  • It does not replace detailed in-depth Bible study
  • Instead of working at understanding the Bible, we might only look for solutions to life’s problems. In doing so, we use rather than obey the Bible.

Reality check

Bible passage:


Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Col 3:1-2)

1. What is real to me this week?

  • Rate the week 1-10 (worst to best)
  • What dominates my horizon?
  • What do I wake up thinking about?
  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What is different from last week?

2. What is real?

  1. What is the main idea of the passage?
  2. What are the connections with the surrounding verses?
  3. What does this part of God’s Word say about:
    • God
    • Christ
    • Humanity
    • God’s saving work
    • Response to God
    • Relating to Others
    • The future
    • Other

3. What is real in the world?

What would people at work say about these realities from God’s word?

4. Because God’s word is reality …

In which of these areas should I change my thinking and behaviour? (NB you won’t always find applications in every area of life.)

  • God
  • family
  • work
  • money and possessions
  • leisure
  • goals
  • other Christians
  • friends and contacts
  • personal struggles

5. Prayer for each other

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