For the last 25 years or so, I have been rising early on Thursday mornings, so I could be part of a one-hour men’s group from 6:30 to 7:30. Why on earth would I get up early to meet with a bunch of guys? Good question. Let me see if I can explain.
My initial awareness of the group began well before I actually joined. Our family attends a non-denominational Christian church, and the associate pastor at that time thought it would be a good idea for men to meet on a regular basis to study the Bible together, to try to figure out how to be better husbands and better fathers. “But what if I’m already a great husband and father?” I foolishly asked myself. I knew I wasn’t, of course, but I didn’t really want to join the group, so I pretended I didn’t need it.
Besides, since our two daughters were in grade school, I told myself that I would be of more service by helping my wife, Barbara, get the girls up out of bed, dressed, fed, and on the school bus. At first, the guys in the group bought that excuse, but they gradually wore me down, and they timed their pitch perfectly. “Why don’t you at least come during the summer months?”
Since they had me backed into a corner, I caved in and agreed to “try it out.” And when I arrived for my first meeting, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. I assumed the conversation would be all serious and religious; I was wrong. The six or seven guys who were there were giving each other a hard time, they were eating doughnuts, and they were drinking coffee. By the time we started our actual Bible study, we were halfway through the allotted hour.
I also assumed that the group would be a lot like the Sunday service with the associate pastor preaching, telling us what to do and what not to do. I was wrong again. Instead of a sermon, our leader read a little bit of scripture, maybe one chapter at most, and, then, just asked us questions about it. “What do you think that means?” Or, “How would you apply that to your life?”
At first, I merely listened to the others, but they didn’t let me get away with that for long. They wanted everyone to participate. Thus, they began to gently pull me in. “Jim, do you agree with that?” Or, “Jim, what’s your take on that parable?” Before long, the summer was about to end, and I decided to attend regularly. I knew the group discussions were good for me, and Barbara realized it too. She encouraged me to keep going.
For the most part, we are like a book discussion group. We go back and forth between reading a book of the Bible, such as Ephesians, or a book about Christian living in general, like the recently completed Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller. We also take turns leading the discussion, so that task is not always the responsibility of one person. And while I have definitely benefited from reading and analyzing various books, I discovered an even more important benefit: strong, male fellowship.
I recall that before I began to attend the group, I thought I was the only guy in America who had challenges such as car problems, financial issues, and communication struggles both at home and at work, among others. Soon enough, however, I realized that every guy in the group had pretty much the same problems, issues, and struggles; only the details were different. Knowing I was not alone with my cares and concerns and knowing, too, that these guys were willing to pray for me and my family removed so much stress and worry from my life.
Over the years, the size of the group has remained about the same, somewhere between six and ten guys, and the participants have changed periodically too. Some guys have moved away, some have had to pull out for a season or two, and some have decided that the group just doesn’t work for them for one reason or another. In fact, I, too, have taken a sabbatical from time to time to deal with various family situations. Overall, though, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the group, and I regularly thank God for these men, men who have become both my friends and my brothers.