Ministries with men often focus on typically male interests: work projects, sports, and fellowship over food. Such nonthreatening activities seem to appeal to men and provide opportunities for them to build relationships, drawing them into a deeper connection to the church and strengthening their feelings of ownership and belonging. Once men are drawn into such ministries, how are they impacted by their participation in them? Might such involvement actually help them grow in Christian discipleship to become better husbands and fathers, workers, and citizens?
By nurturing spiritual growth, by providing supportive relationships and opportunities for mentoring, and by teaching basic relationship and communication skills, men’s groups can transform the lives of their members and have an impact on their families, workplaces, and communities as well. Worship, Bible study, prayer, and witness integrated into men’s activities foster awareness of God’s love, care, will for our lives, and forgiveness. Feeling accepted and understood by others in the group builds self-confidence, motivation, and courage. Learning to understand and express one’s feelings and needs, to actively listen in order to understand, and to find win-win solutions to conflicts can lead to healthier relationships.
I suspect that most men’s ministries know how to nurture spiritual growth and supportive relationships. Judiciously chosen Scripture, songs, and personal sharing can deepen members’ understanding of God and of the teachings of Jesus. Even informal conversation during work projects can comfort and inspire. If members can resist the temptation to give quick advice and easy answers, an atmosphere of empathy and understanding may encourage men to share honestly and openly about the challenges they face. Cross-generational sharing provides the helpful perspective that marriage and parenting, for example - or retirement and aging – offer real challenges and opportunities for growth. Relationship education that can translate to home and other settings may require more intentionality.
If your church provides effective relationship education in other settings, some of the men in your groups may be able to share insights gained from such experiences. If not, you will want to bring in speakers and curriculum materials to teach the attitudes and behaviors that foster healthy relationships. You may be able to find effective presenters in your community through counseling centers and/or social service agencies, or someone in your annual conference may offer suggestions and resources. United Methodist Discipleship Ministries posts on its websites a number of documents that you might find helpful, such as the following. These – and others – may be downloaded, duplicated, and distributed as you wish.
The following reviews of several resources described in the above documents illustrate the concepts and skills they teach:
*Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life, (previously A Language of Compassion) by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. (Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press, 1999). This clear and straight-forward text shows how to break through patterns of thinking that lead to arguments and anger and how to communicate with mutual respect and understanding. The skills (separating observation from evaluation, taking responsibility for our feelings, making requests instead of demands, and listening empathically) can enhance any relationship. A Companion Workbook available at www.nonviolentcommunication.com provides discussion questions and exercises for individual or group study.
*The Surprising Way to a Stronger Marriage: How the Power of One Changes Everything by Michael and Amy Smalley (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2010). The authors describe how one spouse, strengthened by God and biblical principles, can bring about positive change and growth in a marriage. The authors emphasize the importance of taking responsibility for your own emotions and reactions, focusing on what you want to have happen, and repairing hurts by asking your spouse what he/she needs in order to heal. A study guide in the back of the book provides Scripture and discussion questions for each of the eighteen chapters.
*Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: What You Can Learn from the Breakthrough Research to Make Your Marriage Last by John Gottman, Ph.D. with Nan Silver (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994). The author presents four strategies for breaking cycles of negativity and maintaining a lasting, healthy marriage: calming yourself so that you are not overwhelmed by flooding emotions; speaking and listening nondefensively; validating each other as well as your relationship; and overlearning these principles so that you can use these new skills under stress.
Ministries with men, by intentionally focusing on Christian teaching about relationships, can strengthen the members’ marriages and families, as well as enhancing their relationships with others at work and in the community.
Jane P. Ives, United Methodist Marriage and Family Ministries Consultant
10 Quaker Lane, Portland, ME 04103, 207-797-8930, Janepives@gmail.com