A group of nine men and I just finished a year and half discussion about John. I’m not going to let you in on the beauties of the book at this point, but rather I want to comment on the idea of men reading and studying the Scripture together. My comments apply to women and youth also, but my experience is with men, so I will lay this out in that context.
These men, members of my congregation, met at 6 a.m. at Panera Bread, rain or shine, and discussed Scripture until about 7:30 a.m. on Tuesdays.
So, why was this important?
1. The message of God to us is the manna of the kingdom, so we were all fed by it. We can all say that we are healthier because of it.
2. As the pastor of the congregation I learned how each man processes and interacts and applies Scripture in this way. Our church is divided into smaller units, each called a congregation. I pastor one of these congregations and these are all the men in that congregation. Each of our pastors mentors all their men similarly. I need to see up close how men think and work out truth in their experience. In this way, like the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep.
3. By knowing these men intimately, I pastor their families. My touch with the entire congregation is made through the father or husband in most cases. There are exceptions, such as the single women or those who have unconverted husbands. My wife and I enjoy a close relationship with them in other ways. But I’m content to believe I have the ear of the church through these men and can successfully help the entire church.
4. These men see me learning just like they do. Because many pastors often teach a well-manicured message to their people, the church member never sees the struggle of a pastor to obtain the meaning of a text. That’s unrealistic and creates untrue images of a pastor’s life. Not so in this setting. We are groaning and wrestling together on the chapters and I am as susceptible to being challenged by them as they by me. I learn right in front of them. Since I purpose to do no study of the text in commentaries or in any way (I do not prepare for this), we explore together and say stupid things together until we get it.
5. By digging together, we all rejoice when oil is struck. The joy is much greater this way. They aren’t just listening to someone tell them truths, but they hold a spade themselves. What joys we’ve had when some passage opens up to us!
6. We push ourselves to learn to express biblical truths. This is important for all types of churches, but especially for our kind of meetings. In our gatherings, we allow for interaction. We want men to open the Bible and teach something. The process helps us gain improvements in this way. Men talking Bible truth readily and pointedly and in a stimulating manner is an art to be learned. It takes practice. Tuesday mornings are where the best practice takes place.
7. We go out feeling a sense of purpose from our time together. We haven’t shared ignorance, as some people imagine, but have lashed ourselves to the text so strongly that we become what we read. We walk out thinking, “This is for me, today, and I must live it out.”
8. Finally, I’m able to discover future leaders through the way these men interact with each other and the Bible.
There is more we could say. I’ve heard men report several times that in our church they are learning and applying the Bible more than they ever have before. I don’t think we are better pastors than others, but I do believe that mentoring men in these kinds of settings makes this kind of difference.
Going for it
I’m not sure what I believe or don’t believe from the Anabaptists, but this comment about them in The Congregational Order (1527) is something I fully concur with:
When the brothers and sisters are together, they shall take up something to read together. The one to whom God has given the best understanding shall explain it…when a brother sees his brother erring, he shall warn him according to the command of Christ, and shall admonish him in a Christian and brotherly way.
Something like this is going on when we meet as men. I believe, if the truth were known, the best things in our church life have their source right here. Not doing this would, to me, be crippling to the church. You may take my experience and consider it just another meager idea, but I’m convinced it is bordering on foolishness to avoid mentoring in your churches in lieu of some other kind of busyness. You will be more like Jesus if you do it.