How to Build a Life-Changing Men's Ministry
Steve Sonderman

A dad puts his child to bed at night, leaves the room, and goes downstairs. A bit later he hears a loud thud and runs back up to the child's room. Finding his son on the floor he asks: "What happened?" The child answers: "I think I stayed too close to where I got in."

Isn't that true of so many Christian men today? They are staying too close to where they got in. They are missing the joy of walking with Christ in an intimate way, of growing deeper with him, seeing their lives transformed, their relationships changed, and knowing the satisfaction of being involved in something much bigger than themselves.

A pastor's challenge is to lead his men along the path of real spiritual formation. For 12 years, as the pastor of the men's ministry at Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee, Wis, I have watched and learned much about this process. Allow me to share a few principles with you.
1. Keep the end in mind.
We do not aim to fill pews on Sunday and make men busy during the week, but, as Paul says in Colossians 1:28, make men spiritually mature. Dallas Willard says in Renovation of the Heart that spiritual formation is "the Spirit driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself." We do not aim short of this goal.

2. Start small and go slow.
Numbers do not, and never did, interest Jesus. He invested in a few who became magnets for the multitudes to follow. I encourage you to form a small group of five to 12 men and meet weekly to study the Word, pray, and share life, as Paul describes in I Thessalonians 2:8. In my first year as pastor of the men's ministry, I met with 12 men every Wednesday morning for two hours. We went deep with each other and deep with our Lord and our lives were changed. The amazing ripple effect is still going on 12 years later from these men repeating this deepening process with other men in the church. If we worry about numbers we will sacrifice the quality of lives being slowly built to maturity.
3. Formation is not uniform.
There is no formula for spiritual formation because each man will grow in his own unique way. There are, however, three things I see as making a big difference in every man's growth.

The soul-expanding effects of serving, giving, worshipping, and suffering.
Relationships with a mentor, peers, and men to build into. As Howard Hendricks says, we all need a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.
The lifelong practice of the spiritual disciplines.
4. The optimal place for men to grow is in a small group.
Through small groups, men can be cheered on and prayed for as they take steps of faith in the marketplace, are held accountable for their actions, and comforted in their trials. A small group is where iron sharpens iron.

I encourage you to develop a strategy for getting as many men into small groups as possible. Build a bridge from large group activities (church services, men's breakfasts, retreats) to the small groups by giving men in attendance the opportunity to sign up for a short term group related to the subject matter. (See my article on How to get men into small groups.)

5. Develop an environment for growth.
Having surveyed hundreds of men regarding how spiritual formation happens in their lives, a couple of basic principles about their small groups stand out to me.

Men need safety/confidentiality. There is a sign above the Milwaukee Brewers locker room that reads, "What you hear and see here, stays here." Leaders must cultivate this utterly confidential environment in their groups to ensure that trust is preserved. Trust is very hard to regain when broken.
Men want to be challenged. Men are sick and tired of sitting around talking about sports, the stock market, and the weather. Man after man has told me they want to be challenged to go deep. Leaders must not be bashful about asking for big commitments to vulnerability and deep sharing in their groups. Men want it.
Men love action. A great deal of spiritual growth is going to happen in the field, by participating in the game. By getting them involved in the community – on projects and mission trips –men are put into a place of spiritual dependence and growth.
Make it relevant. Men need help dealing with realities of where they live day to day. They are not generally captivated by the 23 different views of the Second Coming. Sermons and small group material should use illustrations from their world and be applicable to their lives.
Men need encouragement. This world beats men up all day long. Let the small group be a sanctuary, a place of acceptance and encouragement, and they will be fueled to new heights in their walk with Jesus.
6. Men need to see it lived out. 
Robert Murray McCheyne, the great Scottish preacher, said, "The greatest gift you can give your congregation is your personal holiness." Your job description as a pastor is to walk before the men of your church so that they see the real deal. Your life before them will speak louder than any sermon you give. How is your family life? How are your personal friendships?

7. Spiritual formation is intentional.
Men do not naturally drift toward Christ or Christ-likeness. Our natural bent is to drift toward sin. Men have financial plans, weight loss plans, and work-out plans, but very few have a plan for growth. Offer them the means by which they can grow. For the past 12 years, we have used a two-year curriculum called Basic Training the men of our church grow. For more information on it, visit our Web site at
Steve Sonderman is the associate pastor for men's ministry at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wi