Weekly Tips for Small Groups
Get in the game!
The process of building vital relationships among men can be likened to a baseball diamond in that there are four phases of development. The process starts as we step up to the plate with the desire and the determination to become more like Christ. Then the men become acquainted with each other at first base. At second base, the relationships progress to the level of friendship. From there, we round third base and head toward home plate as communication and commitment to one another deepen. Thus, we become the brothers Christ intends us to be.
Each base on our relational diamond corresponds to a biblical command relating to the "one anothers" which we previously discussed. At first base we learn to "accept one another" and explore the potential of the relationships. At second base, we develop our friendships as we "encourage and build up one another." At third base, after much time and coaching, we should feel free to "exhort one another" as we face life's challenges together. At this point we're brothers, vitally interested in helping each other reach home plate-growth in Christlikeness.
Each phase in and of itself is good and serves its purpose to keep us in the game. However, all acquaintances and friends do not have to become brothers. In fact, our limited emotional capacity will not permit it. But if we will keep stepping up to the plate and taking a few swings-risks-we can become the brothers of a few. And that's what the game is all about. So, "Let's play ball!"
Heading for First
Most men bond together side by side. Though activities do not guarantee solid relationships, men seem to need shared activities more than women do to get to know one another better. Men will enter more easily into the task of trust building in the context of shared experiences. These activities may vary from sporting events to cultural events depending upon the tastes of the men involved. But their goal is always the same-to help the men "accept one another" in Christ.
Light, cliche-level conversation should characterize this phase. That's all right as long as we're willing to listen to each other. As the relationships progress, the players can explore options and arrive at a form of activity and communication which seems to meet their needs. The group's purpose, what it wants to do and why, should be settled as soon as possible. Though this may not be decided until the group has been meeting for a while, in most cases the group's purpose is well established by the time it approaches second.
Sliding into Second
Sliding implies friction!
When men gather, there will be a need to adjust expectations for the group in an honest but respectful way. The conversation must pass from the cliche level to the level of ideas and opinions. This progression requires skill in leading discussions and resolving conflicts. When men fight fair, that is, when they are encouraged to fully express themselves, they develop a bond of trust with each other. This trust produces communication that is based on mutual respect. Without it, the group will dissolve.
Because of the conflict, however, men will be tempted to steal second and not allow the time necessary to work through the relational patterns. In this game, however, there is no stealing because men need time to feel comfortable with each other.
Too many groups approach third base and then turn right! In other words, they never get to exhortation. They never get to covenants and accountability. They never enter into the struggle for moral excellence together. They never really worship!
However, when men have genuinely accepted and encouraged each other, they should be ready to admonish one another. Having studied and discussed God's Word, they should have discovered where they really are and where they really need to be in Christ. Cooperation based on a mutually shared need and respect for each other's strengths should now replace old self-protective patterns as the team rounds third base.
Heading for Home
As every man is helped around the bases by his brothers, the momentum builds. Complementary skills will fall into place as men reap the benefits of teamwork andbecoming the Body of Christ. As insight about life and its Author is shared, God's truth will be applied to life in a framework of mutual accountability and prayer. As brothers, the dream they had as they stepped up to the plate will be within their reach. They can become men of genuine integrity. They can become more like Christ!
That's what the umpire will cry as the team crosses home plate, for this game is safe when it's played by the Rule Book. And that's exactly what men need to know! They need to know that after they've shared their lives, they will not be "benched" through betrayal of trust or a lack of commitment to one another. There will be nothing to fear because "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). Therefore, as each player gives his best to God and each other, he will move out of isolation and into vital relationships. The team will know what it really means to be brothers to "one another."
And, they will grow in Christlikeness!
1. Exercise: Imagine a baseball diamond and sketch it out with first base being acceptance, second base being encouragement, third base being exhortation and home plate representing Christlikeness. Now, add to first base the word acquaintances, to second the word friends, and to third, the word brothers. Discuss how the words at each base relate to one another.
2. Now, discuss what must happen between the bases in order to make progress around the relational diamond. What must happen, for example, for relationships to move from being acquaintances to becoming friends? And so on.In your opinion, what will hinder progress around the bases? Why?