A suggested strategy for deepening manly fellowship.
He is a Christian of many years standing with huge talents in various areas. He has a high-flying job in local government. He attends an evangelical church. I met up with him not long ago. The conversation jogged along happily until…
‘How’s church?’ I asked. He is usually an upbeat kind of character so I was expecting a fairly positive reply. But that is what I did not get. The response from my friend was that basically he was struggling. ‘There’s simply no depth of fellowship among the men there. The preaching is sound, but the pastor is always in his study and the kinds of issues I face with my job are simply not addressed either from the pulpit or in personal conversation.’
Life’s challenges for my friend were deep and complicated while church seemed superficial and somewhat trite.
A possible solution
I suspect that this is the situation for quite a few men in evangelical churches. They don’t want to rock the boat, but they are in need. What are they to do?
One way of tackling this superficiality among male Christians is the encouragement of men’s prayer triplets or PTs. The idea is simple; a group of three (or not more than four) men get together outside the normal meetings of the church in order to chat, share what is going on in their lives and pray together for one another.
Different groups can do it in different ways. Some get together briefly before work in the morning once a week just to pray. Some meet up once a month on a Saturday morning for breakfast, with a strict finishing time of 9.00 am, so that they don’t abandon their wives with the kids for too long. Others get together over a curry on a week-day evening regularly and make a night of it. Retired guys can make it a week-day morning or afternoon and can include those who are unemployed who need spiritual support. It is not an opportunity to complain about your church. The main thing is to foster friendship which leads into supportive prayer.
How to take off
Usually PTs take time to really get going. It is a generalisation but women seem better at forming friendships and it takes men some time to overcome their guardedness with one another. So if you embark on a PT don’t expect it to take off immediately. A group of men usually need a longer runway to get airborne. You have to work at it and not give up.
PTs can’t be forced into existence. Pastors might feel that to join a PT is just what one of the men in their congregation needs. But you can’t push him into one if he doesn’t want to get involved. PTs will not suit all personalities. But the offer can be made. PTs have to be voluntary.
Supporting each other
A prayer triplet might provide the guys with an opportunity to spur one another on with respect to each one’s personal walk with the Lord. ‘How are your daily Bible readings going?’ ‘Let’s set some things to pray for each day and promise to do it.’
Closer fellowship can answer the feeling some men experience of facing troubles alone. They want a man friend to talk to. Single men may need a friend to bounce ideas off. Sometimes married men want to protect their wives from worrying about a big problem so don’t want to share the difficulty with them; but they need someone to talk to about their anxieties and to pray with about how they are thinking of handling the problem. Sometimes business takes men away from their families and there can be all kinds of temptations alone for a short stay in a foreign hotel. PTs can function as accountability groups for men for such situations. They have given their prayer partners permission to ask them on their return about late night TV and their use of the internet while they were away.
This kind of male prayer support group was something which even the Lord Jesus seemed to have around him. There were the twelve disciples. But you remember that within that twelve there are indications that Christ was especially close to three of the men — Peter, James and John. They were allowed to enter the house with him when he raised Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5.37). They were with him at the transfiguration (Mark 9.2). And it was them Jesus turned to, seeking that they watch and pray with him, in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14.33). Sadly, they let him down at that point, but the very fact that he looked for their help speaks of the advantages of friendship.
What’s it like?
What does being part of a men’s prayer triplet look like in practice. First, here are the responses of Hugh who has been involved in a PT for many years.
EN: How often do you meet?
Hugh: We are a bunch of guys in our 30s. We meet once a month.
EN: How long has your prayer triplet been going?
Hugh: Since 1996 in one form or another.
EN: What routine does the get together usually follow?
Hugh: Food, then chat, then prayer is the preferred format. Although, sometimes we ditch the food if that will make the difference (time constraint) between meeting and not meeting. For the chat, we each take time to talk about how life is, current temptations, any matters of agreed accountability, e.g. prayer happening or not, sexual purity, praying for and using opportunities to chat about Christ with friends, neighbours and colleagues, etc., how God is speaking to us through the Bible, current opportunities for ministry.
EN: Where do you meet?
Hugh: We take turns around each other’s homes.
EN: What have been the most helpful things which have come out of it for you?
Hugh: Spiritual friendships where grace is experienced in honest disclosure, compassion and practical encouragement and care consistently over time. Quality interactions with PT friends outside of our PT meetings, that don’t take half an hour to warm up!
Dave is involved in another PT which has not been going quite so long. This was his take on PTs.
‘I am in a triplet with Andy and Jon. They invited me to join them about five years ago when the third guy moved away. It has been helpful that all three of us have wives, kids of similar ages and all work in similar types of job. We are at approximately the same age and stage of life. The commonality between us helped at the start, and it still does. That’s not to say that prayer triplets with totally different men in are doomed to failure, but it has certainly helped us to bond well.
‘Our shared experiences have taught us a couple of specific things about making PTs work in the long term.
1) If you are truly able to share your inner thoughts and concerns (i.e. wear your heart on your sleeve), it enables you to build a proper closeness with each other. It’s often hard for men to do this, but this is something that we should generally be striving for in our relationships with men in the church.
2) Andy had been in three triplets before our one and they all eventually broke up. Andy’s view was that they all ceased due to either (a) different personalities that didn’t properly gel together or (b) issues with commitment and time scheduling.
‘In summary, to make a prayer triplet really work, it takes determination to meet regularly; an amount of wisdom with regard to who you join up with; and a willingness to commit to the long term in order to see fruit.
‘I would highly recommend prayer triplets. It’s a real encouragement to meet regularly with a couple of guys who you already know to some extent, with whom you have a rapport, and who struggle with the usual burdens of sin, hard work, materialism, discipleship, devotional dedication, desire to witness to others, and other things common in the lives of Christian men.
‘Something we started doing recently was to build a prayer diary using the Google Docs online tool. This allows us to share one spreadsheet between the three of us into which we put our prayer items, including answers, updates and what we call the ‘ATP’ status! (I will let you guess what that stands for.) Other than allowing us to recall what we have prayed for in previous meetings, it is quite an encouragement to see ‘ATP’ listed against many of them.
‘Spiritually, the PT has helped me lift myself from several periods of spiritual darkness, feelings of regret, periods of low assurance. The PT also ensures that my prayer life is not too inward looking, and has helped me develop better habits at (a) praying regularly, (b) praying out loud in front of others.’
So, if you require a greater depth of fellowship as you face the challenges of your Christian life, PTs might be something to consider.