Hammer shoeHave you ever seen a woman trying to drive a nail without a hammer? She will whip off her shoe and begin whacking away with the heel. Sometimes this method works – but more often than not it results in bent nails, holey walls and broken soles.

Can you drive a nail with a shoe? Absolutely. But if you really want to do it right you need a tool that’s better suited for the job.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been pointing out the many ways our modern “professorial” churches are the not the ideal tool for disciple making.

Churches are very good at gathering people for worship. They’re quite effective at teaching a crowd in an efficient manner. Some churches are doing a great job pushing their people into mission. And they are prodigious fund-raisers for various worthy causes.

However, the local church as we know it is not so effective when it comes to disciple making. Very few churches offer the kind of personal coaching that transforms men, for the reasons I explained one and two weeks ago on my blog.

So I’ve been asking the obvious question: If the current church is not getting this work done, can we tweak the existing model? Many congregations have tried, offering a panoply of programs and incentives to get passive pew-sitters involved. But most of these efforts fail.

So this brings me to the next obvious question: Should we organize Christians in an entirely different way so that disciple making becomes the norm? Put another way: is it possible to design a church where coaching is the primary function – not merely an add-on that relatively few people participate in?

I believe we can – and we must.

Before we go on I must make one very clear, emphatic point in all caps: BY EXPLORING ALTERNATIVES, I AM NOT CALLING FOR THE ELIMINATION OF THE EXISTING MODEL OF CHURCH!!! To the contrary, we should redouble our efforts to strengthen existing congregations and plant new ones.

But alongside the existing model we must create alternative forms of church that are more effective at fulfilling the Great Commission – particularly among men.

So I’d like to toss out an idea that seems radical on its face, but which I believe could lead to a lot more disciple-making. I call it “Men’s League.” I originally envisioned it as a men’s ministry model, but I have come to believe it would be an ideal church planting model.

Men’s League, as the name implies, is focused on guys. It delivers the three things Jesus gave his men: great teaching, a structure in which to grow, and personal coaching. Men’s League springs from the idea that if you change men, you change the world – and that the most effective ministry to women and children is a world filled with transformed men. Men’s League is built around a sports metaphor, since guys “get” sports.

Men’s League is not built around a weekly worship service. It’s invitational rather than attractional. Here’s how it would be organized:

Year 1.037 Year One

  1. Unlike most church plants, there would be no public worship service. Men’s League begins with just three men who spend a year doing life together. These men would represent the inner circle of Jesus: James, the mind; Peter, the will; and John, the emotions. You need a thinker, a doer and a lover at the foundation of the league. These are not seminarians or speakers – just mature men (Heb. 6:1-2) who want to be spiritual fathers (1 Cor. 4:15) who make disciples. (Matt. 28:19). These men would be called COMMISSIONERS.
  2. These three men meet regularly to get to know one another, to pray and read the scriptures together, and to sharpen one another. This meeting would be their weekly “church.”
  3. The men would also get their families together for cookouts, mission service, etc. It’s a year of bonding and mutual submission, learning to live and work as a team.
  4. The three commissioners spend the first year reaching out to other men who might be interested in joining the league. Over the course of year one they’ll meet with dozens of men to gauge their faith and gifting. They pray intently that God leads them to the men upon whom the League will be built.

Year 2.040Year Two

  1. The three commissioners choose 20-25 men to invite to a discipleship boot camp weekend. It’s a boot camp in the truest sense: built not around singing and sermons, but around challenges and ordeals. The leaders closely observe the men and choose 12 they want to disciple for the next year.
  2. The Commissioners work with their 12 men over the course of year two, putting them thorough a series of tests and challenges. They are paired based on gifting and compatibility.
  3. At the end of year two you’ve hopefully got at least ten men left. These men are designated “coaches.”

Year Three

  1. Each pair of coaches must invite another 20-25 men to a boot camp weekend. That should draw a crowd of over 100 men to this camp.
  2. The coaches put these newbies through the same challenges and ordeals they faced the year before.
  3. Each pair of coaches chooses 12 men to disciple for the next year. At this point the league has up to 84 men.
  4. year 3.042The coaches work with their men, putting them through the same lessons and challenges they themselves went through the year before.
  5. The new men are paired according to gifting and compatibility.
  6. At the end of year three you have anywhere from 50 to 84 men under active discipleship. You have built a framework of relationships that provides at least 2 coaches and one companion for each man in the church.
  7. You can periodically bring in new men to “fill holes” by putting them through the same ordeals and challenges.

By year four you’ve laid the same foundation Jesus did. You have the three, the twelve and the seventy-two. You’ve identified and called your men. You’ve organized them into teams. They have leadership. They have friends, with whom they’ve struggled and persevered. Now you simply pray and wait for the Spirit to come, as it did at Pentecost. Who knows what God will do?

And that’s your church. Eighty-four men following God as a team.

Now, on to your questions:

Q: Is this a church? It looks like a men’s ministry program to me!

A: It is both. It’s modeled after Luke 6, 8 and 10. I’m following Jesus’ structural blueprint as closely as I can in a modern context.

Q: Can men participate in this and still attend church services on Sunday?

A: Yes. If a guy likes attending worship services and has the time, I’d encourage him to keep going to church. However, I would ask him to see this new group as his “church.”

Q: Will this church ever offer a weekly public worship service?

A: No. However, I would recommend that all 84 men and their families gather once a month for “The Lord’s Supper.” All the men, women and children gather in a rented space for a potluck feast (just as the disciples did in Acts 2), followed by testimonies and reports from the men on what God is doing in their teams. Think of the impact this will have on women and children – seeing a steady parade of men stepping forward to speak of what God is doing in their midst!

As the Supper draws to a close, individuals could share prayer needs, financial needs, etc. The body would minister to one another.

Q: What about women? How will they be discipled?

A: However they want. Men have controlled women far too long. Under this model the women are free to pursue Christ in whatever way they choose. Here are two ideas:

  • They are free to continue “going to church” for their spiritual nourishment.
  • They can organize themselves in small groups, along the same lines as their husbands for study, prayer and service.

The most powerful witness to these women will be the transformation they see in their husbands’ lives. Many women long for their husbands to become spiritual leaders, and I think we’ll see that.

Q: What about single women?

A: Single women are welcome to attend the monthly Lord’s Suppers and to meet with the women of the league.

Q: What about children?

A: Men’s League would not start a children’s ministry program. We believe the most powerful witness to children is seeing their parents (particularly their fathers) walking closely with Jesus.

Parents who want to take their children to traditional Sunday schools are welcome to do so. However, the onus remains on the men to disciple their own children.

Q: Would you need a church building?

No. Just rent a space once a month. You could even rent a church building on Sunday night.

Q: How about finances?

A: Men’s League would teach tithing: that 10% belongs to God. However, the League would ask for just 3%. The other 7% of income should be donated to other ministry endeavors as the Lord leads the individual to do so.

The 3% would pay for the rented space, food, recruiting, and allow the three commissioners to earn some money for their time commitment.

Q: Would there be full-time paid clergy?

A: Possibly, but Men’s League is ideally a bi-vocational ministry. The commissioners, who function as the lead pastors, do not have to prepare sermons or manage staff, so they will have time to work.

Q: How would you teach?

A: There would be no sermons per se. Weekly teaching would come via ordeals and challenges in the first year. In subsequent years the groups would transition to a topical discussion, question-answer format. The emphasis would be on mutual support – hearing from God by hearing from one another.

Q: When would the coaches meet with their teams?

A: Whenever they want. It could be Sunday morning, or any other time that’s convenient for all. The meetings should be weekly, and mandatory. Men who simply don’t show up should be kicked out (Luke 9:57-62).

Q: How would you recruit? You don’t have a weekly worship service to attract people.

A: Word of mouth. Craigslist. Striking up conversations. It’s shoe-leather evangelism. Just ask a guy if he’s up for an adventure, and let the Spirit take the conversation from there.

Q: How would you do evangelism? How do you assimilate visitors and newcomers?

A: Here’s where Men’s League is very different. Most Christian ministries have an “empty chair” philosophy: we believe in unlimited growth, and we can always pull up one more chair. But this philosophy damages men. Just as Jesus and Paul carefully chose their associates, today’s men want to be noticed, selected and called into a group. They want to be given a place and a sacred role. You simply can’t achieve this with an open, welcome-all-comers style group.

Q: How does the league grow past 84 men?

A: Easy. Just start a new league. Although each League is limited to 84 men and their families, there’s no limit on the number of leagues you can form.

Q: Would this model compete with the existing church?

A: Not at all. In fact, existing churches may want to launch leagues of their own, for the men who are looking for personal coaching, or those who have grown tired of churchgoing.

Q: Would there be an online component?

A: I’d recommend it. Keep your teams in contact by using a service such as The City.

OK, that’s enough for now. If this article has sparked your curiosity, visit our affiliated site, www.mensleague.org. Review the concept and take the video tour. On that site I present Men’s League as a men’s ministry model within an existing church, but it’s easy to imagine how it could become a church planting model.

In my next post, I’ll show you the many advantages the League approach can bring to church planting.