I've never seen that many guys from our church in a room at the same time - we had about 65 men come out this last Sunday for part 3 of '33 - The Series' from the 'Authentic Manhood' stable.
Why do I love it? Let me count the ways:
1.) Doing discipleship together
Did I mention there were 65 of us? The room was oozing godly potential. It's not that 2 men doing discipleship together isn't exciting, but the fact we're now having to squeeze into a space I (faithlessly) thought would be ample is such an encouragement, such a testimony to the movement in men's hearts to recognise that understanding Christ's mandate for our lives is an opportunity to be grabbed.
2.) Keeping it real
When we break out into discussion times, we're talking about real life. Not merely intellectual theology, but Monday morning theology. We're gaining a new appreciation for what it means for our relationships with our wives and children, co-workers and friends; how we respond to people, how we structure our lives...even how we think.
There's a palpable sense of our waking up and smelling the coffee - not just the hot, caffeine-filled stuff available in the breezeway before our sessions start, but the Holy Spirit's coffee of self-awareness. The course is holding a mirror to our faces and we're not always liking what we're seeing. The traits of "childish consumer" and "coward and critic", for example, had me recognising multiple times in my life when those things could be said of me.
God is dealing with us in a real and convicting way, and it was wise of a brother to pray at our first session that God would help us with the guilt that's going to be coming out of this course. Praise God that he doesn't leave us to wallow in guilt, but provides us with a path to redemption, a path to forgiveness through trusting in the death and resurrection of our Saviour.
What's also apparent is that we can - and many do - get too hard on themselves. Yes, we're hopeless sinners by our original nature, but as Christians we are also heirs of the Most High God! We've been redeemed by him, he is in us and he has given us the victory over sin and death through Christ and he is working in us. It's wonderful to have the opportunity to point that out, and to point to evidences of it in guys' lives. To be able to tell someone with gratitude that I can see God's work in them, and I can see their work for God, is a precious thing.
5.) Getting to know more guys
Sometimes the sheer number of folks at church can be daunting in terms of getting to know people in a meaningful way. Not just daunting pastorally, but daunting in terms of our shared responsibility to know and love each other. Not to be best buddies with everyone, but to make an effort to invest in the lives of people no matter whether we happen to know them already or have things in common outside of our shared faith.
One positive element of our discussion groups (which we mix up every week) is that I'm getting to know a wider range of my brothers here at First Baptist and I'm grateful for that opportunity.
6.) Getting to know guys better
These are not mere acquaintances though - these are my brothers, and as such it's of no real value to know everyone just well enough to say "Hi" but nothing more. If I'm going to love people - if we're going to love each other in a way that actually means something in the day to day, then we have to get to know each other better. That, of course, carries the inevitability of ickiness. When we get to know people well, we get to know the bits of their lives that they're not enjoying too much right now. Or that they're struggling with; areas that they need help with, or just to unburden about - to know that they're not the only ones struggling in that way.
Real relationships need real conversations, and even with groups that have so far been changed up every week, I've been part of some very real conversations that are forcing us to be honest with each other and honest with ourselves - hopefully with some far-reaching consequences.
7.) Guys being blessed by God
Well I know I've been blessed, so that's one. And I'm starting to have guys express an appreciation for the content of the course, and a gratitude to God for the opportunity to learn together. There's a sense of relief among some at an opportunity that many have not felt for a long time, if at all.
"We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing." (2 Thessalonians 1:3)