“Humans are social beings. People need people. We know this to be true, but for some reason adult males seem to struggle with this, other than in their role as father or spouse. Because of numerous factors, and some of our own choices, men often find themselves feeling disconnected from others, yet having a desire for a connection or community. Men frequently miss out on important, collective, “relational” relationships that are only possible with other men of their same age and stage; thereby not receiving the benefits of strong relationships which can meet their social needs.
“Loneliness has been linked to many different health issues,” said Meredith Williamson, PhD, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “It has been associated with depression, and depression has corresponding risks of high blood pressure, obesity and alcohol and drug abuse.”
Because of modern man’s fast-paced, on the go lifestyle—isolation, anxiety, shame, and loneliness creep into even the most sincere, conscientious individuals, often not being exposed until a time of internal or external crisis. Most men admit that during periods of ease and comfort they didn’t grow or improve, and in supportive community they learn faster than any classroom.
Small groups of men in West Houston started getting together in 2011 and have now banded together as an association for the purpose of drawing nearer to Jesus Christ through authentic, weekly discipleship.
Drawing nearer to Jesus Christ through authentic, weekly discipleship.
Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort. When men who yearned for connectedness joined a few other men to meet weekly they were forced to change, stretch, and adapt. Many avoided the yearning because it took time, dedication, and vulnerability; however the secret to their growth as a man was found in the very thing they avoided. In the exposure, humility, and brokenness required through meeting this way over the long term, many have experienced progress they never thought possible.
Jersey Dunn once said, “Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.” Small group fellowship is one of the best ways to step up and think, act, and discuss issues in a unique way, but vital to all aspects of life. By increasing the scope of one’s personal faith journey, these safe communities foster development of character, and give a forum to talk about serious life questions. It’s a place where men can come safely, and say what is heavy on their hearts.
“Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.”
~ Jersey Dunn
These groups also act as an important support network when its members lovingly uplift one another while dealing with crisis situations. People have problems, such as: marital, spiritual, economic, health issues, doubt, and other familial challenges felt by men of all ages. Each group bonds together in their own way over a period of time, but the discomfort or heartache of one brother gives the others an opportunity to love and support in a way not possible in casual, non-threatening acquaintances. This type of activity is but one area of how the relationships escalate. Another priority is purely fun recreation and fellowship.
“Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love: These are complex and hard-earned capacities.” ~ Dutch psychiatrist and research scientist Bessel van der Kolk
FinD small groups are more than just Bible studies or sharing our journeys. They provide a safe place for guys to have some relaxed time away from the grind, by having fun! Social activities give men time to build rapport, trust, and confidence in these newfound friendships. Each group shares recreational time together outside of their small group settings a few times a year – often some of the best growth times for the men involved. This is where these men can laugh, tell their own stories, and dig deeper into the strengths of personality offered by each individual. Their humanity and dignity is celebrated in a haven not influenced by class, occupation, age, neighborhood or any particular socio-economic background. The diversity of the members is glued together by their shared faith and the kindness of our God to bring unity and love to men who seek it and need it.
“The diversity of the members is glued together by their shared faith and the kindness our God to bring unity and love to men who seek it and need it.”
This strange alchemy of a brotherhood of equals, interwoven by different strands of each life story, pulled together by the Holy Spirit’s power, produces a sum much more powerful than its parts; proving in each group that existing individually, alone, is not an optimal solution to living. Once these groups form and coalesce, one can understand the loyalty, dedication, and joy they engender.
Not surprisingly, there are times when some men in the group stumble, or fall away from the fellowship. Circumstances can change, but their brothers lovingly and gently pursue them. If a man cannot maintain his commitment to regular attendance, he will not enjoy the consistent benefits of meeting. That’s why “drifting” is so rare in these small groups. Aside from men moving away to other cities, attrition has been less than 10% since the FinD was formed in 2012. In one instance, however, two different groups who both started out smaller in size, had dwindled down to a less than ideal group size. The Holy Spirit nudged these two groups to study and consider the goal of merging into one, larger, combined group. This came at a high price because both groups would essentially have to start over.
After a tremendous amount of prayer, thinking, discussion, and a unanimous vote by both sides, the groups agreed to come together. It proved to be a tremendous blessing. It was an experience that tested their faith, opened their hearts, and broadened their perspectives. They realized through this trial and the weakness of both groups, that our God works through adversity and will edify those who deliberately seek Him. This was such a great example of restorative grace and the unifying power found in small groups.
Finally, as in any life story, the stages of one’s journey require different means of support. At this time, the FinD has decided to formalize as a 501 (c)(3) organization and receive consistent, vital sustenance in order to further grow. So far, the FinD has been loosely organized and privately funded by its director who continues to coordinate all activities where necessary, and helps recruit and start new groups. But he needs more help due to the phenomenal expansion of the organization; and it’s time for the FinD to operate more independently and under the direction of a Board.
I decided to contribute to the FinD because this is such a proven formula to improve men’s lives in West Houston, an area that has endured so much turmoil since 2015! Small groups allow men a much needed outlet to comfort loneliness, find support, and grow in their spiritual maturity, while gaining allies and having fun with new friends. If the word can get out further….many more groups can form eventually, and more lives can be changed in a positive way through fellowship in Jesus Christ and learning more from his Word. I know this is possible.
“If the word can get out further….many more groups can form eventually, and more lives can be changed in a positive way through fellowship in Jesus Christ and learning more from his Word.”
Sometimes it takes others to help us see. As a unit, each week men study God, unified by His Spirit in truth, and with regular attendance and a willing heart, I’ve seen men be transformed. This usually cannot be done alone by the force of one’s own will, but through cooperation, and God’s Holy Spirit. The FinD helps equip men to study, seek, pray, disciple, and assist each other in worshipping this way.
In this fellowship, friendships are formed that are so vital and valuable that they are hard to describe; but having men to listen, share our pain, speak truth into difficulty, and help bind up our wounds with a warm and tender hand, creates a safe space where this love can happen. These positive changes were something that many of the men never knew, and hadn’t planned on.
Friendships are formed in small groups over time with a nobility and sincerity of love not found in many other relationships these men have. They are together through joys and sorrow, often unable to increase joy, or decrease sorrow – but they enable each other to see similarities and understand each situation in unity and with attentive care.
Ultimately, all of this happens because the groups humbly put Jesus at the center of each week’s agenda; the guide, leader, energy, focus, and inspiration for all the FinD small groups. Jesus is our older brother and the best, most faithful member of each group. He comes with us every week, and he will see us through to the end.