By Jennifer Taylor
You know the statistics: fewer men are going to church. And although the most urgent concern is helping those men meet Jesus, churches also face a second problem: if men aren’t attending church, they’re definitely not leading the church.
Even men who do attend may remain spiritually immature; many lack role models, biblical knowledge, and awareness of leadership expectations.
Three churches are creating and adapting programs to reverse these trends and build groups of men equipped for service as husbands, fathers, teachers, and even elders. From ornery middle school boys to retired business executives, these congregations disciple, mentor, and instruct men of all ages—not only to keep them in church, but to grow them into leaders.
At First Christian Church in Fort Myers, Florida, the letters “MOI” stand for “Men of Issachar,” a discipleship program for junior high and high school boys. But the acronym also means “Men of Influence”—the end goal of every moment in the ministry.
“We created MOI to develop spiritual men of influence,” say Mike Bauman and Mark Webb, FCC elders. “In 1 Chronicles, the Men of Issachar understood the times and knew what to do. We want to challenge the men of our church—from the very young to the most mature—to grow in their spiritual understanding and successfully navigate the world’s influences.”
Bauman and Webb developed the battle-themed program when Bauman’s son was a sixth-grader.
“We built it around warfare concepts not only because they appeal to young men, but because we are all in a spiritual battle,” Bauman says.
The theme expands to correspond with every aspect of the program; “comrades” participate in training phases with specific missions, enjoy “field maneuvers” (group activities) after each phase, and progress from basic training and infantry (sixth and seventh grade) to special forces and officer candidate status (high school).
“We originally developed MOI for middle-schoolers,” says Bauman. “But when the boys reached eighth grade they said, ‘What do you mean it’s over?’ So we expanded it!”
Each level includes Scrip-ture memorization, service activities, recitation of the “MOI Creed” (which encourages values like faith and purity), and honors ceremonies to reward boys for their accomplishments.
Despite this very intentional structure, Bauman and Webb are quick to emphasize the real purpose—and real value—of the program is the discipleship of each boy.
“Kids don’t have to start in sixth grade, or even the beginning of a training phase,” Webb says. “The goal is building long-term mentoring relationships. We don’t let curriculum get in the way of that.”
Don’t Separate the Men from the Boys
In addition to drawing teens, the program also offers opportunities for adult men to grow.
“Churches often compartmentalize into age groups,” Webb says. “That serves a purpose, but we’re interested in connecting men’s ministry to youth ministry, and involving adult men in the spiritual formation of young men. Instead of using men’s ministry to attract guys back to the church after they left as young adults, wouldn’t it be great to build a bridge and keep them from leaving in the first place?”
Officers may be 25 or 65. “The older men mentor the younger ones even as they’re all working to lead the kids,” says Webb. “It’s a really great progression.”
First Christian’s MOI program also inspired the “MOI Dads” who complete a parallel curriculum. FCC even set aside an “MOI House” on its campus for each group’s Sunday morning study times.
Although Bauman and Webb did not create the program specifically to train future elders, they believe any effort to build spiritual men is good for the life of the church.
“Whether they’re fathers, businessmen, church leaders, or all three, we need men with strong moral grounding, accountability, and spiritual understanding,” says Bauman.
Getting with the Program
Bauman and Webb make it easy for other churches to start an MOI program; their Web site (www.MOIHQ.com) features detailed information, resources, and even an “Officers Club” where leaders can share information and swap stories.
One of these “allied” churches is Hazel Dell Christian Church, Carmel, Indiana, where Ted Branam serves as “company commander” and volunteer leader of the MOI program for sixth- through eighth-grade boys.
“I’ve taught this age group for over 25 years, and I know these boys need a little direction,” Branam says with a smile. “MOI instills a discipline to study and memorize and also to participate in meaningful activities—plus the kids love earning reward points.”
Like the team at First Christian, Branam and his coleaders implemented the program to mold men of godly character who lead inside and outside of the congregational walls.
“The mentoring from adult men and the biblical training will help some of these guys be strong elders in the local church, and it will help all of them be better husbands and fathers,” Branam says. “Both are important.”
And he’s been especially surprised—and pleased—to see the boys relating in more mature, respectful ways to their female peers.
“Discerning right and wrong includes knowing how to treat young ladies,” Branam says. “The girls at church say the MOI boys are ‘cooler’ than the others, and I’ve had some moms thank us for the difference they see in their sons.”
Hazel Dell leads its MOI classes on Wednesday nights; 30 kids participate in the weekly sessions.
“Junior high boys would rather be wanted for murder than not wanted at all,” Branam laughs. “They crave attention, and they thrive with people who care about them and challenge them. Some of these boys have no father figure at home, and it’s been phenomenal to see their growth.”
Detect Your Elders
The “Joshua’s Men” program at Heritage Christian Church, Fayetteville, Georgia, has no combat missions or operations officers, and it focuses exclusively on adult men. But like the Men of Issachar, Joshua’s Men are challenged with diligent study, personal growth, and expectations of influential leadership.
Roy Roberson, teaching pastor at Heritage, adapted the program from a curriculum developed by John Maxwell.
“Greg Marksberry, our senior pastor, suggested using the program when Heritage launched as a new church plant 10 years ago,” Roberson says. “We needed a way to identify potential elders, establish criteria for leadership, and develop men for the task.”
The program augments, not replaces, the biblical qualifications for eldership. Participants commit to attend one evening session each month (they may miss no more than two in the year), read 12 books, meet with an accountability partner every other week, attend an off-site holiness and maturity retreat, and finish the year by sharing a 10-minute “sermon” on their key learnings.
“These strict requirements actually energize the guys,” Roberson says. “One of our recent graduates is a retired Army man who told me he’s proud of three things: becoming an Army Ranger, receiving his PhD from West Point, and graduating from Joshua’s Men.”
Roberson finds the men also appreciate frank discussions of holiness, appropriate moral boundaries, and God’s expectations for leaders.
“Men desperately want to know how to lead more completely,” he says. “And there is definitely a learning curve, especially regarding biblical eldership.”
Roberson, Marksberry, and other Heritage leaders teach the monthly Monday night sessions, which build on that month’s reading assignment.
Heritage graduates 18-20 men from the class each year, some who later become elders and others who participate in the class simply for their own growth.
“We focus on leadership in the home, in the church, and in the community,” Roberson says. “Not every Joshua’s Men graduate will lead as an elder, but every one will lead in the church.”
On the Levels (sidebar 1)
The Men of Issachar program uses training levels to provide comprehensive instruction to each boy. Each level corresponds to a grade in school.
Level 1: Basic Training (sixth grade)
Four nine-week sessions focus on basic spiritual disciplines, biblical examples of faith, and the Christian’s spiritual armor.
Level 2: Infantry (seventh grade)
Boys continue learning through training exercises, discussion, and hands-on application. Special “combat training” videos build interest and serve as object lessons.
Level 3: Special Forces
Each phase includes missions outside the classroom setting, maintenance of a Qualification Journal, and weekly “debriefing” with an officer.
Alpha Division (eighth grade):
Areas of focus include Christian character, local and foreign missions awareness, and spiritual warfare.
Bravo Division (ninth grade):
Students practice seven spiritual exercises related to the MOI creed and coordinate a service project.
Spec Ops (10th grade):
Expectations become even higher in this phase with peer accountability and missions based on MOI core values.
Level 4: Officer Candidate School
Year 1 (11th grade):
Students remaining in the MOI program become eligible for OCS in 11th grade; this year focuses on spiritual leadership principles.
Year 2 (12th grade):
The young men complete their MOI experience by serving as an officer in the sixth- and seventh-grade training levels, supplemented with ongoing development and mentoring from other leaders.
Buy the Book (sidebar 2)
Because so many helpful resources are available, Roy Roberson finds book selection one of the hardest parts of leading the Joshua’s Men ministry. Here is his reading list for the current class:
Disciples Are Made, Not Born, by Walter A. Henrichsen (Victor)
Disciplines of a Godly Man, by R. Kent Hughes (Crossway)
Tender Warrior, by Stu Weber (Multnomah)
The Complete Husband, by Lou Priolo (Calvary Press)
The Dad in the Mirror, by Patrick Morley and David Delk (Zondervan)
Improving Your Serve, by Charles Swindoll (Thomas Nelson)
Spiritual Leadership, by J. Oswald Sanders (Moody)
Leadership by the Book, by Ken Blanchard, Bill Hybels, and Phil Hodges (WaterBrook)
Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper (Crossway)
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis (HarperOne)
The Barbarian Way, by Erwin McManus (Thomas Nelson)
Jennifer Taylor is a freelance writer from Nashville, Tennessee and a contributing editor to CHRISTIAN STANDARD. Read her blog at https://christianstandard.com/WriteAboutNow.asp.