I thought being part of the men’s group at our church would be easy. Man, was I in for a big surprise!
As I continue this series on the foundations for God Buddies, I’ve been thrown some real “curveballs” (a baseball analogy) in my passion to help men become better men In retrospect though, many have helped me handle some very interesting and unexpected conversations.
“So, I have this friend who…”
Do you ever get suspicious when someone starts a conversation with the statement that he “has this friend who…”?
According to Urban Dictionary, an “I have this friend” story is a story where someone asks for advice about a problem that’s really about them, but they’re too embarrassed to say so. It’s similar to “I know this guy” stories where one person thinks up something funny, cool, gross, weird, or sexy, but essentially untrue, and tries to pass it off as true by framing it as if it happened to someone they supposedly know. “I have this friend” stories are about seeking advice about an embarrassing problem however, not about entertainment.
A “Friend’s” Affair
One interaction from a guy at church (let’s call him “Henry”) one Sunday after worship caught me off-guard.
I knew Henry for a while but he had not been involved much in our men’s group. He seemed a bit cautious as he approached me, looking around to see if anyone else was listening.
Henry asked me for some advice since he had this “friend” who was involved in an affair.
Of course, my immediate reaction was the “friend” was actually Henry who was doing the cheating. But thankfully, I was wrong!
Henry went on to explain that his long-time college friend who now lived in another part of the country, was secretly seeing someone that was not his wife and wasn’t sure what to do. His friend and wife were a close couple-friends of Henry and his spouse but I presume he had not mentioned it to his wife for fear of affecting their couple’s friendship.
So after a few minutes of hearing the full story, I suggested Henry not to abandon his friend but to firmly explain what he was doing is wrong. I suggested he pray for his friend and to keep that between the two of him and not share it with his spouse.
After this little exchange, I thought, “Well, I didn’t sign up for this!”
Other Unexpected Situations
Over the years, I’ve had guys reach out to me about a variety of topics like:
- Work-life balance
- Porn problem
- What to do with a family inheritance
- Being accused of having an emotional affair
- Medical issues
- Interpersonal problems with other guys in the group
As I continued deeper into the men’s group at our church, I realized these deeper conversations came about more frequently than I expected.
Over the years, I had read a lot of articles and books on the issues men face. But I needed something more to face the challenges of this new responsibility.
Equipped for Ministry to Men
You may have heard the phrase “God doesn’t call the equipped — he equips the called.” I’m not sure who coined this phrase but it has encouraged me since I was feeling very unequipped and inadequate.
Becoming a Stephen Minister
Years ago, I went through Stephen Ministry Training, which teaches principles and skills to provide high-quality, Christ-centered emotional and spiritual care to others in a variety of situations such as illness, grief after a death, a recent divorce, or after a job loss.
The training gave valuable insight into the thoughts, feelings, and actions of people who are hurting. It also trained in relational and caring skills.
The premise of Stephen Minister training is you are there to listen, support and praying as a Christ-centered caregiver but to let God be the “cure-giver”.
I will admit I’m more of a talker than a listener so I felt Stephen Minster training could help.
Learning to Listen
In his book, The Accountable Man, Tom L. Eiseman reminds us in the aptly-named chapter, The Primary Skill: Listening Well that we do not need to be experts in anything but down-to-earth humility that acknowledges God’s power and presence in the relationship between friends.
As Scripture reminds us, we are to be “quick to listen and slow to speak”.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,– James 1:10
Eisenman’s book provides three guidelines for good listening:
Silence your Story: Our tendency is to insert our own story upon hearing of your friend’s similar situation. When that urge comes, stop and count to ten to allow the Holy Spirit to guide whether your story is relevant or not. Often, if you are patient, you will be thankful you did not use your story.
Silence the “Fixer”: As guys, our tendency is to fix everything. It’s just the way we are wired. For many of us, our livelihood is based on solving problems at work; being analytical and decisive. We seem to have this innate urge to jump in and fix each other’s problems. The fixer mentality gets in the way of good listening though since we are already fashioning the solution before the story is fully explained.
Quite often, the other person, (especially our wives) just need us to listen and not try to fix the situation. The way for real change to take place is for your friend to figure out what the next step should be. Encourage them to rely on God for the solution rather than jumping in with your own fix.
Silence the preacher: Just as we are prone to fix or interject our own story, we may pull out our favorite Scripture verse and force some teaching into the conversation. Your ego may make you feel like you have the answer but it diminishes the friend’s situation.
Resist the urge to use any of your experiences, prejudices, judgment or ego-driven solutions. Just be present with them… as hard as that may be!
I’m still a work-in-process and fail often to listen well. I frequently need to remind myself to stop giving advice or trying to fix the situation as I can slip into those habits easily.
You have permission at any time to remind me that God gave me two ears and only one mouth for a reason!
Special Listening: Healing a Friend’s Confession:
One of the most unique listening roles we play for one another is to hear each other’s confession.
I once had a friend humbly admit that he lied about his struggle with porn. He was sincerely embarrassed and apologized to me. He was accountable, confessed and was forgiven.
Both Eisenman’s book and Stephen Minister training state that we are not the ones responsible for the life change needed in someone else. You can not fix your friend or fix his situation. You are not your friend’s savior, only God can shoulder that responsibility.
You can certainly pray for wisdom in the situation and be there with a listening ear but leave the “cure-giving” up to God.
The God Buddy Principle
You may be surprised by what you hear from or learn about your GB. But know that God brought you two together for a reason. He will work on both of you as you journey together because He promised to equip you with everything you need to minister to each other.
So be willing to accept the responsibilities of your God Buddy friendship. Learn how to improve your friendship skills. Then trust God with the outcomes…even when those situations are unexpected!