Why a Men’s Group?Five Reasons You Need a Men’s Group
Why a Men’s Group?
When: Thursday mornings. 1930 – 1949.
Where: The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford
Who: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and company
Why: To Change the World
What: Men’s Group
One of the most famous men’s groups in human history met once or twice a week, just outside of the University of Oxford. They called themselves “The Inklings.” J.R.R. Tolkien, a committed member, explained the name as a pun, meaning both “people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas” and “those who dabble in ink.” The group was predominantly comprised of world-class Christian authors. “What I owe to them all is incalculable,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote. “Only by [Lewis’s] support and friendship did I ever struggle to the end of The Lord of the Rings.” 1Schakel, Peter. “Inklings”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 May. 2016, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Inklings. Accessed 9 January 2024.
As a group, they had fun together. One of their favorite pastimes included reading notoriously bad literature aloud while seeing who could keep a straight face. But they were also deadly serious men. Warren Lewis (C.S. Lewis’ brother) recalled, “We were no mutual admiration society: praise for good work was unstinted, but censure for bad work—or even not-so-good work—was often brutally frank.” 2Ibid.
As a group, members of the Inklings met each other where they were at…but they never stayed there. The Inklings was a group of men committed to becoming saints together.
The Inklings included some of the most prolific humans of the 20th century. As professionals, they had mountains of responsibility. Why, you might ask, would such accomplished men get together so regularly to support each other? At FORGE, we like to think that Tolkien, Lewis, and other members of the Inklings understood the value of a men’s group. You should, too. In this article, we give you five reasons why.
Reason #1: Jesus Led a Men’s Group
The basic project of the Christian life is the imitation of Christ. The Lord Himself asked us to: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). Saint Paul echoed the command, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Since our task as Christians is to imitate Christ, it seems particularly noteworthy that Christ spent much of his time meeting regularly with the same group of people: the apostles. From meals to travels to miracles, much of the public life of Christ was spent in regular communication with a close group of recurring friends. If Christ did it, then is seems like we should too.
Christians have been prioritizing intentional communities as long as there have been Christians. St. Luke wrote about the first Christians, “[T]hey devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).” Here Paul makes it clear that “fellowship” was among the foremost activities in the lives of early Christians.
Why prioritize fellowship and community? Well, for Christians, the imperative is clear. Christ Himself said that He is present whenever Christians gather: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Further, Christianity aside, study after study has shown that people are simply happier when they participate in small group communities. Early Christians realized what contemporary experience bears out: intentional community is one of the key ingredients for a fulfilling life!
Reason #2: You’ll Be a Better Father (or future father)
At FORGE, we say that the best of dads don’t raise their kids alone. Rather, they raise their kids amongst a community of like-minded men. The importance of this style of parenting becomes more important as time goes on. Think about it. As a child, you probably took your parent’s advice as indisputable truth. You never questioned it. But when you became a teenager, you probably tested things.
During adolescence children typically look around for verification of the advice they previously received without question. Your kids will do the same. For this reason, the best fathers intentionally plant other men in their kids’ lives to stand as witnesses for the lessons that need to be reinforced. To the end, it’s not just a dad who raises his son; it is a community of dads that collectively raise sons. The best fathers have other men in their lives who can reinforce the lessons they’re trying to teach their kids.
Further, being a father is difficult. Fathers need other fathers to speak to. No manual nor mentor can replace the value of a good friend, someone to process the day-in, day-out complexities of being a dad in today’s world.
In his book, “The Intentional Father,” John Tyson emphasizes the value of men’s groups. According to Tyson’s research with Barna Research Group, “Fewer than half of US fathers have a close friend who is also fathering a son.”3Jon Tyson, “The Intentional Father,” (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI; 2021), 86-87. In other words, less than half of U.S. dads have a close friend who is also a dad. This is problematic, because dads who do have a close father friend are on average twice as confident in their parenting! For Tyson, the upshot is clear: Fathers who prioritize friendships with other fathers become better fathers themselves.
So long as things stay within reason, you are not stealing time from your kids when you prioritize male friendships. On the contrary, an investment in friendship is an investment in fatherhood.
Reason #3: You’ll Be a Better Husband (or future husband)
Good men’s groups meet as frequently as once each week or as infrequently as once per month. If meeting that regularly takes time away from your marriage, why do it? The reality is that men who neglect male friendships make weak husbands. A man’s wife can and should be his best friend, but she should not be his only friend. In fact, smart wives encourage their husbands to create space for intentional relationships with other men.
Psychologist Michael Ellenberg has spent much of his career studying the value of men’s groups. Ellenberg notes that relationships take time for men – the average American male takes longer to develop a meaningful friendship than the average female. Why? The answer is complex, and it may have something to do with the male psyche which is biologically hardwired to do things like protect, show strength, and detect threats. This article is not the place to detail the cause. Nevertheless, the reality for many men is that they struggle to generate intimate relationships.4Cf. Jill Smuttie. “Why Friendships Among Men Are So Important.” Greater Good Magazine: Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life. March 28th, 2023. Carving out intentional time like a men’s group counteracts this deficiency and strengthens men.
In response to their friendship struggle, many men fall into a trap – they give up on male friendships and focus on the women in their life. Dr. Ellenberg says, “Men put too many of their (shall we say) ‘emotional eggs’ in a woman’s basket.” 5 Ibid. Many American men today wake up in their fifties after their kids have left the house, with only one real friend – their spouse. That’s a problem. Now, don’t misunderstand the point. Your spouse should indeed be your best friend, but they should not be your only one! No wife, and, in fact, no woman period, can give a man all the emotional support that he needs to flourish as a man. A man should regularly invest in his relationships with other men. In the end, his wife will benefit from having a stronger husband. It’s worth the time!
Reason #4: You’ll Be Happier (when most people are lonely)
In 2021, the Survey Center on American Life released data that Americans of this generation have fewer meaningful relationships than previous generations. “This friendship recession is particularly bad for men. The percentage of men with at least six close friends fell by half since 1990, from 55 percent to 27 percent. The study also found the percentage of men without any close friends jumped from 3 percent to 15 percent, a fivefold increase. Single men fare the worst. One in five American men who are unmarried and not in a romantic relationship report not having any close friends.” 6Daniel A. Cox. “American Men Suffer a Friendship Recession.” Survey Center on American Life. July 6th, 2021. https://www.americansurveycenter.org/commentary/american-men-suffer-a-friendship-recession/
The drop in friendship has hurt men. From Aristotle to the present day, wise men agree that people are generally happier, more interesting, and more fulfilled when they have friends. Meaningful friendships have been shown to positively impact everything from life expectancy to job success, and even the ability to avoid addiction. 7See, for example, Vanouver professor Bruce Alexander’s groundbreaking 1970s work on friendship, well-being, health and addiction. Don’t be part of the statistics – take time to invest in friendship!
Reason #5: You’ll Be A More Interesting Person
Plato’s school of philosophy famously developed the “Socratic method,” a style of learning through group dialogue. That method has been used for millennia. In fact, it’s still the go-to method of instruction in graduate schools and law schools throughout the Western world. The fact is – adult humans learn best in conversation. If you, a human adult, want to learn something, it’s best to talk about it, intentionally, with a group of similarly motivated people.
This is particularly true for men. Jason Lange, founder of Evolutionary Men, argues, “The masculine grows most quickly and powerfully through challenge and feedback. This is a truth that is crystal clear in sporting culture, where coaches, our teammates, and rival teams constantly provide the information and push to make us better.” 8Jason Lange. “Five Reasons You Should Join a Men’s Group NOW.” Evolutionary Men. Five Reasons You Should Join a Men’s Group NOW – Evolutionary Men Accessed January 10th, 2024. Indeed, iron sharpen iron. Want to be a great man? Put yourself in regular contact with other great men!
Participating in a small group will make you a better husband and father, holier, happier, and more interesting person. Those are all great things! But I’ll conclude this article with an observation from my personal experience. My own small group helps me stay focused on what matters the most: my family. Many of the men who engage in FORGE content and/or participate in FORGE small groups are men like the men of the Inklings. That is, they are professionally driven men who make notable worldly accomplishments. I like that. I hope FORGE men continue to do great things, but I hope they also stay focused on the most important parts of life. Speaking from my personal experience, a good men’s group does exactly that. Over the past 10 years, I have had the pleasure to lead 3-4 men’s small groups. I’ll echo JRR Tolkien that, without the encouragement of the men in those groups, I may not have endured in my faith thus far.
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- 1Schakel, Peter. “Inklings”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 May. 2016, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Inklings. Accessed 9 January 2024.
- 3Jon Tyson, “The Intentional Father,” (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI; 2021), 86-87.
- 4Cf. Jill Smuttie. “Why Friendships Among Men Are So Important.” Greater Good Magazine: Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life. March 28th, 2023.
- 6Daniel A. Cox. “American Men Suffer a Friendship Recession.” Survey Center on American Life. July 6th, 2021. https://www.americansurveycenter.org/commentary/american-men-suffer-a-friendship-recession/
- 7See, for example, Vanouver professor Bruce Alexander’s groundbreaking 1970s work on friendship, well-being, health and addiction.
- 8Jason Lange. “Five Reasons You Should Join a Men’s Group NOW.” Evolutionary Men. Five Reasons You Should Join a Men’s Group NOW – Evolutionary Men Accessed January 10th, 2024.