"Panera Men"

Panera Bread. One of several in Colorado Springs—among the nearly 2,000 of these bakery-cafes in 45 states and in Ontario Canada. Thursday mornings, 7 to 8 o'clock. That’s when I connect with a group of guys I call the "Panera men." I'm convinced pastors, ministry leaders, "everyday Christians" must make meeting with such a small group a priority. Let me illustrate why it's a priority for me. 

A quick story will help paint a picture of these guys' hearts, and, again, how they encourage my heart. Last Thursday a couple of police cars showed up to handle a situation involving a homeless person. The officers were gentle, respectful, and quickly got the matter under control. Charles caught one officer's eye and called him over to our table.

“Can we pray for you?” Charles asked. The officer smiled, said that'd be fine and he appreciated it, but added he wouldn’t be joining in because he's “not a praying man.” We prayed, he thanked us, then he returned to the other officers.

Charles told us that he sensed a need to pray for the officer—just days before the verdict came in on the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., with a response that’s had a rippling effect felt from coast to coast—including Colorado Springs. 

Indeed, we have a saying in our group—we want to be men of God who "lead with our faith." Through the years we’ve had a number of people stop by our regular spot and thank us for our example, affirm us for our faith, and encourage us to keep living what we believe.

I’d love for you to sit in on this group, which a friend and I started about five years back to “spur one another on” in Christ (see Hebrews 10:24-25). Through the years we've grown deeper in our relationships with God and one another. I’ve seen this “growing deeper” especially as we’ve worked our way through several books of the Bible, including John, Acts, and presently Isaiah.

Our aim is to get into God’s Word, get God’s Word into us, live it out, encourage others to do the same.

In fact, a ministry highlight for me in November was heading up to Ken's cabin—he's one of the men in our group—for a mini-retreat. Amid the food and the fun, we enjoyed deep fellowship around God’s Word. On Friday evening we processed the film Beware of Christians, in which four young men process their own faith as they take an international trip. A key challenge in the movie comes in response to one of their "man-on-the-street" questions: “What’s the difference between Christians and non-Christians?” The answer: “Nothing, really. It’s just that Christians are busier on Sundays.”

Then on Saturday we began the day with a good hour in the Word, talking through four key reasons God says “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). One of our men, a Vietnam vet, even choked back tears as he freshly processed events from decades ago.

“Our Bible study sessions are for one hour a week,” Charles said to me afterward. “So when six of us spent a day and overnight in fellowship, I got to know each man much deeper. From the meals, movies, devotional, Scrabble games, hike, and conversations, we had a great time! I felt the Holy Spirit with us.”

I’m telling you about this for a couple reasons. First, this is a ministry not merely “through” but “to” me—they challenge me to "lead with my faith." These men play more of a role in my life and ministry than they may know.

The second reason I’m writing is to encourage you to find a group like this for 2015—if you're not in one already. I once heard Howard Hendricks say that a person without such a group “is an accident on its way to happen.” 

Are you in such a group? If so, how does it encourage your heart? If not, what might be an appropriate first step in getting going in the new year?

Dean Ridings is a represnetative with Navigator Church Ministries. If he could be of any support or encouragement to you, you may contact him here