Editor’s note: Nate Larkin is the founder of the Samson Society, a fellowship of Christian men with groups that meet virtually and in-person across the globe. Many men (but not all) first come to the Samson Society from a place of brokenness, addiction, or pain. But no matter how they arrive, all that attend recognize “the dangers of isolation and are determined to escape them.” In our present moment, most of us are being asked to practice social distancing. But social distancing does not mean isolation. If you need men to walk beside you in this difficult time — whether you’re struggling with temptation in isolation or just looking for authentic friendship with other men — you can learn more about virtual Samson Society meetings at SamsonSociety.com. Enjoy today’s excerpt from Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood where Nate outlines how this unique men’s group first began.
The Adventure Begins
The very first official meeting of the Samson Society convened on Monday evening, February 16, 2004, in the Women’s Parlor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee. It was a little weird at first.
“The Women’s Parlor?” each guy had asked when I invited him. “Our church has a Women’s Parlor?”
“Yep. They showed it to me. It’s upstairs in the administrative wing, down the hall from the boardroom. We’ll meet there at seven.”
“But why there?”
“I don’t know. Dr. McCurdy recommended it because it’s quiet and private, I guess. And the boardroom is already being used.”
As thirteen of us sat tentatively on rocking chairs and flowered sofas, surrounded by lace and needlepoint, I could sense the restraining presence of femininity in the room. The very air, redolent with potpourri, admonished us in dulcet tones, “Be nice.” But we were not there to be nice. We were there to be real.
I distributed copies of the proposed Samson Society charter, a onepage document that I had been working on with Bruce McCurdy, director of the church’s counseling ministry.
“Before we get started,” I said, “I’d like to propose a protocol for this meeting, a simple way of taking turns that will also help us learn each other’s names. It goes like this: If you want to say something, begin by stating your first name, like this—‘I’m Nate.’ When the rest of the room recognizes you by name (‘Hi, Nate’), the floor is yours. No one will interrupt you while you are speaking. The floor is yours for as long as you need it, but please keep in mind that the meeting is only an hour long and we want to give everyone an opportunity to speak. When you’re finished, say ‘thanks’ or ‘that’s all,’ and the rest of the room will acknowledge your contribution, thanking you by name (‘Thanks, Nate’). Got it?”
“Sounds like an AA meeting,” said Bernie.
“Hi, Bernie,” said Mark.
“I’m sorry. Was I supposed to say my name first?” Bernie asked, looking in my direction. I nodded.
“Sorry. Okay, I’m Bernie.”
“Hi, Bernie,” said the room.
“As I was saying, this sounds like an AA meeting to me. Which is okay, I guess, but it isn’t exactly what I was expecting. It’s going to take a little getting used to.”
The room was silent.
“That’s all,” said Bernie.
“Thanks, Bernie,” said the room.
I looked around at my friends. “I’m Nate,” I said.
The room reverberated with masculinity. I took a deep breath. “Most of you came to this meeting because I invited you. Some of you have been meeting with me individually for months or years. Some of you have seen me in other meetings or maybe heard me teach in this church. You may be expecting me to teach tonight, but that’s not what this group is all about. The Samson Society, as I see it, is not an expert-based organization, and it does not have a single leader or class of leaders. Anybody can lead. Everybody can contribute. We’re building this fellowship on the conviction that on any given day every Christian needs help and every Christian has some help to give.
“That being said, I did spend some time today drafting a meeting format that I’d like to submit for our use as we get started. What I’ve written is not sacred, and it is certainly not perfect. Anybody can write a different meeting format—and I hope someone will—but for now what I’ve written can at least give us a starting place. Is that okay?” There were murmurs of assent.
I looked at one of my close friends. “Mark, would you lead the meeting?”
Mark shrugged. “Sure, if you want me to.”
I said, “I also have four readings here that other guys can do at the appropriate times. Who will volunteer for a reading?” Four men raised their hands, and I passed the selections to them.
Mark glanced down at the typewritten format I’d prepared. “Hi, I’m Mark,” he said.
“Hi, Mark,” said the room.
“Let’s open this meeting with prayer, followed by a reading of the Twenty-third Psalm.” We bowed our heads as Mark led us in a simple prayer. When we were finished, Glenn read the Twenty-third Psalm. A reverent quietness settled over the room.
Finally Mark spoke. “Welcome to this meeting of the Samson Society,” he read. “We are a company of Christian men. We are also natural loners, who have recognized the dangers of isolation and are determined to escape them, natural wanderers who are finding spiritual peace and prosperity at home, natural liars who are now finding freedom in the truth, natural judges who are learning how to judge ourselves aright, and natural strongmen who are experiencing God’s strength as we admit our weaknesses.
“As Christians, we meet at other times for worship, for teaching, or for corporate prayer. Today, however, we meet to talk. Our purpose is to assist one another in our common journey. We do so by sharing honestly, out of our own personal experience, the challenges and encouragements of daily Christian living in a fallen world.
“Our faith rests in the love of God, as it is revealed in his Word and in the life of his Son. This is the great ‘Fact’ of the gospel, which is the foundation of our charter. Who has the Fact?”
“I do,” said Jonathan, waving the paper I had given him. “This is the Fact.”
“Hi, Jonathan,” said Bernie, grinning.
“Oops, sorry. I’m Jonathan.”
“Hi, Jonathan,” said the room.
“This is the Fact. Number one. God exists. In the timeless mystery of the Trinity, he is perfectly harmonious, perfectly whole.
“Number two. God is our Creator. He designed us to live in eternal harmony with him and each other, and to care for the rest of his creation.
“Three. Spurning God’s fellowship, we all have sinned, forfeiting our created place and losing our spiritual lives.
“Four. I have personally defied God’s law and rejected his love. Alienation from him has produced darkness and chaos in my life, for which I have often blamed others.
“Five. God has continued to love me, even in my active rebellion, and in Christ has done everything necessary to restore me perfectly to himself.
“Six. As I accept responsibility for my sin and find forgiveness in the finished work of Christ, I experience reconciliation with God and am progressively restored to harmony with myself and others.
“And seven. Despite the lingering effects of sin, I am a restored son of the sovereign Lord, whose Spirit is at work in my weakness, displaying his glory and advancing his kingdom.”
“Thanks, Jonathan,” said the room.
Mark took over again. “Let’s take a moment to introduce ourselves,” he said, reading from the meeting format. “I’ll begin and we’ll go around the room. Those who wish may give a one-sentence statement of their reason for attending this meeting.”
Mark looked up and smiled. “I’m Mark,” he said.
“I came to this meeting tonight with a lot of curiosity and, to be honest, a little bit of fear, but what I’m feeling right now is mostly hope, a suspicion that something wonderful is going to happen. I’m glad to be here.”
“Thanks, Mark!” said the room.
The introductions progressed quickly as each man—Tom, Bruce, Mike, Glenn, Michael, Bernie, Michael, Mark, Jonathan, Mark, Dave, and David—described in condensed form the feelings or circumstances that had drawn him to the meeting.
When the last guy had introduced himself, Mark resumed. “We in the Samson Society have been set upon a Path, a way of living that leads to godliness and freedom. Here is the description of that Path that is given in our charter.” He looked around. “Who has the Path?”
“I’m Mike,” said Mike.
“Here’s the Path. Number one. Believing the Fact, I surrender to God in simple faith, making no promises, but merely asking for his aid.
“Two. I start attending meetings of the Society, and from its members I select a Silas, a trustworthy traveling companion for this stretch of the road.
“Three. In honest detail I describe to God and to my Silas the course and consequences of my attempts to live apart from God.
“Four. Encouraged by my Silas and others, I develop the daily disciplines of prayer, study, and self-examination. I abandon self-help, asking God instead to do for me what I cannot do for myself.
“Five. I choose to trust the body of Christ, weighing the wisdom of my friends when facing decisions and seeking their strength when confronted by temptation.
“Six. When I can do so without injuring anyone, I make amends for damage I have caused. If direct amends are impossible or inadvisable, I demonstrate my repentance in other ways.
“And number seven. I offer myself as a Silas to others. Each day I ask God for the grace to seek his kingdom rather than my own, to serve those he places in my path rather than serving myself.”
“Thanks, Mike,” said the room.
Mark said, “Okay, we have now reached the sharing portion of our meeting. In sharing, we speak honestly out of our own experience. We tell the truth about ourselves, knowing that our brothers will listen to us in love and will hold whatever we say in strictest confidence. We try to keep our comments brief, taking care to leave plenty of time for others. We address our statements to the group as a whole rather than directing them toward any one person. As a rule, we refrain from giving advice to others or instructing them during the meeting, believing that such conversations are best reserved for private moments between friends.
“The suggested topic today is, let’s see—” He looked over the collection of topics listed on the meeting guide and selected one. “Okay, the suggested topic tonight is fear, but we are not confined to that subject. You may speak about any issue that is currently commanding your attention. The floor is now open for anyone who wishes to speak.”
I listened in awe as the conversation unfolded. Each man brought his own story to the table, contributing a few fragmentary personal insights on the subject at hand. Each man led with his weakness, but most guys also had some experience, strength, or hope to share. Some quoted Scripture. The progression of the conversation sparked my own thinking. Eventually I took the floor and found myself saying things I had not expected to say.
By the time the sharing ended, I knew that something significant had taken place. God had been present in our conversation. Somehow, despite the absence of a sermon or a formal Bible study, we had all been instructed, exhorted, encouraged, reproved, corrected, and strengthened in our faith. We had experienced real fellowship, and I could already sense a fresh spiritual bond between us.
Excerpted with permission from Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin, copyright Nate Larkin.
Learn more about virtual Samson Society groups at SamsonSociety.com
Watch the video of Nate sharing his own story:
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How are you looking to avoid isolation in these times? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!