UMMen, the magazine of United Methodist Men, very graciously printed an article I wrote in their Winter 2011 issue. I’m very grateful to them for that opportunity. You can learn more about United Methodist Men by clicking here.
I once served a church that had the sweetest group of widows who would sit in the same section of the sanctuary during worship. These women were a source of encouragement and fellowship to one another. Very often, after worship, they would have lunch together. They were inseparable. I was profoundly grateful that they had one another.
I was, however, shocked when I eventually learned that each one of these women was married. They weren’t widows at all. The truth was that their husbands would have nothing at all to do with the church.
Over the last 18 years of ministry I have seen the need for the church’s ministry to men. And I’ve seen a lot of versions of what’s called, “men’s ministry” as an effort to meet those needs. Among these efforts are activities such as…
- A once-a-month Saturday morning pancake breakfast
- A once-a-month Monday evening spaghetti dinner
- Occasional service projects on the church property
To be sure, there is a place for pancakes, spaghetti, service projects, campouts, singing Kumbaya, going to sporting events, and the rest. But none of those can or should take the place of gathering together each week for the intentional discipling purpose of growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some of you will remember a secular men’s movement in the late 1980s called Iron John. It was all about men finding their “inner warrior” and letting him out. Men would go into the woods, beat drums, get in touch with their inner something-or-other, and cry around a campfire.
Well, there are a lot of men’s ministries today doing a baptized version of that. It’s sexy. It’s edgy. It’s probably fun. I mean, after all, most men love Braveheart, Band of Brothers, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia. I know I really love that stuff!
But every time I read about another Christianized version of Iron John, I can’t help but think of the words of Saint Paul:
When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 1 Corinthians 13:11
Gimmicks, fads and entertainment in men’s ministry appeal to some men’s desire to remain in adolescence, but they will not produce disciples of Jesus Christ.
The process of becoming a genuine and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ is tough. It takes hard work. It doesn’t happen over night. You can’t manipulate it. It doesn’t happen (usually) from a neatly wrapped program. It’s a day-in and day-out pursuit of Christ, through his Word and prayer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in a relational context.
While I am all for Bible studies and small groups for both genders, I think there must be a place for men to gather with other men, to study God’s Word and pray, in a context of accountability and encouragement.
Let’s face it: How many men do you know who would be excited talking about lusting after another woman in the presence of their wives or other women? Or how many men would want to share how they struggle with pornography with other women in the room?
Men are the problem . . . and the solution
Pat Morley reminds us that we need a ministry aimed at men because, very often, men are the problem. But they are also the solution.
Many, if not most, of our cultural problems –– divorce, abortion, juvenile crime, and fatherlessness –– can be traced back to the failure of men.
According to Morley, chief executive of Man in the Mirror ministries, every third child is born out of wedlock, 24 million kids don’t live with their biological fathers; and half of all marriages end in divorce. Only a third of all children in America will live with both of their biological parents through the age of eighteen. Half of all children in broken homes have not seen their father in over a year. Children who come from fatherless homes are five times more likely to live in poverty, have emotional problems, and repeat a grade.
We can blow by these statistics or we can consider what they mean for our country and our churches. There must be something systemically wrong with a culture that allows these things to happen.
These symptoms are the result of deep systemic issues. Treating symptoms is necessary and good, but you can’t cure a disease by treating the symptoms.
The only way to solve systemic problems is with systemic solutions.
The final goal
The goal of ministry to men is not primarily about producing morally improved men. It’s not primarily about warm-fuzzy experiences; it’s not about emotional or psychological cathartic breakthroughs drenched in tears.
Each of those things may happen, but that’s not why men should gather. Instead, the purpose of ministry to men is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforming sinful men into redeemed children of their heavenly Father who want to become like Christ. They will want to know him better, love him more, and follow him more closely.
UM Men will still battle sin, but they will do so through a fellowship of like-minded men, who love, care for, encourage, pray for, and study God’s Word with one another.