Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Missing Men

One of the abiding challenges of ministry in the US here at the beginning of the 21st century is the relative absence of real men. Within the church there are lots of "guys," males who are successful in their jobs, faithful to their wives, and do a decent job of trying to be involved in their childrens' lives. They go to church regularly, and often give time and even money to church and other spiritual activities. But they just aren't that deeply committed to or excited by following Jesus.

I'm far from the first person to notice, of course. The legions of frustrated wives who wish their husbands would lead their families in a spiritual way give loud testimony to it. Likewise, virtually the whole genre of "men's books" on offer at the local Christian bookstore are an epiphenomenon of this reality. So men are encouraged to be Wild at Heart, or Tender Warriors, or to be the Point Man or to take a look at the Man in the Mirror. We have been told Why Men Hate Going to Church. All of these books and the multitude of others like them have at least some nuggets of truth to them (some considerably larger than others). All try in various ways to both diagnose the problem and to offer some solutions. Generally speaking, the problem is understood to be both a confusion about appropriate sex roles in our post-everything society and the lack of godly masculinity within the Church itself. Solutions include doing more Bible study and prayer to such things as modifying the language of church ("We're glad you're here and we want to have intimate fellowship with you" and "My boyfriend Jesus" type songs just creeps out most men), as well as practicing the "manly arts" of rock-climbing, fishing, wilderness camping, etc. There is merit to all of the suggestions, I'm sure. Bible study and prayer are, after all, central to Christian living and what man wants to be in a quasi-romantic relationship with God or other people at church? And I'm an outdoorsman who relishes the masculine aspects of outdoor sports, as many men do.

Yet it seems to me that the bigger problem is not societal, or even ecclesiastical, but a matter of the heart. Men have not been gripped by the true knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is not just the compassionate Father of Luke 15, but also the conquering King of Revelation, who commands obedience and submission from all. They have not encountered the true Christ, who offers to men (and women as well!) a life worth living and a faith worth dying for. And until Christ is encountered in all his glory, a man senses little to gain from the spiritual life apart from gratefulness for forgiven sin and appreciation for eternal salvation, and little to sacrifice for apart from the goal of being a generally nice guy. Thus, we in the church produce legions of nice guys who are thankful for their salvation, but make little impact on the world for having occupied time and space in it.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

All those books you mentioned have a connecting problem - they include lots of unbiblical pop-psychology, which virtually destroys any good "nuggets" of truth.

I see a major part of the problem is the focus on the "manly" arts in all the outreaches for men. I went to one of those outreaches once with a friend and it reeked of testosterone; if you weren't into hunting you just weren't man enough. And that's the way every outreach to men has been (all that I am familiar with, anyway); focused on real men being into sports or hunting or the "outdoors" stuff. Bah humbug. That sort of tripe turns me off. But as long as this is the pap fed to men, then that's all you're going to get.

Churches need to starth heavy-duty worldview teachings; demonstrate what it means to live a Christian life - what role does the man play in the family, etc. You need to start that when they are just kids.

As long as our church youth groups concentrate on having fun, or taking little "mission" trips to big cities or foreign countries rather than learning to serve their own back yards, or football nights, etc. then they will grow to be men who want to play and be more interested in being macho than in living as a Christian role model.

The Bullhorn said...

Glenn- I appreciate your concern that we base on ministry and our approach to men on the Bible. It's a concern I share. However, other than Wild at Heart (which is a plodding, pointless MESS of a book, in my opinion), I don't find much psychological emphasis (pop or otherwise) in the other books I mentioned. Instead, what I find is an insufficiently inspiring vision of the Christian life. It's not that they are calling men to look to their past (again, other than Wild at Heart) to discern the direction for the future; my concern is more that the Christian life they are calling men to is not more challenging to achieve. They settle for bland instead of spicy, mediocrity instead of greatness. And while I recognize that all a lot of men might be capable of is mediocrity, isn't it better to issue the call toward greatness?