When Men's Ministries Don't Work
Why do women’s ministries flourish while men’s ministries often flounder? As I write this, I’m preparing to present at a men’s fellowship event across the country. I’ve been pondering what might inspire and energize these men to make it worth their time and expense to come together. Several concepts I’m sharing here for your consideration.
First, secular society is robbing men of their God-given identity. Since the 1970s, laudable attempts to reverse centuries of chauvinism are empowering women while leaving men confused about their own place in the family, church and workplace. Many traditional male roles are now gender-neutral — police officers, firefighters, even soldiers. In principle it’s wonderful to imagine there’s nothing a man does that a woman can’t do — but some radical viewpoints insist a man isn’t particularly needed for anything. Gloria Steinem popularized the boast “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
So what are men good for? Not fatherhood, apparently — women who get inseminated outside traditional marriage are assured they can proceed to raise kids without a dad around. (Rising crime among fatherless youth argues otherwise.)
Female students comprise the majority at many colleges where secularism defines campus life. Acts of old-fashioned male chivalry, such as opening a door for a woman, are denounced as paternalism. Many young men, lacking identity and purpose, have given up relating to real women and waste their evenings immersed in the virtual world.
Where is the church in all this? Some denominations (like ours) overreact to secular feminism by forbidding women top leadership spots, local or global. Selected Scriptures that may reflect realities in ancient culture are not interpreted in the context of Christ’s liberating gospel. To do so would eliminate male vs. female rivalry since we are all one in Christ Jesus (see Gal. 3:28).
But is there any unique usefulness left for men? While the debate rages, women in most congregations are doing most of the actual ministry, quietly and faithfully. A glance around most churches shows women are also often more present in the pews.
I suggest more attention is needed in understanding and inspiring men to fulfill their role in the church, family and society. This takes me back to the original question: Why are many men’s ministries failing?
First, I suggest most men’s ministries are fixated on recovering sexual integrity rather than focusing on discovering identity — who men are in Christ. Instead of fearing the internet, we can “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). High tech can facilitate high touch in a good way by teaching how to use social media to connect with each other rather than to defile ourselves. Let’s not just denounce the darkness — let’s also light a candle!
Specifically, this involves helping men discover their identity. Transformation follows when we realize and embrace who we are in Christ. We can scold ourselves and moralize all we want, but at the end of the day we will live out our perceived identity.
Sadly, most men (and women) live their entire lives without knowing specifically why they are here on the face of the Earth. Yes, we know we should be loving, faithful and chaste — but what's our unique spiritual DNA?
One clue beyond our existing interests and obvious skills is what makes us mad. That's right! Holy anger (what makes other Christians sad but makes you mad) about some type of abuse or other evil is a sign that God may be calling you into action. Like Abraham Lincoln, who as a young man witnessed a slave auction. His response: "If I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I'll hit it hard." He sure did! His righteous outrage was an indication of God's purpose for his life.
Once we get a clue about specifically who we are, we can devote attention to why we are here on Earth by crafting a personal purpose (mission) statement. Then each attendee can develop a vision statement that describes what he should be doing with his available time and talents. Finally, the men can discern their life goals (measurable and attainable) and plan incremental steps to attain those goals.
My strategy for the men’s retreat is first to establish an identity in Christ with those in attendance, then gather them into breakout groups around tables to develop their personal mission and vision statements and, finally, help them establish specific goals and actionable plans.
Many men’s groups fail because we expect them to confide their deepest feelings and aspirations, which ladies seem to do more easily. But when men and women are energized by discovering their identity and purpose, then gaining a vision of how to specifically move forward, good things can happen in their lives, families and churches.