115 – The State of the Christian Men’s Movement
In the early 1980s men’s ministry was hot—red hot. Ed Cole pioneered with the Christian Men’s Network. With roots even deeper than Cole, CBMC hosted businessman’s luncheons with follow-up Bible studies that flourished throughout America. Full Gospel Businessmen had similar success. Denominational men’s ministries go back even further.
Apparently, God wanted more for men and, no doubt, men wanted more of God. In the late 1980s and early 1990s several new forces converged about the same time. Robert Bly took the secular world by storm with Iron John, capturing the angst men felt in the wake of the feminist movement of the 1970s. Over in the Christian world, Promise Keepers was born on a car ride in Colorado. A real estate developer in Florida who wrote The Man in the Mirror had hundreds of thousands of men wondering, “Has he been reading my mail?” Steve Farrar wrote Point Man which ignited a passionate response among men throughout America.
By the early 1990s, a bona fide men’s movement was under full steam—both secular and Christian. Responding to the deep cry of men for a more robust Christian faith, new para-church ministries sprouted like Iowa corn.
T. D. Jakes’ Manpower events attracted tens of thousands of men. Books for men proliferated. Denominations—long in the men’s ministry game—began asking, “How can we do a better job of reaching and discipling our men?”
The publicity peak came in 1997 when over 1,000,000 men (including my son and me) gathered on the National Mall for PK’s Stand in the Gap. It was a seminal moment—and the peak moment from a publicity perspective.
Promise Keepers, which had attendance of 1,200,000 men at their zenith, attracted 180,000 men in 2003. It would be a mistake, however, to use PK attendance as the litmus test for PK’s health or men’s ministry health in general.
Like starting a fire on your grill, the initial burst of flame has died down but the coals are really hot. God wanted to light the coals, so in the 1990s he lit the fire. That’s the history of revivals and awakenings.
Today, the movement has transitioned from the heart quickening pulse of the stadium to the quiet corridors of the local church.
But reaching men has also turned out to be much harder work than expected. Men’s leaders everywhere are feverishly trying to figure out how to not only create momentum, but also how to capture and sustain that momentum.
Many had said, “Men’s ministry isn’t rocket science.” Nobody says that anymore! Today, all those who were simply looking to revel in the next fad have moved on to the, well, the next fad. The high visibility is gone. So are the weak-willed and half-hearted. Anyone still in the men’s ministry game has long since changed his mind. Men’s ministry isn’t for wimps.
The secular men’s movement may be over, but today the Christian men’s movement is thriving in many places. For example, in 2000 churches throughout America distributed over 1,000,000 copies of The Man in the Mirror on Father’s Day. The National Coalition of Men’s Ministries, founded in 1996, boasts affiliations with denominations representing over half of America’s 350,000 churches. New Man Magazine solidified itself as an anchor publication for Strang Communications.
True, some denominations have closed their national men’s ministry offices—but that may reflect more about the health of those denominations than their men. The Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, Methodists, Church of God, Evangelical Free, International Pentecostal Holiness, Lutheran, Christian Reformed, and several other denominations all have serious leaders developing serious plans to do the “grunt work” of making disciples of the men in their churches.
Where do we go from here? What do we need to rethink and do differently? Here are seven suggestions for leaders at all levels in the body of Christ.
1. Recapture Christ’s central mission for the church: “Go and make disciples.” Someone has said the church has many critics, but no rivals. God has ordained the church to make disciples. While we must reserve the right to critique ourselves, we must also work to improve and protect the church.
2. Redefine what constitutes men’s ministry. Men’s ministry is not getting together once a month to eat burned pancakes. Nor is it six men in one small group meeting at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday mornings. To effectively make disciples, we need to redefine men’s ministry as “all-inclusive men’s discipleship.” In other words, we must have a plan to disciple every willing man in the church plus those we would like to have there.
3. Revision the church as a learning organization. The word disciple means “learner” or “pupil,” an adherent to the person and teachings of Jesus. Since the 1990 introduction of Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, much has been written about learning organizations. The church should be the ultimate learning organization—the place where believers learn what it is they believe, and how to connect the dots between what it says in the Bible and the real world of email bombardment, complaining customers, and busy kids.
4. Prioritize ministry to men. Anything done right takes brains, bucks, and brawn. To “say” men’s discipleship is important means nothing unless accompanied by an allocation of intellectual and financial resources. It will take intentionality and perseverance.
5. Introduce systems thinking. In business we have a saying, “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the result you are getting.” Whatever kind of men you have sitting in the pews, your church’s discipleship program is perfectly designed to produce that result. Ouch! The best way to help your men become disciples of Jesus is to employ a systematic approach. For example, you could ask, “If we only have a man and his family for an average of, say, five years, what do we want to build into his life that is so important that, if he should leave without it, we would have failed him?” This, then, could become your discipleship curriculum.
6. Train your leaders. No pastor or leader can do this alone—it’s not God’s plan. What could be more effective than to disciple a few to disciple the many? After all, that’s what Jesus did. Paul gave us a strategy that many have used effectively: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
7. Manage your expectations. First, remember that it takes a long time to make a disciple. Second, most of the really big ideas about Christianity take 10 or 20 years to sink in. Third, whenever you make disciples your efforts are countered by the principle of the parable of the sower. When you sow seed into men’s lives, some gets snatched by Satan, some withers under pressure, and some gets choked out. But some also lands on good soil and produces a harvest. Expect this, and you will spare yourself a lot of disappointment.
Personally, I’m praying the Holy Spirit will unite the hearts and purposes of leaders throughout the body of Christ to pursue a systematic, inclusive, interdisciplinary approach to disciple our men. It would be a plan to create, capture, and sustain disciples that become spiritual leaders in their homes, work, churches, and communities. That’s how Jesus did it, and that’s how we need to do it too.
What does the future hold for men’s ministry? There are 350,000 churches in America with about 38,000,000 men, but only about 6,000,000 of them have been discipled. We must get down to the business of building a disciple-making ministry to men in every church. Why would God give us more Christian men? We haven’t done a very good job discipling the ones he has already given us.
1. How has your perspective changed on discipling men over the last ten years? What major events has God brought into your life to shape and change you?
2. Ten years from now, how many men would you like to have directly discipled? What can you do through your church now to start making that happen?
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world. © 2003. Patrick Morley. All rights reserved.