75 – The Future of Men’s Ministry
Roughly a decade has passed since the kindling wood of the contemporary Christian men’s movement first ignited.
How will history treat this movement? Will it be added to the long list of “briefly entertaining” Christian fads that come and go? Will history record it as a “blip” that soon passed away-a footnote to the 1990s? Or will it prove to have more substance? And if so, what needs to happen to sustain it? These are questions I would like to address in this article.
The secular men’s movement-which lured men into the woods where they painted themselves up like Indians, talked to trees, and cried out in existential pain-peaked around 1991. It has long since petered out.
Why did the secular men’s movement fail to produce lasting change? The problem was “Tuesday” – they didn’t have an answer for Tuesday. They could not help when on Tuesday the harsh realities of life ripped off the scabs of futility. They offered only superficial solutions.
By contrast, men in the Christian men’s movement came away with new (or renewed) faith, which braced their re-entry into the workaday world. Instead of war paint, whoops and grunts, they listened to challenging speakers and read books given to them by friends, and Jesus Christ got hold of them. Their lives were transformed. (I’ve seen over and over again that a man will get hold of a book, and then God will use that book to get hold of the man).
THE CHRISTIAN MEN’S MOVEMENT TODAY
We don’t hear much about this Christian men’s movement anymore. Is it dead? Unlike the secular men’s movement-DOA in the early 1990s-the Christian men’s movement is very much alive. In truth it was never as big as some suggested, nor is it now as small as some fear.
The nexus of the Christian men’s movement, however, has moved from publicity-rich large-scale events into the quiet corridors of the local church.
But there’s a problem. While the movement is alive, it is not flourishing as it can and should in local churches. It has often been relegated to second tier.
Men’s ministry leaders have been trying to bring men’s ministry into the mainstream of church life. Many experiments have been tried; many have failed. That’s okay (remember Edison didn’t find a light bulb filament that worked until his 6,000th attempt), but we need to admit this, and ask, “Why?,” “What can be done?” and “Where do we go from here?”
Most churches really do want to solve the problem of the disconnected male. After all, his failure is bringing down the whole house-he is breaking his wife’s heart, his children are at risk, the church budget is languishing, the ministries of the church are understaffed, and the man thinks his work has nothing to do with his faith.
It is also worth noting that God has already allowed a lot of “vision” and “structure” to be developed. Most denominations have now committed at least some resources to men’s ministry. True, it is often a token, but some denominations have made a major commitment to reaching men. Also, numerous servant ministries have formed to assist local churches (a whole new genre of “church-focused” para-church ministry).
Meanwhile, the “vision” component of the equation has grown clearer. For example, the vision of the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries (“NCMM”) is “a disciple-making ministry to men in every church.” The vision of Man in the Mirror is “to engage every man in America with a credible offer of Christ” and give him the resources to grow. Many other denominational and servant men’s ministries share similar visions.
LOOKING FORWARD: THE NEXT FEW STEPS
So where do we go from here?
First, to bring about any lasting reform we must create a national dialogue among church leaders about making “reaching men” a higher priority. Wouldn’t you agree that any calculus for awakening in the church that doesn’t strategically reach and build men is doomed to fail? If this is true then the church must consider a paradigm shift in its thinking. The leadership of the church must make reaching men a top priority.
Any such visions must begin “from the top” with a change in thinking and belief among our nation’s denominational CEOs, leading pastors, theologians, and church growth experts. Shouldn’t our denominations be focusing more intellectual and financial resources on men? Without a change in “thinking” there will be no change in “behavior.”
The first question to answer is, “Who are the opinion-making leaders of the church?”
Second, there can be no dialogue without building relationships with key church leaders. In America when we have a problem we ask, “How do we fix it?” The Chinese ask a different question. They ask, “What are the relationships we need to develop to solve this problem?” Let’s figure out what relationships we need in order to achieve our vision and get together.
The second question to answer is, “What are the relationships we need to develop to solve this problem?”
Third, we must build a case statement about why it’s important to reach men, how it can benefit the church, save families, and the risks of not doing so. Unless we provide compelling evidence, change is not likely.
The third question to answer is, “Why does the church need to focus more energy on reaching men?”
Fourth, we must offer “doable” solutions. Recently I have been rethinking how to approach men’s ministry in the church. Many pastors are already overextended in ministry. The thought of adding another ministry seems painful. The pastor’s personal priorities are often directed to other areas. Many churches would have to stop doing something to add a men’s ministry.
So what can be done? We need to have more options. For example, perhaps what’s needed in some churches is not a separate men’s ministry but a fully integrated ministry to men. Instead of a separate organization within the church, why not fully integrate men into the existing structures? Let’s disciple men, then mobilize them to give backbone to existing ministries.
The fourth question to answer is, “What is the best way to integrate men into the existing ministries of the church?”
Fifth, we must offer a meaningful description of what success looks like. We need to give the church “pictures” of what constitutes success in reaching and mobilizing men. The church must answer questions like, ¨ “What is our purpose for reaching men?” ¨ “What kind of men do we want to produce?” ¨ “How will we measure success?” ¨ “What kind of ‘system’ will help us create, capture, and sustain momentum?”
The fifth question to answer is, “If you knew you would only have a man and his family for five years, what things are so important that if they left in five years without them, you would have failed them?” That’s success, and this, then, becomes the agenda of the discipleship program.
Sixth, and finally, we must be patient. Andre Gide said, “You cannot discover new lands unless you leave shore for a very long time.” It takes a long time to change the core values, priorities, and thought patterns of one person, much less the entire body of Christ. It would be wonderful if at the end of this decade in 2010, the church would be as focused on reaching its men as it is today on reaching its youth and women.
The sixth question to answer is, “Are you willing to keep laboring for men’s souls, even if others don’t view it with the same urgency?”
Let’s remind ourselves that every church in America already has a ministry to men. Sometimes it’s intentional, and occasionally good. The problem is, of course, that it’s often neither. Can we change that? I think so.
In business we have the helpful idea, “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the result you are getting.” If you are producing men who are disconnected, your system is perfectly designed to do so. The men we are getting are the ones our “system” is perfectly designed to produce.
How does the church’s system for men need reforming? If the whole church can change its system to “begin” with men and train them to be spiritual leaders for the family, church, workplace, community and world, we can see a genuine reform of the church in our generation.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
©2000. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved. This may be reproduced with proper attribution for non-commercial purposes.