Calling All Christian Men
Discipleship is in a sad state among Christian men. The good news is there are ways we can get it back on track.
When I became a part-time seminarian late in my career, I thought I’d end up engaged in the most difficult, challenging and consequential ministry in the church, ministering to men. Anecdotally and empirically, we know that as go the men, so go the marriages, families, churches, communities and culture. Today these institutions are in crisis because men are in crisis.
Pat Morley, men’s ministry pioneer and best-selling author, says the “men problem” in the church today is “one of the most pervasive social, economic, political and spiritual challenges of our time, the root cause behind virtually every trouble ailing society.”
Men are largely disengaged, unchallenged, under led, discouraged and disconnected. Often there seems little difference between the lives secular men live and those of men who call themselves Christians. Why do so many men in our churches go through the motions of Christianity? The answer follows along two fault lines.
First, many men are nominal, superficial Christians not knowing what they believe and why. This is a consequence of biblical illiteracy. Second, very few men have been biblically discipled, despite the flood of discipleship resources available to the church.
Biblical illiteracy is rampant in the culture and in the church. Christian researcher and author George Barna reports: “The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy. How else can you describe matters when most churchgoing adults reject the accuracy of the Bible see no need to evangelize, believe that good works are one of the keys to persuading God to forgive their sins, and describe their commitment to Christianity as moderate or even less firm?”
For many men today, being Christian is less a matter of learning than of cultivating personal experiences and relying on sin management, therapeutic techniques and syncretism, which blindly borrows from non-biblical belief systems.
Pastor-theologian Albert Mohler writes: “Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention.”
Churches today have access to more men’s discipleship materials, programs and courses than ever before. With that kind of arsenal, you would expect to see Christian men as a counter-cultural force and radical nonconformists who make Jesus Christ an unavoidable issue. This is not the case!
Barna notes that most men say their church does little to help them grow as a true disciple. “Few believers said that their church lacked programs, but most Christians complained that little is done to effectively motivate and facilitate their development as genuine, fervent followers of Christ. Our surveys among pastors showed that they dismissed such views as excuses and as inaccurate, but the bottom line remains unchanged: Most Christians are simply not making progress in their personal spiritual development.”
In random, national surveys of Christian men, Barna also finds that when asked to name their most important life goal, not a single one said it was to be a committed disciple of Christ or to make disciples. So what’s going on? Biblical discipleship is absent or superficial because it lacks priority and heart motivation.
You might think that being a disciple means being a follower, but the Greek word for disciple (mathetes) primarily means being a learner. In biblical times, a man would attach himself to a teacher and learn from him. He would sit at his feet, listen to him and walk with him. As a result of this personal, real-life training, the disciple would take on the characteristics of his teacher.
This is exactly what happened to Jesus’ disciples under Jesus’ peripatetic teaching ministry. This is what men growing in Christ-likeness look like, reflecting His character, conduct and commitments.
Jesus’ disciples did not learn a philosophy, principles, techniques or methods for better living, but a lifestyle of love, truth and abandonment to God.
Biblical discipleship is a lifelong process of learning in an intimate relationship with God and His people. We follow Christ because He has written us into His story. There we discover the role He has for us to live out in the further unfolding of His glory. As men, we often look for a set of orders for good behavior. But Christ doesn’t offer lists of dos and don’ts; He offers freedom, real freedom to be who we already are in Christ.
So how do we get to a place where we are pursuing biblical discipleship?
First, the Great Commandment
In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus gave His men their Great Commission in life: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (NKJV).
One of my seminary professors emphasized that this Great Commission is preceded by the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matt. 22:36-40. The simple fact is we can’t effectively disciple another man if our own hearts are not already being transformed and entranced by God.
We pursue the Great Commission not because we have to but because we want to. Whether it’s evangelism, discipleship, prayer or everything else, your heart has to be in it. It’s like the husband who’s asked why he loves his wife so passionately and makes so much of her and responds, “I can’t help myself.” God-lovers can’t help but make much of Him, and because of that, they are fruitful doers of the things of God. Get aligned with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission follows.
Morley further observes: “Much of the ministry to men that has and is taking place deals with helping a man change his outward life. And there is no problem with that. But we are in error when we deal with the outward and we do not deal with the inner motivational structure of the heart. The core affections of men’s hearts are not focused on the person of Jesus Christ. That is the challenge before us. The focal point really needs to help men change the core affections of their hearts.”
Resources for Change
If you want to help yourself and your Christian brothers pursue biblical discipleship with new fervor, there are a variety of places to start. Here are a few themes to start with, along with the resources to help you and others grow in these areas.
1. Learn the centrality of the cross
Understand how and why God saves sinners. Grasping how bad the bad news is makes one appreciate and savor the good news. Do an in-depth study of sin and what Jesus did on the cross. Read John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ.
2. Examine your heart
Where is your satisfaction, your treasure, your delight and your confidence? Is it in Christ or someone or something else? Contemplate the first commandment, consider what idols you may be pursuing and embrace the sufficiency of Christ. Read Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods.
3. Talk to your pastor
If he’s not leading his men, get a group of like-hearted men who want to be fed and meet with your pastor and ask him to invest himself in his men. Read and then give him a copy of Pat Morley’s book Pastoring Men.
4. Develop a Christian worldview
Only 9 percent of professing Christians have a Christian worldview. Yet the gospel informs every aspect of life. Know how your faith is to interact with culture and learn how to discern pernicious lies. Do The Truth Project DVD-study by Focus on the Family.
5. Join a discipling community
There’s no quick, easy path to discipleship. Discipleship can’t be done alone or in a vacuum because it’s about relationships. Like other private spiritual disciplines, it is of no value apart from a community of intergenerational men. Robert Lewis’ Men’s Fraternity offers a three-year journey into biblical manhood that provides the teaching and the masculine context for biblical discipleship.
Dave Brown is a pastor and the director of the Washington Area Coalition of Men’s Ministries and has been the men’s pastor at McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va.
This article “Calling All Christian Men” written by Dave Brown, was excerpted from www.newmanmag.org July 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”