Molding Ministry To Fit Men
By Stephen A. Bly
Jesus attracted women to faith in a way unprecedented for his day. He was also capable of drawing children to himself, to the point of irritating his disciples. Yet this same Jesus, who describes himself as “gentle and lowly of heart,” also commanded the attention and devotion of rugged fishermen and worldly-wise tax accountants.
That’s even more remarkable when we consider the state of today’s church, the body that ministers in his name and with his power: most churches find they reach women and children in significantly greater numbers than they do men.
The reasons for this imbalance are complex, as are the ways to right it. But as I’ve spoken with churches whose ministry with men has improved significantly, I’ve noticed at least three steps a congregation can take to help men feel the church is also a place for them.
Fine-Tune The Church’s Teaching
First, pastors might consider how the Christian message is presented in sermons, classes, and symbols of the church. Such an analysis often shows churches that with a few simple changes, men will feel included.
After looking at its artwork depicting Christ, one church removed it. Most of their prints showed a semiangelic Jesus, halo about his head, feet floating above the ground. Jesus was presented as a wispy, feminine character who seemed to have spent his days brushing his hair to a silky luster. The church concluded that this was not exactly a figure who inspires men to follow him into spiritual battle.
* A Seattle-area pastor shaped one particular Bible study not around the meaning of Jesus’ words and acts – his usual approach – but around the personality of Jesus, looking at Jesus’ words and acts to show who Jesus is. “People first have to get to know the real Jesus,” he insists. At last report, 60 percent of the class was men.
* One pastor in Phoenix decided he needed to eliminate his “sermon vocabulary” if he was to reach men. So he devised an ingenious plan, hiring his 14-year-old son as a judge.
“I offered him twenty-five cents for every word he could spot that he never hears except in church,” he says. “The first Sunday it cost me six bucks. The second week, when I got wound up with ‘manifestations,’ cost even more. But I’m learning to present the gospel in everyday language.”
* Another pastor decided his preaching should begin to challenge men to serious discipleship. Having spent the first thirty years of his life as a rancher on the Great Basin of Nevada, this pastor had no qualms about quickly coming to the point.
After a message about the responsibility to show Christian love in tangible ways, he announced, “We need five men to volunteer to go to Margaret Draper’s house in the morning and put on a new roof before that big storm rolls into our valley. So, I want five men to stand up right now and commit themselves.”
Seven men rose to their feet. Nine men showed up the next day, and the house was reroofed before dark.
“When we put a little notice in the church news-letter, asking men to come to a monthly work day, hardly a soul shows up,” he says. “But when 1 publicly challenge them to do something big, they respond.”
And they respond in more ways than one. Four of those seven men who stood are now responsible leaders on the church board.
“Six years ago we couldn’t get six men to serve on our church board,” says the pastor. “Now we can choose from several dozen spiritually qualified men.”
Tailor The Church’s Goals
When churches examine their goals, they often discover the goals appeal to women more than men. The goals either don’t include men’s interests or fail to challenge men sufficiently.
At a recent annual meeting of one church, for instance, the following goals were presented:
1 To completely redecorate the narthex (peach and teal green being the suggested color scheme).
2 To raise $3,000 for an orphanage in Mexico.
3 To start a new Bible study for mothers with preschool children.
Although each goal was admirable, what was this church saying to men? “Give an extra hundred bucks, paint for a couple hours, and you’re through for the year, Buddy.”
Consequently, some churches have begun to consciously include men in the goals they aspire to, especially by including goals that will satisfy men’s spiritual hunger. Some examples:
* By next November we want to have twelve men trained and ready to volunteer for leadership positions in the community and in the church.
* We have a church of five hundred, so by next year we want to have five hundred hours of direct mission work done by the men in our church.
* The next time there is a debate over a moral or biblical issue at the school board or city council, we want more than 50 percent of the crowd to be Christian men.
* By our next annual meeting, we want ten mature Christian men from our congregation consistently discipling other men who are new Christians.
* We want to sponsor, twice a year, three-day events for men. The goal: to build teamwork and lasting friendships.
* For every fifty members, we want one man trained to take over the preaching when necessary.
* We want a reputation among the poorest and neediest in our community as the church where the men care enough to really help out.
Big goals? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Some, maybe. Intriguing to men? Definitely.
Shape The Church’s Programs
Some churches find they’ve gotten into a bad habit; they take programs that work well for women and transplant the form for men. The monthly men’s fellowship ends up looking identical to the women’s association. They each have officers, meals, business, devotions, programs, and a closing prayer.
So some churches have become more deliberate about how they fashion programs for men.
* One church began a Men’s Mission Team. Every other year, they contact all their church-related missionaries (both foreign and national) and locate a building project that needs completing. Then they set a date and begin to recruit twelve to twenty men for the job. Only men over 21 can apply.
These men then have two years to prepare for the project. They not only begin purchasing materials for the job, they gather as a team to learn the skills that will be needed for the job (e.g., laying brick, framing a house, mixing and pouring concrete). They also must plan the cooking, cleaning, and transportation.
Now into their fourth such trip, they have a waiting list of men who have applied for the team.
* If you glanced through the Sunday bulletin at one Southern California church, you would see something called “Contacts for Men.” These are opportunities for groups of two to ten men to meet, talk about God’s work, and pray for each other.
Where do they meet? One meets in the pro shop at the municipal golf course every Saturday morning at 7.
Another meets on Mondays at 5:30 A.M. at Duane’s Donut Delight. A third assembles at the Tri-City Gun Club Firing Range on Thursdays at 6 P.M. And a fourth gathers at the downstairs lobby of the court-house on Wednesdays at noon.
The men had decided they needed Christian con-tact with other men during the week, but labels like Men’s Prayer Fellowship, Fellowship Bible Studies, and Spiritual Encounter Groups just didn’t fit. So they devised “Contacts.”
Any time two or three men from the church find themselves at the same time and the same place on a regular basis, they form a Contact. They’ve met at the lake, the bowling alley, and the high school track. The meeting places change often, but the need for Contact remains the same.
* “We spent almost ten years trying to talk men into going to retreats, seminars, and workshops,” says one church leader. “It was like pulling teeth to get them to show up. Then we gave up and some-how landed on the idea of Fish & Flash.”
Twice a year fifteen to twenty men from this church of two hundred members grab their fishing gear (fish) and cameras (flash) and ride horses to the bottom of a canyon. They set up camp and spend a week together- no kids, no wives, no yard work, no telephone, no electricity, no plumbing, and no mini-mart.
Each time, they invite a guest speaker to present a challenging Bible study, which usually touches on some aspect of leadership as well. Evenings are spent huddled around a campfire sharing wild ac-counts about fishing and tough stories about their struggles, their families, and their faith.
One of the men reported, “The more remote the place, the worse the weather, the tougher the week, the more we all gain from it. Most guys I know plan their yearly schedules around Fish & Flash.”
* One church, determined that the men of the congregation should have a positive influence on boys from non-Christian families, turned the church parking lot into a Tuesday-night recreation field and started the Shoreline Street Hockey Club.
Street hockey was chosen because it didn’t conflict with other established programs in town; it was a fresh activity, both to the kids and the men. They started with four teams and two coaches for each team. The church had about sixteen boys between the ages of 10 and 12, so they were placed four on a team. Then the coaches and team members had to recruit four other boys from the community who had no current church home.
Besides teaching skills, teamwork, and sportsmanship, the men present different biblical principles each week during the three-month season. Each coach invites the entire team to his home at least twice.
After the first year, the league expanded to eight teams, and now they are at their capacity with twelve. The playoffs attract more community attention than Little League.
Although the men are called “Coach” by the kids, they’re never recruited as such. The church simply asks for two dozen men who want to touch boys’ lives. And men have responded. One busy dad who has coached a team for four years said, “There are some things in life worth pushing yourself to accomplish. This is one of them.”
Jesus did some outlandish things to reach men: inviting himself to dinner at one man’s house, calling others while they toiled at their jobs, debating still others in the middle of church. And perhaps this varied and bold approach is what attracted men to Christ.
Whatever the case with Jesus; this approach is certainly working for local churches. When congregations consciously include men in their teaching, planning, and programming, and do so with a measure of boldness, men respond.
This article “Molding Ministry To Fit Men” written by Stephen A. Bly is excerpted from Leadership the 1991 winter quarter edition.