The cool thing these days is to not be a program-driven church. And as much as it hurts me to be cool, and to align myself with people who urge Christians to "do life" and "do community", I can't help but agree with what I think should be a pretty self-evident truth. That is, that focusing on things to do, tailored to different types of people (old, young, male, female, employee, entrepreneur, college, Korean), is a distraction from the singular mission of the church, which is to worship God in one Spirit and one truth.
Programs are the product of growth-motivated churches. Of local churches whose objective is to grow so large that living together as a body (you know, "doing life") becomes unnatural. When churches achieve a certain size, the easiest solution to the problems of isolation and alienation is to throw together groups of people who are very much like each other; instead of the bond of the Holy Spirit, the kinship of near-identical lives and experiences bonds them.
This usually leads to certain sinful behaviors, behaviors that are toxic within the local body of Christ. The youth get together in their enclaves to pretend their parents don't exist, the women get together to complain about their husbands, and the husbands get together (if at all) to complain about the elders. The singles loudly complain that no one ever considers their feelings, but the only people to hear are the rest of the singles group they insisted on. The old people, whose group is euphemistically named Encore, or Xtra Years of Zest, or Keenagers, wish the younger families would hang out with them but get grumpy when their kids act like kids. The young families are too busy to pay attention to anyone who isn't living on their schedule. No one is paying any attention to their community or town, because church makes them too busy. So the only people to join the church are people from the same social stratus, with the same social, and perhaps theological, interests. And etcetera and etcetera.
The groups built to deal with the isolation of modern life simply encourage it, and the church fails to be the Church. It becomes a social club with a worship problem and way too many cliques.
Having heard me say all this, you will not be surprised to hear that I think a church ministry for men is not necessary to the well-being of a church and its men. Nor will you be astonished to hear me say that, in a program-driven environment, it just adds toxins to the toxicity. It can be poisonous, y'all.
All that being said, allow me to urge pastors and elders to be purposeful and active in ministering to their men, and to do so in group settings. That's right. Churches should have things that could be called men's ministries, or women's ministries, or youth ministries. They could even have activities, y'all. You know, like, things to do. And that can be done, somehow, without becoming a "program-driven church".
This is a blog for Christian men, and I want to talk about churches ministering to men, so let's move forward with that agenda and see if the questions raised by the preceding paragraph are addressed.
The basic building block of the local church is the Christian individual. Individuals belong to Christ, individuals are baptized, individuals are saved to life everlasting. But the basic operational unit of the church is the household. The family is where day-to-day holy living, authority, submission, and love work themselves out in the life of the church. John is friends with Jim, but it's the Smiths and Andersons they represent who roll through the church and the world together. Any ministry to men should be thought of from the perspective of households, even when the men are by themselves.
The prophet-priest-king roles of fathers in the family means that nearly every man in a church either has spiritual authority over other Christians, or is training to have it. A man's Christian walk is pastoral in a way and to a degree that is not true for most women and children. When a church ministers to men it is able to minister to entire families in a unique way.
Sadly, the way most of our lives are shaped in this society, the way our families' internal and external economies are set up, men are usually the most isolated from the life of the church.
And when I say life of the church, I do not mean Bible study. The defining behavior of the people of God is that they gather together in Jesus' name to worship the Triune God in spirit and truth. The weekly death to new life, the cutting, feeding, and sending out of God's people in worship, defines us. Bible studies and prayer breakfasts do not.
When Christians leave worship on Sunday they head into the world charged with the Kingdom of Heaven, charged with Jesus. They go and live their lives, and they should not be going in isolation. They should be going as brothers and sisters, as family and families, as men and women and children. Men are men, and should minister to each other as if they were men.
Bible study is an activity that all Christians should do. Fishing and hunting and smoking cigars do not enjoy the same status in the Christian life. That being said, it is very easy for a church to be a Bible study club instead of being the people of God. And in the context of a feminized church, that is alienating to men.
It is ideal, I think, that a church have an active social life within itself, oriented around the family. This is the first step to making men feel like part of the church. If that is happening, with the barbecues and parties and graduations and baptism parties and funerals, the men of the church will, to varying degrees, become friends. But what then? When that happens with the women of a church, they are more likely to find ways to get together and minister to each other as women. Perhaps you have observed with me that this usually doesn't happen with the men. In our modern context of alienation and hostility toward Christian masculinity, it important for the leadership of all churches to have a coherent and directed vision for its ministry to men.
Having flown through some ideas that deserve a book, or at least a well-thought out article (!), I will fly brazenly on in the tradition of the blogger to make some suggestions for things that churches wanting to minister to their men should try to do/be aware of. Hunting or hiking trips are all well and good (I started a rugby club for Christians once!), but not everyone is into hunting or hiking (or rugby). What are some things that minister to all Christian men?
1. Beer. Beer, gentlemen. Wine is fine and whiskey's nifty, but beer is a battle beverage. Ale is for feasting, and feasting is for warriors, be they accountants or plumbers. Beer is universal. Some like the High Life, some know where their hops come from.
2. Meat. I don't have to support this one. You know it's true. But I will. "Spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household." Worked in an extra plug for families doing stuff with the church there, didn't I? That's what you build men's ministry on top of.
3. Singing. Dudes should get together and sing. The people of God have always sung to him, and it is a symptom of male disengagement in church that so many churches are full of mumbling or silent men when the hymns roll 'round. Some men are good singers and some are bad, but all can be singers. Singing brings people together, and when men sing together for the first time in the company of other men, it stirs the soul. I've seen it happen. It makes you want to batter at the gates of hell with just a few psalms. When beginning this practice it is important to have a few brave souls who are willing to throw their voices out there. Singing is also a way of overcoming shyness when it comes to public prayer; singing is prayer.
As co-author of Christian Pipe Smoking: An Introduction to Holy Incense, I am tempted to include pipes and cigars in this list, but if I am honest they must occupy the same place whiskey or bourbon would: a pleasant and edifying addition to the core elements above.
This must be the perfect church men's event: singing psalms by the grill while enjoying brews.
How then to build a men's ministry? I suggest setting a goal to, whatever the men's event, be it Bible study or prayer or an admin meeting, have two of the three elements be present. See what happens when men are aesthetically told that they are valued as men. Bible study with beer and singing, y'all. That's what we're talking about.
And please let the objection that men are being bribed with ale to be part of church die here. Nonsense. We're just making beautiful masculine things. None of these things are necessary; they are all salutary.
If men have interests that draw deeper distinctions than man-woman-boy-girl, consider that it might be better to pursue those in a Christian, but not a church, setting. Let the knitting groups be knitting groups, and the hunting clubs be hunting clubs.
It might even surprise the noble ministers of God's church to see how enthusiastic the men of their church will be for the community life of their church if they know their brothers will be there with beer in hand, how pleased the women will be to have them there, and how eager the children will be to fetch their fathers' beers as they sit around the fire with them.