by Brian Doyle, Director, Iron Sharpens Iron Ministries
My wife, Barb, was helping host a women's tea at the church. We arrived at church early on Sunday morning so she could post some details of the upcoming event on a white board in the church lobby. She wrote that it was a ladies tea, the date of the event, when it started, what women could bring, and to please bring a friend. I love my wife and I want her to succeed in her ministry endeavors. I reviewed what she wrote and offered what I believed to be some thoughtful insight. I asked her: "When does the event end?" "Is there a theme for the tea?" "Will you have a guest speaker?" "What else will there be to eat?" Before I could ask another question, Barb stopped me short and graciously shared with me. "This isn't a men's ministry meeting - we like to get together!"
She hit the nail on the head. I was running her promotion through my men's ministry grid. I know that men need all the facts about an event and numerous reasons to attend. Barb was correct that most women have a propensity to gather and just need to know the time and a place.
Most men do not have a propensity to gather. They operate in isolation and do not network easily. Few men will pick up the phone and call a buddy just to see how he is doing. I am still waiting for that type of call. Men's leaders around the country have shared with me that it takes 5-7 touches to bring a man to a men's event. One reason for this is because it may not show up on the family schedule and the man's wife takes responsibility for the social calendar. Another major reason is that men do not easily invite one another to join them at an event. We often keep our options open and wait until the last moment to commit to an event. The felt need to gather with other men is low and we usually need a compelling reason to leave our families and join other men at a men's event. If we depend on men coming together to an event to primarily experience the joys of Christian Brotherhood, we may end up with some time alone with God!
Most men invest at least ten hours away from home five days per week at their work. This constitutes half of their waking hours and 80% of their emotional, physical, and mental energy. As companies down size, men are working to survive and are making greater sacrifices than ever to keep their jobs. Issues of integrity, competing time demands and dealing with authority consume them and they don't know where to go for the answers.
The church service on Sunday morning seems so far away for this man and he rarely if ever hears a message that relates to his life at work. Marketplace ministries estimate that 90% of people have never heard a biblical message on work. Some of this is true because pastors who deliver the message have not had the opportunity to be in the market like most of the men who listen to the message. They do their very best to relate to what men are dealing with at their jobs, but the perception of most men is that they just do not understand.
An analogy might be like the single man giving counsel to the married man about how to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He knows the scriptures and he may have some excellent insights, but he has no experience.
Your men's ministry may want to invite a guest speaker who is either presently in the workplace or has recently been in that place for a season. Men want to hear from other men who have tackled and succeeded in the arenas that they are battling in.
I love the Word of God. God uses His Word to speak to me, instruct me and encourage me. I also really enjoy being in a church where the pastor teaches the scriptures by working through books of the Bible. This gives me understanding and insight into who God is and what He wants for my life. This Sunday morning teaching ministry stimulates my thinking. I am challenged to consider how I am living and what changes need to take place if I am to be a whole-hearted follower of Jesus Christ.
We have succeeded in stimulating the minds of men who attend our churches. Where we have failed in that we have not succeeded in reaching their hearts. Men in the church are keeping God at a distance because their mind is engaged but not their hearts. John Eldredge has written that the great call to men is to be nice and that this challenge is not nearly enough to capture a man's passion.
What arouses a man's passion? Find this and you will see a measure of success in your ministry to men. It may be fathering or grandfathering. It may be a halftime seminar where purpose for the second half of their life is explored. It may be a personal and spiritual renewal. It may be a number of different things depending on a man's spiritual maturity and his season of life.
The 'eighteen inches' between a man's head and a man's heart is one of the great challenges in ministry to men. Most men are careful about becoming vulnerable, yet becoming vulnerable to someone is the only way to engage the heart. It is very important that the visible male leadership of the church sets the pace in becoming vulnerable. When a man that is well respected goes first in sharing his heart issues, he opens the door for other men to follow. This is as true in a small group setting as it is in sharing a testimony at a large event. Men need a model to follow and men need to know that a strong man can and will share his heart.
A typical guy conversation in the 1980's:
Guy #1 “How are you doing?”
Guy #2 “Fine. Fine. How are you doing?”
Guy #1 “I'm doing fine. Thanks for asking.”
Guy #2 “No problem. Hey, take care!”
Guy #1 “Hey, thanks, you take care too!”
Typical guy conversation in 2004:
Guy #1 “How are you doing?”
Guy #2 “Busy. Real busy. How about you?”
Guy #1 “I hear you. I'm straight out. A lot going on.”
Guy #2 “That's the truth. Hey, take it easy!”
Guy #1 “Hey, thanks, you too. Take it easy!”
We are very busy or at least we feel very busy. It is really the same thing. I have learned that it is a waste of energy to try and prove to a man that he really does have a fair amount of discretionary time. The only things that counts is how he feels - and men feel busy!
Because a man's discretionary time is at a minimum, a men's event must be worth his precious time. Most men will delay a decision on attending an event because they are not sure if it is a good use of their time. Something may come up and because time is so limited, they may not be able to follow through on a commitment made early on. This is not necessarily an issue of procrastination. It can be a genuine desire to use time wisely.
Men will almost always ask this question of a men's event: "Is it worth my time?" They are comparing our invitation to a men's event against the need to date their wife, spend quality time with their kids, tackle the chores at home, catch their favorite team on television, log in a few extra hours at work, or an assortment of other pressing demands. We will discuss later that the lack of margin in a man's life means that we may want to consider doing less events for men and doing them better.
I do not believe that the local church has given up on men. It is clear, though, that men are no longer the 'target audience.' The focus of the local church is on those who participate and those who serve. Estimates in the 1990's show that in most churches, 80% of volunteers were women. As one pastor shared with me, "We are going with the goers. The women's ministry in this church is going somewhere."
God bless women in every local church who are serving sacrificially and laboring for Jesus Christ. We would be in trouble without them. The availability of women does not mean that we should release men to live as spectators. In some cases, we need to set aside service opportunities that are specific to men. Scripture would encourage us to do this. Men need to hear the challenge from God on what their role is as a spiritual leader in the home, in the church and in the community. They will feel inadequate, too busy and not as qualified as many of the women in the church. That is a given. Our challenge is to equip them for acts of service.
Some of the most effective men's events will be designed to specifically equip men in their God given role. Our church recently encouraged men to attend a six week series for husbands by Walk Thru the Bible called "Leading and Loving". There were three weeks on leading and three weeks on loving. Most of the 65 men who attended these early morning gatherings had never been exposed to some of the scriptural principles that were shared. If they had heard these principles before, it certainly wasn't with a critical mass of brothers in Christ who were all struggling to be a godly husband.
The excellence and professionalism of church programs and ministries may also be contributing to men in the church becoming spectators. This is especially true in youth and children's ministry. The church trains, hires, supports, equips and resources gifted people who teach the young people of the church. I have five children and think this is wonderful. It can become so wonderful that men no longer feel the 'godly pressure' to team with their wives and "train a child in the way he should go" (Proverbs 22:6). These men prayerfully place the spiritual development of their children in the hands of the local church and gifted people with extensive training.
God has specific designs for men in the home, church and community. Some of these designs are different than what He has planned for women. Many of these designs require the local church to equip men in order for them to succeed. We need to make sure that some of our men's events are challenging men to the role that God has called them and not allowing men to comfortably sit on the sidelines as spectators.
Many men's ministry leaders who love God and have a great idea will launch into planning and preparing an event for men by themselves. This is a mistake. There is a promised good return for our work when we serve together. We share the load and we plan the event together. We use our gifts and are protected from our weaknesses. We encourage one another, pray together and believe God together. Rarely is a men's event a flop when a team of men plan and prepare it. Even if only a few men attend the event, the process and relationships built in the process were rewarding.
Far too many men with good hearts, great vision and significant energy have walked away from a men's event discouraged and exhausted. They tried to pull the event off by themselves and although the logistics fell into place - the men did not come. Because they were alone in owning the event, they are now alone it feeling the failure.
If God does not raise up a couple of men to help you on a specific event for men, it could be that it is not time or that there is something else that would better serve the men. Make it a point to believe God for a diverse team of men with the same passion before you tackle the planning and preparation of a men's event.