FIRST-PERSON: The church's message for men
FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP)--This is a true story. It happened years ago on a Sunday morning, right during the middle of the church service for everyone to see. I couldn't believe my eyes, or my ears. I'm sitting on the third pew in total disbelief that I'm hearing a sermon which feels a lot more like something my old football coach would be saying instead of the a gentle, low dose of expectation that had become customary. I have to admit, it felt good.
Why? Because it was a man-sermon. He was preaching to the men in the church that day. Better yet, he wasn't screaming at us for being lazy Christians. He was giving us great words on the truth that real men are called to be like those champions found in Scripture who had lived their lives as bold men who served a bold God.
Then he dropped the bomb. Right as he was hitting his homiletical stride, right at the point where every good preacher knows that you've got the audience ready, even begging you, to tell them what to do, he did the unthinkable. In a baritone voice that would make Vince Lombardi proud, he said:
"Men, you've got marching orders from Holy God. You have the opportunity to give you life's work to something that actually matters. You can serve a King and His Kingdom and make an eternal difference in this world. And you can do it right here in this church. The best place you can start is by serving our biggest need -- our nursery and pre-school ministry. You can love on those kids, change those diapers, and teach them all about Jesus. Men, we're here to serve! The church and the men in it are here to serve our God -- just like we are called to serve our wives. He calls the church His bride. We are all the bride of Christ. We all were called to wear that wedding dress of service, serving Him until He comes again."
I could not believe my ears, or my eyes. He kept on preaching for the next 15 minutes, but I never heard another word. My thoughts stopped. My spirit deflated. I was speechless. As if it weren't hard enough to try and delete from the hard drive of my mind the image of being forced to wear a wedding dress, I had also just been told by a preacher that my opportunity for serving God was all but bound to the nursery. The implication was that if I did not accept the call, I was spiritually out of touch with the God that made me.
I am not saying that this pastor was wrong for wanting men to serve kids. He was not wrong in that at all. Where he got it wrong was that his definition of what it means to serve God was out of step with the male psyche. Where he got it really wrong was using a wedding dress metaphor to describe how I should be relating to God. I am in no way stating that serving kids is a lesser calling. It most certainly is not. Serving kids is a great calling, but it's not for every man. What I am saying is that, like it or not, many men simply do not get amped up from that sort of ministry option. I should know, for I speak to thousands of men a year, and this is at the heart of their struggle, not with God, but with "church" and how so often the church narrowly defines what is and what is not "ministry."
Evangelicals today have media capabilities that would boggle the mind of the first century church. We spend millions every year on our message. Jesus spoke a simple sentence, "Come follow Me ..." and rough necks like Peter gave up a career path for the Kingdom call. Yet, with all of our current media savvy, churches everywhere are struggling to reach men. It's no secret that Jesus' very own congregations can't seem to find a message that attracts men.
As I've worked with congregations seeking to construct men's ministries, I've discovered that churches often end up creating what I've come to call the "marginal man." The average guy in the pew has a thought process in which he realizes that he's not called to preach. Furthermore, he realizes that he's not necessarily a good Bible teacher, and they won't let him sing in the choir. He's been on a few committees, but that wasn't enough. Left with those options, he starts to see ministry, by the way the church defines it, as a forgone conclusion. Does this fit the mentality of all churches? No. Yet my experience has found that it's far more the mindset that rules the day rather than the exception.
Given these options, the marginal man quietly sits on the boundaries of church life. It's not that he doesn't love God, it's that he's bored. He feels left out because he does not necessarily embrace the tight mold of what congregations are, and are not, willing to give the title of "ministry position."
Consider Jeremy Harrill, another true story. Harrill is a wildlife officer in North Carolina, and a hard working man of God at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cleveland, N.C. Knowing that many men in his congregation loved to hunt and fish, Harrill started a Bible study specifically for outdoorsmen. The content, the stories, the brotherhood, all centered around that niche of men who would willingly skip church during hunting season.
Harrill's small group study was well received, and it wasn't long until he had another wild idea. He knew that many of these men were barely connected to church life, but if he could find just the right opportunity, he believed that God could push these men to go on a mission trip. So, Harrill took his outdoorsmen to Alaska with the mission of sharing the Gospel via a DVD produced through the Alaska Baptist Convention called "Life:Alaska." Harrill led his men to share the Gospel, using the DVD concept, with fisherman lining the banks during the summer Salmon runs. The rest is history ... still in the making. Jeremy Harrill understands that if you form a ministry around a man's passion, you don't have to motivate him. All you have to do is give him permission to serve God through his personality, not in spite of it.
Churches today could reach men in droves if they would start with where men are at, instead of where they want them to be. Marginal men are not necessarily content to be marginal. Whether it's through golf, disaster relief, motor cycles, home repair, coaching, business networking, or hunting and fishing, marginal men will turn into hardcore Jesus followers if you can teach them how to turn their passion into a ministry with a Kingdom agenda. Shout the message that your church embraces testosterone, and your message will not only be heard, it will be received by men.
Jason Cruise is the founder of Outdoor Ministry Network. Visit his websites at www.outdoorministrynetwork.com and www.bethemanministries.com.