Holiday Services and Men

Christmas lightsKyle and Bonnie have been married almost twenty years. Kyle hates going to church. Bonnie loves it. This has caused tension in their marriage, as she subtly prays, preaches and prods Kyle toward religion, and he steadfastly resists.?? But Kyle “does Bonnie a favor” and attends church three times a year: Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day. He’s one of millions of men who attend only on these holidays.

Bonnie looks forward to these occasions, and each time prays earnestly that God will touch his heart. But nothing ever happens. Kyle feels as out of place as a ham sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah.

Why are holiday services, which draw huge numbers of irreligious men, so ineffective at engaging them? I believe that holiday services are, by their very nature, poorly suited for men. They tend to hide the church’s greater mission under a mountain of religious tradition and ceremony. Holiday services also give men a skewed perspective on what the gospel is all about.

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Putting Away Childish Things

LegosSome of you will be taking your children to college in the next few weeks. While you’re in the dorms, you might notice a difference in how girls and boys decorate their rooms.

Stop your snickering. This is a serious subject.

In a young woman’s room it’s not uncommon to find various keepsakes of her childhood, including stuffed animals, baby pictures and dolls. Go to a boy’s room and a different portrait emerges: it’s as if his childhood never existed. There’s nary a Lego, Tonka truck or Mutant Ninja Turtle to be seen. Instead the walls are plastered with the images of sports heroes, curvaceous models and alcoholic beverages.

Why the difference?

Psychologically speaking, young men have an intense need to separate themselves from childhood. Women, on the other hand, celebrate their childhoods for a lifetime. No shame accrues to a woman who revels in her youth, but in our society men are supposed to strain toward manhood. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but it’s the way things are and have been for centuries. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Young men are still eager to do this.

So we have another reason men avoid Christianity: there is a strong psychological link between church and childhood. Women, who are free to enjoy the delights of their youth, attend church without shame. But men are wary of an institution that has strong ties to their formative years.

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Women’s Ministry for Men

Women’s and children’s ministries flourish in practically every U.S. congregation, but few churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry. For example, there are 35,000 United Methodist congregations in the U.S.  but only 6,000 offer a chapter of the United Methodist Men’s Organization.

Furthermore, most attempts to start a men’s ministry end in failure. Why is this?  Here’s an example of a typical men’s small group. See if you can figure out why it’s not growing:

Tony went to men’s small group at his church—once. First, the men sat in a circle and sang praise songs for about ten minutes. Tony was asked to introduce himself and share about his life. Next, he was paired with a stranger and asked to share one of his deepest fears. Then, everyone was asked to share a prayer need or a praise report. The men read from the Bible, taking turns around the circle. Finally, the men stood in a circle and held hands for what seemed like hours, while one by one they bared their souls to God. One man was quietly weeping. The guy next to Tony prayed for ten minutes straight, and his palms were sweaty. Once the meeting was over, Tony didn’t stay for cookies. He hasn’t been back.

Men’s ministry so often falters for this simple reason: it’s actually women’s ministry for men. When Christian men gather, they’re expected to relate like women and to enjoy the things women enjoy.

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Boyz to Men

Man looking at steepleThe church loses almost all of its young men after high school. Research indicates that more than 70 percent of the boys who are raised in church abandon it during their teens and twenties.

Dan Schaeffer told me the sad tale of his son’s nine best Christian buddies. All were pillars in the youth group, but within three weeks of high school graduation all nine had turned their back on church.

Why is this happening? We work so hard to train them up in the way they should go. How can a boy simply abandon church after 16 years of Sunday school, 8 years of VBS, and 4 years of youth group?

I believe we can combat this widespread apostasy – if we rediscover young male initiation.

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Forgotten Mission

Military baseMilitary base closures are in the news. The pentagon wants to shutter hundreds of installations around the nation, in order to plow the savings into beefed-up national security.

But local communities don’t want to lose the bases. They depend on these posts to buoy their local economies, provide jobs and enhance prestige. The moment the list was announced, governors and senators rushed to the microphones, pledging to “save our bases.”

But there’s a core truth that’s being lost here. The military exists for one purpose: to defend America against hostile enemies. It does not exist to provide jobs or prestige to localities. But these towns (and their supporters) seem to have forgotten that.

Our churches fall into a similar mindset. We forget our purpose: to make disciples of Jesus. The only valid measure of success is this: are people becoming more like Him?

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How to Speak Man-ish

We live among the world’s largest unreached people group — men. Guys have their own needs, expectations and culture. They speak a different language. Yet today’s Christians do almost nothing to make the gospel comprehensible to them. On the contrary, many of the terms we toss about in our churches have turned Christianity into a puzzle for men.

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Meeting the Needs of Fatherless Men

Gang tagPolice in Los Angeles are battling an upsurge in gang activity. Officer Frank Flores of the LAPD estimates that more than 200,000 gang members call Los Angeles home. Jose is typical:

Jose came from a broken family and joined [a gang] when he was 13. He was arrested three times, the last time at age 19 for killing a homeless man with other gang members and stealing 26 dollars he was carrying.

Jose recently left prison and is trying to reform his life by working for Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles group that provides jobs to former convicts. “I want to change, I want to change,” he says. Then he goes silent. Without his gang Jose seems lost.

Why is Jose so drawn to his gang? “A gang gives you something that nothing in the world or no amount of money can give you: a family, an acceptance,” he said.

The church can learn a lot from gangs. Men join gangs for one reason: they want a father figure. Many troubled men grew up without strong male role models. But these men do not turn to church because the congregations they’ve attended are predominantly female, and the spirit of the place feels so warm, nurturing and gentle. Men need a masculine path to Christ. Young men crave a wilder, more demanding faith, and don’t mind the spur of discipline when it’s administered in love.

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Church as a Classroom…

Have you noticed how many church programs are built around a school paradigm? We offer adult classes, seminars, Sunday school, Bible Studies, etc. The centerpiece of our worship is a lecture (sermon) from an educated person with a seminary degree. Christianity has become an educational pursuit. The path to Christ now leads through a classroom.

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