Men and boys don’t need teaching as much as they need discipleship – the kind of intense, one-on-one leadership Jesus provided his disciples. Unfortunately, the modern church has discarded the discipleship model in favor of a classroom model.
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.
Why is this academic approach to faith so discouraging to men? Simple. Men are less comfortable in a classroom. Figures from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that women are more likely than men to go to college and earn 57 percent of all the BA degrees and 58 percent of the master’s degrees. Boys drop out of high school at a rate 30 percent higher than that of girls. Girls outnumber boys 124 to 100 in advanced placement courses.
We cannot expect men to come to maturity in Christ in a classroom environment. Women will always outshine men when reading, study and verbal expression are the goal. Men (especially masculine men) feel incompetent in the house of God because they cannot hold their own against highly verbal, studious women.
Although reading, study, sermons, and classes can help, these academic exercises cannot penetrate to the hidden places in a man’s heart. But discipleship can, because it’s teaching by example. Christ didn’t hand out a study guide; He demonstrated a life pleasing to God. His example, even more than His words, produced eleven men who shook the world. That is why a man who has sat in church for thirty years without much life change will be suddenly transformed after going on a mission trip. Men are changed by what they experience, not necessarily by what they are told.
At the conclusion of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus gave His followers three responsibilities: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (28:19–20). Our orders are simple: (1) make disciples, (2) baptize them, and (3) teach them to obey Christ’s commands. Today’s church has reversed this process. We teach a lot of people, baptize some, but produce very few genuine disciples.
Let me be blunt: men don’t need Bible knowledge as much as they need an example. They need to be close to a man who is following Christ with all his heart. It’s time for our churches to back away from the classroom model and reinstate the discipleship model as our primary means of bringing people to maturity. It worked in Jesus’ day. It will work today.
Some of you pastors may be shaking your heads. You probably got into the pastorate because you have the gift of teaching. You love to retreat to your study and lose yourself in a good book. Preaching and teaching may be the highlight of your life. You probably can’t imagine a church where study is not the central activity.
Pastor, let me challenge you to pour yourself into a small group of men, the way Jesus did. It’s risky. It’s unpredictable. It’s inefficient, but far more effective. Men want to follow God, but until they have a leader showing them the way they’ll never be able to do it. Wean your church from the classroom model and push toward the discipleship model. Your men will come alive!