Man silhouetteFor the past two weeks, headlines in the U.S. have been dominated by the shocking story of a Penn State football coach who is accused of sexually abusing young boys. It follows years of similarly sordid tales emanating from the Catholic Church.

The perpetrators of these evil acts have not just damaged the lives of their victims – they have cast a dark shadow of suspicion over men who want to spend time with boys. This poses a huge challenge for the church as it tries to reach the next generation of men for Christ.

What’s the old saying? The Christian faith is more caught than taught. Christianity has always passed from one man to another. Why do you think Jesus personally discipled twelve men? Or consider the example of Paul, who always took a Barnabas, Silas, or Timothy along on his many journeys. Moses mentored Joshua; Elijah mentored Elisha. The list goes on and on.

Researchers Paul Hill, David Anderson, and Roland Martinson interviewed eighty-eight young men to identify the key relationships through which faith is imparted. Here’s what they found: after family of origin, male mentors were the number one influencers in these young men’s spiritual lives.

Man-to-younger-man is the essential relationship through which courageous faith flows. Nothing else comes close.

But in the wake of these scandals, society is becoming suspicious of the man-boy relationship—particularly in a religious context. Churchmen are shrinking back from working with youth for fear of being seen as a pervert – or being falsely accused.  Irreligious fathers can now say to themselves, “I’m noble for keeping my son out of church. I wouldn’t want him to be abused.”

As tales of abuse multiply, single moms will be less likely to place their sons in the care of older male mentors. Frightened mothers will keep their sons home from the youth retreat, or prohibit overnight sleepovers with church friends. That means more boys growing up with no male role models in their lives.

What can your church do?

  • Conduct background checks on everyone who works with youth. Announce the policy regularly to your congregation: we vet our volunteers.
  • Set clear policies for your youth/children’s workers regarding appropriate behavior. Be explicit. You can no longer assume that volunteers know where to draw the lines.
  • The time may be coming when men’s ministry programs need to address the issue of homosexuality directly. For example, they may need to make it clear that the men’s ministry is not a place to look for sex – and if that’s your agenda, you’re not welcome here.

The next few years will be tough. Years of bad press have made it seem like every man is a potential abuser. Against this challenging backdrop, churches must redouble their efforts to recruit and train godly men to work with youth. The need for this ministry has never been greater, as young men abandon the faith and the ranks of fatherless boys grow daily.