Let’s say immigrants from a faraway land began moving to your city, and you wanted to reach them with the gospel. Few of them speak English or understand Western culture. Would you walk right up to them and start explaining the four spiritual laws?
Of course not. Instead, you would learn their language, familiarize yourself with their customs, and discover their real needs. Then you would tailor your presentation of the gospel to make it meaningful to them.
This was the apostle Paul’s strategy as he encountered different cultures. In 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23, Paul made it clear that he tailored his presentation to the needs of the audience he was trying to reach. He never compromised the message. However, he was not afraid to make it understandable to his hearers.
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.
Let’s start with inclusive language. Mainline churches have stripped masculine references from hymns, liturgy and even scripture. Bible translations are expunging masculine references: we are no longer sons of God but children of God. Interestingly, feminine allusions such as the bride of Christ are still widely accepted.
Evangelicals also use man-repellent terminology. For example, in the Baptist universe you have two kinds of people: the saved and the lost. Men hate to be lost – that’s why they don’t ask for directions. If you tell a man he’s lost, he will instinctively resist you! And the only thing worse than being lost is being saved! The term drips with passivity. I’ve heard many a man mock Christianity by crying out, “Hallelujah, I’m saved!”
Although Jesus used the term saved a number of times in the gospels, if you carefully examine the text, He never called anyone to be saved. Instead, he called men to follow him. Hear the difference? Follow gives a man something to do. It suggests activity instead of passivity. But being saved is something that happens to damsels in distress. It’s the feminine role. So why not use the descriptor Jesus himself preferred? By calling men to follow Jesus, we put Christ’s offer in active terms that appeal to everyone.
Another term from the feminine side is sharing. Christians are constantly being asked to share, as in, “Steve, would you please share with us what the Lord has placed on your heart?” Regular men don’t talk this way. It sounds too much like kindergarten. Imagine a gang member saying to one of his brothers, “Blade, would you please share with us how you jacked that Mercedes?”
Jesus spoke constantly of the kingdom of God. Men are kingdom builders. They think hierarchically. But many churches have replaced the masculine term kingdom of God with the more feminine family of God. Jesus never uttered this phrase. It never appears in the Bible. But we prefer family of God because it resonates with the feminine heart.
The term relationship gets a workout in church today. Evangelical churches frequently invite people to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Does that phrase appear in the Bible? Nope. Nowhere does scripture invite us to have a relationship with God or Jesus. Yet amazingly it’s become the most popular way to describe the Christian walk! Why? Because it frames the gospel in terms of a woman’s deepest desire – a personal relationship with a man who loves her unconditionally.
Nowadays it’s not enough to have a personal relationship with Jesus; many of today’s top speakers encourage men to have a passionate relationship with him. These teachers have chosen a very uncomfortable metaphor to describe discipleship! Speaking as a man, the idea of having a passionate relationship with another man is just plain gross.
When a man loves another man, he uses terms like admire, look up to, and respect. Men do not speak of passionate, intimate or even personal relationships with their leaders or male friends. Can you imagine a couple of bikers having this conversation?
Biker 1: Hey, Rocco, let’s go for a ride in the desert so we can develop a passionate relationship.
Biker 2: Sure, Spike. We can enjoy some intimate time together.
It gets worse. More than once I’ve been exhorted by a prominent men’s minister to have a love affair with Jesus. I just saw a new book for Christian men: Kissing the Face of God. An ad for the book invites men to “get close enough to reach up and kiss His face!” Time out – this is a men’s book? Yikes! With the spotlight on homosexuality in the church, why do we increase men’s doubts by using the language of romance to describe the Christian walk? Conservative churches may oppose homosexuality, but their imagery is sending another message entirely. The more we describe Christianity as a passionate, intimate, face-kissing relationship, the more nervous men become.
Ministers and teachers, I beg you to be more careful with these terms. Men are very sensitive about their manhood, and using bedroom vocabulary to describe Christianity is not only unbiblical, it sows doubt in men’s subconscious minds. Here’s my rule of thumb: when describing the things of God, use terms that would sound right on a construction site. Try words like friendship, and partnership. Challenge men to follow God, or walk with Christ. See the difference it makes