July 13, 2011

The Best Women’s Ministry? A Healthy Men’s Ministry

by Byron Yawn

The intention here is not to slight the ministries offered to women or the many valuable services rendered by women in the church. In my experience women’s ministries are often the most efficient and effective in the local church context. My intent is to draw out a simple principle: Wives (and women in general) are ministered to in unique ways when their husbands (or male populations) are passionate for Jesus Christ and have willingly assumed the role of spiritual leader in the home and church. In this sense, one of the most effective ministries a church can have to its female population is an intense desire to reach its male population. You want to bless a wife? Get after her husband.

What every godly wife yearns for is a spiritual leader. It’s a natural desire. Conversely, wives are most frustrated by husbands who occupy the office of leader but refuse to fulfill it. It’s a proper frustration. In many situations wives are forced to drag their husbands “kicking and screaming” to church, or into spiritual pursuits. Additionally, as trends go, wives are usually more biblically knowledgeable and spiritually passionate then their counterparts. As a result, the female populations in local churches can often possess a more earnest desire for the things of God. For any number of reasons, the men lag behind in many churches. And wives who would much rather turn to their husbands for spiritual leadership before turning to other resources (pastors, elders, or trusted Christian authors) can’t.

For the longest time I had a tendency to view men’s ministry as a separate program in the church. No longer. Now I know it to be an essential feature in the overall progress of the church and of the Gospel. It is not a mere ministry in the church. It is at the heart of the church’s overall ministry. In many ways, the health of a church is dependent upon the passion and spiritual maturity of men. Churches rise no higher than the level of spiritual maturity found in their men. This is ultimately true since men occupy the offices which guide the church.

Jesus is the head of the Church. But, practically speaking, the local church also rests upon the character of godly men who occupy its leadership and ministries. From the very beginning identifying and developing godly men was essential to the establishment of the church. This pattern is no less essential today. The men in the church must be reached. Any pastor or leadership who don’t make this a central aim of their efforts are not fulfilling the totality of their calling as leaders.

So many positive things happen in homes and churches when men are gripped by the glory of Jesus Christ. As the saying goes, reach a man and you reach his wife. Reach his wife and you reach his kids. Reach his kids and you reach his cul-de-sac. Reach his cul-de-sac you and you reach his community. Reach his community and you reach the world. It’s ironic to me that so many pastors jump on the latest “church in a box” craze while neglecting this vital ministry in the church. You want to set the church on fire? Light its men up!

Reaching men can be challenging. Partly because there are certain perspectives which have entrenched themselves in the church and culture. Take for instance the pervasive stereotype of men as unthinking Neanderthals. Or, the decades of church growth/seeker methodologies primarily aimed at meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of women. The androgynous spirituality offered by evangelicalism at large. Masculinity and Christianity have been placed at logical odds. Additionally, pastors and leaders often don’t connect with their men. Church appears as a polyester cloister where real struggles are off limits. The average man’s pastor is a rare commodity.

Then there are the men themselves. It can be difficult for men – struggling with pride – to admit their deficiencies and ask for guidance. Even if they are willing, it’s hard to warm up to the more popular offerings for men since their primary intent seems to be turning men into better women. Is it any wonder, many men find it extremely difficult to relate to church? How then do we reach our men? By prayer and persistence and passion. Here are some things to consider.

1. Churches cannot give into the cultural stereotype and lower the standards in order to reach men. As the saying goes, if you lower the standard men will reach it every time. Churches must keep the expectations for men as high as the Bible keeps them and simultaneously help them rise to the challenge through an intentional and compassionate offering of mentoring and training. Reaching men has to be a sincere passion of the leadership for it to really take hold. If it is, men will respond.

d2. Create a culture of masculine spirituality in the church by applying the Gospel to real time challenges men face. (Pornography, lethargy, etc.) There needs to be a well-mannered yet candid dialogue about the issues the average man deals with. This creates a freedom for transparency which translates into a hopeful accountability. Otherwise, men will go to their graves thinking they’re the only ones who are crazy!

3. Challenge men directly. Men don’t respond well to passive aggressive suggestions and hints. You have to lay their responsibility for leadership directly at their feet. They will respect pastors who do this as long as those pastors back it up with their own lives and are willing to come down from their ivory towers to help them along the way. Most men light up when a leader in the church offers the slightest amount of encouragement, or shows an interest. Quite frankly, their not used to seeing it.

4. Men wake up to the need for spiritual maturity at different places in their lives. We should not assume all men are in the same place. Certainly, most men are not familiar with even the most basic theology and biblical knowledge. If we assume to much we may cut off a large group of men who have a desire to grow, but have no idea how to get there. The way to deal with this is to offer a diversity of opportunities for men to gather and grow. From ministries that capture the “low lying fruit” of beginners to those which deal more advanced theological and pastoral training.

5. Remember that the primary goal is to encourage men to be lovers of Christ. Leadership is dependent upon this central goal. Maturity is not defined by the amount of biblical and theological knowledge a man possesses. There are plenty of PhDs who are horrible leaders and worse examples. Biblical knowledge is only part of it. The ultimate aim is not to raise up seminary students but consistently broken men. A husband and father who loves Jesus will naturally drag his family “skipping and singing” in the same direction. You have to introduce your men to the edge of their seat thrill ride of the Gospel.

6. Don’t force the wives in your church to play the role of life-coach for their husbands. It’s an unnatural position. When men fall off the radar other godly men in the church should step up with encouragement and concern. When they face a crisis other Christian men should offer counsel and prayer. We need to be in each other’s lives whether we want it or not. Men are masters at isolation and usually horrible at friendships. The church has to teach its men how to serve each other in godly friendship and accountability. No one is their own best counselor.

7. We have to get upstream with the younger generations of men. Churches are notoriously bad at retaining the younger generations. By the time young men reach college and career age they assume the church has nothing relevant to say to their context. Usually, we don’t. We must try hard to reach them and help disciple them in this season of their life. This actually starts long before they reach college age. It starts in Junior high if not before. If churches ignore this demographic they will fail to fill the pipeline with future leadership.

We’ve done our best to create a culture for male maturity and leadership in our local church. Some men run from it, but most men thrive under it. For certain, wives rejoice in it. Several years ago a couple was visiting us from a liberal denomination in our area. Turns out, the church had fired its pastor. This had not sat well with this couple since they were fond of her. (If you know what I mean.) After a few weeks the wife scheduled a meeting with me. She wanted to discuss our theological and ecclesiastical differences. She confessed, “I completely disagree with the majority of your doctrine and especially your view of the role of women in the Church. But, I have a serious problem. My husband loves it here. It’s been years since he’s shown any interest in Biblical things. The other day I walked in on him reading his Bible. I broke down in tears. He actually led the family in prayer. Its amazing!” I was happy to have been a part of causing her such pain.

Byron Yawn

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Byron is the senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville. His newest book, What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him, is a guide for parents and pastors who seek to raise men of God.
  • Robert Sakovich

    Great work, Byron. I hope that the lady you mentioned at the end is still at your church and that her family is groweing in knowledge of the Word. My wife and I are trying to instill this type of thinking in our boys so that they will be equipped to be spirritual leaders in their homes when they grow up. I am so grateful for the grace of God and the work He has done in my life in this regard, although I still need to open up more to the men around me. You hit the nail on the head talking about pride holding us back…I pray that God will break me more and more so that I can conform more to the image of Jesus instead of myself. Then I will be better equipped as a leader for my wife.

  • Mary Elizabeth Tyler

    This is such an excellent article, Bryon, and it could be taken in so many different directions. You said that to reach a man is to reach his wife, which ultimately reaches the community. I could not agree more, and what an ideal situation that truly is. If only it were that simple. But the vast majority of people in many churches today, do not come in convenient sets. Many churches are filled with widows, divorced women, single women, and women whose husband’s are not believers and do not attend church. So right there is an entire mission field that sadly gets pretty much neglected.

    My pastor, God love him (who is a complementarian, as I am), just three or four Sunday’s ago, admonished the older women of the church to fill this need more effectively (not that they are doing such a bad job, but more as an encouragement). So I think pastors need to preach in ways that are practical and effective to the “entire” body of believers, in order to reach those women, who should be more effective teachers, so they can in turn reach the single, divorced, widowed women, and the wives who sit alone in the pews on Sunday’s.

    Great article!

  • Oh, brother, can I just shout “Amen”! (With a gentle and quiet spirit, of course. 🙂 ) Husbands are the the thermostats of the family – they set the spiritual temperature. They are leading us all the time – either towards apathy, indifference and worldliness, or towards the gospel. I used to be mystified by how my really brilliant, well-theologically-educated husband struggles so much with the basics of shepherding me and our children. But it seems like that is what Satan would want – men with a whole lot of head knowledge, but no heart for Jesus that compels them to fight the curse of the Fall and pursue a living, visible relationship with Jesus. And it’s even more frustrating when pastors take for granted that the men that are in leadership in the church (teaching, paid staff, etc.) must not be in need of the same ongoing, intentional discipleshp as the “ordinary” guys. Sometimes they need more. The smarter they are, the better they are at hiding.

  • Steel Smith

    Very good words indeed. I couldn’t agree with you more on every point! I’m excited about the prospect of having more men serve along side and leading their wives in all areas of ministry at the church but especially in Children’s ministry. Quite frankly I’m saddened by the missing link (men) in kid’s ministries in the church. Our kids have women as teachers in school and women as teachers in Sunday school too. Yikes! That has got to change too. At the church I see a ton of couples and men in the ministries but I’m always shocked at how many pew sitters we have too that have literally been at the church for 2, 3, 4 decades and have done nothing by way of ministry. I don’t even have words or a place in my theology for it. Its just sad and shocking to me. My greatest times of grow are when I have to jump out of my lycra/spandex super suit and lead or teach in church. I figure that the best thing I can do for a guy is to recruit him to work with kids in the church. (So, all this to say: I need you and the elders to challenge or direct me to 6 men who want to break the pew potato cycle in their lives and get them with me on Wed. nights this fall as disciplers of our young men in TNT AWANA.)

  • Lauren Cook

    Refreshingly spot on Byron. We (women) want desperately to be led…and sometimes find ourselves (unintentionally) persuading men to lead us. I can speak personally that I am a more effective (and when I say effective, I mean edifying) wife, mom, friend, housekeeper, etc. when I die to self, and allow God’s design to have it’s correct place in my life. Being led by an imperfect man has it’s set of challenges, but what a blessing it is, and what freedom I have found in trusting God to allow the Holy Spirit to challenge, grow, and teach my husband. And for the women in church who are unmarried, divorced, widowed, or married to unbelievers…the same thing still applies. To the unmarried, she still honors her father. If her father is an unbeliever, she can still honor him and seek biblical counsel from the Lord Himself, and from church leadership. To the divorcee and widow, the body of Christ and leadership in the church should be there. For the woman married to the unbeliever, she can still find great joy in submitting to his leadership. Though he may not have biblical counsel and spiritual wisdom, she is still honoring the Lord, and He can use her gentle loving spirit to “win her husband over”…I have seen it happen many times. Thank you Byron for this eloquent and encouraging perspective on how women’s ministry is most effective through the spiritual growth and passion for Christ in our men.

  • mike

    This is AWESOME!!! I pray this catches on through out the church! But do we all have to wear tight t-shirts, look up and to the right with clouds in the back ground?

  • Christie A Dunn

    “Oh God of grace please see us through. Give mercy now, we call to you. Our flesh is weak, our sin is great, but our Savior’s cross has won the day.” Words born from this very subject. So thankful daily for the Lord’s edifying work in our lives. We understand that this growth and desire to lead/submit for us each only makes sense as the Spirit works in us. Thank-you Byron for constantly bringing grace and the gospel in front of us.

  • Johncookmt01

    Thank you Byron. The final paragraph detailing the wife/husband scenario placed a great exclamation mark on this piece. My wife has openly expressed admiration and encouragement after a spirit filled conversation or intentional interactions revolving around the Word and the Gospel.

    I admit that I struggle in the category of lethargy and need daily reminders to be intentional in being a spiritual leader in the home. I am, however, thankful for the transformation that God has allowed in our family dynamic in the past several years and ask for strength and growth in this area as my toddlers mature and my marriage ages into double digits.

    It is funny how some of us men can easily (sort of) take tasks of maintaining the home, finances, and monetary responsibilities as a part of becoming a man but ignore the obedience that God has commanded us to lead our home and take ministry seriously.

    Thank you for this thought provoking, inciting, and inspiring post!

    John Cook

  • Ike

    Thanks Byron, I am reallly enjoying these blogs as many others are. Your passion for men’s ministry has been a huge blessing & encouragment to me and my family. Thank you for practicing what you preach.

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  • Brad Laramie

    Great words Byron! I am thankful for this article, but I am even more thankful for Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. They seem to be the best out there at fulfilling your view. Driscoll has single-handedly changed an entire city and he is in the process of changing the entire nation!