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.