When my mother was only nine years old, she and her mother were baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. My grandmother, a lifelong Christian, decided that what the pastor of that church was teaching offered the best spiritual guidance for her young family. My grandfather, however, did not share the same view.
Many years later I would spend my childhood summers with my grandparents. My grandmother and I would spend time talking about the Bible and other religious themes. My grandfather and I spent time participating in various sports activities: fishing (his favorite pastime), watching baseball on TV, or sitting on the front porch watching people playing baseball on the sandlot field across the street from the house.
One other distinct memory that I have of those summers: every Sabbath morning my grandfather would take my grandmother and me to the Ebenezer Seventh-day Adventist Church in Augusta, Georgia, United States, drop us off, and drive away. We would not see him again until later that afternoon when he came to pick us up. I vividly remember seeing him waiting in the car for us or sitting on the church steps until we were ready to leave. But he would not come into the church.
He did eventually become a Seventh-day Adventist. In fact, he became a deacon and served his church faithfully until his death. But what took him so long to decide to come to church, much less become an Adventist?
His is not an isolated story, for in countless numbers of churches, wives attend without their husbands and children attend without their fathers. Such was common in every church that I pastored, and I still see the same from week to week, regardless of what church I am attending.
Robert M. Franklin Jr., Presidential Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States, and former president of the Interdenominational Theological Seminary, also in Atlanta, Georgia, identified eight reasons why African- American men refuse to attend church services. Among the reasons:
• the teachings of Christianity are perceived to encourage meekness and passivity
• character traits that are often attributed to Jesus create an antimacho persona
• worship services are too long
• hypocrisy is tolerated, especially among those who have a higher standing within the congregation*
The men in my neighborhoods
While Franklin specifically addresses African-American congregations, it seems to me that the reasons I cited also apply to men of other ethnic backgrounds. Throughout my ministerial lifetime I have been blessed to live in several different neighborhoods, and all of them, with one exception, had a mix of individuals with various or no denominational affiliations. Furthermore, no two neighborhoods were alike in terms of their ethnic composition.
I have made it a practice to talk to the men in the neighborhoods in which I have lived about a variety of topics, and we have so much in common: a love of sports (be it participatory or spectator), other forms of recreation, our jobs, and many others. They have known what I do for a living, whether I pastored a church or my current assignment as an editor. Often without my bringing up the subject, they volunteer their reasons why they don’t attend church, and the reasons range from their desire to sleep late into the morning hours on their off days, wanting to work around the house, wanting to spend time with their wives and children at the park, or, in the case of more than a few, they just want to get up early and go to the golf course.
What can the church do about it?
The churches I pastored were intentional about ministering to the male population, but most of our efforts were directed at the men in our own church. The church that I currently attend, the Dupont Park Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington, District of Columbia, United States, intentionally pursues ministry to men both within our church and within the larger community, focusing on mentoring our boys and teenagers, encouraging the men in our church and community to be proactive as it relates to health screenings concerning their cholesterol and glucose readings as well as their prostate health, and assisting them in developing interviewing skills and building a résumé.
In our lead article, Minner Labrador Jr. tackles the topic of intentionally ministering to men, and he does so from both sermonic and practical angles. He also addresses the criticality of ministering to the male population.
The editors of Ministry hope that a discussion will begin, or at least continue, that will lead to practical methods of reaching the males in our communities while attracting them to behold the dynamic nature of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
* Robert M. Franklin, Another Day’s Journey: Black Churches Confronting the American Crisis (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997), 90, 91.