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The missing men

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Archives / 2008 / February

 

 

The missing men

Minner Labrador Jr.
Minner Labrador Jr., MDiv, is pastor of the Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. He also serves as the coordinator for men’s ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.

 

Missing in action.” That simple phrase, common in war, has brought heartache and pain to an endless number of families who fear the worst for their loved ones. But, as terrible as physically missing in action (MIA) is, another battlefront exists where men are missing in action, and whose loved ones bemoan their fate. These are the men who are missing from our churches.

While the worst that can happen to an MIA in this world is physical death, the fate of the MIAs in the spiritual world means eternal death—and that should be a great concern for all pastors. As spiritual leaders, we should be just as concerned for the men who are spiritual MIAs as governments are for the men who are physical ones.

The numbers

The research clearly tells us that men are missing in record numbers from our churches.

Take, for example, the research from the United States–based Barna Group. Every year, the Barna Group explores the state of Americans’ religious practices, examining facets of people’s spiritual activity, faith identity, commitment, and religious perspective (www.barna.org). Barna research points out that just 35 percent of men in the United States attend church weekly. In Europe it is five percent. According to Barna:

Women are more likely than men to be born again: 49 percent of women have accepted Christ as their savior, compared to 41 percent of men. (2006)

Women are 55 percent of the adult born again population. (2006)

Women are more likely than are men to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings (55 percent versus 41 percent). (2006)

Women are more likely than are men to believe that God is the All-powerful, All-knowing, perfect Creator who rules the world today (78 percent to 64 percent). (2006)

About 74 percent of women compared to 64 percent of men say that their faith is very important to them. (2006)

About 68 percent of women describe themselves as “deeply spiritual” compared to 55 percent of men who say that “deeply spiritual” describes them accurately.1

Furthermore, all churches face the crisis of missing men in their congregations. The United Methodist Church Web site, for example, posted statistics on attendance for the year 1999. They noted that in 1999 there were about 875,000 women in attendance at church every weekend; this was compared to 248,000 men. They consider the lack of men enlisted in God’s work a serious problem for the healthy existence of Methodist churches.

The absence of men from the churches of the United States, as well as other countries will have serious consequences. This absence:

• Eliminates male role models for youth

• Stifles the flow of tithes and offerings

• Creates a marked gender gap that results in an imbalance of spiritual leadership in the church

An enormous amount of research has been done about why men, in every denomination, in every age group, and in every country, do not equal the church attendance of women. Whatever the reasons for this absence, as pastors we need to find ways to minister to these spiritual MIAs.

Approaches

For starters, if we want to draw men into our congregations, we need to understand that men and women are socialized differently. This produces a difference in dynamics that results in the decision of whether or not a person attends and/or participates in church.

Women, in general, have been taught interdependence, obedience, and caring for others. They learn to be nurturers. Women, therefore, love relationships; this includes high-powered businesswomen as well. For many women, relationships are more important than food, drink, housing, fame, or fortune. Many would “stand by their man” as the song, cowritten by Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, says, regardless of deprivation, so long as they felt the relationship with “their man” was warm and loving. So, when you and I stand at the pulpit and preach that “every person should have a personal relationship with Jesus,” women immediately identify with that concept and are first down the aisle to answer an altar call.

Men, on the other hand, generally have been taught independence and self-reliance.

When you and I preach to men about having a “personal relationship with Jesus,” most simply do not identify. To a man, having a “relationship” means action. This may explain why tough, earthy, working men rarely come to church, or why high-achieving alpha males who are risk takers, visionaries, and fun-loving adventurers rarely do either.

Thus, as we prepare our sermons each week, we need to consider exactly what message we send. Where, for example, did Jesus say to have a “relationship” with Him? No, Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men!” In other words, He called people to action.

There’s nothing passive about Jesus’ instructions. And those big, burly fishermen on the Sea of Galilee jumped up and followed Jesus. No wonder men would rather hunt or fish or play sports. No wonder many countries broadcast races, wrestling, boxing, football, soccer, and other activities on their national television channels. Television producers around the world understand that men will be where the action is!

To miss the fact that men need action means missing what it means to be male. And to forget this when we’re preparing a sermon or conducting a church board meeting suggests that we continue to promote the status quo gender gap with services that are 65 percent women and 35 percent men.

Changing the dynamics

Women and men who have been called to the ministry must understand the spiritual needs of men and should thus change how we minister and preach. The time has come to be bold and passionate in drawing men to the Lord. We need to preach sermons that will challenge men to action for the gospel; an impossibility unless we, ourselves, are burning with a desire to advance the cause of Jesus Christ throughout the world. And, whether we are male or female, we must set the example as ministers of action if we wish to change the dynamics of our congregations.

I’ve heard and preached many sermons admonishing my congregation to be more loving, dependent, supportive, kind, patient, and feelings-oriented. I no longer preach those types of sermons. Once I caught a glimpse of Jesus as a man of action, I began to intentionally represent Him—in the pulpit as well as in our church activities that involve men—in that manner. As a result, I have seen a rewarding increase in male attendance.

Here are some of the dynamics that have worked for me.

Sermons

I purposefully stress Jesus, the bronzed Man of Galilee, as a powerful leader of men. I stress Jesus’ care and love for women and children but challenge the men of my congregation like this: “Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’ ” (Luke 9:62, NKJV). In other words, Do you have what it takes? Are you fit to follow Jesus?

Challenge the men to action. Jesus was not passive. He daily confronted the religious order, the status quo, and the hypocrisy of the religious rulers. He walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, and raised the dead. Jesus was powerful, bold, courageous. In no way was Jesus a wimp. Help the men of your congregation to get to know Jesus as a role model for real men.

Whenever I preach the “Lamb,” I always preach the “Lion” from the tribe of Judah, who rides a white horse with a bow in His hand. Men want to follow a King, not a lamb. And following a lamb is no longer an understandable societal metaphor in many cultures as it was in biblical times.

I search for stories of honor, respect, and integrity to stir the male heart. Men are challenged by illustrations of sacrifice both in times of war and for the faith. I try to build a passion for action in the cause of God. Some books that have been helpful in the United States include Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Jesus Freaks, and Stories for a Man’s Heart.

I use current local, national, or international sports events in my sermons that appeal to men, especially if it is a sport’s star or coach who has declared his love for God. Ministers who have no “worldly knowledge” of sports, who play no sport, who are isolated from the world of men, who have no knowledge of the names of local heroes, who have no idea how the local men entertain themselves, will have little connection with the men in their congregations. Here’s a word of advice to pastors: Take time to learn who won the local, regional, and national sports events of your country. Take time to learn about your current national “stars.” I make sure I know who won the national golf, tennis, and racing events. I use these events as sermon illustrations.

Male-directed words are intentionally used during sermons—competence, power, proving oneself, results, success, competition, and so forth.

I employ technology such as videos and on-screen graphics to illustrate sermons. Men and women learn best by the use of visual aids and by observation. Sitting idle and passive in a pew while a minister “lectures” can be terribly boring. To bring back our spiritual MIAs into our congregations, our sermons must be alive and dynamic.

Activities

When planning activities for men, never include exercises that make the male spirit uncomfortable. Don’t ask men to sit in a circle, hold hands, share their feelings, or read publicly. These activities embarrass most men.

Outdoor meetings are very effective. Weekend outings such as camping, white-water rafting, skiing, baseball and football games, tennis, and golf are how men bond. Never think you are wasting your ministerial time by spending it in one of these activities with the men of your congregation. It may be the best witnessing you ever do.

Play hard with the men—and pray even harder with them—in that order. Let the men of your congregation know that you are a praying as well as a playing pastor.

Take every opportunity to arrange excursions to soccer, baseball, football, hockey, and basketball games. Rodeos and bull-riding competitions, the races, and rock-climbing are just a few of the activities that the men of your congregation will enjoy. Then use these opportunities to praise God for health and fellowship and for each man present.

Men do better with projects that have an end date. Stay away from never-ending programs. Weekly meetings such as “prayer meeting” generally dwindle and die; they are never ending. Instead, run a series of programs that have a start and stop date. Allow men to challenge the purpose and efficiency of your projects and programs. Men like to tinker to make things better and faster. Don’t be threatened by their questions or suggestions.

Always publicly recognize a man’s accomplishments and contributions. Brag on them.

Communicate your vision, purpose, and goals regularly as you fellowship with men. Men like to know where they are going and why.

Model what a godly man looks and acts like. Men and boys learn by observation and men follow a leader, not a program. Be the godly leader they can follow.

Live what you believe in front of the men, yet without ever being coarse or rough in word or deed.

Conclusion

An enthusiastic effort to reach the men in our congregations will facilitate congregational growth. In fact, research shows that men have a greater impact than children and women on a family’s church attendance. One study shows that when a child comes to church about 17 percent of the time the family will follow. When the mother comes to church about 30 percent of the time the family follows. But when the father comes to church about 93 percent of the time the family follows.2

It’s time that we pastors make an all-out effort to bring our spiritual MIAs back to church. Our challenge includes preaching and administering our churches so that men will understand that “real men” go to church. We want them to learn to know the only Real Man who ever lived. Then, as sons of the Most High God, men will fi nd a brotherhood within the church from which they may draw their identity and where their church experience will have eternal significance. When that happens, we will fi ll our pews with both women and men, and the cause of God will be greatly strengthened.

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1 The Barna Group Web site, www.barna.org {accessed June 7, 2007}.

2 Promise Keepers at Work {Colorado Spring, CO: Focus on the Family, 1996}, 111.

 

 

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