Friday, November 04, 2011

Dudes need dudes to learn how to be dudes

Two very different blog posts this week got me thinking about the issue of men in the church. The first comes the Kevin Deyoung and looks at the question of the lack of the “right kind” of men in the church, Dude, Where’s Your Bride? It is without real debate that there are precious few men in the church and that is exponentially more true when it comes to young, single men in the church. It is also without question that there are a lot of young, marriage minded women in the church that are earnestly seeking a marriage where they will joyfully be a mother and keeper of the home, a helpmeet in the truest sense, but find compatible men few and far between. I think Kevin recognizes the problem but frankly misses the bigger issue, namely that the way we have structured “church” is incredibly unappealing to most men and rightfully so. Case in point….
I don’t think young women are expecting Mr. Right to be a corporate executive with two houses, three cars, and a personality like Dale Carnegie. They just want a guy with some substance. A guy with plans. A guy with some intellectual depth. A guy who can winsomely take initiative and lead a conversation. A guy with consistency. A guy who no longer works at his play and plays with his faith. A guy with a little desire to succeed in life. A guy they can imagine providing for a family, praying with the kids at bedtime, mowing the lawn on Saturday, and being eager to take everyone to church on Sunday. Where are the dudes that will grow into men?
That really misses the mark in some fundamental areas. It assumes that the sign of maturity is a guy who goes to work during the week, mows the lawn and eagerly takes his family to church. As usual we see the default to “maturity by showing up” mentality. Nowhere, I mean nowhere in the Bible, is regular attendance at religious observations as a sign of maturity. Perhaps we would have more men in church if we operated like the church we see in the New Testament? That is not a call to compromise, it is a call to fidelity. The nature of men has not changed in the last 2000 years but the church certainly has. More on this in a moment.

The other blog post comes from Alan Knox and comes with the clunky but clever title My Word of Prophecy: Stop Listening to Prophetic Voices. Alan seems to think that we spend too much time following men we don’t know and man do I resonate with that!
What is the challenge? I’ve noticed the tendency in my life to listen to those who I do not know. I listen to their voices from books, articles, blog posts, lecture halls, and even pulpits. They tell me what to think, what to believe, and how to live. In many cases (perhaps even most cases), they are correct in what they tell me.

So, if these voices are correct, then what’s the problem? Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with words of prophecy, encouragement, instruction, or even admonishment. However, the problem arises in the fact that I am listening to people that I do not KNOW.

I do not know how they live. I do not know how they treat their spouses or children. I do not know how or if they love their neighbor. I do not know when or where or if they server other people. I do not know anything about them except what they write or say. In other words, I’m listening to the voices of strangers.
That is so very true for so many of us. I would say, only partly in jest, that there are many brothers I know who are more familiar with the lives of Puritans and Reformers who have been dead for centuries than they are with the lives of brothers that they shake hands with every Sunday. I hear men say all the time that this guy or that guy is a “hero” in the faith, a giant, someone they admire and desire to be like when in reality they have never met them and don’t know a thing about them. Men like John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul are profitable teachers but I will probably never meet them in person and get to know them so what about them am I supposed to imitate? I suppose I can offer my services to a publishing house to see if they want to publish my book ideas and I can throw it out there that I am available to speak at upcoming conferences but other than that I am not sure what I know about most of the “heroes” of the faith that I can imitate other than what I assume to be true about them.

We need “real” men to follow and imitate. That is not to say men like Piper aren’t real men, they just aren’t men I actually know. Men need examples, not just talk, but what we have ended up with are a couple of different models of men that don’t really have much to tell us about how the rest of us should live as men.

In most churches, the guy everyone is supposed to look up to is the pastor. This raises an issue because the way we have created a separate clerical class means that a) most men are not going to find much in common with the pastor and b) secretly most men have little interest in being a vocational minister so there is not much that seems desirable from an imitation standpoint. Most pastors seem stressed, overworked, underappreciated and generally frustrated and unhappy in spite of the happy face they put on. Who wants to imitate that? Compounding this, many times the pastor is younger and frankly less mature than many of the other men in a congregation. Not less "mature" in the sense of being able to delvier a sermon or exegete a passage of Scripture or throw out Greek and Hebrew terms, less "mature" in the sense that actually matters. Who should a young husband and father emulate and seek to learn from, a guy his own age who is starting a family and struggling in the same ways just because he is the pastor or a more mature older brother who has come out on the other side and has the experience to match? When a man is struggling with his witness at work, who is more apt to have solid, real world advice, the pastor who spends most of his week laboring in preparing a sermon and visiting people in the hospital or the 60 year old brother who has worked in the “real world” for the past 40 years?

The other object of adoration are the “celebrity preachers”. As Alan noted in his post, lot of men look up to the famous guys, men like John Piper and John MacArthur and other famous teachers. How do they emulate these men when they don’t really know them at all? I know about as much about Al Mohler’s personal life, how he treats his wife and children, what he is like when he is not in front of a microphone as I know about the personal life of one of the Kardashian’s. For all I know, he goes home and kicks his dog every day. I am quite sure he doesn’t but I just don’t know. I don’t even know if he has a dog to kick! I know he lives in Kentucky and has a sweet library and wears suits a lot and I think his wife’s name is Mary and he has a couple of kids but that is about it.

(As a completly random aside, I will say that it seems to me, just anecdotally, that you tend to have more men and more active men when you have more firm convictions. A small, doctrinally conservative church seems to draw active and engaged men more than a huge, anonymous church. I might be completely wrong about that but it certainly seems to have been that way in my limited experience. I don’t think that the “no men” question must be a call to abandon orthodoxy to make church more palatable. I think we just need to change how men relate to one another in the church.)

What kind of men did the early disciples emulate and imitate? They followed and imitated men like Paul who presented an example to others by working hard in a “regular” job. Paul not only saw getting paid for ministry as an obstacle to the Gospel (1 Cor 9:12), he also seems to have recognized that a major part of being a leader in the church means being an imitateable example for younger men to follow.
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)
Paul knew that his manner of life would serve as an example for younger brothers to follow and imitate. In response he worked with “toil and labor” and paid his own way (Acts 20:33-35). As he wrote here and elsewhere, it was not because he had no “right” to seek financial support but rather that he knew that his calling required him to provide an example to other men. This is the concept that is missing from so many conversations regarding professional paid ministry. If you are truly a servant leader, a self-sacrificing man, you count your responsibility to be an example of other brothers and avoid placing an obstacle to the Gospel in front of unbelievers as far more important than your “right” to get paid. This was Paul’s model of manly, godly male leadership. I wish more men recognized this.

We need to get back to this understanding and start to realize something that has been lost:

Being an example for men to follow and bringing them into your life IS ministry and discipleship, far more so than teaching doctrine in a Sunday school class or preaching a sermon.

Better yet, it is the kind of ministry and discipleship that any man can do. There is no special training required, no need for a seminary degree. Just love Jesus above all else, provide for your family and shepherd your wife and kids!

We simply must encourage younger men to seek out more mature brothers in Christ and likewise emphasize and equip older brothers to mentor the younger men. Too often that task is lumped in as some sort of “ministry” and when you throw the “M” word out we automatically assume that it is something to be done by or at least coordinated by the pastor. The result often is that it just never happens. We will continue to see men absent from the church as long as they are expected to come each week, sit in a pew and listen attentively because that does nothing to equip and instruct men in what they need to know week in and week out. Men need the example of other men, men they know and can relate to and not just men who live the somewhat odd and foreign life of a professional minister or men who they know only from podcasts, books and conferences. We need real life men, men we know and share a cup of coffee with, men with wives and children, men who live like we live to learn from. I need men like that and I want to mature into that sort of man. For all of my book knowledge and all of my doctrinal study and my ability to deliver a monologue, I am not a very mature Christian. I  need to learn from other men and I can't do that in a pew. If we don’t recover this vision, the next generation in the church is going to look even more like a quilting bee and less like the vibrant church full of godly servant-leader men we see in Scripture.

1 comment:

From the Wilderness... said...

I agree with you that Kevin misses the point. I'm a 30 year old guy and I have no interest in the typical church. Might have mentioned this on your blog before, but I walked away from institutional church 5 years ago. My belief is that the church today is highly feminized and most men sense that (may not be able to verbalize it) and don't want anything to do with it. That even goes for the men that force themselves to go. Since I left the church, I have been more fulfilled and happier than ever before in my life. Sure, I wish I had an easier way to meet other christians in my area. But I don't really miss anything else about "church." My thought is there are a lot of other guys out there like myself.

Seth