A couple of paragraphs from this article jumped out at me. I think the author really nails a major problem in how the church engages men. (I think the author may have done this without fully realizing it’s importance or full depth.)
Here’s what I’ve observed: a lot of men avoid men’s ministry because they are feeling less than okay with their personal lives. Many are embarrassed by the secrets they keep… Many tell me, “I’ll come to church once I get my act together.” They feel that if their lives aren’t perfect they should avoid church.
Our culture has drilled into us that we men have to have our act together. If we don’t, we’re not worthy of anyone’s love. Rather, we only deserve to be the brunt of jokes and ridicule. Some have even argued that part of a man’s nature is that he needs to know he is powerful and able to make a difference in the world. In other words, we rate a man’s worth based on his ability to perform and come through with successful results. (This is on the same order as how we rate a woman’s worth based on her beauty.)
Now think about church. I don’t know about yours, but the conservative evangelical environment I grew up in focuses on what we’re doing wrong and we aren’t doing the right things well enough. Simply put, “You’re not doing good enough.” Compare that with what I just described above and you get “You’re not good enough.” Some pastors and churches have gone even further. They berate men for failing to be “real men” and urge them to “step up” or “man up” in order to become a “real man”. While their goal is good, I believe they are doing much more harm than good. Rather than motivating men, they are shaming them and reinforcing the message that they aren’t good enough and won’t be good enough. They are demotivating and cutting down men. This isn’t encouragement—it’s despair. It’s not life—it’s death.
There’s a huge difference between challenging men and berating men. The former says “You should do this because you can—you are good enough—you have what it takes” whereas the latter communicates “You’re failing because aren’t good enough“. (I’m not saying men have inside themselves what it takes to make themselves good, but we often give the impression that there’s nothing good about them and they are doing little but failing. This is supposed to be good news?) If they don’t believe they can be successful, men won’t even make an attempt. “It’s better not to try than to prove my worthlessness by failing” we subconsciously (or not so subconsciously) think. Let there be no doubt, men need encouragement. We have the ability to achieve great accomplishments, but these are fueled by the encouragement and support we receive. Shaming, insulting, berating, ridiculing, belittling—these all have the opposite effect. They kill the soul of the man and render him unable to do much more than just survive. (I’m guessing some people will have a difficult time understanding that there’s a way of being stern, tough, and firm and encouraging at the same time.)
There’s another, perhaps even more important way the church fails men. The author of the previously mentioned article says, “One thing I’ve learned is that men will crawl a mile across a desert to do something they perceive as valuable.” Larry Crabb holds that men are designed to move into a situation to make a difference, to fix what has been broken and restore order (reference).
Men are designed to make a difference. They can accomplish great feats if they have a goal they believe in, and if they believe they are capable. But what do we have in church? What if a man is a musician? “We already have a professional praise band.” What if he is a good teacher? “We already have pastor/preacher/minister who is paid to do that.” What do we ask of men? “Attend this weekly service.” We may allow them the great task of handing out bulletins or something similar. We tell men, if they work really hard, they can achieve the noble goal of… sinning a little less. Um, this isn’t so inspiring. Seriously, is it any wonder men aren’t interested in church? There are so many more productive things they could be doing. Perhaps it’s only surprising that we still have as many men attending church as we do.
I believe we should be inspiring men with God’s mission, and training them on how they can work toward it. (Most often, we think the church institution as the one which does the work, and expect people to support it. Yet this model has been largely ineffective or at very least, highly inefficient.) Second, we should encourage men and tell them they have what it takes—through God’s Spirit—to do God’s work. If men have a role in reaching a meaningful goal that they believe they are qualified for, they will pour themselves into the work.
(Note: I believe the church fails women and young adults as well as numerous other groups just as much if not more.)