Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ministries: The Missing Ministry

Go through the web pages for most Adventist churches and you'll find a listing of church ministries.  You'll find a Youth Ministry and perhaps a Children's Ministry. You'll find a Women's Ministry and all too rarely anymore, a Dorcas Society which does ministry to the poor and supports disaster relief and sometimes a food bank. What you seldom see, however, is the third leg of the Women's/Children's ministry partnership -- the Men's Ministry.

We've always had ministry departments for children and youth. The women's ministry has become ubiquitous throughout SDA churches. They have their own conferences. They have their own objectives for ministering to the women of the church and the community. We have youth congresses, youth outreaches and youth programs.

What we don't have in anything like the breadth that we need is a ministry to meet the needs of men. There are conferences and churches which do offer men's ministries. Some are quite extensive in their outreach, others are kind of superficial to be honest. Some may question the need for a formal men's ministry program, especially at the local church level. Some might argue that everything else that happens in the church is the men's ministry - the preaching, the deacon's work, the financial management, the building committees and the like.  That could well have been the case a hundred years ago when male/female roles were more well-defined, but in the modern SDA movement, women have moved into all these areas and taken leadership roles as elders, church board members and even in the pulpit. My own home church in Keene, Texas recently hired a women as lead pastor, shattering a century-old history during which not a single female ordained pastor served in even a secondary pastoral role as far as I know. Things are changing and men are, I think, confused as to what happens next for us. In some ways the church is beginning to feel to some men like the church is becoming a club for women and children and that we're the dinosaurs in this extinction scenario.

We blithely assume that men know what they need to do and will just naturally take care of themselves. It seems that the church has subconsciously decided that men need no such
guidance; that new church members who are male will just naturally take their place within the body of the church and do whatever it is that men do without a lot of coaching.

I don't believe we can safely assume that men understand their role in the life of the church anymore. I've seen far too many men come to church on Sabbath with their wives on their arm and pretty much shadow them. They make no strong connections within the church with other males. They take on no jobs or duties unless asked. They are easily overlooked. Eventually, many of them, their social life existing almost entirely outside of the church, just give up and start dropping their wives and kids (for whom we have an active ministry) off at the door and picking them up at noon.

Because our roles are changing so rapidly in recent times, even though much of the change may actually be for the better, I think it's time to establish men's ministries in our churches. Here's why I believe that.

  1. Many of our men are new to the faith and did no grow up with strong male role models. Many times our boys grow up with single moms or with fathers who don't attend church. They missed out on seeing their dads lead out in Pathfinders, helping repair the church, doing building projects, teaching and mentoring and developing friendships with other men. A men's ministry might provide strong male role models for guys unsure what they should do as a member of the SDA church. 
  2. Men need socialization as much as women do, but they are not as good at forging those bonds in a social setting like women are. Men tend to forge friendships in work settings or where they are with other guys who are working toward a common purpose. Guys don't invite each other over for tea. They ask for help to hang a garage door or invite someone to go fishing. Adventist guys aren't even sure that fishing is moral given our stance on vegetarianism. Men's ministries could organize men's prayer breakfasts, men's recreational activities and men's conferences where we talk about doing guy things for the church.
  3. Men can do things that women and children can't do as well. God made us bulkier and on the whole better able to cope with things electrical, mechanical and technical. Not to say women can't do some of this stuff too, but if we need to lift heavy plywood decking onto the top of a church roof, give me 4 burly guys any day. There are things the church needs that guys can do. There is no excuse for any church to go unmaintained if it's got 40 or 50 male church members who can help out.  A men's ministry could be responsible for asking its members to do stuff like that as part of their activities.
  4. Men are traditionally the mentors of young people, particularly boys. Men's ministries could be responsible for making sure there are enough Master Guides to run a Pathfinder program. They could make sure youth activities leaders are properly trained in leadership techniques. They could help create special "rites of passage" for the boys in the church as they become old enough to assume adult responsibilities within the congregation.
  5. Having a men's ministry gives men permission to do stuff in the church. The existence of a women's ministry is about empowering women to do stuff for the church. The existence of a youth ministry is about giving young people a sense of ownership of their church and about giving them a place within the church to express their love of God. In the same way, a men's ministry would be about acknowledging that men have a definite role in God's church and that as a church, we expect them to do their duty.
A lot of men tend to be on the taciturn side. They may not say much, but there's an energy there that only waits to be unleashed. They may not push for a place in church leadership. They may not even offer to help out without an invitation to do so, but God bless 'em, if you can get the men in your church rolling on some project or other, the results can be quite breath-taking. I heard a story once about a group of women who ran the annual Christmas pageant at their church every year.  They took care of everything right down to the cardboard backdrops and props that had to be rebuilt nearly every year. It was exhausting.

One of the mom's whose husband was a dab hand at carpentry offered to rope George into doing the scenery of the play that year. She asked him if he could get some of the guys together and build them a nice set. She was vague about the specs of the thing, just gave him an overall idea of what she wanted.

When the sawdust settled, George and two other guys he knew from work who weren't even Adventist, a deacon and a couple of other husbands whose wives were trying to get them involved in the church had built a stunningly lifelike stable, manger, inn and a variety of stand-alone wooden animals including a rather convincing camel. They hinged everything so it folded flat and hung on hooks against the wall in a tool shed the church had out back. They also cleaned and organized the tool shed while they were at it. The trick the ladies learned, was to avoid micro-managing the guys. Just turn them loose with something to do and the results can be quite surprising.

The trick we as a church need to learn is to tap into the powerful resource represented by the men in the church. Guys would rather do something than talk about doing something. I recently went to a men's prayer breakfast one Sunday morning. It was a lot of fun. The pastor gave a short message and we prayed round the circle. Then we broke up and headed by groups down the street to the fairgrounds where they were having a gun show.

Following up a prayer breakfast with a gun show only seems strange if you are not a guy. It could have been a car show or a boat show. The point is that the prayer breakfast got a bunch of guys together to do guy stuff with other guys from the church. That's how you build bonds that will pay back to the church many times over. We're doers, we men.  

The message of a men's ministries conference won't be "What is our place in the church?" or "How does the church make us feel?"  The message will be "What can we do next for our church and our God?"  

That is as it should be. That is, after all, how God made us. When we quit doing stuff and regress to merely talking about stuff and jockeying for position, it's kind of all downhill from there.

Just sayin'

© 2014 by Tom King

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