Show yourself a man: Some reflections on ministering to men

There’s a general consensus these days that churches aren’t as effective as they could be in reaching men. Is it because men are less ‘spiritual’ than women? Or do we need to rethink our approach? Former Army chaplain Tim Booker reports from the front lines.

For the last three years I have been the chaplain to The Third Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), otherwise known as Alpha Male Central. 3 RAR is the backbone of Australia’s Airborne Battle Group, and produces some of the meanest and toughest individuals in the country. But the interesting fact about this group of young men is that I didn’t meet a genuine atheist among them. When you face the fear that they do as paratroopers, and are in the business of training to kill, you have a very high awareness of your own mortality. So when it comes to wanting to chat about the big things in life, this makes your role as a Christian in this environment slightly easier. It’s funny what immense fear does to an Alpha Male; the ‘Alpha’ disappears in a hurry, and the desire to send up some prayers to the God he’s been ignoring for so long becomes overwhelming! When you’re in the back of a C130 Hercules aircraft, travelling at 270 knots at 1,000 feet with the back doors open, standing there waiting for the “Green light GO”, everyone’s a believer.

Here’s the thing: men are not less spiritual than women. God has put eternity in the hearts of us all. Deep down, we all know there’s a God (Eccl 3:11). There’s a myth going around at the moment that men aren’t as spiritually ‘switched on’ as women. But that’s not the case. Yes, on average, 60% of our congregations are made up of women, but that’s not because God isn’t working in the hearts of men. He is.

It doesn’t matter where I go as a Christian male—whether it be working in the dodgy insurance industry before I got into paid ministry, or at Garie Surf Life Saving Club, or at various rugby clubs, or at 3RAR—there are countless opportunities to chat about God and Jesus and the big things in life. Men do want to chat and think about these things. When a bloke finds someone he trusts—someone he knows isn’t a self-righteous pain, someone who will listen to him, someone he can trust to answer the questions he’s been dying to ask about the big things in life—then he’ll ask away, and the discussion will go all night.

This therefore raises the question for us: if God has put eternity in the hearts of men, and they are keen to explore God, why aren’t they flocking to our Bible-focused, God-glorifying churches? There are several responses to this question. One concerns the calling of God: maybe God isn’t calling as many men to himself at the moment. (It’d be crazy to assume that it’s always going to be a nice 50/50 split.) Another response concerns the way we’re currently conducting our outreach ministries and Sunday gatherings: are there things we’re currently doing or not doing that are turning men off our churches?

When I was in Iraq, I spent a bit of time with some American chaplains and journalists. They all commented that, wherever they went, American service men and women were sitting down with their Bibles, seeking to know God. As a result, many little groups had popped up all over the place with Christians opening up the Scriptures with their ‘not yet Christian’ mates. The interesting thing was that most of these groups had just appeared without any reference to the recognized chaplains. The hard yards were being done by the many fine Christians in the American forces, and their ministry was bearing great fruit. The many different Sunday gatherings weren’t attracting interest for non-Christians; it was the depth of the personal friendships being formed. Today more and more people are suspicious of what they call the ‘institutional church’. But they aren’t suspicious of their friends—friends who love them, with whom they’ve been to hell and back. Here is the key to men’s ministry: good, deep, honest, time-consuming friendships.

Men are just as reliant on their friends as women, but they’ll never admit it. We get just as much out of our friendships as women do, although we don’t appreciate it at the time. We only realize how good friendships are when we don’t have them. One of the things I miss about battalion life is the great camaraderie that comes with doing things with your mates. Often at work, or with sport, there is a great closeness that is borne out of adversity. Men love that unity in the face of adversity, and generally connect deeply with the ones they have been through that experience with (provided they trust them!).

Here is the main difficulty with being a Christian male in the 21st century: we love these friendships, and need them, but where do we find the time for them? Unfortunately one of the costs of individualism and living a hurly-burly life is that men have little time for their mates. Family commitments and work commitments are enough to make a grown man cry, but then you’ve got to factor in church with all its Sunday gatherings, Bible study groups, parish council meetings, training, discipling, door-knocking and house parties. Then there’s any sport you want to do to keep you sane. Top that up with fundraising activities for your kids’ pre-school/school/footy club/swimming club/dance club/juvenile delinquent club, and there aren’t too many more hours in the day. The basics of ministry are people spending time with people, but we’ve lost that focus, and one of the results is we’re not bringing our mates to Jesus.

But God is giving us plenty of men to meet and witness to. We’re just so convinced that we’re too busy for it, we’re not seeing the opportunities right in front of our ever-wrinkling faces. When you’re at the dance club’s fundraising BBQ, who are you standing next to? Some other poor sucker who doesn’t want to be there. You may not be getting shot at, but that’s unity in the face of adversity right there. That’s a great opportunity to get close to someone who’d rather be smelling Dencorub on a Saturday than watching leotards, glitter and pom-poms pass him by. Wherever we go in our hectic lives, there are other men just as unhappy and as stressed and as in need of Jesus as we are. You may be busy, but you should never be too busy to talk to other people. Being a Christian is all about loving other people; don’t ever get too busy for that.

God’s plans will not be thwarted by individualism, feminism, too-busy-ism or any other idiotism that might seem to get in the way of the gospel. The harvest will always be plentiful, and that’s because God is in control. If we pray for opportunities to introduce people to Jesus, they will come. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing; if you’re with other people, God will give you opportunities to glorify him.

When I was doing the funeral for Jake Kovco (an Australian soldier who died in Iraq), I was standing at the head of the grave waiting for the burial party to carry his coffin up to us. Next to me, holding the Australian flag and Jake’s medals was one of his best mates. With tears in his eyes, he looked at the grave and said, “That’s where we’re all going, isn’t it Padre?” Over the next two minutes, and with tears in my eyes, I told him the gospel.

The opportunities are there for us to introduce our mates to Jesus. What we need is a readiness and a willingness for them. With that in mind, I have some tips for you men who are the backbone of our churches, and also for you other fine men that lead our churches.

Tips for men

1. Love the brothers

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14). Knowing that Jesus has saved your life and changed it forever means that you happily obey him, follow him and become like him. Therefore, we will take our friendships seriously and show we love the men God brings into our lives. Regardless of whether they’re Generation X, Y or Z, men need to be loved.

But what does it mean to “love the brothers”? There are men in the battalion who I would have died for, and who would have died for me, because we loved each other. Love means a commitment that does not falter. On a more mundane level, it means telling a man he’s a goose when he’s been a goose, chewing the fat with normal irrelevant conversations and encouraging him when he’s down. When you love a brother, he knows you appreciate him and miss him when he’s not around. These are the friendships we all long for—paratroopers, teachers, trades-men and businessmen alike. We all need to be loved.

When I am loved, I will listen. The friend who cares for me, who invites me to things and who rings me to see how life’s going will have my ear on any matter. It’s just fortunate for me that my Muslim mate doesn’t care for me, and that my materialist mate only cares for his new V8 ute! This is where Christian men should stand out from the world. God did not put us on this earth to tell others how good we are, but to tell others how good Jesus is, and to care for them as we do that.

Now that requires a humility that we don’t naturally have. That’s why Paul says “… in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). We naturally love the praise of men. It takes humility to love others, so beware your pride because it will embarrass the gospel and people will not listen to you.

2. Live the life

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies … (1 Kgs 2:1-3a)

When I’m on my death bed, I want to speak these words to my sons. But more importantly, I want to be found guilty of living this way. This is the way for Christian men to live, and when we do, the impact is massive.

When I was in my early 20s, I was surrounded by some very impressive Christian men who discipled me and showed me how to live the Christian life. They lived a life of disciplined obedience, they were strong in their faith, they were great men to be around, and the fruit of their ministry was, and still is, impressive. They regularly led people to salvation and they regularly encouraged people into ministry.

These verses from 1 Kings describe them, but the important thing to note here is that King David is not encouraging us all to be Alpha Males. He’s encouraging us to be serious, impressive, obedient followers of God. Whether you like fast cars or footy is irrelevant; what matters is your commitment to God. We need to bear this in mind as we witness to our mates and put our lives on display. If you like the Alpha Male staples, then good on you; some do, some don’t, and others cover the whole spectrum in between. I love rugby and all things military, but I can’t stand cars (money pits), computers (my last one almost went flying out my window) and power tools (I can create big holes with them, but that’s about it). Men have different tastes, but they all need God, and they need to see us live the Christian life seriously and powerfully.

So do not be a part-time Christian. The greatest turn-off for men is the hypocrite who says one thing and does another. But the greatest attractor is the man who lives the Christian life genuinely.

3. Illuminate the Lord

When you talk to your mates about Jesus, are you presenting the Jesus of the Bible? The picture your mates have of Jesus will be a collection of what they remember from Sunday School (if they ever went), combined with some rubbish fed to them by the likes of Bishop John Spong, Barbera Thiering and Dan Brown. Our godless media run with the lies that these people produce about Jesus because it’s controversial, and controversy sells. So make sure that when you get to talking about Jesus, you give them the truth and actually refute the many errors that are out there.

Too many people won’t consider Jesus because the picture they have of him in their heads is of a weak, limp-wristed, nancy boy who goes around with a stupid look on his face and a dinner plate behind his head. But they’ve rejected someone that doesn’t exist. Jesus is none of these things. That’s why, whenever I open up the Bible with blokes, they are constantly amazed by what Jesus actually says and does. What they read does not fit the picture they have in their heads. So don’t be afraid to tell people about the Jesus we meet in the Bible; he is impressive in every way, and will be particularly terrifying on Judgement Day.

Tips for ministers

1. Equip

You think Sundays are hard? Try going into an environment every day where you are outnumbered, outgunned and most people think you’re crazy. That’s the plight of most Christian men every week, and it’s hard. It is one thing to tell people to live the Christian life; it is another thing altogether to equip them for that task. Our men need to be confident in explaining and defending what they believe. We need to give them those skills. Make sure that one term per year is given over to training—especially training in evangelism and apologetics.

2. Enlist

Winning men to Jesus also depends on the sort of atmosphere you have at church. If people love being at your church, and are good at creating a close-knit, welcoming environment, then that will be a good start. Men are more sensitive than we think. Men who come to church for the first time are hyper-sensitive, and their concerns are: “Will people speak to me?”, “Will I find anyone I can ‘click’ with?” and “Will I be able to make sense of the service?”

During the service, we need to ensure that our men are involved in what happens upfront. We need to ensure our men take up leadership roles. Too often men think church is for the ‘womenfolk’ because when they have gone, it’s like a CWA meeting, with the women doing everything except wearing the surplice and cassock. If it’s too ‘girlie’ and men are outnumbered like in the local aerobics class, any male in his right mind would not return.

3. Prepare

We ministers need to ask ourselves this question: what sort of men are we producing? Is our ministry producing men who will stand up and be counted? Are they proud to follow Jesus, and will they stick up for what they believe and not be like those described in Mark 8:38?

Last year I was speaking to a young private about Christian things. He came out with that old favourite: “Padre, Christianity’s for weak people that can’t handle life by themselves”. At this point, Major T (whose office we were standing in front of and who had a fearsome reputation amongst the soldiers) bellowed out, “Are you calling me weak Private Smith?” Private Smith almost dropped dead on the spot and denied it. Major T then informed him that he had called him weak, because he had in fact become a Christian. Young Private Smith made his apologies, and never made that tactical error again. But that story spread like wildfire because the one man in the battalion that everyone respected had fearlessly stood up for the faith. When we disciple our men, and train them in the way to live as Christians and fearlessly share their faith, other men will be impacted.

4. Model

As a minister, what are you modelling to your men? The saying is true: “People become like their leaders”. As they follow your lead, what are your men following?

Now that I am back in parish ministry, I am fighting a constant war against the irrelevant things that seem important but are really only there because they have been sent by the devil to suck the life out of me and ruin ministry. What I really want to be focused on are prayer, people and preparation. But what I keep finding myself focused on are psychopaths (the crazies that knock on my door most days), printers (the technology melt-downs that waste hours) and pride (my own insecurities that drive my desire to have a mega-church).

As a minister, it is very easy to get bogged down with administration and other non-people issues that seem important at the time. Then, to de-stress from that, it’s tempting to spend hours surfing the web looking for that perfect sermon illustration, respond to emails, or just sit there at your desk with a blank look on your face, trying to work out where to start. Before you know it, another day has passed you by. Is this what you want to model to the precious saints now under your care?

We’ve wasted enough days like that. We need to get out there and minister to people, and we need to model how to do that. So let’s switch the computer off, pray like we never have before, spend time with people like we never have before, and preach the Word like we never have before. May God bless our ministry.

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