I remember back when I first really committed to a men’s Bible study. It seemed the only ones I ever heard of were at 6am or 6:30am and I hated that. I have always been a morning person so it wasn’t the time necessarily, but to go and get around other people that early was what I was not all that enthusiastic about. I like to start my day slow and quiet. But I knew I needed to get involved with some men at church and become a part of the men’s ministry, so I ponied up.
The website ChurchforMen.com has collected some facts about men and church; here are just a few. This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands. Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants. More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church. Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.
Back when I first started going to the Bible study I was a good soldier. I listened well, read what I was suppose to and did for years. Then one day as I sat in the hard plastic chair fashioned in a circle early on Wednesday morning, I blurted out, “bull s##t.” I went into a long dissertation on how it was fine and dandy that the guy teaching was telling us all what to do. He did it every week. But it was hard for me to be focused and all his wonderful and eloquent scripture just seemed like another morning of empty words that I just could not fit into my daily life. I needed real life examples; I needed him to share his heart. I needed a guy to cry when he talked about his kids or his wife and how maybe, just maybe, he was not perfect.
I was tired of being talked to and not included in a conversation. I was tired of the bland, plastic and rigid discourses. My heart was hungry for something deeper, something real. I had earned the right to hear what these men were really like. Did we have anything in common? Anything? This was the beginning of my heart joining me in this journey with Christ.
I had a pastor about this time tell me that he had struggles in his life. He had to divert his eyes from women, he argued with his wife on the way to church, he really did not have any close male friends. It was a shocker. I had never, ever, placed pastors in my little lowly world. They had always given me tips on daily quiet times and how I needed to be more like Jesus. How could they be so firm in their teachings and not be above the struggles I had? Surely they were deeply ensconced in their 4-hour morning prayer sessions beginning at 4am. There was no way they struggled with money or porn or anger. If that was true then they are more like most of the other men I know, more like me.
It was not long after I began to ask these questions in our men’s group that God led me to the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. I read about a relationship with God, with Jesus, that I had never heard. Hey, can he really say that?
“True strength does not come out of bravado. Until we are broken, our life will be self-centered, self-reliant; our strength will be our own. So long as you think you are really something in and of yourself, what will you need God for? I don’t trust a man who hasn’t suffered; I don’t let a man get close to me who hasn’t faced his wound. Think of the posers you know—are they the kind of man you would call at 2:00 A.M., when life is collapsing around you? Not me. I don’t want clichés; I want deep, soulful truth, and that only comes when a man has walked the road I’ve been talking about.”
“We don’t need accountability groups; we need fellow warriors, someone to fight alongside, someone to watch our back.”
? John Eldredge, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul
I began to breathe. I began to feel I was onto something and I had a place in the conversation. My thoughts, my feelings had been verified in some way that I still did not understand. This was good stuff; this is what I think I was asking for on Wednesday mornings and I wanted more.
Eldredge hosts “Boot Camps” in Colorado a couple times a year. I signed up, got accepted and went. I had never been to a men’s event like this, never a retreat, never been away for a Christian men’s outing like this. It was scary and exciting.
The four days were filled with revelation and confirmation. I heard the Jesus story in ways I had never known. What the heck had I been marinating in my whole life? I was never really told anything about the man Jesus. He had emotions; He cared for the men He traveled with. The stories became rich and intriguing. I had read the Bible for years and the biggest leap I had made was memorizing biblical antidotes. This was beautiful and my heart soared.
My appetite for real life, real connections to men, my wife and family became my driving force. I challenged the religious commentary that bored me and called bulls##t on a lot of teachers along the way. Did it need to happen, did a lot of guys back me up with a “yea what about that?” Yes they did. Did it require some of the teachers to have to dig deep, explore their own personal life? Sometimes. Eldredge calls some of these guys “poser.” A poser is a guy who says one thing but lives another or has to be a certain way to cover up his true hurts, heart or insecurities.
I was riding a trail I had never ridden and there were a lot of obstacles along the way. I still did not do my homework very often. Backing up my BS comment rarely had a scriptural backbone, almost always emotional. My need to know how a commentary applied to me, my heart, my life was a valid question but not always appropriate. It took a long time, years, to begin to know how to communicate in a way that helped bring out the true questions my heart was seeking, seeks to this day.
Lynyrd Skynyrd was a southern rock band that ruled the radio in the 1970’s. To this day, the song Free Bird is a classic rock icon. One of their other top hits was Simple Man. This was the story of a mother’s advice to her son. The chorus to the tune is, “And be a simple kind of man, Oh, be something you love and understand, Baby be a simple kind of man, Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can.” Simple man, just keep it simple. I don’t want all the defined details, just the heart of whatever it is you are trying to say. My life and my relationship with Christ has depended on this mantra in many ways for years. I was almost radical about how important I felt this was. Until now.
I had a piece of scratch paper with the name John Piper on it stuck in my computer case. I could not remember much about the name except he was an author someone quoted and I liked the quote, which quote, I do not know. Last night as I lie in bed restless, I picked up my computer and turned it on. I Googled the name and up popped a list of podcasts and video sermons. I just clicked on the first one and let it download.
John Piper is a very well respected biblical teacher, an author and pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The video was of a recent sermon and he began his sermon with emotion and deep passion. I was drawn in but did not understand all the elements of the Bible he described. What did dawn on me was the need for me to pray against the lie I have agreed with for years, the lie that I could not learn or remember the type of things he was teaching on. I could, I can, if I tried.
It is no accident this revelation all came to a head. As of recent I have been thinking about my war on what I considered the overly educated and lack-luster speakers in my Bible studies and men’s groups. I have been thinking they might actually be really good for me. Education is not usually based on an emotional curriculum but on teaching. Yes, taking information and imparting that knowledge to others. It’s a pretty cool concept and I hear it has been around for years.
I am probably not going to be rushing over to the Bible college and sign up for the detailed dissertations on biblical truths and their application to a modern world. I still prefer really simple testimonies and heartfelt biblical teachings of the Bible. I love it when I am moved emotionally by what God put into His book. I love when people share their encounters with God and the Bible from their heart.
A study from Hartford Seminary found that the presence of involved men was statistically correlated with church growth, health and harmony. Meanwhile, a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline.
Men are a tough crowd when it comes to church. Getting them in the door, getting them to a Bible study can really be difficult. Early mornings before work, pancake breakfasts (bacon), speakers all seem to work some. For me, it was keep it simple, be real and I will learn to trust you. Talk over me, try to put me in a box with a bunch of guys I don’t fit with, I’m not coming. Offer me, offer men a safe place to start, let their hearts desire the fellowship and trust the Holy Spirit to create the want to come, “DING.” You got it.
Men, sometimes learning is hard. Applying things that are foreign can be the last thing we want to do. But we need to be open to all of His teachings and try our best to apply them. Don’t be afraid to call bulls##t, but be ready to dig in when you do. It can be really hard, but there is nothing more powerful than a man who has been changed by an encounter with God.