Pat Morley, men’s ministry pioneer and best-selling author, says that “the ‘men problem’ in the church today is one of the most pervasive social, economic, political and spiritual challenges of our time – the root cause behind virtually every trouble ailing society”.
Men are largely disengaged, unchallenged, under-led, discouraged, and disconnected. Often there seems little difference between the lives secular men live and those of men who call themselves Christians. Why do so many men in the church go through the motions of Christianity? The answer follows along two fault lines.
First, many men are nominal, superficial Christians not knowing what they believe and why. This is a consequence of biblical illiteracy. And the second reason flows from the first; very few men have been biblically discipled despite the flood of discipleship resources available to the church.
Biblical illiteracy is rampant in the culture and in the church. Christian researcher and author George Barna reports, “The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy. How else can you describe matters when most churchgoing adults reject the accuracy of the Bible,…see no need to evangelize, believe that good works are one of the keys to persuading God to forgive their sins, and describe their commitment to Christianity as moderate or even less firm?”
For many men being Christian is less a matter of learning than a matter of cultivating personal experiences and relying on sin management, therapeutic techniques and syncretism, which blindly borrows from non-biblical belief systems.
Pastor-theologian Albert Mohler writes, “Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation's time and attention.”
Churches today have access to more men’s discipleship materials, programs and courses than ever before. With that kind of arsenal one would expect to see Christian men as a countercultural force and radical non-conformists who make Jesus Christ an unavoidable issue. This is not the case!
Barna notes that most men say their church does little to help them grow as a true disciple. "Few believers said that their church lacked programs”, says Barna, “but most Christians complained that little is done to effectively motivate and facilitate their development as genuine, fervent followers of Christ. Our surveys among pastors showed that they dismissed such views as excuses and as inaccurate, but the bottom line remains unchanged: most Christians are simply not making progress in their personal spiritual development."
In random, national surveys of Christian men, Barna also finds that when asked to name their most important life goal, not a single one said it was to be a committed disciple of Christ, or to make disciples. So what’s going on? Biblical discipleship is absent or superficial because it lacks priority and heart motivation.
The Greek word (mathetes) for disciple primarily means being, not a follower, but a learner. In biblical times a man would attach himself to a teacher and learn from him. He would sit at his feet, listen to him, and walk with him. As a result of this personal real-life training, the disciple would take on the characteristics of his teacher. This is exactly what happened to Jesus’ disciples under his Jesus’ peripatetic teaching ministry. This is what men growing in Christlikeness looks like -- reflecting His character, conduct and commitments. Jesus’ disciples did not learn a philosophy, principles, techniques, or methods for better living but a lifestyle of love, truth and abandonment to God.
Biblical discipleship is a life-long process of learning in an intimate relationship with God and his people. We follow Christ then because he has written us into his story. There we discover the role he has for us to live out in the further unfolding of his glory. Men look for a set of orders for good behavior but Christ doesn’t offer lists of do’s and don’ts but freedom – real freedom to be who we men already are in Christ.
One of a pastor’s primary responsibilities is to disciple men, who in turn disciple their families and other men. But few pastors see men as foundational. Many are MIA because they themselves were never discipled. As Pat Morley plainly puts it, “the pastor’s role is all-important. If the pastor does not have a passion for evangelizing and discipling men in his church, it will not happen. As it goes with the senior pastor, so it goes with the church.”
The Great Commandment Precedes the Great Commission
In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus gave his men their Great Commission in life, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
One of my seminary professors emphasized that this Great Commission is preceded by the Great Commandment - 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind...and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40). The simple fact is you can’t effectively disciple another man if your own heart is not already being transformed and entranced by God. We pursue the Great Commission not because we have to but because we want to. Whether it’s evangelism, discipleship, prayer or everything else, your heart has to be in it. It’s like the husband who’s asked why he loves his wife so passionately and makes so much of her and he responds “I can’t help myself.” God lovers can’t help but make much of him and in so doing are fruitful doers of the things of God. Get aligned with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission follows.
Pat Morley further observes, “much of the ministry to men that has and is taking place deals with helping a man change his outward life. And there is no problem with that. But we are in error when we deal with the outward and we do not deal with the inner motivational structure of the heart. The core affections of men’s hearts are not focused on the person of Jesus Christ. That is the challenge before us. The focal point really needs to help men change the core affections of their hearts.”
So What Can You Do?
The Centrality of the Cross
Understand how and why God saves sinners. Grasping how bad the bad news is makes one appreciate and savor the Good News. Do an in-depth study of the depth of sin and what Jesus did on the cross. Read John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ.
Examine Your Heart
Where is your satisfaction, your treasure, your delight and your confidence? Is it Christ or someone or something else? Contemplate the First Commandment, consider what idols you may be pursuing and embrace the sufficiency of Christ. Read Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods.
Talk to Your Pastor
If he’s not leading his men, get a group of like-hearted men who want to be fed and led and meet with your pastor and ask him to invest himself in his men. Read and then give him a copy of Pat Morley’s book Pastoring Men.
Only 9% of professing Christians has a Christian worldview. Yet the Gospel informs every aspect of life. Know how your faith is to interact with culture and learn how to discern pernicious lies. Do The Truth Project DVD-study by Focus on the Family.
A Discipling Community
There’s no quick easy path or cookie cutter to discipleship. Discipleship can’t be done alone or in a vacuum because it’s about relationships. Like other private spiritual disciplines, it is of no value apart from a community of intergenerational men. Robert Lewis’ Men’s Fraternity offers a three year journey into biblical manhood which provides the teaching and the masculine context for biblical discipleship.
Dave Brown is a pastor and the director of the Washington Area Coalition of Men's Ministries and has been the men's pastor at McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va. He served for 30 years in the federal government's Senior Executive Service (SES), including eight years as an appointee of President Ronald Reagan. He did his seminary work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He's been a leadership consultant, university administrator and member of the board of directors for the C.S. Lewis Institute, Stand in the Gap 2007 and Foundation for Manhood.