I once served a church that had a sweet group of widows who regularly sat in the same section of the sanctuary each week during worship. These women were a source of encouragement and fellowship to one another. Very often, after worship, they would enjoy having lunch together. They were inseparable. As their pastor, I was profoundly grateful that they had one another.
I was, however, shocked when I eventually learned that each one of these women was married. They weren’t widows at all. The truth was that their husbands would have nothing to do with the church. God used that revelation to set an important course in my ministry.
Over the last two decades of my ministry I have seen the need for the church’s ministry to men. I’ve witnessed a variety of well-intentioned efforts that fall under the category of “men’s ministry” to meet those needs. Among the more popular are activities such as,
To be sure, there is a place for pancakes, social outings, service projects, campouts, going to sporting events, and the rest. In fact, I would say they are very important in building relationships. Yet none of those can or should take the place of gathering together each week for the purpose of intentional discipleship.
Some of you will remember a secular men’s movement in the late 1980s called Iron John. It was all about men finding their “inner warrior” and letting him out. Men would camp out in the woods, beat drums, get in touch with their inner something-or-other, and cry around a campfire.
There are a lot of men’s ministries doing a baptized version of that today. It sounds cool. It’s edgy. It’s probably fun. But every time I read about another Christianized version of Iron John, I can’t help but think of the words of Saint Paul,
1 Corinthians 13:11 - When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Gimmicks, fads, and entertainment in men’s ministry appeal to some men’s desire to remain in adolescence, but they will not produce mature disciples of Jesus Christ.
The process of becoming a genuine and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ is tough. It takes hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. It can’t be manipulated over the course of a weekend. It doesn’t materialize from a neatly wrapped program. It’s a day-in and day-out pursuit of Christ, through his Word and prayer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in a relational context.
While I am all for Bible studies and small groups for both genders, I think there must be a place for men to gather with other men, to study God’s Word and pray, in a context of accountability and encouragement. How many men do you know who would want to talk about lust in the presence of their wives? Or, how many men would want to confess how they struggle with pornography, while other women are in the room?
The Final Goal
The goal of ministry to men is not primarily about producing morally improved men. It’s not primarily about warm-fuzzy experiences; it’s not even about emotional or psychological cathartic breakthroughs.
We may want each of those things to happen, but that should not be the primary target of men’s ministry. Instead, the purpose of ministry to men is to introduce men to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is God’s plan for transforming sinful men into redeemed sons of their heavenly Father. This transformation will produce men who passionately desire to become like Christ. They will want to know him better, love him more, and follow him more faithfully.
Such men will still battle sin, but as the Spirit works through the study of God’s Word, prayer, and accountable and encouraging fellowship, these men will become the men God has created, redeemed, and called them to be. And perhaps such men will turn the world upside down for God’s glory and the advancement of God’s Kingdom (Acts 17:6). But at the least, they will serve as “salt and light ambassadors” for Christ in their little corners of the world – their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and cities.
May God bless you toward that end.
(2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; Acts 13)
In my reading over the years, I’ve been often reminded of how important one-to-one ministry really is. As a man invests his life into the life of another man, real growth can occur in remarkable ways. This is one of the key ways our faith has been passed down through the centuries. And I can certainly attest to the power and influence such a ministry has played in my own life.
A helpful way of thinking about one-on-one ministry is to think about three names: Paul, Barnabas, and
Timothy. Below is a description of what each name represents as we think in terms of ministering to other men.
1.) Paul represents that person in your life who mentors, leads, and directs you. This is the man who comes along side you to disciple you along the road of faith and life. This is someone who has traveled further down the road of faith and life than you. This man doesn’t have to be a great deal older than you, but it probably ought to be someone who has walked faithfully with God long enough and far enough for you to profit from his wisdom – his reflected-upon experience, study of God’s Word, etc. And it usually is the case that, though not exclusively so, this man will be older than you as well. But, as I said, sometimes this simply means, “older in the faith.”
I hasten to add that you must beware of someone who says he has been a Christian for 25 years when in reality, he has been a Christian for only one year, 25 years in a row. In other words, there has been no growth and maturation over that 25 years. My own observation as a pastor is that this sort of person abounds in the church. There are many people who, by their own admission, haven’t learned much more about God’s Word and walking along the road with him, than when they were children in Vacation Bible School. And so brothers, you must be careful about this. Pray for discernment.
Also, just because a man is at the top of his game in his profession, does not mean he is likewise mature and advanced in his faith. Success in one field of endeavor doesn’t necessarily mean success in another area of life. As I heard one person describe it, a man may have a Ph.D. in psychology, but have a second grade Sunday school degree in Bible. This is not the sort of man you want to have as your Paul.
2.) Barnabas is someone who encourages you and holds you accountable in your faith and life. This is more or less a mutual friendship, or what’s called in the world of spiritual formation, a “spiritual friendship.” In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas traveled together side by side. Barnabas was a key person in Paul’s life, especially at the beginning of his walk with Christ as he introduced Paul to the Christian community. Their relationship then became one of mutual encouragement, ministry, and accountability.
There are men I have discipled for years who have gone from being a Timothy in my life to becoming a Barnabas to me. And while I can still disciple them, they also minister to me in many ways.
3.) Timothy is that man you help guide along the road of faith and life. This is generally someone who has not traveled as far as you have in your walk with Christ. Such a man is marked (or should be) by an eagerness to grow in his relationship with Christ and is humble and teachable enough to receive what you have to share and to interact with you on the things of faith and life.
This “mark of a Timothy” should not be ignored just for the sake of having a Timothy. There are many smart guys out there who don’t have teachable spirits. They feel they have nothing to learn from another man. So too, some are indifferent to the things of God. Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” as Paul called him, was humble, teachable, and eager to know, love, and follow God through Jesus Christ. So too, a “Timothy” shouldn’t expect to only receive guidance and wisdom from his “Paul,” but should plan on becoming a Paul himself one day so he can begin the whole process over again with another man.
This is a process in a man’s life that ought to last a lifetime and be produced, reproduced, and multiplied over and over again throughout the course of the man’s lifetime, as well as in the lives of the men he invests in. We are Christians today, humanly speaking, because those who went before us were faithful to this process.
In sum, we need to be a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and we need to have a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. Such men in our lives are gifts from God. And we have the blessed opportunity to be such a gift to other men.
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Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: (Proverbs 23:19)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.