Today marks the beginning of the multi-day “Stronger Men” conference held in Springfield, Missouri. Bloggers including Warren Throckmorton and Jonathan Merritt have responded with incredulity to the event, which features mixed martial arts fighting, monster trucks, and metal bands at what Throckmorton dubbed a “TestosteroneFest”. High-profile pastors including John Gray of Houston’s Lakewood Church and Louie Giglio of Atlanta’s Passion City Church are scheduled speakers this year, while former Mars Hill Church Pastor Mark Driscoll spoke at the 2017 event.
If you haven’t seen the promotional video yet, check it out:
As a port-sipping cradle Episcopalian, I’m probably not in the target demographic for this particular event. I will let the conference organizers’ own promotional materials speak for themselves, but this is an opportunity to reach out to some pastors in my own tradition who lead men’s ministry.
I’ve asked a handful of Anglican clergy whom I know “what would you like to see at this sort of a conference?” “What might you avoid?” and “What are some of the challenges in reaching and ministering among men in our churches?”
Nathan Dickerson, Restoration Anglican Church, Arlington, Virginia:
“My concern with a conference like this is that it seems to imply (rather strongly) that only one type of guy is truly welcome in the church (i.e. an amped up, high Testosterone sort of guy),” Pastor Nathan Dickerson shared with me.
“It also seems to imply (whether intentionally or not) that if you don’t fit this profile (i.e. you happen to like art, or music, or reading, etc.) then there is probably something a bit wrong with your masculinity. The implied message is that to fit in, you need to look like this sort of guy. If not, then perhaps you are not really a true man.”
“Ironically, this seems to play into the much wider narrative of our culture, which says that we get our primary cues about our gender from our feelings, rather than being primarily guided in our understanding of our gender by the fact that we are created in the image of a triune God. So, just because we are attracted/interested in things that are not stereotypically masculine does NOT mean that we are insufficiently masculine. When we are born male, that is a given. So, it is perfectly fine to prefer an art gallery to a NFL game. That is not being feminine whatsoever.”
Dickerson also shared about what his own church [full disclosure: Restoration is my parish, too] aims to see happen at its own men’s retreats:
- Guys from all ages, backgrounds, interests, marital status, etc, coming together to be with one another.
- Two Main Purposes: – First, to be with God – Men gathering to sing, listen/respond to Scripture, pray for one another, receive communion – Making sure that we are getting our guidance/cues from God.
- Second – Being with each other. Having times to laugh and enjoy each other in many different ways (as in our breakout times)
- Nerds like me playing Settlers of Cataan
- Other Guys going cycling together, playing soccer, or ultimate
- Some Guys hanging out by a fire, talking.
- Introverts taking a nap or a walk
- Overall – There is no pressure to do or be something you are not AND there is also freedom to do/express what you are truly are.
- The message being sent (hopefully) is that no matter your marital status, your interests, your career, your age – you fit in, and you are being called/encouraged/supported to grow in your walk with Christ.
“This is not flashy, or even that original, but I am convinced it is what is true helpful in growing men up into Christ,” Dickerson relayed.
Will Shafferman, The Falls Church Anglican, Falls Church, Virginia:
Deacon Will Shafferman aims to avoid emphasizing gender stereotypes during the programming, without hindering activities related to such stereotypes to take place (cigars and whisky, sports, hunting/fishing, etc.)
“The truth is, a church retreat for men is just that – a chance for men to get away to be with Jesus, together and individually. To truly ‘get away,’ at least for us more urban/suburban types, means being in a more rural, quiet setting. I would probably emphasize less programming, and more space for bottom-up fellowship and alone time, but some time for talks, worship, prayer, and communion would give some structure to the time. I would probably seek to offer opportunities for spiritual direction and healing prayer, either in a group or individual setting,” Shafferman suggested.
So what are some of the challenges in reaching and ministering to men?
“Not having enough men who live attractive, Christian lives,” Shafferman reports. “However, I think we would do well not to so segment this population that we make it a church unto itself. While male-to-male discipleship undoubtedly happened in the early church, the key place of spiritual growth and development was in the ‘household,’ a localized group of 30 or so people who spanned the demographic spectrum: young and old, male and female, single and married, servant and master, Jew and Greek. These early Christians together embodied the attractive way of Christ, and my sense is that if we can recovery this model of ‘spiritual family,’ we will be doing a much greater service to the men in and not-yet-in our churches than looking toward the all-elusive ‘silver bullet’ of men’s ministry.”
Barton Gingerich, St. Jude’s Anglican Church, Richmond, Virginia:
Pastor Bart Gingerich attempts to encourage men in what they are doing right.
“I often connect with them in showing how their work and leisure can be meaningful in light of the faith (doctrine of vocation). Women benefit as well, but for men glazed over and wondering how the Gospel connects with their daily grind, such doctrines have been helpful building blocks. Also, showing the cost of discipleship – the challenge of ascesis [the practice of self-discipline] and leading/taking responsibility, of fathering spiritually as well as physically – offers a lot to men, regardless of their state in life. “Show/tell me what to do” has appeal to males. I think that’s maybe why Islam is popular in male prison populations. But ultimately, a man turning to Christ and more fully engaging in His Christian life will be the work of the Holy Spirit.”
Gingerich reminds that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: “Stick to the fundamentals. Men and women should respond to the means of grace as God has promised, even if in slightly different ways or modes. And question how you update/engage/modernize/contextualize things for today’s culture to make it more palatable. You might actually be chasing out/harming 50 percent of your congregation that way.”
What do you think? I welcome your feedback about what has worked well (or not worked!) in your own church men’s ministry. Please share in the comments section below.
UPDATE [4/18/2018]: The original promotional video for the event has been taken down from YouTube. Here is a recap video of the 2017 event, featuring chainsaw juggling, among other spectacles: