Growing up in the church as a pastor’s kid, I had unique access to something most church attending adults and probably zero church attending kids had access to: the inside conversations between pastors. For better (and usually for worse), I had an awareness of the frustrations and challenges most pastors face in their ministry. One area that has always been of great concern, question, and failure is the area of so-called “Men’s Ministry.” At most churches, you’ll find that the “Men’s Ministry” is considerably smaller, the events very poorly attended (you’re lucky if 10% of the guys at any given church actually show up to a specialized event), and the attitude of most guys toward church attendance, volunteering, and general interaction ranges from the uncomfortable to the uninterested.
As a church regular and even as an assistant pastor, I felt the same way about the “Men’s Ministry” at my churches… no, I don’t mean that I was concerned that so few men attended, it’s that I didn’t want to be there either! (No offense intended, I know the leaders were trying their best, at least I think they were). Men’s Ministry was usually a quarterly “continental breakfast” (with “Break Out Times” for sharing…), Accountability Groups (where you sit around in a circle, read a devotional, and one guy inevitably cries the whole time over the same sins he confessed the last time we got together, another guy pats him on the back, and everyone else begs the clock to tick faster), and a Men’s Retreat (cleverly called “Men’s Advance” because “men don’t retreat… har har har”… but apparently they sit around in seminars, sing songs for hours on end, write in prayer diaries, and sit in puffy comfy chairs by the fireplace sipping hot cocoa at the romantic castle retreat center in some Irish sounding place).
I don’t remember exactly where it was, but working at another church, I finally had the realization of why most men didn’t like “Men’s Ministry” in their churches…
It was ministry that was designed for women in the 40+ demographic. “Men’s Ministry” was basically “Women’s Ministry for Men.” No, seriously, think about it! Oh sure, we “called” them “break out times,” “accountability groups,” “men’s advance (because we don’t “retreat”)” and whatever other “tough sounding” name we could think of, but the events were definitively oriented to the activities common in our culture for older females, not males in general. On occasion, someone (not usually a pastor) might get courageous and suggest we have a “Monday Night Football” men’s event, but then they’d kinda compromise and have it at someone’s house with throw pillows, lemonade, and the obligatory Bible study at half-time instead of at the sports bar with beers and chicken wings and jokes about how you farted on your wife by accident but you’re grateful God gave you such an amazing woman… like you’re supposed to when you watch Monday Night Football with your buddies.
Like men do.
I have never wanted that kind of compromise for Pathmakers Church. And that’s one of the reasons I love the Spartan Race each year. Or pick up games of basketball, soccer, or working out together. Or the Bible study we just did over coffee in the morning before work. Or meeting up for a beer to talk about life. Or Monday Night Football… in an actual sports bar! Being real, being brothers, being men! Sure there’s times for sharing and accountability and crying. But those usually happen more spontaneously and they tend to be less manufactured, less dramatic, and a whole lot deeper and impacting than having to force something you’re not feeling at an event you’d never volunteer to go to on your own.
That kind of natural relationship development and spontaneity happened a lot at the Spartan Race. I think every one of the guys that went (which is about half of us from church; we’re a small church still starting out) said several times, randomly, how much fun they were having, how glad they were to be together, and how good they felt. I drove the mini-van we took for car pool and I glanced in the rear view mirror on the way back. When I did, I saw men who were glad to be men… glad to be who God made them to be… celebrating a victory that meant everything to us, so much so that we couldn’t have cared less what anyone else thought of us, what we had done, or the intimacy and depth of friendship that was built between us all… a bond we desired for the guys that couldn’t make it this time. We glorified God, had a great time, and felt like a million bucks doing it. Someone already had an idea for matching T-shirts at next year’s race.
That’s “Men’s Ministry.” And that’s how we do it at Pathmakers Church. It doesn’t mean we won’t have a retreat, it just means we’ll call the retreat something absolutely hilarious to us and possibly a little obnoxious, ridiculous, maybe even a little gross to our women. Yep… that’s right… I wrote that. That’s who we are and that’s what we do. You know why? Because that’s what men do. Especially at Pathmakers Church.
P.S. Just like the men, our Women’s Ministry do their own kinds of events and activities, stuff they enjoy and look forward to and that allows them to celebrate the different ways they express themselves and their femininity… and they make no apologies about what they do, either, because it glorifies God and it makes them happy to be the women God has called them to be. As they should. Because that’s what women do at Pathmakers Church, too.