‘He’s hardly ever at the prayer meeting…’
‘It’s difficult to get men involved in the midweek kids’ clubs…’
‘Lovely spirit of prayer tonight, but not many of the men prayed…’
‘We’ve got lots of ladies, but where are the men?!’
‘My husband won’t take the lead at home…’
‘We’ve got lots of men, but we lack deacons and elders…’
It’s difficult as a serving pastor to write on this subject, but the comments above are those that I pick up when I preach at churches throughout Wales and England.
Is there a problem? Perhaps.
Let’s examine some of the causes.
A crisis of identity in society
Thirty or forty years ago, men and women seemed to understand their roles, not only in the church but in society at large. It may seem very odd now, but men were ‘breadwinners’ and women were ‘homemakers’. The pattern my wife and I followed was the norm, although we were perhaps on the cusp of a great change!
I would leave home at 6am, travel by bus and tube to work, returning by 6.30pm. Jill would have dinner ready, having been busy all day with our two youngest children at the time — shopping, cleaning, mending and making. After a meal, we’d get the children ready for bed together. Midweek meetings were attended alternately by Jill and me, and on Fridays, I helped to lead the young people’s group. I got promoted at work, became a deacon and started preaching regularly.
Things began to change in the Thatcher years. Loss of heavy industries and mass unemployment began to take hold. Home ownership was encouraged with many taking on mortgages for the first time (including us, at an interest rate of 12.5%!). These factors began to drive more and more married women into the workplace. The traditional separation of male and female roles started to change.
At this exact time, women’s rights, equality in the workplace, equal pay and opportunities were also on the rise. Feminist views of all types were being pushed and propagated. Gay rights were being vigorously advanced and gay pride is now at the forefront of our society. More recently, there’s been an emphasis of the self-identity of transgender men and women.
All of this has meant there’s been a great discussion about the role and identity of women, and of gay or transgender men, but not of the roles or identity of other men. What is the role today of a man? Does he even have a distinctive role in our contemporary world? The answer the world gives is NO!
A crisis of identity in the church
The average church-attending man, married or single, is continually bombarded with messages and images telling him it’s ok to be anything and everything… apart from that which the Bible says he should be. There is a massive gulf between the accepted role of a man in society (ambiguous to say the least) and the biblical pattern for a man in the church (very specific indeed!). It’s left many men in the church feeling they’re living in two very different worlds.
A crisis of time
Productivity is a key economic driver all over the world. It sounds like an exciting word — in practice, however, it means more work from fewer people. A professional man will be expected to work way beyond his contracted hours. He will not ‘clock off’ at a specific hour, but have to stay on in the office until a particular task is completed — and then often take work home with him. The joke of teachers only working 9am to 3.30pm and having 12 weeks holiday each year, is exactly that — a joke!
What’s the answer?
These crises go some way to answering the comments at the start of this article — ‘He’s hardly ever at the prayer meeting.’ Perhaps he’s still in the office, or on the M4, or marking that pile of class books! By the way, I wonder how many New Testament slaves made the midweek prayer meeting at 7.30pm each Wednesday?
But as we think further, there are things the church can do, and there are also things men can do.
The church’s response
Elders. Don’t moan and complain. Go and see the men concerned. It’s part of your task as a shepherd and overseer. Maybe they are backsliding and lazy — but maybe they are under real pressure and need to be encouraged and helped!
Teaching. How often do we hear plain teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood, or the roles of men, women, children, husbands and wives? Given the continual shouting of the world around us, a clear clarion call of truth is vital. Given the current crisis, perhaps these topics should be revisited more often. We need regular Sunday morning teaching, as well as good, regular seminars on the topic. We need to teach these things to people preparing for marriage, and we need to make good literature available.
Modelling. Mature Christian men should be good, kind role models for younger men, getting alongside, understanding and kindly encouraging. Older, mature Christian couples need to be inviting younger families round for meals and building relationships across the generations.
The men’s response
A single man can think through the issues for himself while a married man will need to discuss them with his wife. How much money do we need? Does my wife want or need paid employment? Perhaps, for now, she simply has to, but it’s good to ask the question!
Do I need to work these long hours? Is it wise and right to accept that promotion leading to the inevitable greater workload? Maybe it is, maybe the Lord would have you in that position, but again it’s good to ask the question!
Thirty-five years ago, a Christian actuary that I knew in London was offered a promotion. He would have more money, but it would require more hours and more travel. He turned it down — he was a deacon, organist, husband and father and those roles were his priority. Such a response is not always right — but neither is it always wrong!
This is a huge topic of great current importance, and in this brief article we are only scratching the surface. But, it’s my prayer that this will stir some thought, discussion and prayerful consideration for men and church leaders.