Men of Faith

Presented by the Rev J.D. Brown at the Dallas Assembly Annual Meeting.

St. Luke’s, Dallas, 3 December, 2011

Brotherhood of St. Andrew - Dallas Assembly - Fr. J.D. BrownThere is a great deal written about ministry to men, and my own views have been influenced by books and articles on the subject. There are parts of John Eldredge’s book “Wild at Heart” where he does a wonderful job illustrating how the changing culture has encouraged men to NOT behave like themselves, and an article by Polly House written in 2003 provided some very interesting statistics about Men’s motivation. David Murrow’s “Why Men Hate Church” and “Love and Respect” by Emerson Eggerich, both contribute much to the discussion and particularly resonate with me. I have also drawn from my own experience serving in organizations like the Marine Corps and the Brotherhood of St Andrew in putting together this meditation.

I call this meditation “Men of Faith” as opposed to“Men and Women of Faith” or “People who are faithful.”  Why focus just on men? After all, these are enlightened times. We have to be politically sensitive.  We have to “include” – not discriminate. We are all the same in the eyes of God.  Aren’t we?  This little side trip down a garden path of political correctness is part of the problem. We are not all the same – that’s why we have two different restrooms for different genders, we have both stairs and handicap access ramps, there are stores for both “Big and Tall” and a variety of different restaurants appealing to our myriad differences in taste. Differences are appropriate and sometimes discrimination is right and proper. I spent 25 years in an organization that systematically discriminated against minorities. The United States Marine Corps will not recruit from the handicapped or from seniors. No matter how much you would like us to try we could never produce a blind marksman. Most folks who use walkers can’t keep a sub 8 minute pace on a 3 mile run.  These examples are ludicrous but appropriate because thinking that everyone is the same and responds the same to the same stimuli is part of what is killing our church. There are times when it is appropriate to discriminate. This is one of those times.

What is wrong?  Our church is shrinking. We have lost more than a million since the middle of last century and are still head south. The National Church just announced our membership numbers are below 2 million for the first time. The vision of 2020 – to double the size of the church in twenty years appears to be a dog that wouldn’t hunt. It died. The team that was selected to pitch 20/20 to my seminary class consisted of an ultra-conservative clergyman and a layperson who introduced herself as lesbian. Anyone see this as a successful evangelical strategy? You might get points for inclusion – but effectiveness?  I don’t think so. While representative of the political extremes of our church, it does not appear to me that by “bowing” to the vocal political margins in the church we would ever appeal to, or hope to hold the center. All we can expect to do is populate the pews with is “squeaky wheels”… and a big chunk of the squeakers on the right have by now left the denomination and seek alliance under African Bishops. Good job 2020!

Only 40% of the seminarians in my class were male. I can only imagine what it is today. Does that say to you that as Episcopalians we are intentional about attracting men into the church? We need to put a tourniquet on the artery that is hemorrhaging men– we need to focus on developing men of faith. Let’s face facts. Our current culture does not encourage or promote the expression of the Christian faith to start with. Not only does it suppress Christian values, but discourages men from behaving like men, from owning up to having any spirituality, let alone expressing it. Men are avoiding the church in droves and the dirty little secret is because of their innate leadership role as husbands and fathers (that natural masculine quality the church doesn’t like to talk about), they are taking their families with them. Bring the men back into the church and you will bring the numbers up.  If men were the focus of 20/20, if men saw the church as a place where they were welcomed to express and  articulate their faith, if they were encouraged to serve and lead in the church, 20/20 might have had a chance.

An article written back in 2003 recognized this. It was titled “Want your church to grow? Then bring Men” (Polly House, The Baptist Press, 3 April, 2003). It contained some startling statistics. Did you know that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow? If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow. But if the father is first, there is a 93 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow.

We have seen our culture evolve in significant fashion in the half century since the 50’s when men returning from war had built the churches many of us grew up in. Many of those cultural influences have been beneficial.  We have expanded the cause of political freedom and justice in our society.  We have benefited from the advances in technology and science. We have been freed, liberated, empowered and the numbers of the national church have been reduced by more than a third. What happened? The culture, the church, and their increasingly negative response to inherent make up of men, chased men away.

Referring again to the House article:  Of about 94 million men in the United States, 68 million don’t attend any church, but 85 percent of those say they did grow up with some sort of church background.These men aren’t opposed to going to church – they just don’t see anything there for them anymore.

The article goes on to say: “Churches by and large are doing a great job in women’s ministries. In some ways, it’s easier to arrange than men’s ministries. Women, by nature, tend to enjoy getting together and talking to each other. Men don’t necessarily think about doing that. In fact, men tend to isolate themselves. We need to find ways to get men talking to each other and forming relationships around topics and activities that interest them.”

The article suggests equipping men to minister to each other through short-term mission projects – because men like to do things – They “…like projects.” I agree – but only to a certain extent.  Doing “busy work” for God does not appeal to men.  Providing something to do just because men are “doers” is only part of the issue – what they do has to mean something and it has to give them a sense of respect.

What motivates Men?Well one thing is respect. Paul in Ephesians 5:33 indicates Men should love your wives as yourselves and women should respect their husbands. This is one of the most misunderstood passages of scripture. It does not have anything with a superior subordinate relationship – who gets to be in charge and who gets to serve. If you believe it does – you  will probably spend some uncomfortable nights sleeping on the couch. I heard Emerson Eggerich preach about this passage over the radio and have subsequently taught a course based on his book. His premise makes perfect sense to me.

God does not command us to do what comes naturally – but commands us to do what does not – and to do it because it is essential for the welfare of the one we love. If you speak English – no one has to tell you to speak in English – but if your spouse doesn’t speak English – it would be in your interest to learn whatever language she does speak. This is another of those Mars-Venus differences – but pertinent to our issue because the language the church is speaking, guys don’t understand.

Some years back there was a Cingular commercial where the guy is in a room full of other guys talking on the phone to his girl friend.  She says I love you – he looks around – is hesitant and says “me too”.

He values the respect of his friends and fears losing it. You all are going to say – what about the love of his girlfriend? What about it? Men compartmentalize their emotions all the time.  They do it at the drop of a hat. They do it in war so they can function in the face of fear. Men will compartmentalize their emotions and die for respect. What does not come naturally for men is love. They find it hard to say the word and hard to express. Since it does not come naturally for men – so God commands them to do it and for women whose native language is love, God commands them to find a way to speak in terms that men hear they are respected – because that is their native tongue.

Eggerich provided a little experiment to test this. The wife walks into the living room and you are sitting reading the Sunday paper. If she announces “I love you” your response, if there even is one, is likely to be something like “Me too.” and you keep reading. If instead she says, “You know I have been thinking about something you did the other day that really made me proud of you, and I just thought I should let you know.” Then she leaves the room. What happens next?  You put the paper down, get up and follow her to find out what that thing was – because now she is speaking your language – she is showing you respect.

Ask any man if asked would he rather be respected or loved by his subordinates – what do you think the man would say? Men trade in, value and crave unconditional honor and respect. When military leaders train subordinates – they challenge them to do things they do not want to do or things they think they are not capable of doing by communicating to them in the language of unconditional honor and respect. “That looked like crap. But I know you have the potential to do better. I know you can become something more than you ever thought possible – now reach down and show me.” And what happens when they get respect like that? Men will willingly serve and sometimes they die.

Shakespeare caught the essence in Henry the V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers for he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…”

You may begin to get a glimpse of why men “do” projects – it isn’t because they’re bored. In response to the right stimuli, men are wired to “do” almost the impossible as a response.

So if men crave validation and respect and will act heroically when properly motivated –they’ll shun disrespect and will go to great lengths to avoid that. Do you suppose men stay away from the church because they feel respected? If men would do almost anything – even die if given the right stimuli – do you think you could get them to come back to church?

In the Gospel of John Chapter 11: Jesus hears about Lazarus’s illness. He announces to his disciples that he is going to place himself in danger – go where he is a hunted man. His disciples tell him the risk is too great. The Jews wish him dead. And then Thomas speaks up. His loyalty compels him to follow Christ even into danger – even to death.  In the passage he encourages the other disciples:  “Let’s go with him so we can die too”. You read that passage wearing a guy’s lenses and Thomas’s response can put tears in your eyes.

In my previous parish in Kentucky there was a story about the very first Rector who entered the Church when it was on fire – risking his life – and for what?  Do you know what he went in after – what he had with him when he emerged? He went in and risked his life to retrieve the large processional cross. You could say he was a man of faith in his time. We need to build up more like him in ours.

If we believe the universe is made with purpose – and that purpose is reflected in the creator’s image and likeness – not wholly male or female – but in the relatedness of male and female together – then our theology, practice, worship and community needs to reclaim the masculinity it has lost. Men will not respond positively to a challenge to their masculinity. We need to stop telling them they have to stop behaving like men; that they should deny who God made them to be.

What would Jesus do? Men see nothing appealing in the portrayal of Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.  But how does scripture actually depict Jesus?

He says he came not to bring peace, but a sword; Mt 10:34 – so actually it appears he is not a shrinking violet.

Christ recognizes the faith of the centurion and shows him respect: for he is also a man set under authority; Lk 7:8 – so honor, respect, and an acknowledgement of authority are affirmed by him. These are manly virtues.

Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends; John 15: 12-13 –So he values someone who acts decisively, selflessly and sacrificially.

Now let’s talk about anger – anger is the only emotion with a negative connotation – attributed primarily to males and naturally, it is the one emotion that is considered inappropriate to express – but crying is okay? Alan Alda is supposed to be our hero, right? Let’s look at a biblical example:

In John’s Gospel Chapter 2 beginning with verse 14:  In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Think he was mad?

Paul tells us in Eph 4: 25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.

Anger is not the same as violence. And suppressed anger is potentially more damaging, manifesting itself in little events like Cain murdering Abel. An example from my hospital chaplaincy:  In response to getting bad news about a loved one, a man punched his fist through the wall and then started running down the passage way – two security guards went after him. The young one chased him – the old one just walked. What he found at the end of his walk was a young guard who was out of breath – and a man sitting on the floor sobbing. After having given vent to his anger in physical fashion the man could now grieve. Men get angry, get physical and then they get over it. My CPE supervisor suggested a grief room for men full 2X 4’s hammer and nails to let them physically work out their grief. Who knows, after a couple of days, we could frame a room – after a couple of months, we might even start a new wing on the hospital.

Men are valued. Let’s talk about our worthiness before God. (I believe John Eldredge pointed this out…) In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, men really only focus on two of the characters: the brothers. One who screws up everything he touches – and the other who no matter how hard he works, knows he’ll never make the cut. What men don’t understand – or lack the language to hear is the father saying “I have always loved you.” Many men will never hear it until they hit the bottom – actually become the prodigal – wishing he could eat what is offered the pigs – stripped of every inch of self respect. When they finally turn to look back at the church – wanting nothing more than a chance to earn back their self-respect – what will we have to say to him? Men are pigs? Or I have always loved you.

The evangelicals are pretty successful at attracting men. There is not a football game that you don’t see John 3:16 lifted up on a placard or written on the eye-black of Tim Tebow on TV. The problem for our fundamentalist friends is they lose them over the issue of post baptismal sin. We hear there is salvation – we’re just not assured that WE are saved – because they never stop talking about hell.  People get baptized 5 or 6 times, make a bunch of altar calls – because they dwell on their brokenness and not on grace. Every day is not Ash Wednesday – every season of the church calendar is not Lent.

You can’t tell men God believes you are worthy and then take it back. I recall a member of the Brotherhood of St Andrew told me about growing up “fundamentalist” in South Carolina. They spent a lot of time at church – as is their tradition – and thought it would be nice for some of the youngsters if they put up a ping-pong ball table in the basement – but they weren’t having any of it. It was the tool of Satan – they were all going to Hell.  He told me, “You know, I just got tired of hearing I was going to Hell all the time.” He is obviously now an Episcopalian now and has served multiple terms as the director of the biggest chapter of the Brotherhood in the nation (Note to Robby Gerber – you can run more than once).  I think they should have just bought them a ping-pong table.

So we also have to be careful not to pull the bait and switch – that is, telling men that God considers them worthy – to get them in the door and then tell them if you don’t straighten up, he’ll change his mind. Look at how we beat up on doubting Thomas – remember this was the apostle who stood up and said “C’mon fellas – let’s all go with Jesus and die together.”

After Jesus dies, Thomas isn’t grieving – he’s mad.  He leaves the other nervous-Nelly apostles who are cowering in the upper room – afraid they’ll be recognized and goes out to vent, to just do something – anything – maybe get a pack of smokes, maybe pick a fight, because he just can’t sit there anymore. And while he is gone Jesus returns.

And then when Thomas gets back they tell him he missed out – Jesus came back and was alive and talked to us and everything. Thomas clearly does not believe them, and he does not want to grieve.  It’s easier to stay mad. So when they continue to press him about the story – he gets mad at them and finally snaps. “Listen, unless I see the holes in his hands and put my hand up in the wound in his side – I won’t believe you. Okay?”

This is not promoted as a redemptive story – but once again – an example of how you aren’t good enough. And the church to this day gives Thomas a raw deal – and tells everybody else is that you should believe without seeing because that is what Jesus said Thomas should do.  He didn’t say that.  Pay attention. He said “blessed” – or “happy are those who can believe without seeing” – he did not say “Stupid or worthless are those who cannot.” But by his actions he also says “It’s okay Thomas – come here pal, don’t listen to them – put your hands here. You are, too,“good enough” – you make the cut, too.” Thomas is Jesus’ ministry to guys. If Christ makes a second trip to come back just for Thomas, I don’t think our Lord thought he was unworthy.

But men have been told otherwise enough times that some of us have begun to believe it. We are not pious, not comfortable in the pew, we are not welcome in church and we are keenly aware of our own shortcomings. Heck, we can’t forgive ourselves, so there is no way God will. We are unworthy in our own eyes – so how can we expect God to see anything worthy in us?

But God does. Just like the military leader who gives unconditional respect to his recruits– “I see more potential in you than you believe is possible”, Jesus Christ sees the worth in you – looks at the broken vessel before him and says “I can make you whole”. He takes us from our lowest, redeems us and brings us up into faithful service. Just look at the who’s who in the rogues’ gallery of scripture that God changes: Abram – who hides behind his wife, Jacob – the con artist and thief, Simon the fisherman and coward, and Saul the murderer. God takes the most broken toys of Israel and enlists them – warts and all – into the service of the kingdom – and they shine like diamonds in his service.

I remember one of the first times I ever preached I was faced with one of those bad, bad; everyone is going to fry points in the Lectionary where I honestly could not see any good news. I even went to the Psalm looking for hope – it was Psalm 46 – where the chanted refrain is the Lord God of hosts is with us, the Lord God of Jacob is our stronghold.  I’m thinking to myself – Jacob? Really? Jacob was one of the most unsavory characters in the Bible, a real knucklehead… and then the crystal starts to turn.  The Lord God of knuckleheads is with us…  and I began to see a vision of God as the patient forgiving father with a good hearted but wild child who walks with him and guides him through all the nonsense of his maturing process to make him into a man of faith.

Guys need to be told up front that they are valued by God. You are worthy of God’s grace – you are validated – you are respected NOW. As evidence look at the sacrifice Christ made for you. So you are not only highly regarded – you can engage in something noble to show him his sacrifice was not in vain. How? By doing what God made you to do – by serving and leading others.

Men can change. If that message gets through to men, men will change. Look what happened to the rogues’ gallery recruited by God. He not only changed them – he gave them a new identity – and with their new identity God gives them a new name. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob is Israel, Simon is Peter and Saul is Paul. God gives men a new identity in Christ, too. They become “brothers”. And just like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus – when they understand who Christ is – they change too. They turn. They reverse course and go to tell others.

Richard Hooker said that when we choose to do something about our faith, that when we engage in the God’s law, we actually engage with God. That’s the benefit of service. It isn’t working your way to salvation – because that work was already accomplished for you. Your sins were forgiven 2000 years ago on an execution ground in the midst of a garbage dump outside Jerusalem. That’s just the first part of the good news for men. There is more. You can be the kind of guy you always wanted to be.  You can do something meaningful, not only helping others, but witnessing just by helping AND encounter the living God in the process to boot. Now that is Good news to men.

What’s our role? To bring men together in community. Okay there is a lot of blame to lay at the feet of the church and the culture – but now it’s time to take a look in the mirror. The Brotherhood of St Andrew is an organization that focuses on spreading Christ’s kingdom particularly among men and youth. So where are the youth, or young men, or middle aged men for that matter? How many here are in your 30’s – 40’s – 50’s? You get my meaning. If this is a ministry of invitation, how many here have invited someone to a Brotherhood event in the past week or month? I am going to go out on a limb here and say you can forget all about the disciplines of the Brotherhood –never mind about prayer, study or service because if you don’t focus on inviting men here – and I mean young men, the organization will die with you. You need to go out and find someone to take your place.

There is a great deal of concern and talk in our assembly gatherings about how to raise tens of thousands of dollars for service and outreach when we can’t seem to get even a hundred men in this room. I think you are focused on the wrong metric. Get men’s butts in here and the money for outreach will take care of itself. You may know I am a reluctant supporter of Habitat not because it is not a worthy effort, but because it is so grand an undertaking in its scale that it can become the entire ministry focus – not just an ancillary outreach. You only get men’s attention for so long and if you spend it all on only one of the three disciplines, I think you miss something important. Habitat builds homes; the Brotherhood builds relationships. Its witness gives men more than just something to do.  Specifically the daily disciplines of prayer, study and service in fellowship together allow men to find community and the kind of bond that men yearn for – for membership in a band of brothers – for a means by which they can find a sense of belonging through faith and action – so they feel that essential sense of validation in the Father. That is what we should be about.

Andrew showed us you don’t have to say much to men – just invite them… but because of the damage done against men, it might take more than one invitation so don’t let them off the hook.  Be the gum on the bottom of their shoe. Hey, we need your help with something or another next Saturday – can you give us a hand? “We are holding an event (fill in the blank: a shooting day, a chili cook-off, a movie night, and a car show – whatever). It’ll be a blast – and we’ll feed you afterwards.” “Hey we are an usher short today – can you help us out?” “Hey a bunch of us are going out for brunch after worship – want to join us?” If the respect is there, if there is opportunity to find community and validation in service, and if you are relentless, then they might eventually come. They might even come back …they might even bring a friend.

The most successful chapters of the Brotherhood have clergy involved as sponsors. Where are your clergy? I have to say I have not seen a lot of them here. If they are not involved and actively supportive back in your home parish – and that means your biggest fan who promotes your meetings regularly during announcements on Sundays and helps you in recruitment – I think you have some work to do in your chapter. Your next recruit ought to be your priest.

What is your strategy to get into the faces of the clergy of the diocese where there is no Brotherhood?  What do we have, 65 parishes and missions in the Diocese? How many chapters do we have – 15?  You get the point? There is not a priest I know who would turn down a ready-made volunteer work force if you offered to provide one – and that is essentially what the Brotherhood does for clergy.  Assemble a presentation team to take on the road to different churches – ask if you can make a pitch during the announcements on Sunday – during the coffee hour after worship, or speak before the men’s groups already established.

There was a men’s accountability group (maybe a half dozen guys who would meet on Thursday mornings before work). That group formed the cadre around which a Brotherhood chapter was built in the Diocese of Kentucky – and it spread to other churches. This was in a very liberal diocese whose Bishop was quoted saying there was no need for the Brotherhood there. They now have a diocesan assembly, set up a table regularly at their diocesan convention and attend the National Convention of the Brotherhood. That little accountability group has grown to be one of the top 15 chapters in the nation.

I think you need to fight for some air time at our diocesan convention and to tell the story of the Brotherhood here in Dallas and in your own lives. You need to have a presence – a booth – hand out stuff – and work to get your butts on the agenda at the next diocesan convention. There was a moving presentation done by a young person promoting the Diocese of Dallas Episcopal Youth. Hers is likely not the only story of transformation in the diocese. I think there may be some equally compelling stories among the members in your chapters – and they might change some hearts. Your primary goal ought to be getting the Brotherhood established in every parish and mission of this Diocese – and I’m thinking the Bishop would help pave the way for that – gently twisting arms where clergy might be reluctant to allow you in.

Gents, Christ redeemed us, saved us, gave us faith – and I believe men of faith can in turn save our church.  I have seen what the Brotherhood can do. The job before us as men of faith and followers of Andrew’s example is first and foremost recruiting other men – so let’s enlist them – let’s go out and bring them in the door. Once they are here – let them engage with God by encouraging them to do what comes naturally – meeting the deepest yearning of their hearts and affirming who God made them to be. The agency of the Holy Spirit can take it from there. We bring them in – God will change who they are. Then just wind them up and watch them go.

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