Have you ever been in church and wondered where all the men were? Wondered what force of nature blew them all away? Or why half of the men that did show up for church looked like they were being held hostage– with no negotiator to save them? A 2003 statistic reported that the typical U.S. congregation draws an adult crowd that is 61% female and 39% male. Reading that, one might conclude that women love or need Jesus more than men. Might.
In my 40+ years of “church-going”, this has always been an interesting phenomenon to me. I thought that the very nature of Christianity and its patriarchal tenets would be appealing to men. There are 66 books in the Bible, and only two are named after women (Ruth and Esther). In the Bible, God shares His plans with His prophets- 99% men. Can’t forget Deborah. Men foretold the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah). Men were largely responsible for planting new churches and spreading the message of Jesus, often times at the cost of their lives. So what brought on the disproportionate disconnect between men and the church?
As an institution, the church has known of the declining presence of men for decades. Many have attempted to revamp their approach to Men’s Ministry; to engage the 39% on a more relevant and action-oriented level, with hopes of attracting others. They’re trying to give Jesus a makeover, make Him cool, a respecter of all things sports, especially football. Not that guy in sandals who liked to hang out with Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). The message: This is not your mother’s Jesus. Every fence-straddling man has his own reason, whether he can articulate it or not, as to why he just can’t get into the “church thing.” And for every reason, some church – somewhere is trying to address it.
Now, I don’t know the answer to getting more men in church or to love Jesus, as my title suggests. I surmise; however, that the dependent posture that underscores our faith is off-putting to the average man. The dependence on God for our healing, for our protection, for our purpose, for all our wants and needs. Faith asks us to believe in what we cannot see; to trust God beyond our own resources. This is contrary to our culture’s definition of manhood. Further, the risk of being vulnerable and the preoccupation with the appearance of masculinity has been a form of bondage. And this, I submit, happened long before adulthood, but rather when they were still wee-little boys.
Go with me. How times many have you heard a father tell his son not to cry, asserting that he’s a big boy now? How many times have you told a young boy not to cry? How many times were you, Mr. Man, told not to cry?
Every time I hear someone say this to a child, my insides turn. We have associated crying with weakness, and that’s simply untrue. King David was a warrior. As a teenager, he volunteered to fight Goliath while the men of the Israeli army shook in their boots from the sideline (1 Samuel 17:32- 37). God wouldn’t allow David to build the temple because he was a man of war, with much blood on his hands (1 Chronicles 28:1-3). And yet this same warrior was described as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). The Bible records David as having danced out of his clothes in praise of his God (2 Samuel 6:14). He also cried—a lot—to his God. A LOT. Just read the Book of Psalm.
It’s personal for me as I am raising my son to know Jesus and His ways. I don’t want my son to cry every time the wind blows. I’m not raising wimpy, passive kids. But I do want his heart to remain permeable to God’s love and receptive to His gentle correction and conviction. (John 16:7-9) I want my son to learn how to manage his emotions, be it violent anger or tearful hurt- not simply to shut it down.
I don’t think people understand what they are doing to the heart of a boy when they demand he never cry; how it invalidates his hurt and disappointment.
When you tell a boy not to cry, you’re essentially telling him he’s not allowed to feel. When you tell him he’s not allowed to feel, you’re telling him he’s not allowed to care. And if he shouldn’t care, you shouldn’t be surprised when he evolves into a shell of a man with a hardened heart and a lack of sensitivity for others, for his future wife, and Jesus.
Fast forward, these same men who have been invalidated since childhood, who have bottled every painful experience are asked to sit on a pew. Some attend out of obligation because they’ve been raised to be afraid of God if they don’t go. But all of them are like hostages, held against their will. A true life-giving church is an intimidating place for such a man (or woman), because you cannot encounter Holy Spirit and remain the same. And the release, the breaking is usually manifested through tears.
For example, have you ever cut a hug short because you thought you were about to cry? You may have even said, “Stop, let go before you make me cry.” Well, you can’t receive a hug from God and not cry. It’s impossible. And that’s the discomfort and conflict these boys turned men are running from- I’m not supposed to cry.
Jesus would never tell you to stop crying. His objective is to usher you through your pain and disappointment as a means for stopping the tears; to give you His perspective on a matter that would foster peace in your soul. Our tears are precious to Him (Psalm 56:8). Tears, I dare say, are integral to God’s plan for us. God uses our ability to feel to advance His kingdom. As we grow in our relationship with the Father, He will gift us with a broken heart for the things that break His heart that we may be an agent of change.
So what now? What do you do with this info? If you have a son and you have said this in past, purpose not to do so in the future. Apologize. Validate his pain and then usher him into action. For example, your son gets sacked playing football. Crushed, actually. Acknowledge the hurt and try to assess whether it’s a physical or an emotional pain. Does your leg really hurt, son, or are you embarrassed about a play gone wrong? Regardless of the answer, it’s an opportunity to help him redirect his pain to Jesus so he can get back into the game- be it the game of football or the game of life.
Do you know a man who proudly boasts that he never cries? Begin to pray for him, for the release of everything that binds. Pray for the softening of his heart that he may be evolve into a warrior, a man after God’s own heart.
Maybe you are that man. If you are reading this, I have already prayed for you. I prayed that God would encounter you; that He would pull you into a bear hug and not let go. I prayed that you would experience the freedom of feeling in the safety of His arms that was denied to you as a child.
Fellas, Jesus has negotiated your release! Hope to see you in church soon.
SCRIPTURES REFERENCED ABOVE
Luke 10:38-42- As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
1 Samuel 17:32- 37 NIV– David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
1 Chronicles 28: 1-3 NIV- Then King David rose to his feet and said, “Listen to me, my brethren and my people; I had intended to build a permanent home for the ark of the covenant of the LORD and for the footstool of our God. So I had made preparations to build it. But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.
Acts 13:22 NIV- After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.
2 Samuel 6:14 ESV- And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod.
John 16:7-9 AMP- However, I am telling you nothing but the truth when I say it is profitable (good, expedient, advantageous) for you that I go away. Because if I do not go away, the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby) will not come to you [into close fellowship with you]; but if I go away, I will send Him to you [to be in close fellowship with you]. And when He comes, He will convict and convince the world and bring demonstration to it about sin and about righteousness (uprightness of heart and right standing with God) and about judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in Me [trust in, rely on, and adhere to Me];
Psalm 56:8 NLT -You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.