Reaching Men: Culture, Church, and the Gospel

I am grateful to Alex Chediak for offering me an interview about Where Are All the Brothers? (part 1, part 2). In the interview I talk of how African American men seem to represent a largely unreached and forgotten mission field.

In reply to the post, I received the email below from a friend. I have edited only what is necessary to conceal the identity of the writer. I appreciate his thoughts.

I am astonished at the similarities between the African American church and the church here in [Appalachia]. It is interesting that you posted this now. I have been thinking about the issue of the absence of men in the church a lot in the last couple of days.

I work for a natural gas and oil pipeline company. It is a very blue-collar job. I talk to guys at work and it isn’t that they are violently opposed to the gospel or even that they at some level don’t understand their need of the gospel. It is however an odd fit to imagine them in the church. They would be an odd fit even if they were converted and weren’t foul mouthed and hard drinking.

What I am seeing is that we have a church culture issue here. Guys who grow up in the church look like sissies and guys outside the church rightly identify that there is a cultural defect in those guys. As always I feel like I am between two worlds. I am from [this Appalachian state] and yet my last name isn’t (that is a very big deal). I am working a hard physical job and I am educated. I have been an Appalachian in various parts of the country—which is to be an oddball. So I know an oddball when I see one. The oddball in my culture is the church, and church guys.

In saying this I am not trying to deny or wish away the work of the Spirit in sanctification. Church guys should be different, but it shouldn’t be an artificial transition from blue-collar to white-collar. It is a transition that seems bizarre in this context. I have nothing against white-collar guys being white-collar [the] guys they should be, and it is not unmanly. But it is an offensive against a person’s dignity to imply that they must change their culture to be a Christian, or a proper Christian. This is the same old missions question of contextualization and we are missing it at home.

Here men just find church to be a very strange thing that women and the bookworm boys do. I wonder if there are converted men at home who feel like they just don’t fit because they are not polished enough.

It struck me this morning that the answer may not be that the church should reflect the culture, but rather that the church should not reflect it – it should just be. This is difficult to express. What I mean is that if there are ten men from ten different backgrounds including culture, race, economics, etc., they should not be conformed to each other or to the pastor or to the rest of the congregation. They should be being conformed to Christ. Things will change as the men mingle together, but it should not be to become like a goody-goody bookworm if that isn’t what they are. If it is what they are then praise the Lord. But so long as the church is bringing a culture to the table the church is bringing offense, and short-circuiting a lot of usefulness and variety within the body.

Most men aren’t going to argue with the church about what the church is like; they are simply going to feel that it is weird and stay away. We should be weird but we shouldn’t be weirder than the gospel itself makes us.

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2 responses to “Reaching Men: Culture, Church, and the Gospel

  1. Pingback: Friday’s Five to Live By | Biblical Counseling Coalition Blogs

  2. While I agree with the basic premise of the gentleman’s assertion, I find that I must disagree with some of the assumptions about the Appalachian model. I am an Appalachian by birth and inclination. The people here can be clannish but they are a good people over all. The recognition that a cultural divide exists is one that I can agree with to a certain degree. However, it has been my experience that not all church going men in Appalachia are sissies or book worms. My church for instance has a men’s ministry that is manly in every sense of the word, but also exhibits the characteristics of service and ministry. In fact, all our men work with their hands and work hard at their vocation. I agree that our men as a whole, need to put a little bass in their voices and be men of God. For example, we have a man who started his own business work with Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we have a man who is a glass cutter, we have men who are metal workers and welders. True, our church is small to medium size but our men are hardly sissies and book worms, but they are intelligent and thoughtful men. They exhibit the Christ-like qualities every man should aspire to show.

    I would say that men find church to be a strange experience in part because they have allowed the women to be the spiritual leaders in the home when that clearly is a role designated for the husband. Men need to start putting the pants on again and lead their homes to church. We wonder why our boys aren’t exhibiting manly behavior when they grow up its because men have abdicated their responsibility to be spiritual leaders of the home.

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