Friday, April 4, 2014

Seven Actions to Engage the Men In Your Church

Much has been written over the past few years about the lack of male involvement and discipleship in the local church. Books on how to create engaging worship services that are gritty and rock n’ roll-ish, or how-tos on organizing “man” events of weight lifting, eating grilled beef, and drinking beer (sorry to my Baptist friends) are in abundance. But where are the men?

One would think that with the rise of church planting and prolific pastors and authors

advocating for a type of “strong man” Christianity, we would see a difference in the membership of young fast-growing churches. But from mine and many others’ experiences, this trend of a manless Christianity has not only continued, but gotten worse.

We have done everything we can to open the doors for their acceptance and involvement, but when push comes to shove, the idea of staying at home watching ESPN, designing a logo for a new company, finishing a work project, or merely sleeping in, becomes top priority.

With this sad reality in mind, I want to share what I believe to be the 7 foundational actions we need to take as leaders to successfully engage the men within our churches.

Acknowledge Them

Simply put, the word “acknowledge” means to admit the existence of something or someone.

Men want to be acknowledged. They want to believe that someone knows they exist and cares for them. They have a desire to be known. When they come into church, go to a small group, attend a church event, or anything else for that matter, they are looking for you (pastor) and/or someone within the church to admit their existence.

This does not mean that you personally need to meet and shake hands with every single male in your church every Sunday. However, it does mean that you can and should empower the men already within your church to make contact with other men.

Remember, on any given Sunday there are men (young and old) that were brought to your church by their spouses, a potential girlfriend, the music, your preaching, or many other things. And although they stepped foot into the building, they are waiting to be sought out and acknowledged.

Bless Them
A couple of years ago my wife and I were interning at a larger membership church in California. One day the Senior Pastor of the church and his wife decided to take us out for dinner, hear our stories, pray for us, and offer to mentor us.

I was blown away.

The thought that the pastor and his wife wanted to bless my wife and I with not only a great dinner and encouraging conversation, but also with their investment into our lives, was encouraging. Their willingness to bless us opened my heart to trust them as leaders and fall more in love with their church.

Even though most men won’t often admit it, they crave to be blessed. They are longing to be taken out for a burger, invited to a BBQ or football party, or merely welcomed into your home. But they are waiting for you to invite them. They’re not going to invite themselves. They’re not going to seek after you and ask if they can come to your home, go to a sporting event, or get drinks at a local pub. But they will say “yes” when you take the first step. And eventually, they will say “yes” to being faithful to your church because you have been faithful to blessing them.

Challenge Them

This is a difficult topic to talk about because our culture has dumbed down the importance and differences of masculinity and femininity. But the reality is simple and obvious, men are looking to be challenged.They are looking to be given something to accomplish—something that will challenge them.

Now, this does not mean that every man in your church wants to build a new stage in your sanctuary or join a small group that meets at a local gym. It does mean, however,  that every man in your church has been intricately designed by God to be passionate and skilled at something (or many things!). And because of this, they have an innate desire to be challenged within the realm of their passions and skills.

So, challenge them with something that will bring them joy and see results. Give them opportunities to succeed and/fail, and hold them accountable.

Here are a few examples I have seen done in different churches:

1)  Challenge them to take their wife out to dinner once a week for an entire month and email you the benefits to their marriage.

2)  Challenge them to pray with their kids each night for one week and see how it changes their relationships with their kids.

3)  Challenge them to renovate the children’s wing of the church and have a “revealing day” where all the children and their parents get to see the renovations and meet the men who worked on their classroom or children’s sanctuary.

4)  Challenge them create art, such as painting, photos, graphic art, and post it all throughout the sanctuary during a weekend of worship.

5)  Challenge them to open up their homes and host BBQ’ing or renovation competitions for the men within their communities.

Let them Fail

In the process of challenging the men in your church, it is also imperative that you allow them to fail. Much of the reason why men are absent from church is because they are ashamed of their spiritual walks. They don’t pray much, they don’t love their families well, they don’t spend time reading their Bibles or talking with others about Jesus, and when they walk into the church, they feel condemned.

It shouldn’t be that way.

When you give a challenge to the men in your church and allow them to fail, you are in essence, living out the message of the gospel for them. You are saying to them, “I know you can be great. I know that God has gifted you and called you to something huge. And you know what? If you fail, it’s okay! There is grace for you when you forget to take your wife out for dinner. There is grace when you get angry at your kids. There is grace when you fail at a project. There is grace for you!”

When you let the men in your church fail, you are empowering them to experience the message of the gospel, which is often not what many of them experience when they step foot into most churches.

Listen to Them

Everyone man has something to say. And no, I am not talking complaints about how loud the music is on Sundays, or how boring your sermons have been recently. Rather, every man has joys, worries, complaints, past hurts, opportunities, etc., stirring within their hearts, but many of them have no outlet by which they can share these things.

They often hold a position in their job where they cannot speak their mind, and when they are home, they feel uncomfortable sharing what’s going on in their hearts with their spouses or friends for fear of being seen as a failure. However, many are willing to talk with a pastor that they trust and have built a relationship with. And it’s our calling to listen to them and hear them out.

With that said, don’t expect most men who are beginning to trust you and your church to set up a time for “counseling” or a one-on-one meeting right away. This is oftentimes too awkward for them. Rather, expect to spend time with them in a relaxed atmosphere and use that opportunity to ask pointed questions. It may take time, but trust me, they will eventually enjoy your willingness to spend time with them, ask questions, and genuinely listen.

Remember, most men don’t have an outlet for someone to listen to them. So be proactive in creating space for conversation, and rejoice in the small wins.

In a side note, when they share their thoughts about the church, your leadership, or their views of God and Christianity, take note. These are invaluable resources to learn from.

Pray with Them

When you meet with a man from your church or if he comes up to you during a Sunday service or small group meeting, take the time to pray with him. Take the opportunity, no matter the circumstances to let him hear your love for Jesus and offer time for him to pray as well.

Many of the men in your church have never seen Christianity modeled to them by a godly male leader. Besides hearing you or other preacher prays before their sermons, they may never hear another male pray out loud. But when you spend time praying with them, they will begin to see that an intimate relationship with Christ is not only healthy, but the greatest relationship in the world. They will experience fellowship with another man that is often not found in relationships outside the church. And ultimately, when you pray with the men in your church, they will be encouraged to spend time praying with others as well, including their wives and children.

Most of all, point them to the Father.

Every man needs a father. Every man craves the love, acceptance, and approval of a father. But in most situations, the men that are walking into your church are fatherless—both spiritually and literally. They have never experienced the loving grace of a earthly father and because of this absence, they struggle to understand the deep void they feel for a spiritual or heavenly Father as well.

Therefore, above and beyond every other “action” discussed in this post, your goal needs to be to point them to the Father. Point them to Christ Jesus. Point them to the message of the gospel that says they are anointed children of the most perfect and loving Father in the universe. Remind them every chance you get that God loves them, is proud of them, and has gone to the greatest lengths to be near to them.

Even the toughest and most non-emotional men in your church need to hear that God delights in them, is passionate about their lives, and wants the best for them and their families. They need to hear this. They need to see this. And they need to encounter this while they are with you and in your church. Because with out it, they are merely joining a social club that will not satisfy the deepest longings of their souls.

Joshua Shaw has a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Psychology and is finishing up his M.Div from Denver Seminary. He regularly blogs at his website, He is currently working with the Mennonite Brethren denomination and Acts 29 network to plant a church in the west-metro area of Denver, Colorado.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Four Ways You Should Pray for Your Pastors

One of the greatest joys in my life is serving as pastor of the Summit. But ministry can be both messy and exhausting. That’s why I am so thankful for the prayer warriors in our congregation. I truly believe that one of the main reasons the Summit has grown is simply that God has answered the bold prayers of those in our congregation. The most important ministry anyone in our church can be involved in is that of prayer.

We believe the church is God’s Plan A and the hope for the world. As a leader of a church, that is humbling, so I always appreciate when people ask me, “How can we pray for you?” In fact, I get the question often enough that I thought I’d answer it publicly. Here are four very practical ways (inspired by James MacDonald) that you can be praying for your pastors:

1.     Pray that we will make God’s Word fully known. 
Colossians 1:25, “I became a minister [of the church] according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known.” 

Before we are your leaders and pastors, we are your servants. The call to pastor is the call to wash the feet of those you serve. My preaching is meant to be for your service and for God’s glory, not for my platform. There is no greater way that we as pastors can serve you than to give you God’s Word, which Jesus calls our daily sustenance.
Pray that as we serve, preach, teach, and counsel in our community, that God’s Word would be made fully known in the hearts and minds of those who hear.

2.     Pray that we will reprove, rebuke and exhort people with great patience.

2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

Exhorting people is fun and energizing, especially when they are on board with your vision. Reproving and rebuking? Not so much. But another word for pastor is “shepherd,” and a good shepherd would never stand by and watch wolves take out his sheep. In the same way, you can pray that we are able to reprove those who are straying, rebuke those who are divisive, and exhort those who are in need of encouragement – all in a way that is winsome and reflective of the patience that God has with us.

3.     Pray for sound doctrine.

Titus 1:9, “Hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

There is nothing more dangerous in the church than false doctrine. Part of the danger comes from the fact that a lot of false doctrine can be really popular. If I preached “10 Steps to Your Best Life Now!” we could draw some great crowds, but sound doctrine comes from Scripture, not from pragmatism. There is a great temptation to preach and
tell people what we think will make them feel better – but God’s Word alone is what changes lives.

Pray that we do not succumb to the temptation to grow a crowd, but that we teach sound doctrine from the “Word [that] is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

4.     Pray that we will openly and unapologetically share the truth.

2 Corinthians 4:2 “By setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

If you have never been offended by the gospel, you have never truly heard the gospel. The gospel, by its very nature, is offensive. It strips away everything we think we need, leaving us feeling completely helpless and exposed. But it then clothes us in the love and acceptance of Christ, giving us comfort, purpose, and strength that we could never have dreamed of. If we refuse to let the gospel expose our wounds, we’ll never feel the healing that Christ offers. 

Pray that we share the gospel message boldly and unashamedly in our community. The gospel of grace does what nothing else can—it transforms us from the inside out. May we never move beyond it

J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Dangers of Moralistic Men’s Ministries

The following article by Dr. David Prince, "What God Has Joined Together: Indicatives and Imperatives", while not directly about ministry to men, is applicable to its most troubling problem. And that is its proclivity to focus not on the gospel but on moralism i.e. rule keeping, working harder, being better, doing good, learning principles, and emulating certain biblical characters. None of which is the gospel. Moralism leaves men discouraged, exhausted, more guilty than before and often with a false sense of security. Many ministries major in biblical imperatives (what you have to do to get saved or to stay in "God's good graces" or to have your best life now). Likewise many shortchange (or even ignore) the triumphant biblical indicatives (what God has done for us through the power of the gospel). Christ's words from the Cross "It is finished!" are either missed or misunderstood. The contemporary Christian men's movement often appeals to a man’s will and performance, rather than to continual proclamation of the gospel and living in the light of the gracious acts of God. The Bible doesn't offer us a toolkit of tips, techniques, methods or therapeutic bromides but it infallibly reveals the person and finished work of the God-man Jesus Christ who came to save sinners (both their justification and sanctification). Read Dr. Prince’s helpful article then check out the center of your message to men (and to yourself).

D. A. Carson’s concern that conservative evangelicals may displace the gospel without disowning it, as stated in his book The Cross and Christian Ministry, is particularly applicable to expository preaching.
If a preacher exposits, verse-by-verse, books of the Bible focusing on moral, ethical, behavioral and attitudinal change, without mediating the meaning and application of the text through Jesus, he teaches a dangerous lesson -- even if he slaps a gospel presentation on the end. His message is that, while the gospel is necessary as the entry point, it is not at the center of daily Christian living.

Such moralistic preaching communicates that after believers walk through the gospel door, their focus should be keeping God’s rules, learning timeless principles, and noting which biblical characters to emulate and which to spurn. None of these concerns are the center of the biblical message.

Graeme Goldsworthy suggests in his book Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, that the reason this approach to preaching is prevalent and popular is because “we are all legalists at heart.”

No truths of Scripture are to be understood in isolation. It is possible to preach only true assertions from the Scripture and yet be misleading. When ethical and moral imperatives are proclaimed as sufficient, even abstracted from Jesus, the result is a crossless Christianity in which the central message becomes an exhortation to live according to God’s rules.

Hearers with a seared conscience may develop an attitude of self-righteousness, judging themselves as adequately living by God’s standards. Genuine believers with tender consciences may despair because they know they constantly fall short of God’s commands. In other words, preaching bare moral truths -- moralisms -- can drive people away from Christ. Such sermons are anti-Christian, even if the bare moral and ethical assertions are true.

In Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, Edmund Clowney makes a helpful distinction between what he describes as “truth to the first power” and truth realized in Christ, “truth to the nth power.” The difference between preaching the moral and ethical truths of the Bible and preaching bare moralism is found in whether the meaning of the biblical truth is contextualized by the gospel of the Kingdom. When preachers simply assume the gospel while preaching the imperatives of Christian living, the result is ever-increasing self-righteousness or despair in the hearers.

Jesus and his apostles confronted liberal Sadducees and conservative, legalistic Pharisees who had the same problem, albeit stemming from opposing directions. Both were pursuing religious justification and satisfaction centered on a moralistic grid rather than Christ.

In his 1923 book Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen warned, “Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity -- liberalism is altogether in the imperative (what you do) mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative (what God has done); liberalism appeals to a man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.”

Machen’s critique is true of many today who gladly sign theologically conservative doctrinal statements and intellectually affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. Moralistic preaching abandons a central focus on the gospel and is unfaithful, whether the message affirms liberal or conservative morality.

Some have wrongly responded to the problem of moralistic preaching by asserting that preaching should focus altogether on the gospel indicative. One pastor told me, “We must preach the gospel indicative to transform lives and not the imperatives." I have also heard some pastors who regard accusations of antinomianism against their preaching as confirmation of their fidelity to the gospel, and reject the idea that biblical imperatives are given to encourage sanctified living.

The proper relationship between the gospel indicative and imperative is not to pit one against the other. Rather, it is to understand that their relationship is irreversible. The imperative rests on the foundational indicative and is consequential.

In his book By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, Richard Gaffin explains, “If it needs saying, Paul’s gospel, as gospel, stands or falls with the irreversibility .... But this irreversible relationship is an inseparable relationship. Paul, we may also generalize, never writes in the indicative without having the imperative in view, at least implicitly.” Faithful proclamation of the gospel indicative includes proclamation of the consequential imperatives. In Paul: An Outline of His Theology, Herman Ridderbos rightly asserted, “Indicative and imperative are both the object of faith, on the one hand in its receptivity, on the other in its activity. For this reason the connection between the two is so close and indissoluble.”

Gaffin also warns in the same volume, however, of the consequences of sermons that ignore either the indicative or imperative. “On balance, the imperative without the indicative leads into a soteriological legalism, to using the imperative either to achieve or secure one’s salvation; it makes Paul a moralist,” Gaffin wrote. “On the other hand, the indicative without the imperative tends to an antinomianism; it leaves us with Paul the mystic.”

We must reject simplistic abstract moralizing of the biblical text, but we must also approach the text knowing that faithfully preaching the gospel indicative requires proclamation of the consequential ethical imperatives.

The ethical imperatives of Scripture presented as a way of salvation are a corruption of the biblical witness. But, the person who has trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation necessarily looks to biblical imperatives as the gracious guidance of their Savior and King.

Jesus did not simply come to usher in the salvation of isolated individuals, but to establish his Messianic Kingdom. In his person, the Kingdom of God was “already” at hand and yet it was “not yet” consummated. The redemptive historical reality of the already but not yet of the Kingdom of Christ means that he has already fully accomplished the salvation of his people, but his people in this fallen world have not yet completely learned how to conduct their lives “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).

The gospel indicative makes genuine obedience to the ethical imperatives possible and ultimately inevitable (Rom. 8:29, Eph. 2:10). The one who is “in Christ” has been delivered from the vain attempt to obey the imperatives as a means of justification and now hears them as the guidance and direction of a perfectly loving Father (Gal. 4:6).

Delivered from the courtroom of God’s justice, the one who is “in Christ” now is adopted and takes his place in the household of God (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:5, Eph. 1:5, 2:19, 1 Tim. 3:15). For the believer, obedience is now a matter of becoming who you already are in Christ. A pastor who avoids preaching on ethical matters is preaching a truncated gospel.

As an outpost of the Kingdom of Christ, the church proclaims the gospel and demonstrates the reign of Christ through living out the ethics of the gospel of the Kingdom. The submission of the church to the Lordship of Christ is to be a constant reminder that the Kingdom has come and that the Kingdom is coming.

Without Christ-centered eschatology there are no ethics, just special interest groups. The gospel indicative tells us God will sum up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10) and the consequential imperatives call the church to do so right now. When the cruciform community confesses, “Jesus is Lord,” it makes its most vital theological, political and ethical statement and creates a context in which, the gospel that reveals “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 1:17) becomes intelligible.

David E. Prince is the pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church and a professor of Christian preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.