I am going on a journey. Several men in my church and I are going through a book by Dudley Hall entitled Men In Their Own Skin. The subtitle (because all good books have a subtitle, right?) says “answering the call to confident manhood.” I bought this book last summer and started it, but like other books, I found myself putting it down after a few chapters. Since we’re going through it as a group, however, I find myself more motivated to read it…kind of like running, you know? Everything is better with someone else doing it with you.
Anyway, I am excited to read through this book and study it with these men for several reasons:
1. They are all a little further along in life than I am
2. They come from different walks of life
3. We all can contribute insights and opinions and
4. We’re all going to learn what it means to be a confident man of God.
That said, I would like to dive into the discussion!
When I think about a book on manhood, I tend to think of the polarity on the spectrum between masculinity. I feel like sometimes it is encouraged to be as reckless, wild, and crazy as possible in order to NOT be “domesticated” or “feminized.” (I spelled that last word wrong, but I think you know what I mean.)
That has been my experience, probably because I’m a young man. Young men inside the church (as a whole) are sometimes encouraged to YELL OUTSIDE AND RIDE SKATEBOARDS AND GO MOUNTAIN CLIMBING AND JOIN THE MILITARY AND GO HUNTING AND GO HIKING AND TALK ABOUT VIOLENCE AND WATCH FOOTBALL AND BOXING AND OTHER WILD SPORTS, BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT MEN DO! To me, that’s simply avoidance. It’s avoidance of being the person (and by person, I mean fulfill the personality) that God made them to be. Not every man is a hunter, not every man likes football (I know you’re gasping, but it’s true!) not every man likes to go mountain climbing. Some men like to cook. Some men like to read books and drink hot tea (and instantly you think of a weirdo hippie, right?) Some men are extroverted, some men are introverted. This book isn’t about being crazy versus being reserved, it’s about being God’s definition of a man. From what I gather so far, that means being responsible, being a leader, being strong, being confident, being God-fearing, etc. That can look several different ways.
(I digress, now I REALLY get into the book.)
Dudley begins with the point that a lot of ministry heads in his day were women. All of his experiences in church up through youth group were ministries led by women. He explains that the only men who taught him were behind the pulpit, and that important ideas and concepts that were central to the man God created him to be could not be conveyed. He shares a story from a man who explains that the men he worked with were confident and strong and joked and worked hard herding cattle were intimidated and confused at church on Sunday morning.
This story set the stage for Dudley to bring up his three points which he believes make men feel uncomfortable in church, which are:
1. Men are paralyzed spiritually
2. Men are feminized socially
3. Men are demoralized religiously.
I will try not to copy and paste a lot from his points, and largely share my own perception, but I would like to get his basis first.
Men are paralyzed spiritually.
Mr. Hall says that men are plagued by their failures. They feel like they can’t measure up to be the men of God they are supposed to be, and they are told what they’re not allowed to do. Their fear of failure keeps them thinking that they can never “be as spiritual as their wives or minister at church.” He writes that men eventually find themselves locked out of spiritual leadership in the church and eventually resign themselves to the “non-spiritual” work that just “has to be done.” men are seen as funders, or otherwise individuals who don’t do the “spiritual” work. The guys who give money, or paint walls, or or help move equipment–they’re not capable or called to do the ecclesial work like worship or missions, and that those who are enjoy some sort of special position with God. Any non-ecclesial work is just stuff that has to be done, it’s not sacred or holy.
My take: I completely agree with Dudley. I recall an old church of mine where I remember women doing a lot of the ministry work and a lot of men just coming to church. Even if I didn’t see it within four particular walls, I have seen the way men relate to their families, for instance. They bring home the bread and they help with the kids, but the mom is responsible for the kids and she’s the one who’s special to God. I’m not saying this is always the case, but I am saying that I have seen it and there is no doubt in my mind that this happens. My only question: how’d we get this way? How did we get to a point at which women seem to have a more comfortable, favorable position with God? At what point did society or even the church begin to perceive men as simply breadwinners?
Men are feminized socially.
Dudley talks about the resurgence of women’s rights over the past century or so, and that sometimes it leaves men confused. Is it okay to be a real man? What is a real man? Men have seemingly been redefined to be sensitive and caring and passive. Dudley makes a statement that resonates in my own heart: “It doesn’t have to be either or….God has created the masculine and the feminine to compliment and complete His image in mankind.”
That goes back to what I said earlier, that most books or insights on the subject of masculinity swing to the opposite side of the spectrum–where men are wild and crazy and irresponsible and reckless. This is not so for men of God! Dudley also moves on to how this affects the church. The church has gotten into a habit of being feelings and nurture based, and that some people are frustrated or upset if they leave church and they haven’t gotten their emotional, “felt needs” met. The environment has to be right. The decoration has to be right. “Men…wonder why it takes a year to plan the church ‘drama’ and why so much of the budget is spent on decor. they even feel guilty that they don’t see such things as important,” writes Hall.
I agree with this point, as well. I have gotten into the mindset at times that church is meaningless if I don’t “feel” anything. Which, if that were the case, our church must be struggling because I haven’t had a good, cathartic cry in over a year! (I’ve gotten out of that kind of thinking, don’t worry.) But really–how often do we concern ourselves with emotional relevance and efficency and not theological truth? The fact of the matter is this: if you present the Gospel of Jesus Christ, people will respond.
This is somewhat extra to the text of the book, but it’s something that’s been on my mind lately. I recently bought a worship CD, and I found that in almost every song, God was referred to as the King of Love. True. God is love, the Bible tells us this. But I wonder (and I’m not trying to say it’s 100% true) if we focus too much on that. I think what we need is a balance of God as loving and God as disciplining, because the Bible also says He treats us as sons and disciplines us because He loves us as sons. Just a thought.
Men are demoralized religiously.
The things Mr. Hall says about religious demoralization somewhat piggyback on the part about spiritual paralysis, where men feel like they are resigned to a position of funder because they feel like they can’t measure up to the role of nurturer, or let me add leader that the Church sometimes seems to pressure. Men respect the church, but they feel as if it’s not a place where they can experience genuine, life-giving relationships with God and with others. “They…feel somewhat used,” writes Mr. Hall, segueing into a story about a man named Jeff who came into his office to talk to him. Jeff felt like the church saw him as a cash cow, and felt like he didn’t have a place in the decision making as to what was done with the money he was giving. This is as religiously demoralizing as anything. He feels as if he doesn’t get a say in what’s done and he has trouble trusting his church because he feels misrepresented. He feels as if there is more he can be doing to serve God than just tithing, but he feels as though his church is not equipping him to do those other things.
After reading the first chapter of this book, I realize that it is not 100% descriptive of EVERY man within the church, but it definitely sheds some light on the problems that men face today. As a man within the church, I can say that I have felt at least one of these things in my time. When I first got plugged in and really involved myself, I sometimes felt as though ministry was something for people who were special in God’s eyes and who had some special abilities. It took me a long time to realize the truth that “God does not call the equipped, He equips the called.” I feel in my spirit as if the solution to the problem of spiritual paralysis and religious demoralization begins with men, frankly, like me, but not because I’m special. Simply because I have had people, men, take me under their wing so to speak and train me and equip me and disciple me. Men who have taught me to study scripture. Men who have taught me financial wisdom. Men who have seen and developed the gifts God has placed in me. That’s what I think would help so many men. That as well as a clear emphasis and focus on eliminating the discrepancy between “laymen” and ministers. Breaking the notion that pastors are more special.
The final words in chapter one are “we will…find solutions that will train and empower men to be who God made them.”
Amen. I am looking forward to it.
(Note: It took me about four days to write this blog, so forgive my sporadic thinking and probably obvious trainwreck of thought.)