Carl Beech's article on the Christian man of the future (which you can read here) has provoked responses from across the theological and sociological spectrum. Premier...
What kind of man does the Church of the future need? And what does our children’s work need to look like in order to keep these men? Christian Vision for Men’s Carl Beech thinks it’s time to man up and face the reality of a feminised Church.
So, the good people at Premier Childrenswork dropped me a line and asked me to pen a feature on…take a deep breath: ‘What kind of men do we need in the 21st Century? What does an effective children’s work look like? What needs to change?’
Hmmm, that’s a tough one, I thought to myself. I know, I’ll turn to the Twitterati and get their advice. That’ll work. So, 140 carefully crafted characters hit Twitter. You’ll find the responses below:
‘Enable him to be conscious of stereotypes and inequality. Raise him to love Jesus and others well, and be kind and able to show feelings’ (M)
‘Children need to see faith matters to you when they are six or seven. Don’t think they’ll suddenly be impressed by you at 14’ (M)
‘Bold and biblical’ (M)
‘Brave and kind and humble. Who aren’t passive but are able to think critically’ (F)
‘Let them do challenges and fail, let them adventure and grow confident’ (M)
‘Too much to put into 140 characters, mate!’ (M)
‘Discover who God intended them to be, whether artist, mechanic, church leader. Each calling unique and valuable’ (F)
‘Men who lead purposeful lives, who use their God-given gifts rather than use passive lives of others’ (F)
‘Integrity, patience, kindness, fairness’ (M)
‘Embrace the world and bless it and not hide away in fear of sin’ (M)
‘Stop playing with stereotypes and inequality. Be kind and able to show feelings’ (F)
‘Teach them to respect others. Teach them to take responsibility for actions. Teach them to apply themselves in everything’ (M)
‘Depth and challenge; honesty and humility. Loving and respecting women’ (M)
‘Courage, security, confidence, hope, perseverance, honest, loving, all in perspective’ (M)
‘Men of the word, men of headship in the family, men who work for the glory of God’ (M)
‘Responsibility, duty and pulling your weight are not taboo words!’ (M)
‘Courageous, authentic and highly loving, which means we need to be always modelling courage, authentic and high loving. Starts with us’ (M)
Men and women are different
I find that to be a fascinating collection of thoughts for a whole variety of reasons, which I’ll try to unpack as we meander along together. If you’ve read anything I have written before or stumbled across any talks I’ve given at men’s days, you will know that I fully believe that men and women think differently, beyond the reasons of upbringing and cultural conditioning. Our brains are different. Some parts of our brains are bigger or smaller depending on our gender. For example, areas that deal with spatial awareness are bigger in men, while problem-solving areas are bigger in women.
Research has shown that stressful situations seem to activate an almond-sized part of the brain called the amygdala, which processes fear, aggression and action. While in men it triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, the female reaction has been dubbed ‘tend and befriend’. Men, as a whole, get angry when they are stressed. Women become vocal and chatty.
Hormones also play a role. It seems as though it has almost become a criminal offence these days for men to have testosterone. Athletes who inject additional testosterone get angrier and have a much higher sex drive. Men live with a higher level of testosterone 24/7. Women have fluctuating hormone levels according to their monthly cycles.
It’s widely known that more men kill themselves than women. However, it is also known that more women seek counselling for depression than men. Men don’t report suicidal feelings or depression, they just go ahead and kill themselves; usually in far more violent ways than women, who are more likely to poison themselves. Men chuck themselves off buildings, jump in front of vehicles or shoot themselves. That’s what testosterone can do.
The truth is that men are wired differently from women and we show our feelings differently. We do open up and chat, but often in male spaces. I recently heard about a barber shop that created additional male spaces for guys to hang out. The owner related how men would openly share their feelings at quite a deep level and share very intimately. But when a woman came in and sat with them they stopped sharing and moderated their behaviour in an unhelpful way.
Men and children’s work
So what’s all this got to do with children’s work? Well, a heck of a lot actually. Unless we start to ‘get’ men rather than trying to change them, we’ll never crack it. Yes, there is a broad spectrum of masculinity, just as there is with femininity. I understand that, but let’s get real. Let’s stop using a female standard to measure emotional and spiritual health.
One example of this trend is the constant emphasis on ‘falling in love with Jesus’. There are different words for love in the Bible. In fact, there are four Greek words for love (although two don’t appear in the Bible): agape, eros, philia and storge.
Agape is the self-sacrificing love that’s used in 1 Corinthians 13. Crucially, eros doesn’t appear once in the New Testament. But here’s the deal. I’ve heard worship leaders tell me that Jesus wants to romance me. I’ve heard pastors tell me that I need to fall passionately in love with Jesus. Where’s that in the Bible? We’re confusing eros with agape.
The love I have for Jesus isn’t sexualised. It’s a love that I hope means I would take a bullet for him, not light a candle and gaze into his eyes dreamily. Men don’t get this eros love for Jesus stuff. They don’t fashion a strong faith in the melting pot of Mills and Boon, but in the context of sacrifice, honour, humility, grit and picking up their cross on a daily basis. Testosterone can be harnessed to this end, or we just end up switching the men off, throwing them into the cauldron of redundancy until, confused, they start to display less helpful male traits.
In other words, we’re getting it wrong. We tell boys off for wrestling and scrapping because it feels unseemly and somewhat un-Christlike. It isn’t! They’re just blowing off steam the way boys know how to. That’s why boxing clubs, scouts, brigades, military cadets and the like are so good for boys. They don’t try to extinguish their nature; they instil respect and discipline alongside the rough and tumble. We don’t let boys play with toy guns because we think they will grow up to be aggressive. Rubbish. They’ll just go out and make swords and rifles from sticks. Harness, don’t extinguish. Go with it, don’t deny it. Shape ’em, don’t destroy ’em.
We need to train our children from an early age to engage with the world around them without losing their faith and integrity. We need them to learn how to win and lose with grace. We need to show them how to be competitive without being brutal and vicious. We need to harness the testosterone of our boys rather than hoping it goes away or trying to re-`programme them. We were given it for a reason.
Men and the future
We need men who are trained and raised up not just to lead in Church, but in every sphere of society. We need strong men of God who can take a hit for their faith in the media and the arts; on building sites and farms; in factories and accountancy firms. The same goes for women, of course, but they shouldn’t have to do it by pretending to be masculine to compete. They have uniquely redeemable skills and qualities of their own.
What kind of man do we need in the 21st Century? A Beatitudes man. A man who will live and die with Jesus Christ as his master and commander. A man who has submitted his strength and testosterone to Jesus. He is secure in his identity and doesn’t care whether he is good at sport or not. He is who God made him to be. He doesn’t feel demonised because he has big muscles, nor weak if he doesn’t have them; he is not looked down on if he is competitive and aggressive. He’s a kingdom man.
Here are a few action points and questions to finish with:
Do you have men in crèche and in Sunday school? If not, get some.
Boys will talk when they are among other boys, without girls present. Do you make space for this? How about a boys’ discipleship group that is more than just sitting talking but is based on activities such as fishing or hiking?
Do you tell the boys off when they rough and tumble? Why? Let them blow off steam and find other ways to bring the discipline into play. Bring back wide games, I say!
Consider running a boys’ and girls’ brigade.
Learn to celebrate male strength as much as you celebrate more feminine qualities.
Ponder whether your language and worship involves eros or agape love.
As the old saying goes, ‘Boys will be boys’. We need what men bring to the Church, but unless we change something - they won’t be there to bring it.
Do you agree with Carl? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org