Ministries Today senior editor Larry Keefauver interviewed owner Stephen Strang about his new book, Old Man New Man (Creation House), and the role of men's ministry in the church today.
Ministries Today: What practical, effective men's ministry have you experienced in churches that meets the deep needs of men in family, marriage, relationships, work, ministry and stewardship?
Strang: Sadly, I don't see effective men's ministry in most churches. Because of the emphasis of ministries such as Ed Cole's or Promise Keepers, some churches have started some sort of men's ministry, but I don't see them as effective in most cases, and many of them have failed.
Ministries Today: Why aren't more men's ministries effective?
Strang: The no. 1 reason, I believe, is that pastors aren't personally involved in men's ministry. Most pastors are interested in only two things: the Sunday morning service and the offerings. So they delegate men's ministries to one of the junior associate pastors who probably already has too many portfolios to lead one more effectively.
Or men's ministry is assigned to a layman who is an eager-beaver alumnus of Promise Keepers, yet who may or may not be an effective leader. Men in any church need mentoring from the man who is probably the most significant male in their lives--their own pastor. Yet mentoring rarely happens other than through sermons.
If any sort of mentoring does occur on the part of the pastor, it seems to be more a method of manipulating the men to focus on the pastor's vision than it is to help the men grow spiritually. I'm amazed by how many selfish pastors there are who find value only in members supporting their ministry, yet the pastors often are not supportive of the individual members.
I think one of the reasons why it's difficult for most men to grow spiritually is that they don't feel close to the leadership of the church, and their deep needs aren't being met.
Ministries Today: How can a pastor personally reach out to the hurting men in his/her congregation?
Strang: The first step, I believe, is to realize that because men are hurting, they need a pastor as much or more than any other group in the church. Churches usually understand that children or teens or women have special needs, and we offer ministries for them. But men also have unique needs. Often they have deep wounds from their own fathers who were absent or distant. These men don't know how to relate except superficially to other men or to their own children.
They often have secret sinful addictions they can't get free of in spite of promising God a thousand times that they will change. When they keep sinning, they are full of shame and don't know where to turn. On top of it, most men go through midlife crisis. Look how many men--even pastors--seem to backslide during this vulnerable time in their lives? If anything, a men's ministry ought to help men through midlife crisis.
Ministries Today: Why do you suppose more pastors don't try to minister to these needs?
Strang: Unfortunately, because most pastors are also men, the pastor often has the same issues in his own life as the men in his church. He may be going through his own midlife crisis. Maybe he didn't have a good relationship with his own dad. Maybe he also longs for a mentor in ministry.
Or maybe he is harboring secret sin. If this is the case, he doesn't feel qualified to minister to the men because his own pain is too deep. So he merely goes through the motions of reaching out to men rather than really reaching out to them.
This pastor doesn't want to be vulnerable lest the men discover how deep-seated his own needs are, or how they don't know how to mentor or to model Christian wholeness. So you have a cycle of defeat in both the pastor's life, in the lives of the men in his church and in the entire church.
You may think I'm exaggerating, but I could give names of churches and pastors where I know this is the case, and I suspect it is more common than we would care to admit.
Ministries Today: If this is the case, what do you think is the answer?
Strang: The first step is for the pastor to find accountable relationships in his own life and to receive ministry personally for his own pain so he can minister effectively to others. Then, if he merely spends time with the men--going on outings or just having a "rap session" in his office--the men will begin to open up and relationships will begin to develop.
The pastor can also seek out key men to mentor who can then mentor others, as it says to do in 2 Timothy 2:2. As he does this, the men will grow, they will be bonded to the pastor and the church ministry, and will be more willing to give and to support the church. The entire church will begin to be more healthy because the men will be more whole to minister to their wives and children; perhaps there will be less divorce and less church hopping by disillusioned, hurting men.
Ministries Today: How did you get involved in men's ministry?
Strang: Since I turned my life over to the Lord, I've been involved in student ministry at a university, in children's ministry and later, youth ministry. Yet I was in my 40s before getting involved in any sort of men's ministry. But it wasn't through my church, since it had no men's ministry at the time.
I developed a mentoring relationship with several men in the church, and we banded together (with the pastor's blessing) to form a small group. Now eight years later, three of the original six members are still in the group. The other three moved out of town, and we've invited other men to join. I talk in the book about how all this came about.
I formed this group before I'd ever heard of Promise Keepers. Then a couple of years later, my men's group encouraged me to start New Man magazine when the opportunity came up to work with Promise Keepers. We have helped one another stay accountable, and we are all stronger men and believers as a result. My experiences also led to my writing this new book.
Ministries Today: What do you think the single most important thing is for a church to provide its men?
Strang: I think it's impossible to give one answer that applies in all cases and in all churches. But I believe one of the most important things churches can do is to mentor the men. If pastors can even understand the need for mentoring and start providing it, we will be way ahead. Of course, I believe many of the pastors need mentoring too, so I hope the excerpt from my book in this issue ministers to them as well.
Ministries Today: With the stressful time demands on men's schedules, how can pastors develop effective men's ministries that men will actually want to attend?
Strang: My observation is that men will attend things that they consider important or that they enjoy. Notice how they find time to watch sports for hours or to wile away time on the Internet. Yet many churches offer a men's ministries that are little more than just one more service to sit through, and men don't get a lot out of it. So they find convenient excuses not to attend.
If attendance isn't good, I think that is an indictment that the ministry is not effective, and it needs to change. Remember the old saying: If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting the results you've been getting.
Ministries Today: What resources are available beyond your book to resource congregations in mentoring men?
Strang: My book, Old Man New Man, is not a book on men's ministry per se. It is a book for men who struggle to live a consistent Christian life, yet who love God but don't feel they have men in their lives to whom to be accountable or to help them to grow. In the book I talk about my own men's group. I share the model and why I believe it has lasted so long. But it is only one model. There are many models that work in different settings.
One of the benefits of the book is an extensive reading list of powerful books on men's issues, as well as a special Web site with a great deal more information. We have linked the sections that we believe will benefit the readers of Ministries Today so that they can access more of this information. And of course there are many ministries for men that will serve as resources for men in the church--such as Patrick Morley's Man in the Mirror or Edwin Louis Cole's Christian Men's Network.
Ministries Today: What are some of the most effective settings for men's ministry?
Strang: I believe every pastor ought to have at least two special events for men each year. One might be to attend an event as a group, such as one of our New Man Events or maybe Promise Keepers. The other is to bring in some ministry for a special weekend, either at the church or at a retreat setting.
Of course, you can also encourage the men to organize outings, such as attending sporting events or a golf tournament. Men enjoy these types of outings, and doing things together allows men to get to know one another; a certain amount of male bonding occurs, and relationships are established.
But whatever you do, do something. Something is better than nothing. And if one thing doesn't work, try something else. The benefits far outweigh any cost in terms of time or resources, in my opinion.
When relationships begin to form, a church can set up small groups for men. Here is where the ministry really takes place, as men begin to open up and to hold one another accountable. In my opinion, these are more effective than early morning Bible studies or a "fellowship" on Saturday morning. If a pastor will talk to his men about this, he will learn what they want.
Ministries Today: Why are men so resistant to ministry focused on their needs?
Strang: I don't believe men are resistant to ministry. It's just that they may seem resistant. You must break through that tough exterior and show that you care. If you do, men will open up. I have found I can get almost any man to open up if I show an interest and ask him either about his dad or about his mentors or about his goals. Many men want to talk about those issues, but no one ever bothers to ask. They usually have a father wound (which I deal with in my book), or they want and need mentors.
I've found that even men in their 50s want mentors, believe it or not. Of course at that point, those men need mutual mentors with their peers, and they should be mentoring a younger generation. In addition, most men haven't a clue about how to set goals or how to get from where they are to where they need to be. That's why they need mentors to show them the way.
If your ministry for men is meeting needs, the men will come, just as someone who is thirsty will be drawn to fresh water to quench that thirst.
Ministries Today: Do you have any other thoughts about men's ministry?
Strang: Whatever men's ministry you have, you need to meet needs in order to point the men to Jesus, to deepen their relationship with Him, to help them get deliverance over deep problems, to get healthy and reach out to other men. If you do that, you'll have healthy men in your church--and that means you'll have healthy families. And of course that means you'll have a healthy church. *