That was my 16-year-old son’s response to my question, “What would bring more guys to church?”
“There should be girls, but not girly stuff. You have to have action and competition. We want to blow stuff up, shoot things and have fun. No boring people, slow stuff or old-people music that doesn’t relate. We should be able to get to know each other and hang out without all the rules.”
In thousands of years of non-evolution, it’s clear to see the male species is a great argument for creationism. Not much has changed since Cain talked his brother into going out into the field for some “guy time.”
Unfortunately, many churches have tried to stifle the wilder side of young men and the result is a diminishing number of guys who are active in the Kingdom. Rather than stifle what is part of the male makeup, we are better off to channel it. What’s often missed in the Gospels is that Jesus targeted guys and discipled them in ways they could relate to as men. Instead of trying to get men to behave, He taught the twelve and modeled what a godly wild man looks like and lives like.
So what elements in youth ministry help to attract and develop young men into disciples of Jesus? Below is a starter list to help think through your programs, activities and worship for its appeal to guys:
1- It’s gotta be dangerous…
Not the kind of danger that my brother used to love when he’d hand me something with a lit fuse and say, “Here, hold this and let’s see what happens…”
It’s Jesus’ kind of danger. It’s danger that teaches, like dragging guys through a storm at sea (Mt. 8:23-27). It’s danger that tests, allowing guys to fail and then shows them where their true strength lies (Mt. 26:69-75). Finally, it’s a dangerous call to a dangerous adventure, where guys are summoned to die to themselves, pick up a cross and follow a crucified Savior unswervingly (Mt. 16:24-26).
2- It’s gotta be fun…
Hanging out with Jesus had to be a kick. Yes, He suffered and died, and yes, He was locked in a mortal struggle with the devil, the world and the Pharisees. But He also ministered in ways that would create wonder and joy. (Joy is the theologically accepted word for fun.) In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus has Peter pay a temple tax to not give offense. How does He come up with the money? By having Peter cast a hook in the sea and take the money out of the first fish’s mouth that he catches. Sure, there’s some good theological stuff in there, but focus on the method for a minute. Can you imagine Peter talking to John–“Yo, dude, you are never gonna believe what happened today…”
Adding the element of fun engages young men in the wonder and joy of the Gospel and gives them stories to share.
3- It’s gotta challenge…
Nothing bores young men quicker than predictability. Nothing loses young men quicker than things they can’t relate to. All too often ministries major in predictable truths in a language and culture not intelligible to young males. The challenge is to take timeless truths of the faith and present them in ways that keep guys off balance and challenge them.
After a killer day of ministering to a lot of needy people, Jesus tells His disciples to come away with Him and get some rest (Mk. 6:31). What happens next is the ultimate bait and switch as they get to the rest stop and thousands of people are there waiting for them. Jesus, of course, full of compassion, preaches and teaches until it’s late. When the disciples have had enough, they suggest that Jesus send the crowds away to buy themselves something to eat. For our purposes, the highpoint of this story is verse 37, “YOU give them something to eat”– a huge challenge, which they immediately protest. But then He shows them how, by God’s provision, they could give the crowds something to eat. Suddenly they are part of God’s provision, being the hands that distributed the food.
Young men need to be challenged to see that Jesus Christ is the focus and power of the Kingdom among us today, and He uses their hands and lives to help bring it into the world around them.
4- It’s gotta promise greatness…
There’s a false notion in some circles that striving for greatness is unbiblical and should be discouraged. This is a huge problem when you have little boys raised on super heroes, white knights and zombie killers. Whether it’s via athletics, video games, academics, on the streets or a dozen other ways, guys want to be great.
The disciples were no different in their little spiritual arms race debate in Mark 9:33-37. In response, Jesus did not tell them to abandon their desire to be great. He instead redefined greatness as the one who is last and servant of all.
Every guy has a natural desire to be a hero. Our challenge is to help them see and work toward becoming great in the eyes of God first.
5- It’s gotta be about becoming “bros”…
The great hero stories always include “bros,” characters who are somehow instrumental in helping the hero succeed. Lone Ranger had Tonto. Batman had Robin. Moses had Joshua. David had Jonathan.
Guys need a band of brothers to share good times and have each others’ backs in the times of battle. They relate way differently in relationships than girls do, but have the same desire for deep bonds with other guys that are forged in life experiences.
Jesus had “rings” of disciples: the 72 (Lk. 10) the 12 (Mk. 3:14) and the 3 (Mt. 17:1). Although He had individual conversations with various ones, when it came to life and ministry it is always reflected in community with one another. A major focus of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is that “they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me…”(v. 23). God’s Spirit, working through His Word, will draw guys to Jesus Christ. Our challenge is to help them see and experience what it means to be teammates in the body of Christ.
6- It’s gotta be about following Jesus…
This might be the most important one of all. Guys learn best by mimicking what they see. Girls seem to have some sort of spiritual advantage–kind of like breast-feeding–they just seem to know what to do when the situation presents itself. Not so with guys. Guys need mentors, other men (and women) who have walked the way before them and can model, guide and coach along the way.
Paul refers to this when he says “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1Cor. 11:1). It’s cliché by now but still true: following Jesus is more caught than taught. Our goal in mentoring is showing them the practice of a living faith. It’s showing them how to rely on grace and forgiveness and the love of Christ in everyday situations. It’s allowing the Holy Spirit to use our lives as a witness to His mercy and power. God does the
work as we allow Him to use us. Our whole life points to Christ.
work as we allow Him to use us. Our whole life points to Christ.
Some mentors are, “I’ve been there done that,” types. They tend to reach back and help guys up the ladder of life one rung at a time.
Other mentors are, “I’ll help you get there,” types. They tend to encourage and provide support and direction from below.
Whatever the style, mentors say, “I believe in you as God’s own and in what He is doing in your life. You are not alone. I will walk with you as you learn to follow Him.”
Of all the starters listed above, having a mentor–someone to help process life and faith and the how to’s–is by far the most significant way to help guys grow as disciples of Jesus.
Some reflection questions to help you apply these to your ministry to guys:
1-As we consider our church’s ministry to young men, is it dangerous? What dangerous elements could we add to Bible study, worship and our other activities so that God’s Spirit might use His Word to teach, test and call young men to a deeper relationship with Christ?
2- How’s our “fun quotient”? What elements of fun can we add to Bible study, worship, servant events, etc.?
3- Are we challenging the young men in our ministry? What are some ways we could significantly and relevantly challenge them through our youth ministry?
4- How can we help guys see what greatness looks like in God’s eyes? What opportunities could we create for them to try out becoming the least and a servant of all?
5- Do we have an environment that helps guys grow deep in relationships with other guys?
6- How can we be more effective at mentoring guys? Is there another church that is doing this well that we could learn from? Who are some adults who might be able to start mentoring?
In part two we take a look at how to add elements from the five principles into your current youth ministry programming. For instance, we look at a few ways to make worship dangerous, how to do Bible study that challenges guys and ideas for developing deep friendships among the young men in your ministry.
In addition, a couple of books worth reading with some good practical ideas on the “how to’s” that are geared more for men, but have good application for younger guys too are Why Men Hate Going To Church by David Morrow and Wild at Heart by John Eldridge.
A good movie to see a secular example of how a woman mentors a group of young men is October Sky.
Published August 2013