In the late 1800s, one of the most efficient ways to clear property for farming or railroad construction was to set small, manageable fires and let them burn through and remove unwanted vegetation in a slow and helpful manner. It was called controlled burning. But on October 8, 1871, a cold front in Eastern Wisconsin blew strong winds through the area and fanned small, helpful flames into a raging inferno. It ferociously chewed through 1.2 million acres in Marinette County, Wisconsin. Homes, even entire villages were completely destroyed. The death toll was placed near 2,500 people.
Fire is like that, isn’t it? When it stays inside the confines and intention for which it was created, it is helpful, and captivating, and extremely powerful. Focused, it can even cut through solid steel. But, when it moves outside those bounds, it leaves pain, destruction and the stench of death in its wake.
Like fire, manhood is not neutral. Men will either warm homes, churches and communities, or they will burn them to the ground. I’ve been involved in pastoral leadership in some capacity for the last 17 years. One of the things I’ve observed over and over again is—Where men understand what God designed a man to be and live that out where they live, work and play, marriages, families, churches and communities thrive. When men step outside the bounds of what the Bible says a man should be, everything around them burns to the ground.
By and large when it comes to manhood, we have a wildfire on our hands. In fact, we live in a culture that is trying to redefine what it even means to be a man altogether. This is why it is critical for churches to have a clearly defined, strategic and intentional ministry to men. And, because every community and every church is different, men’s ministry may take many different shapes. In fact, in many churches, the most healthy strategy may not even be to have a formalized “men’s ministry.” But every healthy church must minister to men.
No matter what size, shape or flavor it takes, I believe ministry to men is born out of four fundamental essentials:
1) Every man needs other godly men.
Men may have hundreds of acquaintances, but very few real friends. Statistics tell us that only around 5 percent of men age 39 and beyond would say they have a real friend besides their wife—that’s a dangerous place to be because the enemy knows that an isolated man is a vulnerable man. God didn’t create us to live life that way.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, “Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.”
Think about David. At times in his life when he was connected to Jonathan were times when he was at his best. But, it was during a time of isolation that he fell the hardest.
Churches must be intentional to find ways to connect men to other godly men.
Healthy ministry to men can’t stop there…
2) Every man needs to grow.
In many churches, ministry to men is little more than a pancake breakfast and a wild game dinner. But, there is little if any strategy for building men into reproducing disciples of Jesus. Paul told the Colossians that it was this initiative that he drained every ounce of himself into.
We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me. —Colossians 1:28-29 (italics mine)
Wise leaders of ministry to men will, like Paul, spend strategic energy to develop an intentional plan for helping men mature in Christ. Whatever means of discipleship a church uses with men, whether groups, classes or mentoring, the truth of Christ must be applied to men over and over again.
3) Every man has a mission.
God has woven into the fabric of the masculine heart a desire to fight for, to charge after, a mission. But, when men don’t know what their mission is, they will disengage from what God has designed them for give themselves to lesser missions—to climbing the corporate ladder, to hobbies, to sexual conquests.
This is what was happening in Corinth. In its day, it was a thriving city but a city filled with the stench of sin and darkness. It was the center of the slave trade in its day. To describe someone who was sexually immoral in that day was to say they were “Corinthianized.” To be a Corinthian man was to give your life over and over to lesser conquests—lesser missions. When the gospel came there, things began to change. But the men were still struggling with that lifestyle, so Paul says to them…
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:20
Paul says, we’ve been given a mission. An ambassador is a diplomat sent from one nation to another to accomplish the mission of the sending nation. We are ambassadors sent by the King and placed in a specific context to accomplish the mission of the King on foreign soil. Paul reminds us that God invites men to join Him in His mission of reconciling people to Himself.
Imagine what could happen in our churches when men get this. When our men understand that they’re not really accountants, and teachers, and physicians, but rather that they are agents of the King sent to that specific context on His behalf to infiltrate it with the gospel. The early church got it and it exploded in exponential growth in large part because bold, courageous men empowered by the Holy Spirit gave their lives for the sake of the mission. In the same way, today’s healthy churches have become experts at mobilizing men for ministry in the church and mission in the world.
The ultimate goal of any healthy ministry to men is transformation. As men are connected, discipled and challenged, the Lord does His transforming work.
4) Every man needs transformation.
Unfortunately, one of the most glaring weaknesses I’ve noticed in men’s ministries around the country is that they are loaded with teaching that is more based on legalistic behavior modification than gospel transformation. This is why ministry to men must be more than a program, it must intentionally focused on helping men know Christ more and more. We cannot just drop men onto a religious assembly line—teach them to not drink, not smoke, not swear, and how to throw a little tip in the offering—and then expect to produce disciples who know Christ.
At LifeWay, we’re not interested in helping churches develop religious guys or men who can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and somehow once and for all will themselves to be a better man. We are committed to creating trustworthy Bible study resources and events designed to connect, disciple and challenge men, to be transformed by the power of the gospel invading the darkest places of his heart.
Back to the Peshtigo fire. The reason you likely have not heard of it is because on the exact same day, there was a more prominent and flashier fire: the Great Chicago Fire. The nation turned its attention to the more prominent but less powerful fire. For many years and in many churches we have turned our attention to less flashy flames, when the more powerful fire was smoldering in the background.
Imagine what could happen when we harness the power of that fire and focus it on burning hot for Jesus? Could it be that our homes, marriages, churches and communities might never be the same? Could it be said about our churches like it was said in Acts 17 about the early church, “the men who’ve turned the world upside down have come here.”
This article originally appeared here.