Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Who Needs Men's Ministry?

The cool thing these days is to not be a program-driven church. And as much as it hurts me to be cool, and to align myself with people who urge Christians to "do life" and "do community", I can't help but agree with what I think should be a pretty self-evident truth. That is, that focusing on things to do, tailored to different types of people (old, young, male, female, employee, entrepreneur, college, Korean), is a distraction from the singular mission of the church, which is to worship God in one Spirit and one truth.

Programs are the product of growth-motivated churches. Of local churches whose objective is to grow so large that living together as a body (you know, "doing life") becomes unnatural. When churches achieve a certain size, the easiest solution to the problems of isolation and alienation is to throw together groups of people who are very much like each other; instead of the bond of the Holy Spirit, the kinship of near-identical lives and experiences bonds them.

This usually leads to certain sinful behaviors, behaviors that are toxic within the local body of Christ. The youth get together in their enclaves to pretend their parents don't exist, the women get together to complain about their husbands, and the husbands get together (if at all) to complain about the elders. The singles loudly complain that no one ever considers their feelings, but the only people to hear are the rest of the singles group they insisted on. The old people, whose group is euphemistically named Encore, or Xtra Years of Zest, or Keenagers, wish the younger families would hang out with them but get grumpy when their kids act like kids. The young families are too busy to pay attention to anyone who isn't living on their schedule. No one is paying any attention to their community or town, because church makes them too busy. So the only people to join the church are people from the same social stratus, with the same social, and perhaps theological, interests. And etcetera and etcetera.

The groups built to deal with the isolation of modern life simply encourage it, and the church fails to be the Church. It becomes a social club with a worship problem and way too many cliques.

Having heard me say all this, you will not be surprised to hear that I think a church ministry for men is not necessary to the well-being of a church and its men. Nor will you be astonished to hear me say that, in a program-driven environment, it just adds toxins to the toxicity. It can be poisonous, y'all.

All that being said, allow me to urge pastors and elders to be purposeful and active in ministering to their men, and to do so in group settings. That's right. Churches should have things that could be called men's ministries, or women's ministries, or youth ministries. They could even have activities, y'all. You know, like, things to do. And that can be done, somehow, without becoming a "program-driven church".

This is a blog for Christian men, and I want to talk about churches ministering to men, so let's move forward with that agenda and see if the questions raised by the preceding paragraph are addressed.

The basic building block of the local church is the Christian individual. Individuals belong to Christ, individuals are baptized, individuals are saved to life everlasting. But the basic operational unit of the church is the household. The family is where day-to-day holy living, authority, submission, and love work themselves out in the life of the church. John is friends with Jim, but it's the Smiths and Andersons they represent who roll through the church and the world together. Any ministry to men should be thought of from the perspective of households, even when the men are by themselves.

The prophet-priest-king roles of fathers in the family means that nearly every man in a church either has spiritual authority over other Christians, or is training to have it. A man's Christian walk is pastoral in a way and to a degree that is not true for most women and children. When a church ministers to men it is able to minister to entire families in a unique way.

Sadly, the way most of our lives are shaped in this society, the way our families' internal and external economies are set up, men are usually the most isolated from the life of the church.

And when I say life of the church, I do not mean Bible study. The defining behavior of the people of God is that they gather together in Jesus' name to worship the Triune God in spirit and truth. The weekly death to new life, the cutting, feeding, and sending out of God's people in worship, defines us. Bible studies and prayer breakfasts do not.

When Christians leave worship on Sunday they head into the world charged with the Kingdom of Heaven, charged with Jesus. They go and live their lives, and they should not be going in isolation. They should be going as brothers and sisters, as family and families, as men and women and children. Men are men, and should minister to each other as if they were men.

Bible study is an activity that all Christians should do. Fishing and hunting and smoking cigars do not enjoy the same status in the Christian life. That being said, it is very easy for a church to be a Bible study club instead of being the people of God. And in the context of a feminized church, that is alienating to men.

It is ideal, I think, that a church have an active social life within itself, oriented around the family. This is the first step to making men feel like part of the church. If that is happening, with the barbecues and parties and graduations and baptism parties and funerals, the men of the church will, to varying degrees, become friends. But what then? When that happens with the women of a church, they are more likely to find ways to get together and minister to each other as women. Perhaps you have observed with me that this usually doesn't happen with the men. In our modern context of alienation and hostility toward Christian masculinity, it important for the leadership of all churches to have a coherent and directed vision for its ministry to men.

Having flown through some ideas that deserve a book, or at least a well-thought out article (!), I will fly brazenly on in the tradition of the blogger to make some suggestions for things that churches wanting to minister to their men should try to do/be aware of. Hunting or hiking trips are all well and good (I started a rugby club for Christians once!), but not everyone is into hunting or hiking (or rugby). What are some things that minister to all Christian men?

1. Beer. Beer, gentlemen. Wine is fine and whiskey's nifty, but beer is a battle beverage. Ale is for feasting, and feasting is for warriors, be they accountants or plumbers. Beer is universal. Some like the High Life, some know where their hops come from.

2. Meat. I don't have to support this one. You know it's true. But I will. "Spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household." Worked in an extra plug for families doing stuff with the church there, didn't I? That's what you build men's ministry on top of.

3. Singing. Dudes should get together and sing. The people of God have always sung to him, and it is a symptom of male disengagement in church that so many churches are full of mumbling or silent men when the hymns roll 'round. Some men are good singers and some are bad, but all can be singers. Singing brings people together, and when men sing together for the first time in the company of other men, it stirs the soul. I've seen it happen. It makes you want to batter at the gates of hell with just a few psalms. When beginning this practice it is important to have a few brave souls who are willing to throw their voices out there. Singing is also a way of overcoming shyness when it comes to public prayer; singing is prayer.

As co-author of Christian Pipe Smoking: An Introduction to Holy Incense, I am tempted to include pipes and cigars in this list, but if I am honest they must occupy the same place whiskey or bourbon would: a pleasant and edifying addition to the core elements above.

This must be the perfect church men's event: singing psalms by the grill while enjoying brews.

How then to build a men's ministry? I suggest setting a goal to, whatever the men's event, be it Bible study or prayer or an admin meeting, have two of the three elements be present. See what happens when men are aesthetically told that they are valued as men. Bible study with beer and singing, y'all. That's what we're talking about.

And please let the objection that men are being bribed with ale to be part of church die here. Nonsense. We're just making beautiful masculine things. None of these things are necessary; they are all salutary.

Programs aren't any good. They separate and alienate the people of God. Church life is life in communion, life together. But it is natural, salutary, sanctifying, and good, that men should get together with each other, as it is that women and children do the same, in the context of family being the primary operational unit of the covenant community. If that is happening, only good will come from the men having man time to worship God and edify each other.

If men have interests that draw deeper distinctions than man-woman-boy-girl, consider that it might be better to pursue those in a Christian, but not a church, setting. Let the knitting groups be knitting groups, and the hunting clubs be hunting clubs.

It might even surprise the noble ministers of God's church to see how enthusiastic the men of their church will be for the community life of their church if they know their brothers will be there with beer in hand, how pleased the women will be to have them there, and how eager the children will be to fetch their fathers' beers as they sit around the fire with them.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Meaning of Gríma Wormtongue's Name

Dudes. It's as plain as day. I mean, now it is. In retrospect.

According to the Old English Word Hord, Gríma means mask. It also means spectre, ghost, and dread apparition! I mean, we knew he spoke with forkèd tongue, but this runs deeper. I sort of feel as chagrined as Théoden King for not realizing it sooner. Now I know. And you do too.

Turns Out We Get Awards For Not Going On Ashley Madison

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Eschatology & The Great American Yawn

This summer American Christians were confronted with visual evidence that government-supported agencies murder humans, butcher them for their parts, and ship their bloody livers and heads in vacuum-sealed wrap to dark satanic laboratories where their carcasses are used to prolong the lives of the privileged.

Visual evidence including bloody arms and heads on trays, and executives laughing about it over glasses of wine.

What was the response to the revelation that our worse imaginations, and more wickednesses beyond our imaginings, were happening in our own backyards?

A great and cosmic yawn.

American Christians have been adamant for years that babies-in-belly are fully fledged human. One presumes they still believe it. Those were actually images of severed human arms and heads and organs spread out on trays like so many cannibalized parts.

Right? I mean, that's right, isn't it? We weren't imagining things?

The fact that a majority of Americans haven't seen the videos does nothing to ameliorate the terribleness of this great yawn. It's a symptom of it. We have gazed into the maw of the monster and not given a flip. We have not wept. We have not freaked out. We have not fallen to our knees. We have not told our friends or made demands of our pastors.

On the low end, some forty million adults attend church weekly. That may be only one in eight Americans, but that's an enormous number of people, a number that could not be ignored if they were truly outraged. But they're not.

Do they not believe that gestating babies are actually human?

No, they do. Surely they do. It's easier to accept their deaths than it would be to accept that every single person in Charlotte had been killed over the course of a year. But they believe they're human.

The problem is that American Christians live where the banality of evil meets with the banality of life. Banality: it's so lacking in originality that it's obvious and boring. That's a dictionary definition, and it's your life.

The people doing the fighting here are the people who are crazy enough to believe that life and time are going somewhere. That there's an original story to be told. Abortionists are vague on the beginning and end, but they have faith in progress to a greater good. Humanity is going somewhere, is evolving, and abortion is a necessary part of this moral journey humanity is on.

The Christians who are actually in this fight, and most other fights, are of two varieties. First are the pessimists. They believe that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Everything gets worse, things fall apart, there's war in Jerusalem, the Antichrist conquers the world, and Jesus comes back to lay the smack down and take his redeemed with him. The pessimists believe that they have been born again to fight, to fight against encroaching evil until the choppers come, saving as many as possible before the whole place gets napalmed. These include Pentecostals, Charismatics, fundamentalist Baptists, and a multiplicity of breakaway evangelical groups.

Second are the optimists. Some are ecclesiologicaly optimistic, others are culturally. They believe that the world is getting better all the time, that the Kingdom of Heaven is kicking down the doors of Hell itself as the Gospel begins to cover the world as the waters cover the sea. The optimists also believe they were born to fight, coming into world with D-Day behind them and Berlin in their sights. The return of Jesus and Resurrection and Judgment will be the fulfillment of a centuries-long campaign of conquest. The cultural optimists would include Presbyterians, the Reformed, historical Baptists, Lutherans. The ecclesiological optimists include Roman Catholics, Anglicans, the Orthodox. And yes, there is overlap.

Although the Christian pessimists and optimists have different views of Christian time and history, and although they don't like each other very much, they both believe the following of life on this mortal coil: the Christian life is one of house-to-house fighting. It's the story of the battle for a city.

Most American Christians, however, are neither optimists nor pessimists. Although no human can live
without confessing that life is a struggle, it is hard for these Christians to imagine life as fighting. Life simply is. Jesus saves, we live (faithfully, please), we die, Jesus comes back. As it was for grandpappy, is for me, and shall be for sonny boy. There is an idea for most of them that right around the end things will get really bad for Christians, but until then, it's a waiting game. Waiting for Jesus.

This is the great cause of the vast indifference of Christians, not only in the face of the holocaust of abortion, but before all the injustice, cruelty, and arrogance in this world. They do not really believe that do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God are battle orders. They believe they're personal moral injunctions. That life is a series of events. But to the pessimists and the optimists, life is a great commission, and the Great Commission is a storyline, a headline. Man Saves Child From House Fire. Homesteaders Work To Reclaim Floodlands.

Waiting is dull. Waiting is wicked. Waiting makes you accept evil in a way that even those who think evil wins in this world won't.

Waiting is wicked, y'all. American Christians live in the exact spot where the banality of evil meets with the banality of life. We believe that life happens every day, some do God's will, some do evil, then we die. A life without direction, without a story, has an ending just the same: death. Christians without a story are dangerous in the wrong way; they ally themselves with death and entropy. The pessimists run at Death to fight him. The waiters shake hands with him.

You know what the Nazis had that German Christians didn't? An end to the world. A goal for men. A story for history. A vision for all things. But the Christians of Germany left Dietrich Bonhoeffer to die with his handful of brave men. "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless."

We are not waiting to begin our stories. Our story is now. And it is war.

The mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Guest Post: Screwtape's Take On Current Events

My Dear Wormwood,
I see that you have been promoted to the department of espionage and sabotage. Now you are working in the heart of the Enemy’s camp, attempting to wreak havoc within the structure itself. Your patient, they tell me, is in fact a Christian. While you may not have power to change the thoughts and actions of the servant himself, do not underestimate your power to gently manipulate. This patient is susceptible to lies just as any other patient would be. And, believe it or not, the more bald-faced lies are often the most effective.
Take, for example, this raging battle over the practice of child-sacrifice within their land—or as they call it, abortion. This really is the key issue right now. Yes, our Lord has many other worthy enterprises at work within their nation, but this is where it all comes to a head. If this long-established practice is abolished, make no mistake--the foundations of our American stronghold will be rocked to the core. I don’t want to alarm you unnecessarily, and there are many who believe that their camp is so thoroughly compromised by our three primary campaigns of lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life that there is no threat of rejuvenation. And indeed, their society is so beautifully rotten to the core that perhaps I need not fear. But I see the ripples moving out from the enemy camp—skirmishes here and there, awakening the consciences of many citizens. Sin is a luscious, black cancer that creeps to contaminate. But never forget that our Enemy is a consuming fire.
But here is where our success hinges. Do not allow your patient to participate in skirmishes. Whisper every lie imaginable to keep him from engaging anyone on this issue. If you allow him to even click “like” on a Facebook post, you are on a slippery slope to all-out failure. For even one little "like" can gain momentum and allow the patient to find his voice, and speak truth into our domain of darkness.
The key is to make your patient believe that his religion is a private matter, meant to be discussed over coffee with a dear friend in the privacy of his own home when every conceivable circumstance is ideal, and only when that dear friend asks. In fact, ideally you should convince him that child-sacrifice is a fringe-issue, that it has nothing to do with the Gospel at all, but is only a question of politics. Many of your worthy coworkers have convinced their patients that this is simply democracy at work, and that the voice of the people is not the responsibility of the Church. Try this tack.
At all cost, steer him clear of any topic that may awaken his conscience to remember past notorious “heroes” of their camp like Amy Carmichael, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King Jr. When their camp succeeds at transforming culture itself, abolishing long-established customs of inequality, discrimination, oppression and genocide, then we have truly lost our foothold. Please, prevent your patient from ever publicly condemning abortion. Remember, the key is private religion.
One last thing: do everything within your power, in the midst of the larger lies, to convince your patient that he in fact has a very tender conscience. Again, this is a proven strategy. Whisper to your patient that he must not speak loudly about abortion because some of his friends—both in and outside the camp--may have actually had abortions. You and I know that this is true beyond a shadow of a doubt, and we have seen the tiny, exquisitely mangled corpses, but we must keep him vaguely wondering. Then you must convince him that his silence serves to protect those who are weak (ie those who have participated in the ritual sacrifice). Or even better, when he recoils from chance encounters with the naked truth on Facebook, whisper to him that he does not post these gory images and x-rated videos of evidence for the protection of his tender young nieces and nephews, who would certainly see it in their newsfeed. You see what I did there? We keep them silent about child-sacrifice for the protection of small children. As the patient would say, LOL.
Your Affectionate Uncle,

Michal Crum is an almost-30 mom of 4 currently living in the Philippines. She hadn't yet had her first cup of coffee when she sent me this bio. She and her husband are members of Clearnote Church in Bloomington, Indiana.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I Love My Wife More Than I Can Say

This is what my wife told me as we talked about the Five Love Languages tonight.
I have the deepest affection for her.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

My Friends' Pictures From Planned Parenthood Protests Around The Country

Today the family and I attended one of over 300 protests against Planned Parenthood. Ours was at the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina. A cameraman for WYFF, who showed up two hours into the protests, when maybe fifty of us were still around, had been told five hundred had been present. I had just told him I thought it was four hundred. This was a better turnout than a lot of places. But lots of tiny towns had attendance just as large, and many in huge cities were tiny events. Churches, y'all. That's what does it. Churches being into it the way just a few crazy individuals are.

Whether one was there with five hundred or with fifty, I imagine that many felt the way I did when all was done: beleaguered. Surrounded. Like the fight was worthy but very big and very long. Like there's suddenly an opportunity to attack on a front where so long we'd been retreating, but you can't find anyone to go over the top with you.

But I was encouraged when I logged into my Facebook and saw so many pictures from brothers and sisters in Christ who had gone to protests near them. At one town, a few dozen or a couple hundred. At another, over a thousand and thousands. But either way, I drew comfort from the fact that my brothers had shown up, wherever they were.

These pictures aren't necessarily my friends' pictures. They're from my Facebook feed, so...people I know, and people I kinda know, and people who know people I kinda know. They're not necessarily great photos. But they're here in case they can have the same effect on you that they had on me: comfort. Be comforted in knowing that this is just a tiny part of the Church of Jesus Christ around the world. "I, even only I am left" was not true of Elijah, nor will it be true of you. Behold God's people. They will conquer in the end.

Roseville, CA
Nashville, TN
Seattle, WA
San Antonio, TX
Wenatchee, WA
Louisville, KY
Bremerton, WA
Aurora, IL
San Antonio, TX
Greenville, SC
Moscow, ID/Pullman, WA
San Antonio, TX
Greenville, SC
Springfield, MO
Moscow, ID/Pullman, WA
Greenville, SC
Annapolis, MD
Austin, TX
Charlotte, NC
Cincinnati, OH
Springfield, MO
Columbia, SC
Ft. Wayne, IN
Harrisburg, PA
Knoxville, TN
Lakeland, FL
Meridian, ID
Morristown, NJ
Moscow, ID/Pullman, WA
Wichita, KS
Raleigh, NC
Portland, OR

And finally, St. Paul, MN, where 4,000 turned out.

John Piper prays at the Planned Parenthood protest in St. Paul.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rep. Cummings Launches Investigation of Daleiden's CMP

According to this article at The Hill, Maryland representative Elijah Cummings (D) is today launching an investigation into the Center for Medical Progress, the organization behind the Planned Parenthood sting videos. He has already sent them a demand that they provide documentation to prove that they broke no laws. 'Cause, you know, even sting operations have to gain the consent of the investigands.

Not only is he demanding of CMP that they prove their innocence when it comes to exploiting helpless abortionists, he is also suggesting that they have been abusing their legal position as a nonprofit because, you know, nonprofits don't have agendas. We all know that.
"The group has also been asking for donations as a nonprofit charitable organization for the last two years, which Cummings said contrasts with its current self-identification as a group of citizen journalists."
Activist civic media and reporting projects existing as 501c3s. Whoever heard of such a thing? (That's six links, in case you weren't counting.)

So everybody except CMP gets to be a nonprofit. Or maybe they're being punished for using the word "charity". We wouldn't want any love to be shown by a nonprofit.

What motivates such a man? What on earth could be driving him?

Oh, oh, right.
"The Maryland Democrat launched his probe into the group shortly after the GOP leaders of the House Oversight Committee announced they would be investigating Planned Parenthood."
That's why.

Simple enough, and three cheers for you, sir. You've threatened to put David Daleiden on the stand, and I think that would be fantastic news for pro-lifers. Keep him and Planned Parenthood in the news, just as we're trying to do. God bless you, sir. And if any of your colleagues suggest that having Daleiden testify might be a bad idea, please ignore them. You just go on and do what you do.

Postscript: Jezebel.com says that Holly O'Donnell is not to be trusted, because she "violated a confidentiality agreement by stealing confidential documents from StemExpress and giving them to the CMP". Whatever you do, don't call her a whistleblower. That is reserved for people who violate confidentiality agreements in support of causes the Jezebelites and Death Eaters approve of.

So, just to be clear. You're a whistleblower only if you are a pagan. And you're a non-profit only if you're a heathen. Get it? Got it? Good.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Things I Love About My Church

I'm a member of Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Our presence at Downtown is a love at first sight sort of thing. When we decided to look for a church, Downtown ended up being the only one we visited. It's not a perfect church. She's not perfect for us, and we're not perfect for her. But she's a great church, and we love her people.

And we're moving soon.

We take the Lord's Supper every Sunday. There are two common cups and several common loaves set up at the front of the sanctuary near the end of the service. The people come up to the Supper pew by pew, and I watch them as they file up, one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. In my youth a pastor encouraged me to look at my brothers and sisters when I took communion, so that I could see the body of Christ. And that is our family's practice to this day.

Watching these people, some of whom I never really talk to, makes me realize how much I'll miss them.

The other day Patrick (the one with the red-headed wife) embraced me in the lobby after worship. And he did a thing he's always done, which I love. When I asked him about it later he claimed to have been doing it subconsciously, which maybe makes it even better. It comes from a place of true love.

Recall that I am a giant. Patrick is a normal-sized man. When Patrick and I embrace, he side-hugs me and rubs my great belly in a few gentle circles.

It's very beautiful, and it makes me love him more. As he rubbed my belly a week ago, I thought, "That's true love, and I'm going to miss that. In fact, I'm going to miss a bunch of things. And I'm going to write a post about it."

So here they are. Some things that I know I'll miss when we're gone. These are all personal, that is, having to do with particular people. They're just little quirks or mannerisms or peculiarities that my brothers and sisters have employed when loving on me, so I list them now, tenderly, as a lover far from the object of his affections might fondly recall how she tucked her hair behind her ears.

Like I said, I love that Patrick rubs my belly.

I love that Brad calls me. Like, on the telephone. For no reason. Well, just to see how I'm doing. Greater love hath no man?

I love that, after an embrace or handshake, Jake briefly massages my bicep. Keeps me limber. And I love that when he wears cowboy boots he's almost as tall as I am.

I love that even though Jason is a Michigan fan, we were able to bond over U.S. soccer.

I love that Ryan talks to each of my kids individually. I love that he wants to.

I love that young Alexander decided to take me up on my $5 challenge to come up with a tall person joke I'd never heard and succeeded. I also love that he and my son George both love to rock bow ties.

I love that somehow Tim's hair never falls into his eyes when he's up front.

I love that Barry, who has an awesome mustache, waited cheerfully through many Sundays for me to stop talking about how we both have awesome mustaches. Now we have normal conversations until someone else mentions that we both have awesome mustaches.

I love that Carrie and I cried in front of a Sunday School class of five-year-olds. I love that she gives me neck hugs.

I love that I can see Laura's forearm muscles ripple when she plays the cello.

I love that Patrick (the tall Patrick who sits up front) points at me every Sunday like I'm walking into my own nightclub. You know, like I own the place. Makes me want to walk with swagger.

I love that when I see the smallest dude at my church, it's Andy. My rugby teammate Andy. I've seen him lower his little-man shoulders and go crashing into three burly head-hunting dudes for the pure joy of it. I feel like he has a secret identity that only I know.

I love that when Chris and I go in for the holy kiss, our beards blend. And that one time I smooched his wife Annie on top of the head because I went in for the kiss but she hadn't gotten the memo.

I love this church. We love this church. And we're going to miss it.

Patrick, if you're reading this, I didn't see you today, but I expect a belly rub next Sunday.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Woman Is Like A Whale

The best thing about this meme found on "The Coffee Party"'s Facebook page is the placement of the woman below the man in "EGO". In "ECO", of course, we are all equally worthless. In "EGO", the woman might be pissed that she's not at the top, but is probably really pleased to be in a tight race for second with whales. You know, at least she's not a mushroom.

Woman is a lot like a whale, so it makes sense. Woman is also a lot happier in EGO 'cause she gets to be right next to the man, if at his feet. In ECO she's right next to a snake and a rat, and the man's too far away to help her. She must hate that.


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