I remember well the large “Promise Keepers” events during the mid 90’s. I attended the first two at the old Metrodome in Minneapolis. There were over 60,000 men in attendance. It was like a hug pep rally for Jesus, with men shouting praises to God, making heartfelt commitments to be men of God. The energy from these “spiritual pep rallies” created instant followers of Jesus. Female reporters from local papers came to spy, searching for an explanation for the gathering. But it simply could not be explained in the natural.
Obviously it was the Spirit of God. I brought men, both young and old, including my two sons. It was a inspiring time of be a man of God. What a difference 25 years makes. In those days, there was a tangible sense of God working in the lives of men. Today, however, men are accused of “toxic masculinity” while the #MeToo movement is exposing men as sexual predators. What happened? The national consciousness has certainly turned hostile regarding the masculine – and men in general.
Large movements that offer the spiritual boost of a pep rally tend to be ineffective in helping sustain a healthy spiritual life. Men need consistent, face-to-face relationships with other men. Real change comes through small groups of men (like a Band of Brothers), that are intentional about lifestyle change and character formation. The AA model of soul care brings such change. Most men are reluctant to join. They need to see the value of being vulnerable with other guys. They need to know it is safe.
A recent article in Christianity Today concluded by saying, “The future of men’s ministry will remain small for a long time.” I agree. Large group gatherings, a monthly men’s event, and even an annual retreat will not bring the transformation needed for men to grow in Christlikeness in a post-Christian culture. It might create a spark, but not light the fire needed to foster true change. “Stereotypes about ‘that’s just how men are’ have turned much darker in the last few years.”
In this blog, I assume I am appealing to committed men, who want to follow Jesus. We need to accept the cultural narrative regarding toxic masculinity. Paul encourages us to be lights, “Once you were ‘darkness’ but now as Christians you are ‘light’ – Live then as Children of light” (Eph. 5:8 – Phillips). My warning is not to become isolated in shame, failure and loneliness. “Men are awash in a sea of casual relationships,” states author Stephen Mansfield. Men, he noted, have “no one who would hold them accountable if their life went off the rails.”
There is a strong connection between loneliness, feelings of failure, and bad male behavior. I agree with Nate Pyle who worries that the ideal Christian man described by many contemporary men’s ministries is always in control. “Fear or loneliness or failure become places of shame,” notes Pyle. Being in control can produce moralism and perfectionism which leads to shame and sense of failure.
A Band of Brothers, meeting as a male support group, challenges being in control by the admission of ” helplessness.” Men find support from other men who admit to struggles. Men honestly sharing their story of failure, hidden secrets, hope and faith, help other men to find their voice to share their struggle. Paul tells us, “Even if a man should be detected in some sin, my brothers, the spiritual ones among you should quietly set him back on the right path, not with any feeling of superiority but being yourselves on guard against temptation” (Gal 6:1-2 – Phillips).