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No men… another fallacy

FROM TIME to time, I find myself troubled by various throw-away comments certain people make about the church.

The common element in all these one-liners is cynicism and negativity.

They all express a particular criticism or infer an element of blame for some situation or other in the life of the church.

The statement I hear most frequently is that the church is “dying”.

Apart from indicating my strong disagreement with that belief tied as it is to statistics and a very narrow understanding of what “church” means, I don’t want to say any more about it here. It’s just an example of what I’m talking about.

This issue of Journey has a focus on men in the church. A number of recent publications I have seen suggest that many men are either opting out of participation in the life of the church or else never connecting with a congregation in the first place.

I believe that we face two related but different issues here.

Firstly, there is the challenge of effectively sharing the gospel with that majority of men in our society who have no contact with the church at all.

Secondly, it is vital that we develop church cultures in which men feel appropriately affirmed and challenged.

The evangelistic imperative is always with us. For the purpose of this article, I want to concentrate on the second issue.

I accept that those who are writing or commenting on this subject may be reflecting on their own observation and experience, so I’m going to do the same.

Based on my engagement with the life of the Uniting Church in Queensland over the past three years, I can confidently tell you that men are still a significant and active presence in our congregations.

Of course I need to put that assertion into context.

The congregations in which there is a healthy male presence tend to have certain characteristics.

They are congregations in which there is a clear missional imperative. They are vibrant and energetic.

Their worship is lively and engaging with active lay leadership.

They have established links with the wider community offering real opportunities for meaningful service.

They provide specific activities and programs that are appealing to and satisfying for men.

I have visited a significant number of congregations like that run on the men are there and they are real participants.

Now it is true that not all of our congregations exhibit the characteristics I have identified as crucial for the involvement of men. There are usually some men in these congregations but not nearly as many.

Such congregations are often small and comprised mostly of older people. Since men generally have a shorter life-span than women, it is inevitable that these congregations will have a majority of female members.

Mind you, I have visited some congregations in which a large majority of the members were older and where the energy and vitality were palpable! I always come away from such situations refreshed and encouraged.

Those congregations also have a very active male presence and it’s no surprise that they have many of the characteristics of the healthy congregations described above.

It seems to me that the message is very simple.

If you are concerned about the number of men in your congregation and would like to see more, then develop an intentional mission strategy, ensure that there is plenty of opportunity for participation in activities that matter and make a difference, and develop programs that provide specifically for men.

Having said all that, we must not lose sight of the fact that growing the presence and participation of women in key leadership roles continues to be a challenge in the life of the Uniting Church.

The participation of men in the life of the church does not and must not mean male domination.

Our theology and our polity commit us to work actively for full partnership for women in leadership and ministry.

Let me conclude by reiterating that the idea that we are bereft of men in the life of the church is just not true.

Where they are absent it is invariably due to the circumstances that prevail in that particular setting. We always have the option of seeking to shape church communities that encourage and support men to grow in faith and discipleship.