Dear New Life in Christ Church Family,
Besides my sermons on the gospel of Matthew, one thing I am working on right now is the lessons for our one-day men's "fun day" on October 21. I've recently been considering the nature of manhood and masculinity and I look forward to exploring the topic with the men with some focused attention on that day.
I titled my messages "From God-Made Man to the God-Shaped Man: Putting Masculine Qualities to Work in the Service of God". By my title, you should be able to gather than I don't think masculinity is a bad thing, as many in our culture want to say. I want to explore masculinity as a good gift, tied up with God's creative design of man in His image (Genesis 1:27), but twisted by sin (Genesis 3:16), and redeemable in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I also don't think that masculinity or manhood is a uniquely Christian quality. I don't agree with the phrase that "Real Men love Jesus" as you and I can think of "real men" who don't love Jesus. Sure, there may be something off with the unbelievers masculinity and we would believe that faith in Jesus is required to be a truly good man, but masculinity can be a quality for all males. The Philistine giant Goliath comes to mind here.
Notice I say masculinity "can" be a quality for all males, because it is entirely possible for a male to not be masculine, or at least not very masculine. When men do this, I say they let down the people around them who need those qualities. We seem to have more and more men who are less and less masculine. I say this with sadness.
However, that masculinity can be used for purposes of good or purposes of evil. It can be used for selfish pursuit or for the good of others. There is no doubt that many masculine men are horribly wicked. They are the ones who own the phrase "toxic masculinity". There are other masculine men who are wonderfully godly. (Galatians 5:22-23)
As we work to make disciples of all men, we will build godly masculine men. For this to happen we need, first, to see the purposes of masculinity under God. God has a purpose for men and we need to put the masculine qualities under His Lordship. Second, we need to help men grow in the qualities of masculinity, and grow in them ourselves. (1 Corinthians 16:13)
On the one side, men struggle with a lack of mentors in their environment, and on the other side the culture denigrates or twists all masculinity. With this in mind, do people even know what it means to be masculine or manly, and will they own it? Could this be part of the reason that so many men are discouraged, without guidance, and feeling unnecessary.
At our mini-retreat, we will look at four qualities that describe masculinity, to consider how we grow in them, and how we put that under Christ. I'm looking forward to the time.
In a side note, I've been reading Nancy Pearcy's recent book "The War on Toxic Masculinity" and I've been encouraged by the data I've read. If you ever wonder if the gospel makes a difference in the lives of people, the data she quotes is really amazing. Pearcy uses sociological data in the lives of men to show what happens in the lives of "evangelical men" who attend church and church activities regularly (3-4 times a month).
She provides lots of good data showing that genuine Christian faith is good for men, and thus for wives and children, as well as the broader society. This debunks the idea that the evangelical faith is the source of toxic male behavior. In fact, the data shows the opposite … committed Christian faith makes better men and better people.
Pearcy shows from her statistics, for example that evangelical protestants who attend church regularly "shatter the negative stereotypes. They are more loving to their wives and more emotionally engaged with their children than any other group in America. They are the least likely to divorce, and they have the lowest levels of domestic abuse and violence.” (36) As a result, “The happiest of all wives in America are religious conservatives . . . who hold conservative gender values and are married to committed churchgoing husbands” (39)
Wow! No one who reads from our major media sources would think this is the case, but it is what research shows.
One of the major teachings in the Bible is that the marital union is intended to be a lifelong bond, dissolvable only in special cases (Matthew 19:1-12). This is a teaching that helps make happy marriages, at least among committed followers of Christ. This itself makes a difference, as Pearcy writes how one leading sociologist has found that "men’s attitudes about marital permanence predicted greater marital happiness for their wives while men’s attitudes about gender roles were unrelated to wives’ reports of happiness.” Who seems to be the only institution in America speaking about "marital permanence"?
Being active in church changes day to day habits, “Wives of active churchgoing husbands are also more likely to say they feel appreciated for their work in the home.” (40). Gratitude is a spiritual quality that men grow in and pass on to one another when they are with other men in the church. This makes more appreciative and happier homes. Within the church, it is more likely to find traditional roles of homemaking spoken about and appreciated (Titus 2:1-9 for example).
She shows more data about roles and household chores saying, “In fact, for both spouses, research has found that what matters most for marital happiness is not whether they achieve a perfectly equal division of workload or income but whether they each feel appreciated for their unique contribution.” (40) This fits more closely with a view of complementarity relationships often spoken by in churches (Genesis 2:18).
“Why is it that churchgoing, theologically conservative family men test out as the most loving husbands and fathers of any major group in America? The key factor, sociologists discovered, is that these men have a strong commitment to the family as the foundational institution in society. They believe marriage is not primarily about individual fulfillment but about forming a stable, loving home to raise a family. They hold to an ideal of fidelity and permanence in marriage. This family-centered perspective turns out to be the most reliable predictor of whether a man has a good marriage.” (38)
This is true of the men I know and connect with.
“The facts are in, and surprising as it may seem, a husband’s view of male headship does not really make much difference in how happy his marriage is." If one were to listen to the media around us, we would never believe that as ideas like "headship" are only spoken of as oppressive. She goes on to say, "Complementarian marriages are not inherently abusive or oppressive to women. Nor are egalitarian marriages necessarily happier. . . . In practice, there seems to be little difference whether a marriage is complementarian or egalitarian.” (39)
What seems to matter most is the expression of permanence and appreciation within the marriage. But she also shows some data about better "emotional intelligence" that comes through faith and community evangelical men. They are also the most likely to be active in their communities.
“Research has found that evangelical Protestant men who attend church regularly are the least likely of any group in America to commit domestic violence.” (36) It has also found they "are the least likely to yell at their children . . . the most likely to be warm and affectionate, and to engage in one-on-one conversations with their children. . . . Churchgoing dads also spend more time in activities with their children, such as eating meals together, reading to them, playing games, coaching sports, attending school activities, and leading a church youth group.” (41)
But what about the men? Are they happy with these arrangements? Research says they are. “What about the men themselves? Committed, churchgoing Protestant men are the most likely to report that they are happy and deeply invested in their families.” (42)
The fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22).
Here is the thing though, the differences are in people who wholly commit to Christ and faith-formation in the church. People who profess faith but don't attend church regularly or other activities actually poll worse than secular people. It reminds me of Jesus' parable in Matthew 12:43-45 how people can actually be worse after rejecting the power of God after an experience of God's grace. Don't settle for half-hearted faith.
There is a lot of interesting information in this book. It is an encouraging challenge for men. I hope it is encouraging for women. It gives us a message for our children - both boys and girls - as well as singles. Our prayer is that, as we build disciples, New Life in Christ Church would continue to build the kind of men who are these kinds of blessing to families, church, and community.