Visit our new site at

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ask the Matriarch — Man, Oh Man

I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine's Day. We, like many others in the mid-Atlantic-to-Northeast corridor, were iced in. But we made the most of it.

For this week's question, I totally mangled a metaphor about if the shoe is on the other foot, wear it, if it fits, or something. But what it comes down to, this week, is:

As women pastors, how do we foster/encourage spiritual growth and group-building and service among the men of the church, when there is no formal organization for doing so?

As you know, in the Olden Days, only men held ordained positions in Protestant churches, but women had many roles that were clearly defined and, in their own way, powerful—as musicians, teachers, pastor's wives and (in our church at least) members of the fondly- remembered-but-now-defunct Women's Fellowship. The women of our church also got together to help each other with the children, to raise money for various good causes, to pray together and to drink tea while eating lovely sandwiches.

Now, a shift of power has taken place. We have two women pastors, and the men of the church are struggling to find their role. A few men tried to start a men's group, but it fizzled before it really began. We've encouraged them to attend a regional men's retreat, but they are not interested. A few men of the church get together informally to play cards or golf almost every week, so they are building good friendships, but there's a level of spiritual education that does not seem to be happening.


Hmm. Seems like fellowship-building activities are a bit easier to contemplate. I know the men in my life love going to game night (board games and pizza) and to the drum circle that my church hosts, though it isn't a church event. Peripatetic Polar Bear notes that at her parents' church, "the big manly bonding experience is Habitat for Humanity followed by pizza and beer. This does leave out the elderly men, but they seem to be well ensconced in the men's bible study: median age 96."

Jan shares a few things she's seen in neighboring parishes: "The R.O.M.E.O.s (retired old men eating out) meet for lunch once a week to talk about things that matter. Or things that don't matter. At Poker Groups (very 50s) - the men play poker; the women-folk go to a movie or out to eat." According to a male pastor who once participated, the conversation went something like this:

Male Pastor: So how's everybody doing?
Guys: Great.
Male Pastor: So nobody wants to talk about their marriages or anything?
Guys: Nope.
Male Pastor: Pass the Cheezits.

Jan's congregation has a "Men's Fellowship" that meets every other week for a Bible study, but only three or four guys attend. "My hunch is that this needs to be led by a charismatic person who is cool and spiritual in a we-could-have-a-beer-together kind of way," says Jan. "Sort of a Michael Jordan/Jon Stewart/Bill Gates kind of combo, which of course, doesn't exist in most churches."

Hmm, there's that beer idea again. My future husband makes awesome homebrew--it's the hobby he has that runs counter (or parallel) to my knitting. Homebrew shawl ministry. OK, maybe not.

Find fearless leaders
Jan's on to something with that charismatic leader thing, though. As St. Casserole observes, "We encourage spiritual growth and fellowship by identifying men who have leadership skills and the interest to get together with other men. What interests do these 'leader men' have? Do the old guys want to drink coffee at the church on Saturday mornings? Encourage them. Let them lead themselves, with encouragement from you. What do the younger guys want to do together? Build and repair stuff? Watch sports together? Find out what men want to do with each other as church members. Like everything else, building relationships between participants is the key. I'll go to a group of mule saddle refurbishers if the relationships there mean something to me."

Part of the challenge, as Susan notes, is making sure that those fearless leaders understand leaderhip. "Many of the men already in leadership upon my arrival had the opinion that leadership was making sure the bills were paid and that the church was growing both financially and in membership, like a business," she says. "In many ways, that's the leadership they've had both from previous pastors and from the judicatory. I've had them outright reject prayer or study as part of business meetings. The spiritual education has to start where they are and will take some time. Some of these guys needed to step down in order to change the leadership's orientation to something more God-centered than manna-centered."

She continues, "We do need to find men who have leadership gifts for men's ministry as well as for the church and empower those leaders with the knowledge and skills to be leaders. We need to acknowledge and value that men and women lead differently and have different spiritual and emotional needs. We need to offer leadership through our own family model and through our own partnership with men and women in leadership roles."

It's not something we can control
Don't push too hard to make something like this happen, and be willing to surrender oversight of the men's groups to ... the men! As Jan notes, "Honestly, I don't think we can control this as much as we can encourage it."

That promotes a generous spirituality, too. "Long ago, the men didn't want women to gather in church groups because the men feared what the women might do or say or think together," says St. Casserole. "The men had to control the groups. Why not lead in a different way today by allowing the men to do what they want without much input from us?"

On the other hand, women pastors may be able to provide men's groups with new insights. Susan shares an experience she had some time back: "Ten or so years ago, I went to one of the Promise Keepers clergy conferences. Our national United Methodist Men had lobbied hard for the group to allow all UM pastors to attend. I wanted to honor their efforts and find out about what was then all the rage for Christian men." Even though some of the speakers at the time couldn't allow that women had full clergy rights, and said so, she learned from that conference that women cannot empower men's ministry in the same way that men can.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing, she continues. "We can still empower men's ministry, but we are charting a new course," Susan says. "We can encourage small groups for men. We can call for equal partnership between men and women in families and offer a vision that supports the validity of different models for family. Several of the things that I could appreciate about Promise Keepers was the way they flatly stated that men in general had failed in their leadership at home as well as how they sought to bring healing among different ethnicities. I think a woman talking about leadership in the home would need to be more graceful by lifting up role models and possibilities rather than emphasizing failures."

The modern context
Part of the problem may not be women pastors or men's groups so much as a lack of modern context for church groups. "The old form of Men of the Church may not work today," says St. Casserole. "The generations may not want to spend free time together unless the older guys know something about building relationships with the younger guys. I see changes in how Women in the Church function, too. The old forms work for the older people, the younger folks either fit themselves into the old patterns or don't participate. Many younger people have little interest in the old style church groups."

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't provide them with opportunities. Susan says, "From my experience, men are hungry for opportunities for spiritual growth, for bonding with other men, for true partnership in their families, but many lack the tools to do so. The only role models and tools they have are out dated and no longer work. We don't have to go on the camping trips or participate in the male-bonding experiences, but we do need to encourage such activities." Keep the male-bonding activities on the social calendar, then, and possibly add prayer or Bible Study to the events that already exist.

Next week, we'll be talking a little bit about those nerve-wracking early sermons. And we're also interested in hearing about dating tips for single women pastors, if you have some to share. Got a question? Some wisdom to share? Drop us a line at


  1. At our church our current new-sanctuary project has galvanized the men of the church -- including otherwise marginal attendees who have suddenly been showing up every day to help pound nails, put up drywall, etc.

    We also used to have a kind of men's Kaffeeklatsch at the cafe down the street that seemed to provide a safer space for men (generally the older ones) to "do theology."

    We are fortunate in that our church leadership -- council, committees, the general go-to people -- is pretty well even genderwise. Where we have real gender inequity is in worship leadership like lectoring, assisting with the Eucharist, worship committee, etc....we just can't get most of the men to participate at all. And we have a male pastor, so it isn't a matter of not being able to relate to our clergyperson in a "manly-man" way.

  2. I would especially say AMEN to putting the men in charge of it.

    One church I knew had a group of older men who not only were wonderful at getting together for lunch once a week, but they were the mainstay of their Sunday school class (Darn, I forget what it was called, but it was clever, and it met before church, to take advantage of the fact that they all got up at dawn anyway) They were also very good at mentoring the younger men, leading them into the group. They did several charity-type projects--a thrift shop, the St. Andrews potato project, and so on. When I designed a memorial garden, they went to work digging and planting. But if I had suggested that the garden was a good way to get to know each other, they wouldn't have wanted to get involved, I suspect.

    And a negative example--we offered a women's dance (that's the kind of thing we do in GLBTTA churches from time to time...) and some of the men were upset that there wasn't a men's dance planned. I pointed out to them--gently--that they were certainly free to plan one, and that I would support them in it, but it wasn't something I could do effectively, being a woman. They got the point, but there was no men's dance. However, they knew it was because they didn't put it together, not because I (or church leadership) didn't want it.

    Oops, didn't mean to be so long-winded!

  3. Wow, thanks for the tips and the wealth of info here! I'm adding this to my files...

    I think I've been frustrated that the guys in church don't seem hungry for more spiritual growth - but I've been defining spiritual growth as MY kind. Of course, theirs will look different!

    Thanks again

  4. the charismatic-type guy who leads 'mens' events at my church suggests that men's activities are successful when they focus on beer, golf, or guns. So we've had a seminar on beer-making, a golf outing, an a q and a with a retired 3-star general. Big turnouts. Then we had bible study. Not so much.

  5. My DFH adores this prayer, which I scooped up off one of our blogs last year and hear at least a few times a week, usually rattled off in an affected Irish accent:

    Bless, O Lord, this creature beer, that Thou hast been pleased to bring forth from the sweetness of the grain: that it might be a salutary remedy for the human race: and grant by the invocation of Thy holy name, that, whosoever drinks of it may obtain health of body and a sure safeguard for the soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

  6. Noted author Debra Farrington taught a one day seminar this last Saturday on spiritual discernment at our local 1st Presby church where both Episcopalians and Prebys were in attendance. We were expecting maybe 50 people to show up, and we expected them to be all women. Instead 70 people showed and about 20 of them were men, which tilted our expections and made our day; we had no idea that this would happen but we were all very happy and pleased at the turn out of guys as well as the 70 total. And they actually participated in discussions and some simple practices Debra had us do. They were amazingly open to questions and sharing...we thought we were in a slice of heaven!

  7. There is a book out entitled, "Why Men Hate Going to Church" that has some good insights on how to reach men.

    Our culture is becoming feminine in many ways and it seems like every time I turn around we have a new women's program or a women's event. Teachers are told to teach to the learning styles of the girls in math and science. Our local college is 2/3 female. Males are not being encouraged to get a higher education like females. Girls make up the majority of those at the top of their high school classes. The male/female thing is a whole cultural shift.

    The sexes need to be equal. As a sibling with brothers and the mother of sons, I find the anti male trend disturbing. I'm concerned that boys don't find Sunday school interesting, they don't care much for youth groups and they drop out of church as a general rule. As you have said, they also drop out of church. The average church has a lot more females than males. We need to work on reversing the trend.

  8. Our men formed a breakfast club and they meet once a month and take turns making breakfast. they chip in $5 and they eat well.

    They bring in speakers such as the Community College President..a woman. They invited the women to come to that one. They've brought in people to talk about the water issues, and other church things as well. It's well attended.

    They're are men in our weekly Study group. The group has different churches involved as well as different denominations. We now lead the group ourselves..taking turns.

    We do have a fairly even mix, but it tends still to be male dominated as far as decision making is concerned. The 'old boys network' is still in tact which has been hard on getting new thinking men in and it tends to not to 'hear' women.....we're working on it!

    Getting anyone to study theology except those already involved is very hard.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.