“Here’s Steve who has a passion for blokes”.
Was how a speaker was described who had a desire to be involved in outreach to guys, I sniggered inappropriately into my coffee (wishing it was a beer!)
Yet clearly there is a problem. I remember doing Street Pastors -where we chat to lots of people most of whom aren’t likely to step into a Church anytime soon-my friend (who they call Sparky, a skin-headed and Rovers Fan) had struck up a friendship with one of the door staff, Alan, and handed him a flyer for the Alpha we were running in the club itself in the midweek. Alan, took the flyer, and said: “cheers mate, I’ll give this to my Mrs!”
For some reason Alan seemed to think ‘religion’ as he’d call it wasn’t for him.
Yet, I don’t reckon this is because guys don’t think about the deep things that really matter, I recently used to run “Pints of View” which ended up as a Church Service in a pub, but started off just wandering into the pub with my ‘dog collar’ on and chatting to whoever came in about anything they wanted.
Often (and maybe this is a Bristol thing) they’d ask the person behind the bar “what’s the Vicar drinking” and they’d plonk a pint in front of me, and then ask me a tough question. On the first time I did this a guy said “I was involved in the first Iraq war, and I saw and did some awful stuff, do you reckon you God could ever forgive me!” Often I’ve been approached with comments like “although I’m not religious, can you pray for my…”
Often, I have found that blokes are just normal people, and speaking about a real God involved in real peoples lives can be normal too, if you do it wisely, prayerfully, authentically without a ton of clichés and unhelpful “churchy-lingo”.
Often we have made ministry to guys more complicated than it needs to be.
My starting point is that surely Jesus is good news for everyone, and any group that are missing in our Churches is a tragedy, and one which I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to partner with him in transforming and changing this.
Recently I was at a chapter meeting -a group of Vicars- where nearly everyone apart from me and my friend Chris from Bradley Stoke were a semi-posh-bloke-in their 50’s talking about “How to reach the under 40’s?” It got a bit daft, to the point where if I bit my tongue any longer I might do myself serious damage. I cringed and said “those of us under 40 aren’t a weird species from Mars you’ve never met before!”
The same is true for ministry and outreach to guys, we’re just normal people you come across everyday, your neighbours, kids or colleagues.
Every second person male!
We make up approximately 50% of the population!
Yet when we look at many of our congregations in the UK, many are predominantly female.
Often as a scruffy, ale-drinking, hairy leftie, thirty something dad, I look at most of the activities Churches put on and think I’m not sure I want to go.
The question that has run through most of my Vicaring has been, if I wasn’t the Vicar would I want to come along to this.
To be honest my ‘strategy’ for reaching guys has been much the same as for everyone else, see Christians not only fired up for evangelism and praying for those around us, and helping us be more confident, empowered and equipped to talk about their faith both normally and frequently, with the expectation that people are hungry for the things of God, and that God’s Holy Spirit will be at work through his faithful peoples obedience.
Yet sometimes I feel that there are times when we need to help and encourage Christians in outreach to various groups, to encourage them to meet and mix with people they might not normally meet. Or speak to people about faith who they assume wouldn’t be interested. Recently I was involved in a mission called “The Turning” and the most common piece of feedback was “I didn’t think they’d be interested, but they were!” -echoes with our findings on the Street with Street Pastors. Bishop Lee Rayfield had a great piece of advice “Don’t say “no” for people” -in other words, offer the good news of Jesus with expectancy too everyone, not just those we think might say yes, as are frequently surprised at God working in and through the most unlikely people (in fact I’d suggest it is something he specialises in!)
Helping people realise that their male friends, family, colleagues and neighbours might be interested in God, is often the first hurdle we have to over-come in outreach.
The second is that God could be calling us to do something about it, to chat to guys about Jesus you just have to love Jesus and have a pulse! Two of the people that helped me most in my journey of (re)commitment were both women, somehow we think that only blokes can talk to other blokes about Jesus (its not true!). Also, we seem to believe that if we are talking to guys we have to sometimes be uber-blokey, but the truth is we are just called to be ourselves, if you aren’t a steak eating, beer-drinking, football-loving, flatulent, bearded, sweaty type that’s okay just be yourself, in fact most blokes aren’t mega-blokey just like most women aren’t into everything pink and sparkly, don’t let gender stereotypes keep you from talking about Jesus to those about us.
If we believe that firstly guys might be interested in the things of God, and secondly that God can (in fact, longs) to use us in reaching our to our brothers (and sisters) who don’t know him.
The third thing, like with all evangelism, are we prepared to do the journey with people? Too often we invite them to an event, and then abdicate our responsibilities.
Some people I have known is has taken a while of a friendship -literally years- before people say “yes” to coming along to something Christian, taken a long time hanging around on the edge of Christian stuff, and wobbled to and from Churchy stuff. Trying to accompany them faithfully as a mate on this journey isn’t always easy. Other people are ripe and really ready and up for finding out more about faith quite quickly. Again we are called to accompany these guys too. The Spiritual midwifery is different for everyone, when we find Christ we see the Holy Spirits revelation is ‘bespoke’ for us all, and too often we do our outreach as a ‘one size fits all’.
For me, our understanding of missional responsibilities need to change, each of us are responsible for being “Christ’s ambassadors”, “Salt and light” where-ever we go. The Church, is about empowering and equip us all to do this as well as we can on our frontlines, and sometimes to support this we might put on some facilitating events. The local ‘indigenous missionary’ needs to see if this can help support them in their day to day mission where-ever they go.
The problem is too many Christian guys let Churchiness fill their lives, perhaps give the bible study a miss and go to the pub and shoot some Pool with your mates (most Christians don’t need to hear another sermon, but rather need to put it into practice!), perhaps that Church meeting about the lines in the car park could be missed too? -And maybe even if you’ve had a busy day and you want to veg in-front of the telly and you really can’t be bothered perhaps God is calling you to have a bit of self discipline and go and phone a friend, or go to footie training or the gym with your friends (paradoxically, often these things we have to force ourselves to do, we normally are glad we’ve done later on!)
I would suggest too, that as Christians we ought to be going to their events -pub quizzes, bbqs, football-matches ect- not just expecting them to come to our things, to often we only invite people to Christian stuff making them feel like they are our project and we want to see them saved as a spiritual scalp or team point.
The Church only is fruitful when its members are faithful.
Too often we think of evangelism and mission being Church-centric trying to ‘do’ evangelism ‘at’ people, rather than seeing themselves as trying to support individual missionaries, whom they are praying for and talking with regularly.
When we do put on events are they really aimed at blokes who are not used to Church? I have been in the awkward position of taking people to things, and feeling let down as the event has really not been ‘user-friendly’.
Also, as we think about all we do, through the eyes of mission and outreach, how often do we think of how accessible we are to all people groups? Yet sometimes are Churches aren’t as welcoming to blokes -especially those of us who would call ourselves ‘working class’- as we could be.
Over the past 8 years I have tried so many different types of working with guys, I feel like I could write the definitive “how not too” book as we have tried many things to reach out to guys, made many mistakes, but learned many lessons along the way.
The two biggest pit-falls seem to be either:
A) We end up with exclusively Christian events, often in Church, sometimes even with sung worship -and huggy guys in socks with sandals and beards that call everyone brother- but labelled as “mission” or “outreach”, they may preach and evangelistic message but everyone who is there is already thoroughly churchy already!
It is great for guys to hang out, and great to have fellowship, but is this actually isn’t doing anything to help those who don’t know him, the problem of Church is too often we are a holy huddle, a clique.
B) Or we do some uber-blokey special events, the paint-balling or eye-watering curries (good curry always burns twice!). Great events, and people enjoy them but they happen very infrequently, the Church feels good about doing something but doesn’t see people moving on a journey towards Jesus.
Yet, somehow I don’t want the irregular and spectacular, as too often it feels like we try to put on a big event to ‘short-cut’ the difficult job of relationships, we publish the photos on our facebook, and feel a bit smug and wait 6 months to do it again, but I do wonder whether it actually has much fruit for the Kingdom? Often too, our big events feel more like ‘treats for the clique’ than a thought-through evangelistic strategy.
I’ll close this blog with what I have begun to discover might be a third way, a messier and less clear way but one that feels more authentically of the Kingdom. Forming real friendships with people who aren’t yet Christians, loving them even if they never become Christians -that doesn’t mean you don’t pray for them! Sharing life with them, being real about life’s problems and real about your faith. Hang out, go to their stuff and invite them to yours. Walk the walk with them, and make it as easy as possible for them to journey at their pace to faith.
I’ll close with two stories:
The first was a week or so before I left, I went down the pub with some mates who occasionally do a pub quiz together. At the end of the evening we began to speak about some real and deep stuff, just naturally, it wasn’t forced and I realised that I really should have spent more time hanging out with these guys than the hours I had wasted at umpteen meetings at Church that never decided anything of any significance.
The second was a couple of years ago, my friend Chris turned 30, and we all climbed the welsh three peaks, we did it for an anti-child-trafficking charity LOVE 146. We had some Christian mates and some who weren’t Christians, we also had some who were struggling a bit with their faith too. We spent a weekend together slogging it out up mountains, we were open about our faith and the mess of life, we even prayed at the beginning of the climb and at the end of the journey -and the guys who weren’t Christians were really respectful. There was some grumbling and bickering as we were tired and disagreeing a bit, beers too were consumed at the end, occasionally the language slipped a bit too. Wasn’t set up as an outreach, but did feel as though Jesus was right there in the midst of us.
So, rather than trying to ‘put on events’ maybe let’s embrace a bigger quest to see Jesus glorified in all we do, be always ready to speak about him in a wise, gentle and respectful way, building real relationships with people, and as we share life and journey faithfully may we see those around us encountering and being transformed by Jesus Christ.