Although young men may be underrepresented in ELCA congregations today, they too feel a spiritual hunger and want to experience authentic community. Lutheran Men in Mission is responding.
2010 ... we're a full decade into the 21st century. For church leaders, it's necessary to do a current state assessment to see where we are and how our men are doing.
Young men crossing into manhood today reflect the culture and attitudes of the last 50 years. Our fathers whose own parents were the products of the Great Depression — bracketed by two World Wars — have no stories of epic victories over evil enemies to shape their worldview. Instead, young men are a generation of ambiguity, of the Gulf War and September 11, of a stock market crash that didn't really seem to test anyone's character, of the Challenger explosion, of MTV, and the iPhone. Our heroes are not men like Audie Murphy or Douglas MacArthur or Jackie Robinson but immature athletes and ego-driven media personalities.
Forty-eight million people between the ages of 18 and 38 live in the United States and are full of energy, ideas, creativity, and passion. A 30-year-old man today will change his job, house, and car every three years or so. At some point in his childhood, the household he grew up in would more than likely not have included his biological father. His own decision to marry will come later in his life than for his father, and he is less likely to marry or have children. If he does marry, he has less than a 50 percent chance of staying married to the same woman until one of them dies.1
In light of these realities, Lutheran Men in Mission (LMM) believes that congregations have a dynamic opportunity today for reaching young men, and empowering them to use their gifts in living out the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the purposes of God.
For discipleship to happen, men must have a place to hear and discuss the truth without it being an emotionally charged dialogue or one-sided affair.
Engaging the young men in our communities is not as tough as you might first think. Perhaps the simplest way for our churches to reach young men is to help them connect with other men. This should not be rocket science, because guys want to find other guys who like the same things they like. Helping the leaders and men in your ministry understand this is crucial.
Ask the young men whom you know why they are involved. It often goes something like this: I met a guy who said he played football on Tuesday nights, and that I should come play with them. I showed up at the football game, and since that time have invested my life with men and women who wanted to make a difference for the sake of Christ.
Knowing that you may not be able to appeal to everyone, explore what commonalities already exist in your ministry and build on those while seeking to reach new guys to fill in the areas you are lacking.
Another easy way to reach men is through the experience of authentic community (even though one difficulty in achieving this among men is the sense of always being in competition with other men). This means a guy must believe he is accepted by the other men and not seen as a threat to them. Though he may not admit it publicly, he must have a safe place to be himself and not feel like he has to always be on his A-game to impress the women, the other guys, or leadership.
For discipleship to happen, men need a place to hear and discuss the truth without it being an emotionally charged dialogue or one-sided affair. Men need to ask questions and wrestle with them so that they can then take the answers to a world that is asking the same things. Find out more in the book Coming of Age
, described below.Resources for Congregations
LMM believes it is called to take the lead in adapting church culture to the needs of men. LMM offers a variety of resources that can affect a young man's life and relationship with Christ.
One Year to Live is a retreat, followed up by connection groups, that encourages men to seriously look at their lives, make significant decisions about their spiritual journey, and work with other men to hold one another accountable for those decisions. One Year to Live is an opportunity for men to explore the difference their faith can make in their lives as they relate to families, people at work, and others in the Christian community. Events like this offer a way to be adventurous and courageous, while at the same time being spiritual, genuine, and vulnerable. This is truly an experience that helps men be the husbands, fathers, and friends that God intends us to be. Men who experience this retreat continue to meet together in small groups for study, prayer, mission work, and outdoor adventures over the next year.
Coming of Age: Exploring the Identity and Spirituality of Younger Men by David Anderson, Paul Hill, and Roland Martinson (Augsburg Fortress, 2006). This is a qualitative study including interviews with 88 men ages 18-35 from six U.S. regions. The research was motivated by the awareness that young men represent the most absent population in church life today. The young men in the study represent those who are inside and outside of church life. The research revealed seven distinct areas that shape the spiritual identities of these 88 men: relationships, nature and sports, life-defining experiences, crises, service work and avocation, and spiritual hunger.
The MasterBuilder Bible is a Bible that was commissioned by LMM (it uses the New International Version). It features the Men's Ministry Leaders Supplement and 20,000 study questions written into the text, which assist participants in getting to know each other as they get to know God. The MasterBuilder Bible is available from Augsburg Fortress and LutheranMeninMission.org. It features six courses for men, each with beginner and advanced sessions.
In Acts, Paul encourages the church to be students of culture. Each year, LMM works with a group of young men from around the country and helps them model community and discipleship. These young men are taught how to create a catalytic community in their own locale, all the while allowing LMM leadership to discover emerging trends and questions.
Lutheran Men in Mission. LutheranMeninMission.org, 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631, (800) 638-3522, ext. 2566. Look us up on Facebook.
- The author compiled some of this information from the book, Coming of Age: Exploring the Identity and Spirituality of Younger Men by David Anderson, Paul Hill, and Roland Martinson (Augsburg Fortress, 2006). He also based his information on the following resources: Number of young adults, ages 18-38: census.gov (2000 census). Information regarding fathers: Fatherhood.gov Research regarding job search trends: Job Instability and Wages for Young Adult Men, by Annette Bernhardt, Martina Morris, Mark Handcock, Mark Scott (Institute on Education and the Economy, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City, Working Paper No. 8, February 1998) tc.columbia.edu/iee/PAPERS/workpap8.pdf. This research occurred in 1999 and was repeated in 2007. Additional resource: ManInTheMirror.com.
Kyle Pedersen is a Young Men's Ministry specialist with Lutheran Men in Mission and based in Des Moines, Iowa. Professionally, Kyle is currently working with electronic medical record software.
This article appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Lutheran Partners (vol. 26, no. 2) and Lutheran Partners Online.