I’m sure it isn’t just me that has noticed, but the Church has a distinct lack of young men.
Some have blamed the ‘feminisation of the church’ for this, citing (among other things) ‘Jesus-is-my-boyfriend’ worship songs. But I think that there are also some problems within masculinity in our culture that produce barriers to Christian faith.
Pride is not just a male problem, it is a human problem. However it is generally a bigger issue for men. Male pride is a stumbling block to the gospel, because when you're proud you fear weakness, and rarely admit you're wrong. Becoming a follower of Jesus requires admitting your faults. Therefore pride is the antithesis to the gospel.
Male pride is also one of the reasons male suicide rates continue to increase and are now three times higher than women. When you fear demonstrating weakness it is harder to ask for help and suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.
So how can we deal with our own pride and help our friends to challenge theirs? We can own up when we make mistakes, admit that we have problems and talk about them with our friends. Humans were created as relational beings. People suffer and die needlessly because men feel it is unmanly to talk about their problems. This is not the type of masculinity we see demonstrated in the life of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t an ultimate fighter but nor was he a pushover, he had guts.
For some men walking into a church is like wearing a high-vis vest with a flashing light signalling their weakness. Our culture mistakenly thinks of Christianity as a crutch. But it takes much more courage to admit your weaknesses than to pretend you don’t have any. Masking weakness with pride and aggression only prolongs the pain and dissatisfaction of a life cut off from the source of all life and meaning.
There are three significant idols that young men worship today: self, success and sex. All of these function as god-substitutes that ultimately leave men unsatisfied.
Worshipping self will fail you because giving into your every desire will never satisfy you, and there will always be something new to try in the pursuit of pleasure. Worshipping success will fail you because you will never be successful enough, no matter how successful you are. Worshipping sex will fail you because you’ll never have enough sex with the right kind of person, no matter how much sex you have.
Any idol will fail you because they are all trying to satisfy the role of something or someone else. As Augustine wisely said of God, 'You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you'.
Men very often know that the things they are pursuing are futile ways to live a satisfying life, but because men rarely talk about the big questions we think we’re the only ones with concerns about our idols. As Christians we need to talk to our friends about our own experiences. We need to talk about how following false-gods leaves us unsatisfied because those things were never intended to function as a source of ultimate meaning.
I remember being surprised at the number of friends who felt deeply unsatisfied and insignificant due to the implications of their godless worldviews. Idols mislead men, and Christian men must be at the forefront of challenging our culture’s false notions of masculinity.
Most young men are ignorant or confused about what Christianity actually is. So it is hardly surprising that the vast majority of young men don’t view the Church as having anything credible to say about life’s big questions. Most have been inoculated against the true gospel by only ever being fed some weird hybrid notion of Christianity where God just wants you to be nice and worship a baby in a stable.
If your car is broken you go to a mechanic but many young men feel like going to church is like visiting a morgue for a good night out.
It is therefore vital that Christian men start engaging their friends with the gospel and responding to their honest objections and questions. The reason I never considered the gospel before I did is quite simple. No one ever told me. This is why evangelism and apologetics are so important. These tools help us convey how the gospel makes emotional and intellectual sense.
As Pascal said ‘Men despise [Christianity]. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that [Christianity] is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make men wish it were true, and then show that it is.’
The perfect man
Jesus was the perfect man and it is him who ought to define what it means to be masculine. The God-man Jesus challenged injustice, cried when his friend died and probably wore sandals. The type of masculinity Jesus demonstrated wouldn’t fit neatly into any cultural box and so we must look closer at the type of masculinity Jesus demonstrates to us in the gospels.
It isn’t up to men to save other men. It is up to Jesus, but God generally uses us in the process. The gospel is an adventure, it isn’t something to be ashamed about and we need Christian men who are aware of their own pride, idols and ignorance and who are willing to point other men to Jesus.
Daniel Rodger is the husband of one wife, father of one daughter and a Pro-life apologist with the Life Training Institute. He also runs the UK Apologetics facebook group.