Monday, January 21, 2008

Men's breakfast thoughts

Our church has men's breakfasts roughly once a month, and this past Saturday we took up the topic of "What does it mean to be a (Christian) man?" A few of my random observations:

- Scripture has multiple models and examples of being a faithful godly man (as it also does of women). There isn't a particular one-size-fits-all template for manhood. Both men and women have bell curves of traits and tendencies.

- While understanding gender tendencies can be of some limited use, gender is only one factor among many, including giftedness, calling, personality, temperament, ethnic heritage, cultural background, birth order, etc. I typically find Myers-Briggs and Enneagram typologies far more helpful than simple male-female generalizations.

- One problem with current discussions of "Christian masculinity" is that they tend to focus on a fairly limited range of models. For example, John Eldredge's Wild at Heart majors primarily on the warrior archetype (with a bit of questor and lover thrown in). But there are many other legitimate and valid possibilities out there, including artisan, sage, troubador, etc. That correlates well with 1 Corinthians 12 on the many parts of the body. There's a place for the warrior, and some Christian men may well be warrior types, but certainly not all.

- Some male leaders feel like the church is too "feminized" for men and want to reclaim a more "masculine" version of the faith. But we need to remember that in historical perspective, Christianity has had a civilizing effect on barbarian men, reining in aggression and violence and instead promoting love of neighbor, peacemaking, generosity and mercy.

- Scripture also gives different correctives depending on the context. In one case, Paul told Timothy to not be so timid. But when James and John wanted to call fire down from heaven, Jesus rebuked them.

- Rather than think in terms of whether "men are protectors" or "men are decisionmakers" (which focus on doing) it's often more helpful to think about becoming men of integrity, character, faithfulness and holiness (which are more about being).

- Instead of focusing on "roles" or "expectations," I think it's more constructive to talk about calling. All of us are called to be a particular man or woman, and we must each discern our own calling based on our personality, giftedness, context and opportunities that God has given us. It might be easier to look for a template ("men should be like this or that") but that shortcircuits the hard work of discerning our own particular callings.


Anonymous said...

These are excellent, well-balanced thoughts and help me to coordinate the warring thoughts in my head. On the one hand, books like Wild at Heart and Captivated frustrate me because they narrowly define. On the other hand, several people have been ministered to be these books.
You helped provide the answer--some men are warriors. Some women are the Captivated types.
Some aren't.

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued to find your comment about the MTBI and Enneagram being more useful than male/female differences. I agree and have started a discussion on the International Enneagram Association website,13.0.html about enneagram type and individualism vs collectivism because the original "test" I took suggested that males would show up more individualistic and women more collectivistic but I think enneagram type is a much better measure of it vs gender. Would love your thoughts!

And it really saddens me that "some men" find the church too feminized. I thought the church was about representing and connecting to all which means being inclusive and accepting.

Anonymous said...

I found your post very challenging and thoughtful. Thank you.

Aaron said...

I would love to hear more about this!
As a pastor I want to be a gentle, patient, loving, firm husband and man of God. For so many years I have heard that the church is geared toward women and have often found myself believing that. I myself have made statements like "we need more men in the church," and "men need to step up and take the lead," etc. etc.
Can you give me some good resources on this topic? I have read the "Wild at Heart" stuff and some other things but something with a balanced perspective. Maybe some biblical text as well. thanks!

Unknown said...

This post=happy.

Ellen, your boys, and your church are blessed to have a man of such wisdom when it comes to gender. :o)

Al Hsu said...

Thanks for commenting, everybody! Aaron, a good Christian book (that's unfortunately now out of print) is Men at the Crossroads by Jack Balswick. It looks at how expectations have changed in recent decades, considers certain archetypes (king, warrior, magician, lover) and provides Christian critique and alternatives.

I've also heard good things (secondhand) about Richard Rohr's material on masculinity - he frames things in terms of young men starting out as "young fools" that need to find their way, and unless they reach a certain kind of maturity, they become "old fools," the crochety, bitter old men that are unpleasant to be around. The alternative, by God's grace, is to be come "holy fools," men of wisdom who are content in their identity and no longer need to strive or compete or fight to be something they're not. I think his book From Wild Man to Wise Man is the one that gets at this, but I've not read it. Hope that helps!

Ellen said...

I agree with Ashleigh ;)