In the mid-1980s I attended a pastor's conference that had an impact on my life and ministry. The speaker made a comment that I remember to this day. He said, "We have become a weak nation because we have weak churches. We have weak churches because we have weak families. We have weak families because we have weak fathers. We have weak fathers because no one has ever taught them how to be the spiritual leaders God intended for them to be." If this was true in the 1980s, and I believe it was, how much more true is it today?
For decades the church has wanted strong children's and youth ministries in an effort to reach these young people. The mindset was that if we could reach the children we might be able to reach the parents. That often worked. Our daughter come to faith in Christ at Vacation Bible School. My wife and I became Christians a few months after her baptism. When I was a pastor a young girl in our youth group asked if I would visit her parents and talk to them about God. I did, and in time they began to attend our church, were saved, and became very active leaders in our church. No doubt, reaching young people can provide an opportunity to reach others in the family, but I think the church needs to shift its emphasis to reaching the fathers.
What I saw later in my pastoral ministry was that despite our best efforts as a church, if the father was not involved in the church his children would often follow his example. Despite the best efforts by the mothers, it seemed the children's spiritual commitment often matched their father's.
With the growing numbers of single-parent homes today the problem only gets worse. Many children do not even know who their father is and have no male model to emulate. Children whose parents are divorced are often with the non-custodial parent every other weekend which often means they are only available to attend church half the year less the times they are away on vacation or at other functions. This means that your church could have one of the best youth and/or children's ministries possible and yet some of your young people might only be available 10-12 times a year.
How would this change if we were focusing on reaching the fathers with the gospel? For one, I believe it would cut down on the divorce rate and the number of single-parent homes. It wouldn't eliminate them, but it could reduce the numbers quite a bit. A second benefit might be that the father would have a greater commitment to Christ and the church, and that commitment would be a model for his children to follow. Put these two things together and you have the potential for children to be raised in a more stable home with Jesus Christ at the center.
In order to better reach men with the gospel, the church needs to become much more intentional than it is today. Reaching and discipling men is hard work and will not be accomplished without intentional effort. When Promise Keepers was at its height many people thought this would be enough, but the only thing PK could do was to encourage men to take their place as spiritual leaders in the home. Attending the big events was so exciting and promising, but much of that promise never materialized because the church failed to follow up and disciple the men who attended their church.
There is not sufficient space in a blog post to discuss ways to become more intentional about discipling men, but there are tools available to help a church do that. I would encourage the leaders of your church to begin talking to the men in the church about what would appeal to them. One of the things we did was to invite the men in our church to breakfast every two weeks where we would discuss one chapter in a book we were all reading. We began with Disciplines of a Godly Man (Paperback Edition) by R. Kent Hughes. Our sessions were not limited to just the men in our congregation. Others were invited to join us as well. The material in the book was excellent, and the discussions we had may have been even more helpful.
If you reach young people you might reach the family, but if you can reach the fathers it is much more likely that you will reach the other members of the family as well. Men today need to learn what it means to be a spiritual person and the spiritual leader in their home, and if the church does not teach them these things they are unlikely to ever learn them.