Can we begin with the assumption that young men have brains and occasionally those things get used? I probably over cite Luther’s quote on humanity being like a drunk on a mule who falls off on one side and just to keep things even makes sure to fall off the other side the next time. But it is apt.
For years I can remember drill sergeant style sermons aimed at young men. I had one pastor basically plagiarize Driscoll’s John the Baptizer sermon out of Luke (ironically his regret is that it was Driscoll, not that he plagiarized.*) flipping out on Peter Pan Syndrome and boys who can shave. And now the pendulum is swinging fast in the other direction. I talk with pastors and they are very concerned about the poor wounded guys who were emotionally scarred by mean pastors and their man up sermons. Looking at wider society we see men flocking to Jordan Peterson and his kind. And plenty more declaring themselves feminists and rejecting masculinity as toxic. Now if this stew wasn’t thick enough already, I would like to throw in my own observations which boils down to, this whole thing could use a measure of nuance and a heaping spoonful of discernment.
God created man. Masculinity was not only God’s idea, it is how he identifies himself. While yes God is a spirit he always speaks of himself in masculine terms. Christ came as a man. And weather you like it or not men are and will be dominant. An absent father dominates his wife and children just as much as a present one does. This is how God arranged the world. Rail, complain, nag, or protest all you want, you will not change that which God has set into motion. Since these are incontrovertible facts we must learn to live in the world God has made. And that is where the rub really is.
We are rebellious by nature and that plays out according to our design. Though all sin, certain sins are more prone to one gender or another. Men primarily abstain from responsibility, and women are drawn to rebelling against submission. Bear in mind that Scripture is always more interested in the rule rather than the exception. Some men can rebel agains submitting to the elders God has placed over them and some women can refuse to take responsibility for the spare God has placed her in thus living in a pig sty. This does not eliminate the need to read the current moment and speak Biblically into that.
The Current Moment
Our age is a confused one, and sadly this also includes the church at large. Rather than clearing out the cobwebs of the past and speaking clearly. It is more like we left them to grow and now tour round revisiting certain cobwebs, or worse, our favorite cobwebs. To mix my metaphors here, we have not sailed an even keel instructionally. And this has led to much pitching and yawing and chasing after clouds that is frankly confusing to young men in the church. This is all on top of the insane way the world jerks them around.
I would then posit that we have many groups of young men in the church. Negatively we have the lazy single sort, the abdicating husband/father, overly aggressive fundamentalist, downright abusive wolves, bored but coming out of habit, looking for a new dating pool, desperate for affirmation but can’t take correction, thinks they should be in charge, the overly sensitive/neurotic has an excuse for everything man… The list goes on. And each of these can come in many flavors and cross overs. And any pastor, elder, or small group leader with experience has met them all and could add to this list. However, and this is a big however, there are many solid young and older men in the church and they get overlooked because not only are they not causing problems, in many cases they are quietly taking care of them.
Now my point is not going to be to direct ministry leaders to this group because they are frustrated, or offended. At the risk of sounding prideful I would consider myself among this latter group. We are usually the group that is praying for and encouraging the pastor not not pull his punches. Mature Christians know it is to our glory to overlook an offense, We know that all discipline is painful but it “yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” and we want that. No man is perfect but Jesus and a mature man is always teachable and will find something in a sermon even if it is not aimed at him.
My read on the situation is that a mea culpa is being offered for the pastor drill sergeant days. And to a degree it is called for. But I would argue mostly for plagiarism. Rather than pastors preaching from the text as they had studied. They would steal from the popular guys and shoe horn in Matt Chandler’s Greatest Hits.** These days though a more therapeutic and conciliatory approach is being taken. And as Lewis was fond of saying, “there are two equal and opposite errors…” One is to play the old school harsh, the other is to be a soft therapist. There are times for edifying, praise filled sermons that are Angel Food Cake. But there are mostly times for good ole Irish Stews of sermons, heavy on the meat and potatoes, with bread and greens on the side.
But toddlers are opposed to healthy, sturdy meals. Parents must discipline them to eat the tomatoes and carrots along side the meat. A life filled with Angel Food Cake will be a short and ultimately pointless one. It would appear though that this is the only kind of food being demanded currently; and it is being called for loudly from the booster seat.
Recently TGC had an excellent article about how the current generation coming into their own sees themselves as weak and pessimistic. While, ironically, raging violently at anyone who tells them otherwise. From this it would seem pretty obvious that the “Driscoll” approach would land pretty badly with the young men of today.
Or would it?
At the end of the day the gospel is an offense, there are angular texts in Scripture that we might wish we weren’t there. Now tone can matter, but if our day has taught us anything it is that truth, rock hard objective truth, offends even when it is cushioned with the downiest of feathers. And it would appear to the casual observer that, with the exception of a few troglodytes, pastors have concluded that the remedy is to double down on the cushioning. Unfortunately, we are up against a princess (or prince) possessing a bum capable of detecting and being outraged at a pea no matter the mattress count.
But it is here that I would like to suggest that our appologetic/evangelical approach is perhaps the wrong one. Just as I earlier reminded us that masculinity was Gods idea and He like it. So too was sanctification. At the risk of oversimplifying. If a person is truly regenerate, when Scripture is exegeted, the regenerate man is stirred to further sanctification; regardless of weather he likes it or not.
I Said it was a Risk
In all candor, and you thought I was being mean before, I suspect that we have many unregenerate young men in the church. We always have. And we have to preach to each new generation. But does it worry no one that A. Each successive generation is clearly more discipled by the world than the Church? B. We are obsessed with them and their youth?
This may still be a holdover from the Billy Graham days where the alter call is king and pastors are desperate to get souls into Heaven. We focus on getting the lost saved, they are the future of the church! Or is it more narcissistic than that? The young are sexy. It looks good when they are there. They have energy. Frankly nothing makes you feel better than an adoring young guy asking questions (Except for basking in the glory of John Piper). And like any drug, it is addictive. And bizarrely they are the dealers. If you offend them they walk away, or worse put the church on a negative blast. This kind of young men are, at best not discipled, and at worst unconverted. It is here that I would direct us to the Puritans. They instruct us not only in what a minister of the gospel should look like but also what a faithful congregant looks like.
“Know you own pastors in particular: and know both what you owe a minister as a minister of Christ in common, and what you owe him moreover as your pastor by special relation and charge. When any minister of Christ delivereth his Word to you, he must be heard as a minister of Christ, and not as a private man; but to your own pastor you are bound in a particular relation, to an ordinary and regular attendance upon his ministry in all the particulars…”
“He is to be obeyed as the guide of the congregation in the management of God’s public worship: you must seriously and reverently join with him, every Lord’s day at least, in the public prayers and praises of the church, and not ordinarily go from him to another.” (emphasis added)
“You must hear your bishops and repent, when in meekness and love they convince and admonish you against your sins, and not resist the Word of God which they powerfully and patiently lay home to your consciences, nor put them with grief to cut you off as impenitent in scandalous sins, from the communion of the church..” Richard Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics
True christians may dislike correction, but they will receive it. They will even rise to the defense of their pastor from without while they are in the midst of the unpleasant correction. Or to clarify, the men of the church will, filled with the Holy Ghost, arise to the occasion despite their sinful feelings.
Recently my own pastor texted me to make sure that I was not offended by his approach to an issue we two had spoken together about. I appreciate his concern, at the same time I am a little grieved that his first thought was that I would take offense and Satan would drive a wedge between us. I want strong men to rebuke me when I am wrong. I want to be corrected earlier before getting a pattern of sin down, well worn grooves and all. And my guess is that I am not alone. If true masculinity is, “The glad assumption of responsibility.” Then I would think that there are men in the church that can take a good knock to their sin, get up, dust themselves off, and start again in the right direction.
The conundrum then is the unconverted young men that are on a spring to be offended. If you swing hard then they take their ball and run home. They cow leadership into caving to their felt needs. In barest terms. They insist on being the center of worship rather than Christ. And may I congratulate Satan here on introducing false gods into our churches that we welcomed with open arms. Preaching to satisfy or satiate the unconverted will inevitably lead to a milquetoast gospel. As an added bonus the men of the church, the converted true believers, will grow dull with these soft words. How many pastors have inadvertadly cast themselves in the role of Grima Wormtongue to the men of the church? “a wizened figure of a man, with a pale wise face, and heavy lidded eyes… with long pale tongue.” Causing the men to become sedentary and lacking initiative like Theoden. And sending the unconverted young men to their doom with harnessing and comforting words. Oh that the men of the church would rise from their slumber and preach a masculine gospel that is cask strength. That the unconverted would be rocked to their core with Bunyan-esque preaching that calls sinners to repent, come and be welcomed to Jesus Christ.
There is a point into which, yes, how we preach things matters. Word choice and tone can matter. At the same time the message is hard as granite, “Our God is a consuming fire,”*** and He is sovereign saving those He wills and damning all others. As Spurgeon reminds us “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.”
As I said at the beginning young men have brains. The clarifying point is wether they are converted to Christ, repentant of their sins, or not. Part of the shepherding of the flock is to test the salvation of those milling about the pasture. Scripture is clear, we are not known by the prayer we prayed at some point but by our fruit. It is worth considering if the fruit you are seeing is rotten then confrontation is called for. If the man is a brother he will repent, if not he will fight or fly. The young men in your church can take this, and they will thank you for it ultimately. They have the brains and they will use them to understand you are for them not against them.
Brother Pastor, preach The Word, preach it in season and out. Do not pull your punches, preach clearly to the young men, call them up. If you tear them down, build them up, honor the men. Do not fear them leaving or their feelings being hurt. Emotions are temporary, eternity hangs in the balance. Take heart, the men young and old in your church stand with you.
Older Layman, defend your pastor. You may be among the few, but such a happy few. And if you will indulge me, If any do not have a stomach for this fight let him depart… We would not die in the company of such men. They were never a part of us from the beginning. Stand strong and encourage your pastors to preach boldly, build him up to preach in such a way that the unconverted young men will, “either turn against it with a fierceness of an animal or they will be converted!”****
Young Men, dear brothers, you are stronger than you know, don’t waste it. Grow in grace and knowledge. Resist cowardice and justifications. Become the kind of men that your pastor delights in not dreads. Learn to take one on the chin and repent with gladness. Run to Jesus, flee sin.
*Which is also ironic since the sermon was on taking responsibility and being your own man!
**Not that this is a new idea. How many pastors, for years, fell into irrelevance by coping the stylings of Spurgeon or later Sunday? The internet has only served to prove out theft much quicker than a congregation who were raising eyebrows at their suddenly Victorian sounding preacher.