As a young lad I would occasionally be drug out of bed early on a Saturday morning and carted off to a Men’s Prayer Breakfast. And while they had a set of their own cliche’s I have a very fond place in my heart for them. A typical one would be set in a church basement fellowship hall. There would be about five or seven men in the kitchen rearranging all of the meticulously labeled (with masking tape and sharpie) cabinets and drawers for utensils that were not where they logically should be as part of the preparation of the breakfast. The meal usually consisted of bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits, and sausage. If things were getting fancy someone would bring in some turkey bacon from their last hunting trip. Typically the food would be unseasoned, and the coffee thin gruel from an oversized tin run through the church percolator. Large leather bound Bibles would sit next to plates, and at each table inevitably someone would hold forth on truck maintenance, hunting, republican politics, or what ever seasonal sport was happening. Eventually a senior statesman would rise and stand behind one of those old hardwood but yellow podiums, the kind that starts to get wobbly after too many deacons leans on them over the course of fifteen years. And he would deliver an exhortation for about fifteen minutes or so, before opening the floor up to prayer requests. After the docket was filled he would pray. And I mean really pray. There would be scripture, doctrine, and the kind of masculine piety that held your and God’s attention. I saw this kind of thing at multiple churches over many years. And though there was no overarching ministry or organization, these things kept plodding along, until they didn’t.
In more recent years I have attended several modern rebranding on the earlier feature. These tend to be catered affairs, at equally ungodly hours. They happen in the church “event space” and (at least to me) are awkward as hell. They usually have a name of some sort “Fight Club” seems to be particularly popular. These meetings are short term six to eight weeks max. Very few people know each other because they are all gathering from different church campuses’ and services. And there is a lecture about some area in a christian man’s life that needs some shoring up. For all the tough language, the events seem more in line with something put on by a young Mark Driscoll after a fistful of Xanax.
Now I am not trying to assassinate the newer version. There is a very strong chance that I have an overly rosy glow in my memory for the former gatherings. It is very likely that they were filled with the kind of people who today are on facebook terrorizing their adult children with Q Anon light posts. Men’s Prayer Breakfasts were not heaven on earth. But there were good things there. In the same way modern, branded, men’s discipleship, Bible study, breakfasts have good things as well. There is a failure to truly understand masculinity, and it is also under attack. Defining things, giving practical strategies, calling up in specific pragmatic ways is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. There were good things in both, which makes me wonder; why can’t we have both? Perhaps the modern version thinks they have already taken the good and removed the dross. And maybe, with our multi site, multi service churches this is the best that can be done. But what really seems missing is the multigenerational, fellowship. Men cramming into a kitchen and burning their way through cooking, mostly by treating every hot surface like a charcoal grill. Men setting up the tables and chairs, not arriving to find them pre set up with table cloths. Prayer, and exegesis where a Man stood up approaching the Lord and bringing His Word. These things built a passion that was stirring, created a longing, even in me who could care less about sport, cars, hunting, or many other typically “manly” things. But I would sit there in awe of men, not just at a smart teacher while I picked at a dry croissant.
Basically, there is no command we can’t tweak an old formula. It’s been done before, and it’s about time we do so again.