One of the biggest pastoral burdens – or complaints, depending upon how you define it – is the lack of masculine spiritual leadership in the church. I don’t know of a pastor that doesn’t share this burden in one way or another. But while we lament this deficiency, perhaps some of us have not stopped to think about what we really want. What are we really praying for? What would we truly like the Lord to produce? Having found a few minutes to think about this, here’s my list, in no particular order:
1. Spiritual Leadership in the Home
It’s no secret that many (or most) church assemblies have a higher concentration of women and children than men. In an industrial community, the nature of shift work makes a certain amount of this inevitable. But at the same time, there seem to be plenty of occasions when the wife and kids attend while dad stays at home or in the woods or on the river. (One of our deacons refers to “Sunday morning widows.”) We might think that the old lifeboat adage of “women and children first” might mean that men are less likely to think that they need what the church (and the Lord) offers. Could be true. Still, even more important than church attendance, I think, is the desire to know that the men in our congregations are leading their wives in prayer and Bible study and catechizing their children in the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Ultimately, we want to know that our men are growing deep in their relationship with the Lord and taking their families with them. We detest the notion that the wife is the undisputed authority in the home for all things spiritual. We fear children growing up in a home where they have to turn to their mother for a Bible answer (because Dad doesn’t know) or to intercede for them in prayer (because they know Dad won’t…or can’t). We don’t mind gaps in our men’s knowledge or even in their spiritual maturity, as long as we know they’re growing and are passionate to grow even more. We know that the Lord will honor that desire and that as long as he remains humble, will greatly assist him in fulfilling his spiritual role in his house. And we know that strong spiritual leaders in the home can only make for a stronger church.
Some of us are completely sold on the concept of sharing official pastoral responsibility with spiritually qualified men in the congregation, but even those who are opposed to plural eldership covet the knowledge that there are men in their church who can and will encourage others toward the Lord, biblically address problems that arise, and serve as an example to the rest of the church of what a Christian ought to be. A man doesn’t need a title or an office to do any of this, but when pastors look for elders or deacons or just some kind of help, they are looking for these qualities on display. No pastor can effectively shepherd a flock of any size by himself, which is why the Scriptures say that he is to be equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. Whether they function as equals or lieutenants, whether they be full-time, part-time, or volunteer, any pastor in his right mind knows he needs men to help him shoulder the responsibility of caring for the flock of God.
It is true that any man who qualifies as an elder (or, pastor) must be able to teach, but a local church will have many needs and opportunities for teaching that do not require a pastor. Sunday School, Bible studies, discipleship classes, new member classes, small group studies, and even leadership training are just a few of the cases where pastors pray for God to supply teachers. Women obviously may fill some of these with excellence, but complementarian churches believe that they use their gifts best when teaching children and other women. That leaves the men. But like Gideon’s army, the list of potential male teachers gets whittled down pretty quickly. We start by removing the unqualified. We don’t want to rely on those who either can’t teach or – because of relative immaturity – shouldn’t teach. (This might sound judgmental, but in practice, most pastors probably aren’t cautious enough.) We know – even if we ignore it – that having a class led by someone who can’t or shoudln’t teach will hurt more in the long run than not having any class at all. Once we look at the group of qualified teachers, we then have to leave out the unwilling. Some are unwilling to teach because they feel too uneducated themselves, and while this may be a legitimate reason for a time, some of these are unwilling to commit themselves to learning what they need. Others are unwilling to leave a class in which they have been learning in order to help teach others. Then, once we have separated the unable and unwilling, we have to remove the unreliable. Some are unreliable simply because of outside factors like shift work, while others are simply unreliable. Simply put, we are always looking for and praying for qualified, willing, reliable male teachers, and in many churches they appear to be an endangered species.
Unfortunately, a lot of us give the impression that our men are good only for grunt work. Some of us have a weird and sinful effeminate Superman complex: we want to do everything ourselves…except get our hands (literally) dirty. This is wrong, and we need to repent. But we still need men to help with a lot of things, especially if we have been blessed with a church building. We might have Masters degrees, but a lot of us don’t know the first thing about changing the oil in the church van or how to check the heat exchanger in the furnace. And even if we did, maintaining church facilities can be extremely time-consuming, especially in rural areas where service companies are scarce. We know that many hands make light work and that the work is even lighter if it doesn’t have to be re-done because of our incompetence.
A pastor who knows his Bible knows that the Lord’s purpose for his church is to bring glory to God by bringing people to Christ and helping them walk the path of obedience and discipleship. There is nothing more essential than this. Each church might pursue it somewhat differently, but the pastor will be communicating this vision to the church in his preaching, teaching, writing, conversing, and overall schedule and demeanor. We are passionate about it, and just like anything else in life, when we’re passionate about it, we want others to share that passion. We want to know that the men in the church understand their place in this world as Christians and are seeking to bring glory to the Savior we love and proclaim him to the world. We want to believe that when we share Jesus’ commission with the church, that our words do not fall on deaf ears but into the hearts of disciples eager to bear witness to the glorious and gracious transforming power of the Gospel.
Ultimately, I think this is really what we’re after. We know that not every man has the same gifts, passions, abilities, schedule, or personality. But we also believe that every man should be concerned with the glory of God and the good of others, and we believe that the focal point of the Lord’s work in this world is his church. And so we yearn for our men to help advance the cause of the Lord through the church. We fear that the church that occupies our attention night and day, sometimes more than it should, is but a fleeting thought in the minds of some men. We’re afraid that the only time some men concern themselves with the affairs of the church is on Sunday morning or when we call them to ask them to do something. Our dream? A cadre of men who take the initiative for the spiritual care of others, whether it be by changing a light bulb without being asked or by leading his family in Bible reading and prayer each morning or by inviting a troubled young couple into his living room for prayer and counsel.
As a Pastor myself, I rejoice to say that I know men like what I have described here, and, like me, every other pastor that has men like this in his congregation will praise God for them. I also recognize freely that we cannot ask of our men any more than we demand of ourselves. If we’re not leading our own families, caring for the spiritual needs of others, pursuing opportunities to study and teach, sweating and bleeding on church work days, and going out of our way to dream up new ways of bringing glory to God in his church, we cannot rightly ask or expect it of anyone. And if we have the blessing of doing pastoral ministry as a full-time vocation, then we certainly ought to be putting out far more than we look for in those to whom we minister. But I also think it helpful to nail down just what we’re asking God for when we say, “Dear Lord, give us men.”
And by the way, there are a lot of women praying the same thing.
Also, don’t forget about our upcoming Men of the South Men’s Conference, May 17-18!
Tell me what you think in the comments. Have I missed anything? Pastors, should I just stick to speaking for myself? What would a church look like if it displayed godly male leadership?