Where Have All the Fathers Gone? -- By: Tim Bayly
Where Have All the Fathers Gone?
Pastoral Strategies To Bring Men Back To God’s Household
One of the year’s high holidays in towns across America is opening day of deer season. Like all holidays, preparations begin long before the actual day arrives. In September hunting paraphernalia appears on the shelves of the local True Value: rifles, shells, scent, jumpsuits and caps in brilliant hunter’s orange. The big day is usually a Saturday in November.
A young farmer warned me my first year in ministry: “Might not be too many men here next week, but don’t take it personal. We’ll all be out looking for our buck.” Sure enough, there weren’t many men in church that next week.
The women of the church kept the doors open that Sunday—along with the few men who never took to the sport or were too old to climb fences or beat bushes. Deer hunting is a male ritual; despite the occasional female hunter, it’s largely the men who are gone.
The absence of men during deer season may be troubling, but it’s usually just one Sunday out of the year. Far worse is the chronic absence of men from many of our churches.
The United Methodist General Board of Discipleship reports that in the l950’s the membership of the Methodist Church was 53 percent female but 47 percent male. Today men have fallen to 40 percent of the total in the United Methodist Church. George Barna, the counter of all things churchly, notes in the 1996 Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators that, “Women are twice as likely to attend a church service during any given week. Women are also 50 percent more likely than men to say that they are ‘religious’ and ‘absolutely committed’ to the Christian faith.” Kenneth Woodward quotes Protestant pastors as saying, “Women usually outnumber the men three to one”(Leon Podles, The Church Impotent, 12).
Deer season is a hump we get over, but a year-long lack of men in Sunday worship is a serious problem in many churches today. Scripture and the social sciences teach us that the absence of a father is debilitating to the human family. So also the Family of God needs fathers, sons, grandfathers, and brothers to be healthy.
We might be tempted to consider male absence a problem beyond the capacity of pastoral strategies to remedy. After all, we may think, it’s produced by a tidal wave of cultural forces far beyond our ability to control. Yet pastors can take specific steps to stem the tide; specific strategies will help us keep men in our fellowships.While not exhaustive, here’s a list of four that have worked in my own experience.
1. The first initiative is personal; male pastors must make their personal identity appealing to me...
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