Is church man enough?
Dave Hopwood thinks that it is not, and offers some interesting thoughts about this in a recent article in Church Times.
Dave argues that Sunday-morning church worship, as conventionally experienced, simply doesn’t work for many men. He urges us to a radical re-think of how we do church for men, based on the example of Jesus himself.
This is one of those articles that provokes excitement and alarm in me in roughly equal proportions.
1. I respond positively to proposals to deconstruct (and then reconstruct) the means and methods (the ‘how’) by which we do church. The New Testament sets out so few definite guidelines that it would seem that the church in each age and place is left with considerable scope to work out with God’s guidance what might work best for them in that context.
In general terms, then, I strongly support Dave Hopwood’s suggestion that we need to do a radical re-think of how we do church, with particular reference to the needs and men and to the example of Jesus.
I think, however, that some of the arguments deployed by Dave Hopwood are flawed. In other words, I agree with some of his conclusions but not with how he reaches them. He himself acknowledges the deep social and cultural differences between Jesus’ setting and ours. But there are other considerations too:
(a) Jesus was a master-teacher who skilfully employed the methods of oral communication of his day. Few teachers in Western, more literary, settings today have those kinds of skills, and it would take a long time (generations?) to acquire them. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try, but we can’t just assume that we can ‘teach like Jesus taught’ at the drop of a hat.
(b) Jesus ministered at a particular point in redemption history. Obviously, the cross, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost were yet to come. Accordingly, it would be perilous to privilege the Gospels over Acts and the Epistles in our thinking about how best to do church.
Deconstruct how, where and when we do church? Think about alternatives to soppy worship songs and touchy-feely ‘spiritual’ exercises? Sure. I’m for it.
2. I respond much less positively to proposals (especially when implied, as here, rather than declared) to relegate questions of substance and content of church (the ‘what’) to the level of optional extras. My conviction is that the New Testament emphasises strongly, and in many different ways, ‘the faith’ that has been entrusted to us and which is to be contended for, proclaimed, and lived out. Dave Hopwood scarcely touches on these matters of ‘substance’ in his article. I realise that he can’t be expected to cover everything in a short article, but this is too important to be left out. Indeed, even in such a short article his apparent lack of interest in the content or substance of the Christian faith comes out in a number of ways:-
(a) He is in favour of short events containing short sermons. Why? How does he get that from the example of Jesus? Many of us already preach short sermons, and this could be because [warning: grossly unfair generalisations coming up] our sermons are not good enough to detain our hearers for longer, or because our hearers lack a healthy appetite for the word of God. But this is not how it should be. Do not men (and women) long to be part of something they can commit to, think deeply about, spend time with?
(b) He doesn’t address the vital question of how we might make the journey from ‘[making] the most of men’s skills with computers, cameras, DIY, car maintenance, gardening, communicating, sport etc.’ to the key task of proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ. But aye, there’s the rub. After all, bridges need to lead somewhere.
(c) On the other hand, if we are talking about an event in which we ‘involve the men, ask them about their week, and pray for those unemployed or facing tough challenges at work’ then we are thinking about a small-group meeting of between 3 and say 12 people. But such groups don’t need ‘sermons’, in the conventional sense, at all (although, of course, they do need teaching).
3. In conclusion, I would say: let’s go for it. Let’s do something different for men. But we will need to work out, on more coherent and biblical grounds than Dave Hopwood sets out in his article, some answers to key questions:-
(a) What is it? Bridging event? Service?
(b) Who’s it for? All men? Some Men? Anyone? Everyone?
(c) Most importantly, how can we remain faithful to ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’ while imagining fresh and exciting ways of communicating and expressing it?