Rev Dr Carol Tomlin and Rev Tamika Pusey-Squire explore how church leaders can reach men with the Gospel and create environments where they feel their needs are met
The ratio of men to women in many churches, especially African-Caribbean ones, is of great concern, to say the least. It is of no surprise, then, that the topic is one of the most widely discussed within the Black Church.
Why is it that Caribbean men in particular seemingly do not want to commit to Jesus Christ and ‘join the Church’? Many reasons have been cited, ranging from the worship style of services to the actual environment of the church being ‘too feminine’, and some wonder whether the preaching content is relevant to the male psyche. The Church may be inadvertently communicating messages that may be off-putting to a lot of men.
As two single female ministers, who founded and co-pastor a church, we have always had fellow male pastors who actively support our ministry. At the beginning of our ministry, we went through a period where there were hardly any men, but currently the numbers of men attending the church has increased significantly.
Interestingly, the majority of churches are started and led by men. Therefore, it seems odd that even male church leaders are finding it difficult to draw men into church. There are obviously wider issues that need to be explored.
“The majority of churches are started and led by men. Therefore, it seems odd that even male church leaders are finding it difficult to draw men into church.”
Black men disproportionately face a lot of discrimination and, as a result, some are disengaged and some have unfortunately ended up in mental institutions and in prison. Many Black men feel powerless within British society, and they certainly do not feel like the ‘king of the castle’. Some are even returning ‘home’ to their native countries, because they are unable to make any headway in the UK.
In and out of church, Black men are not always discussed in a positive light. Regrettably, derogatory terms – such as ‘waste man,’ ‘worthless’ and other variations that have become part of common usage in describing some of our disaffected men – are abusive and damaging.
We believe that many Black men want to address social issues. Unfortunately, the content of many sermons appears to have little relevance to their lives, and pastors may unwittingly be appealing to the women in their congregations, causing men to feel left out. For example, preachers may say to a largely female congregation: “Go home and say to Johnny, ‘You had better fix up’” or “Go and tell that joker (usually a man), ‘Bye-bye.’” Whilst these statements can be found amplified across the pews of African American churches, in Britain there are other potentially demeaning statements, which can do harm to the male psyche.
One of our fellow male pastors shared that he was concerned that some ministers encouraged single women to only marry men who could afford expensive rings and material things. Given the economic position of many Black men in the UK, instructions like these can give some women unrealistic expectations and further ostracise many men.
We have learned that men have an innate desire to express courage, passion (not limited to sexual pursuits) and to feel powerful. Through their preaching, churches could create a climate where these basic needs can be met. We know of a minister, whose mission emphasises the authority and power that believers have in Christ. His ministry attracts many young men, who are drawn to his teachings and sermons. By being actively involved in community projects, he has been able to engage men by talking about issues relevant to them, including social and political ones.
The art of communicating relevant messages to the wider community requires a need to keep abreast of varied issues impacting the lives of individuals. Through increasing our knowledge on matters affecting men in the 21st century, we’ll be better equipped to deliver sermons and Bible studies that appeal to them.
According to studies on ‘male talk,’ men like to discuss topics openly, in public spaces. Bible study can be a great place to provide men with the opportunity to explore their opinions. In one Bible study held at our church, addressing Paul’s ‘household code’ of the family, with marriage as a basis (Ephesians 5:21 to 6:4 and Colossians 3:18-21), the men in attendance spoke about what it felt like to be a Black man in British society, and its impact on their role as husbands and fathers. In a society that seeks to equalise the genders, sadly, the voice of men can sometimes become stifled, and we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
In order to reach men, ministers could consider stepping outside the box of traditional Sunday services from time to time, and come away from preaching a sermon. Ministers could occasionally introduce a more interactive approach. For example, our Let’s Talk open forum (held periodically) provides a platform for interaction, where men can be involved by sharing and critiquing their ideas.
One final word – we have prayed consistently from the beginning of our ministry about men coming into the church, and have been intentional in our pursuits to appeal to men. We are challenged as ministers to re-define the norm of church culture, by providing biblical messages that engage, equip and empower men.
Rev Dr Carol Tomlin is senior pastor of Restoration Fellowship Ministries in Birmingham. She is an academic and educational consultant.
Rev Tamika Pusey-Squire is a pastor of Restoration Fellowship Ministries. She is also an entrepreneur and assistant editor of Women Empowering Women magazine.