The Question of Masculinity in the Church

For those who know me, there’d be little argument that I am a man’s man. I like mostly “guy” things: trucks, meat, sports, explosions, and so on. In fact, I was able to host the world’s first ever Meat Olympics in which we taught men in our church how to smoke meat, make jerky and sausages, along with other delicious areas of expertise. But I am growing more and more aware that being a “man’s man,” doing guy things, actually has very little to do with true masculinity.

 

Mass Confusion

There really is no clear idea about what actual masculinity is in our world. In many circles “masculinity” is often tabu because its meaning is so varied. At the root of this confusion might lie an age-old social reality captured, rather eloquently, by the former Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher:

Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. 

What Thatcher is getting at is if you need to tell, act, or demand people notice a quality about you, you don’t have it.

 

Unhealthy Imitation

After becoming a Christian in my early twenties and being involved in a few different churches, I found that, generally, the church has even less of an idea about what true masculinity is than our messed up culture. 

Eventually, I found myself in a church where masculinity was a highly held value. Phrases like, “be a man” or “man up” were used pretty freely and carelessly. What this lead to was not guys stepping up into their God-given calling as men, but men demanding they be treated like their vision of masculinity. This vision was less informed by the Bible and generally more informed by imitating their pastor, community group leader, or mentor. Sadly, many of these men who were being imitated didn’t know what true masculinity was either.

 

A Better Way

If we are to be true to our calling, to speak the truth of God into every area of our lives to those whom God has entrusted to, we should speak to masculinity and femininity as defined in Scripture. This is a good thing, but it requires a great deal of care and precision — saying too little can be just as damaging as saying too much.

I believe that Biblical masculinity can be simply defined as taking the initiative of self-sacrifice (Phil 2:1-11). Men are encouraged to primarily give themselves to serve others. But even this gets twisted and becomes a place of confusion. Biblical masculinity calls men again and again to self-sacrifice, not in a way that causes a suppression of our being, but in a way that causes an outpouring of ourselves. There’s a big difference in the two.

 

Freedom to Serve

In the suppression scenario, men shape themselves into something they’re not, they’ll speak, act, and take on the presentation of masculinity that’s placed in front of them. And even if it looks pious, it’s just an effort to fit into the model they are trying to emulate. Sadly, the fruit of this behavior is they begin to demand respect based on their own performance of their act of masculinity.

Oppositely, self-sacrifice that takes the form of an outpouring of oneself frees you to be who you are, whether you like trucks, smoked meat, explosions, or not. You can simply serve and sacrifice in the comfort of your own skin. At the core of the freedom of biblical masculinity is the very heart of Christ who gave himself freely and fully (Eph 5:2). Jesus knew he was and gave himself for others, never demanding respect but inspiring it everywhere he went.

Ministry leaders, I beg you to not teach a brand of masculinity that demands you be respected. Instead, teach a brand of masculinity that frees men of the need to act like a certain model of what it is to be a man and allows them to be who God called them to be, those who take the initiative to give of themselves. This will create masculine men, who in their very actions and service cause respect to be given.

Men, follow the example of Christ: be your own man, and give of yourself for the good of others.

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