Men and women are different.
That’s my starting point. If you can live with that, then I invite you to continue on.
It’s no secret that men have dropped out of the Christian Church in droves. It’s no secret that homes without dads face higher rates of poverty, they suffer more emotionally, and are more likely to be held back in school. It’s no secret that the US prison population is made up of 93% men, 85% of whom grew up with no father figure.
Pastors and other religious leaders called to make disciples of all people, including men, often find themselves at a loss as to how to reach men. Patrick Morley, author of No Man Left Behind, says that ministry to men is like rocket science, perhaps even harder.
While there are many systemic issues that we need to address in calling men to follow Jesus, a good starting point is to learn how to speak Man.
Researchers tell us that are at least 100 differences between a woman’s brain and a man’s brain. This is nature stuff. This is hard-wired into the brain stuff. Nurture is a different matter. As my friend Michael Gurian observes, often the challenge with understanding males and females comes from trying to start the discussion with nurture. When we do that we tend to impose a more female way of relating to the world onto men. Instead, Michael says we need to start with nature—how it is that men are wired to relate to the world and build from there.
A few examples:
Men tend to process events and experiences on the left side of the brain—the rational side of the brain. Women, on the other hand, process events and experiences on both sides of the brain—on the rational and the emotional sides. As a result, women can almost instantly access an answer to the question: What are you feeling? It can take a male anywhere from minutes to several hours to grab that answer. (It often proves easier for a man to answer the question, What are you thinking? But see the next point.)
Because of the way a woman’s brain is wired, she is generally more verbal-emotive than a man. She consumes almost twice as many words in a day as does a man. Men tend to be more spatially oriented—they remember things where movement and action are involved. Men, generally speaking, use their words sparingly, which can be maddening for highly verbal people.
Because men tend to use only one side of the brain, they are able to focus on a specific task better than women. Another way of saying it is that men can enter a focus-cave where they can tune out everything else. Women, on the other hand, take in more with more senses at once. They are better able to juggle many tasks at once.
Because of testosterone, men tend to bond through activity. Because of oxytocin and estrogen, women tend to bond via words and emotions. Men work off stress through physical activity. Women tend to work off stress through talking.
With that small background, here are a few ways to speak Man:
1) Men speak action. Much of church language/discipleship language today is relationship language. Are you experiencing intimacy with Jesus? Do you have a vibrant relationship with Jesus? Jesus wants to live in your heart. Women tend to gravitate more to this language because of how they are wired brain-wise and hormone-wise. Men, however, are wired for action. That’s not to say that they don’t invest in relationships, but men want to be called to do something. Jesus spoke the language of action: Follow me.
2) Men speak problem solving. The default for most men is to move into the fix it mode. They want to put the pieces back together. Women focus more on the process and the relationship along with words to bring about a resolution. Congregations that build disciples only through small (talking) groups with no call to take the mountain and build a better world will not inspire men to follow Jesus.
3) Men speak competition. Competition stimulates a man to action. It energizes him. It releases his creative juices. Most churches downplay competition replacing it with a strong emphasis on nurture and getting along with everyone. While a church needs both, God created men with a competitive spirit for a reason—to stimulate them to get God-stuff done.
4) Men speak hierarchy. Men tend to respond best to a leader/follower model. Again, notice Jesus always called people to follow him. Hierarchies tend to scare the average church leader because they can create confrontation and competition. These are often deemed anti-Jesus-like behaviors. Women tend to seek more egalitarian models, emphasizing equal participation and interaction among all. But men want to know their place in their organization, they want to know who they follow or who follows them, and they want to go!
5) Men speak command. Meaning, men tend to get to the point. They don’t use as many words as do women so when they speak they get to the point quickly and directly. And they want that same kind of communication aimed at them. Where women tend to be more inviting—What do you think about this? Would you mind doing such and such…? men prefer a direct word or command that they can hear and respond to. In a highly relational church, commands and direct speech don’t come easily. But you may be missing men because of it. Look at how Jesus often spoke: Follow me! Love your enemies! Turn the other cheek! Love one another! Be merciful as your father in heaven is merciful! Ask anything in my name and you will receive it! (Note: for you law/Gospel Lutherans—this is a communication style, not a proclamation of law! J)
6) Men speak risk. Testosterone is a risk-taking hormone. On average men take many more risks than do women. A safe church, often more comfortable for women, repels men. Men want to be a part of something grand, world-changing. Jesus is the greatest risk taker of them all. I will use you to fish for people! Go into all the world…Want to reach men? Build risk into your ministry. What’s one thing you can’t do unless God makes it happen?
7) Men speak sacrifice. Men are wired to rush into burning buildings, to leap tall buildings in a single bound, to lay their lives on the line. What’s the great cause that will speak to the men in your congregation? Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Jesus knew how to talk man. What language does your congregation speak?
(For more on how men and women relate to life and each other, check out my friend Michael Gurian’s excellent book: Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success inBusiness)