The battle for men’s hearts
How do we engage Japanese men in community?
A quiet revival is stirring in the hearts of men all over the world. From best-selling books like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart to Exodus 90 (a Catholic spiritual exercise for men to live in freedom)—ministries and resources for men seem to be popping up everywhere. Men are different to women and require different environments and approaches. We see keys in the way Jesus walked with his disciples.
The success of Japanese mission “bands” from the early days of Protestant missions hints that Japanese men may see following Christ as being more Japanese than we think. Historically, many early Japanese Christians were from the warrior class and saw a connection between the Way of the Warrior (Bushidō) and following Christ. Uchimura Kanzō (1861–1930) went so far as to say the following:
Bushido is the finest product of Japan. But Bushido by itself cannot save Japan. Christianity grafted upon Bushido will be the finest product of the world. It will save, not only Japan, but the whole world.1
If Uchimura was right, we have an amazing opportunity to redeem ancient Japanese traditions and use them for the sake of the gospel.
Where are the men?
“How can I get men to come to church?” could be replaced with “How can I connect to men and help them connect to God?” This out-of-the-box thinking is common in men’s ministries—outdoor activities, camping, sports, and physical challenges. Or mission trips, outreaches, and service in the community. These practical activities can be the environment in which conversations, breakthroughs, and life-changing decisions are made.
Much follow-up and spiritual training can happen online so that relationship building can be maximised during face-to-face connections. Continue to ask how you can help men connect to God and let God guide them.
- How could you broaden your activities or environments to be able to reach more men or go deeper with the men you already connect to?
One Spa! magazine survey found that 35% of Japanese men in their 30s, regardless of marital status, said they had no friends.2 One of the essential ingredients of a good friendship is vulnerability, but because men are primarily motivated by respect, the fear of being vulnerable and losing that respect is formidable.
This is a huge opportunity for Christian men to be friends to Japanese men and also model true friendship. One simple but proven key is older men modelling vulnerability by sharing openly about past or present struggles, failures, and sins, and how God has brought victory and healing. This shows that the discipleship relationship is a safe place to be real.
- How can I model true vulnerability for the younger men in my community?
Safe but intense environments
Sexual sin is possibly the most devastating for men and the lives of those around them. As a man comes to Christ there must be an aggressive assault on the strongholds of pornography and sexual sin, along with clear guidance on how to walk the path of freedom. (If you are currently struggling with sexual sin, don’t wait, get help now! Ask God who you should talk to.)
Again, modelling vulnerability and openness sets the stage where younger believers can open up in one-on-one or small group situations. Use creative questions to intensify the environment—don’t back down. Be prepared for some men to give up and stop connecting after showing that you’re serious about these issues.
- Are you confident to mentor a young Christian brother through repentance of serious sexual sin, to restoration and wholeness?
Japanese men are immersed in a hierarchical society from birth. Many are jaded by the need to navigate these complex social structures. Reliance on structures and traditions might create committed attendees, but will it transform lives that end up transforming society?
Discipleship, however, is primarily a brotherhood. We call men to connect with one another deeply in the love of Christ and with mutual honour. We serve and stir one another along the journey, instead of controlling one another. We forgo titles and leadership structures so we don’t hinder the intimacy that is needed for transformative discipleship.
- Do the men in my circle hesitate to open up with me or other leaders?
- How could I begin to shift the environment towards friendship and brotherhood?
Nurturing individual strength
Rather than asking, “How can I build a strong meeting/church?” you might ask “How can I nurture individual disciples to have a strong, intimate, obedient relationship with God?”
A temptation is to define success in numbers of attendees at meetings. Standing strong till the end, however, is true success. Perhaps we can take a lesson from Jesus who found it best to disciple and mentor only 12 men in three years.
- Are there men in my community who might benefit from more intensive one-on-one discipleship and mentoring? How might I do that?
David was both a fearsome warrior and a passionate poet. He penned some of the most intimate expressions, and we still use them in worship. Passion for God and passion for physical activities can go hand-in-hand.
Men need to nurture passion for God’s presence, but it might not be in the usual way. It might be in the bush or on a mountain. It might be beside the ocean in a storm or while in the workshop restoring furniture. If we limit passionate worship to a worship service or a particular musical style, we will be limiting many men from finding their true heart as worshipping warriors.
- How are you modelling a passionate worship lifestyle to the men in your community?
- What are their passions? Take some time to find out.
Practical service and work
Radical obedience should be the standard for every follower of Christ. Men need an atmosphere where they are pushed to be their best. Think sports teams: coaches, trainers, and players all working together towards one goal.
It’s difficult for a man to feel motivated when a clear goal is not in sight. Jesus took huge risks with the disciples and sent them out to represent him, but this became their training school and practicum all in one.
- How could we create opportunities for men to serve and engage in discipleship and mentoring while ministering outside the four walls of a church?
- How can they “own” their personal vision for ministry to others?
The 33 Day Men’s Challenge
This is a discipleship and mentoring tool to help men connect to God and one another, and pursue some of these values mentioned above. Towards the end of this challenge, we recommend holding a Warrior Training Weekend with a small group of men. Contact me for more information about these ministry tools or check out the website: http://33minute.com
The battle for the hearts of men is fierce, and it’s on our doorstep. It’s not a moment too soon—take time right now to ask God how you can more effectively engage with men in your life and ministry in Japan.
1. Uchimura Kanzo 内村鑑三, 「武士道と基督教」[Bushido and Christianity]『聖書之研究』186号、『内村鑑三全集 22』 (1916), 161.
2. “Growing number of men have no close friends”, Japan Today, https://japantoday.com/category/features/kuchikomi/growing-number-of-men-have-no-close-friends (March 9, 2010).