Where are the men?
“What is happening to all these men?” I wondered.
We’re going to Church in the Park, and you’re coming with us!” Two classmates said this to me at college in the ’70s. My classmates were new believers and startled me with their eagerness. I’d been raised in conservative Protestant churches and had been warned against “that park ministry to hippies,” but found it useless to argue with my eager friends.
The sermons I heard in the park brought Scripture to life in living color, in a way I had never experienced before. Nearly all of us at Church in the Park were actively involved in evangelism and discipleship, even more than believers on my college campus. Over the next few years, however, I noticed an alarming trend among my male acquaintances from the church: they started to die off! One of those two fellows who had hijacked me to worship in the park suffered a freak accident and went to be with the Lord. This went on, with accidents, suspected suicides, even one murder, plus a few deaths due to illness, including that of a six-year-old boy who succumbed to a malignant brain tumor—but no women. I wondered why it was young men that were stricken so hard.
As I reflected on these men who were dying, my husband, whom I had met at Church in the Park, cooled in his faith. He eventually stopped attending church altogether, then left me and filed for divorce. During those hard years, I started to write this article, but gave up, because I could find no light on the subject. This spring, when the call for proposals for this magazine appeared in my inbox, I deleted it, having nothing to offer in the way of a solution. Then, after I had read and deleted the final call for proposals, an important conversation finally brought things into focus. I will leave to others any statistical establishment of the under-representation of men in churches worldwide or in Japan, and share my observations from Scripture and experience.
The burden I’ve seen men carry
Many men I have known have felt unappreciated, hopeless, and trapped, even when there were doing their best. After our divorce, another couple from Church in the Park, with whom my former husband and I had been very close, was also having difficulty. He was offered a dream job at a university, teaching, counseling, and doing research. But seeing a move as a threat to their children’s education, she refused to relocate. One morning, their daughter discovered his body in his car in their driveway. He had shot himself. His widow phoned me the morning after I had returned from my first trip to Japan to tell me he was gone.
After my mother’s death, my father had a couple of unfortunate liaisons with women. In the midst of the second, he gave up. His suicide note read, “She made me do it.”
In another example, a younger friend strongly took the initiative in her relationship with her husband before marriage. This concerned me, but made sense to her, as she considered him “too good a catch” to allow to escape. Since they married, she has blamed him for not continuing in church attendance, for not being more affectionate toward her, and for not participating more in the rearing of their children. At one low point in their marriage, they grappled with a kitchen knife when she discovered he was about to use it to kill himself. At the time of writing, she is divorcing him.
Blaming has also surfaced in Japanese couples I have known. For a number of years, I have read the Bible with a former English-circle student whose believing uncle had given her a Bible and told her to read it. Early in our journey, she blamed the conflicts in her marriage on her husband’s drinking and smoking, while not seeming to notice his kind gestures toward her.
Eventually, her level of marital conflict took us from the Gospels back to Genesis. We saw in Genesis 3 that the pattern of men and women blaming each other began with Adam, who blamed both God and the woman he gave him. Eve went on to blame the snake who deceived her. Only the snake was smart enough to keep his mouth shut when judgment fell. By this time, as I read with my Japanese friend, she was gaining a clearer understanding of her situation. My impression is that, with the insights she gained from this passage, and our subsequent reading of Scripture, her marital satisfaction has improved 100%. And that happened without her husband having made the changes she had felt were imperative.
Evidence that men carry a burden
Looking again at Genesis 3, we see that when the curses were handed out, on top of hard labor, it was upon Adam that the curse of death was pronounced (v. 19). My thought is that men are dying faster than women in various ways because they have been bearing the brunt of the curse for us, while women try to shelter in place under their leadership (v. 16). Of course, Jesus, the second Adam, took the whole brunt of the curse upon himself for our salvation (1 Cor. 15:20-22), but how many men (or women) are fully appropriating in our daily experience the salvation Jesus won for us by his perfect life?
It is a well-known fact that worldwide, men have a shorter life expectancy than women.1 Not so well-known is that some researchers are suggesting that the “Y” chromosome may disappear in another 4.6 million years. This deterioration is not found with the “X” chromosome.2 The scientific community is currently divided on the issue of “Y” chromosome deterioration, with some saying that it has slowed.3 This scientific discussion makes me wonder whether it is related to the curse of death on Adam, though the Bible says nothing about the difference in life expectancy between the sexes.
I’d like to suggest that we think about strategies for supporting men under the burden they each inherit from Adam and will carry until we each appear before Jesus in person. Examples like the above have convinced me that blaming is unproductive at best and lethal at worst. Relying on the notion that church attendance and service is women’s work will not complete the Great Commission. Neither will standing back and waiting for men to take on the job. To my shame, I confess that I repeatedly stated that I did not want the leadership role in our international Bible study because I didn’t want the flak from the enemy. That was tantamount to dodging incoming fire and letting the soldier behind me get hit. Now, rather than bragging about looking out for my own skin, I’m working to support our male leader. I have a strong commitment to work as equal with him to confront the enemy of our souls, and we cover one another’s backs in prayer.
Teaching people the origins of “gender wars,” as recorded in Genesis 3, has been an effective tool in my ministry. Leadership development also shows promise. This February, JEMA and the Japan Navigators co-sponsored an online Leader Development Workshop which offers a comprehensive paradigm for the three aspects of leadership: Lead, Develop, Care.4 Where needed male leadership is lacking, women can step in to lead and develop male leaders, then step back to let men develop their leadership skills. Of course, all leadership development needs to be done in a caring atmosphere.
In my college days, my stateside prayer partner, Elizabeth Watkins, was an excellent role model of this paradigm. To my question about women in leadership, she responded in her North Carolina drawl, “If a man doesn’t show up for a job, God’ll raise up a woman!” Elizabeth’s 40 years of ministry in Japan included planting churches and turning them over to Japanese pastors.5
Since 2017, I have been working with my NPO, Aijalon Ministries International, to bring four-day HeartChange Workshops from the States in English to Japan in Japanese. The purpose of the workshops is transformation, as seen in participants’ salvation, deliverance, healing, and reconciliation. I am currently training two Japanese HeartChange Workshop graduates, one man and one woman, to present that workshop in Japanese.
In the time remaining before our Lord’s return, we have God’s power that raised the second Adam from the dead, as we cooperatively use Scripture and emerging leadership tools, to do better than we have thus far at affirming and encouraging men.
1. Robert Preidt, “Men Worldwide Have Shorter Life Spans Than Women”, HealthDay News, U.S. News & World Report, https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-03-15/men-worldwide-have-shorter-life-spans-than-women (accessed July 30, 2021).
2. Darren Griffin and Peter Ellis, “The Y chromosome is disappearing – so what will happen to men?” The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/the-y-chromosome-is-disappearing-so-what-will-happen-to-men-90125 (accessed July 30, 2021).
4. Mark Rood, “JEMA Leader Development Workshop 2021”, February 16, 2021, https://youtu.be/SU08setZuBk (video summary).
5. F. Calvin Parker, Precious Mother, Precious Crown: The Life and Mission of Elizabeth Taylor Watkins, (Chapel Hill, NC: Professional Press, 1997), 238-253.