“Men’s Ministry” seems like a daunting challenge for churches, yet one committed believer can make it happen when it’s kept simple
While the old axiom says “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” in our case, the way to a men’s ministry was through a ministry to women. My wife, Carol, invited women from her mother and child programs to our apartment to meet together and talk about their lives and struggles. The women mentioned that they lacked a safe place where they could speak openly without fear of being judged. One of the women decided this weekly time needed a name, and so they called it “Mothers’ Café” since the women were mostly mothers of small children.
As the weeks went by and women shared, Carol and another believer there were able to show answers from the Word of God, and this led to Mothers’ Café becoming a Bible study. As a way for the women’s husbands to also hear about God’s work, we added a “Creation to Christ” study once a month on a weekend.
Baptisms initiate a change
In April 2018, four people were baptized on one Sunday, three of whom were Mothers’ Café women, and the husband of one of those women also was baptized. Four baptisms in one congregation on a single Sunday would be exceptional anywhere in Japan, but this was especially noteworthy as it all originated with women just having coffee together.
The Creation to Christ study, including the women from Mothers’ Café, suddenly turned into a congregation after the baptisms. We began meeting weekly and someone named the weekend event a “gathering,” and that name stuck. Shiohama Gathering, meeting on Sundays in an apartment building activity room, was born.
Taking a risk
Jumpei, the man who was baptized that Sunday, came to feel that men also needed a place like Mothers’ Café, a place where they could share their life experiences and struggles, and where Christian men could naturally relate how knowing Christ has made a difference in their lives. An intern, who had been with us for eight months and who was a father of small children, had called together other fathers his age just to talk over issues. This was the pattern that Jumpei had seen and wanted to replicate. He asked our team about this idea.
This seemed to us like an Acts 11:20 moment. You’ll recall that in the early days of church expansion in Acts, growth was more organic than organized. Some men from Cyprus and Cyrene evangelized among the Hellenists in Antioch, and a church resulted, with the apostles and the church leadership in Jerusalem only finding out after the fact. This was the church that later sent Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys (see Acts 11:20–26; 13:1–3).
Thus, if Jumpei wanted to try this new ministry, we should support rather than co-opt, define, and lead it. We should serve as coaches and mentors as he stepped out into this new thing. Our whole approach to ministry in Shiohama, southeast of central Tokyo and close to Tokyo Bay, was to keep things flat, simple, and reproducible so that believers could take the pattern and reach out to their friends and neighbours.
Of course, even with prior discussion and encouragement, the ministry that results may not be done the way we would plan it. That’s perceived as a danger, but it’s better than the actual danger of clergy being central and laypeople becoming passive bystanders.
Jumpei took the initiative in promoting Fathers’ Café to the believers and pre-believers in our congregation. One of the pre-believers remarked that it was difficult to imagine men getting together for a discussion without alcohol being involved. The fear I had was that no one but believers would attend or that the discussion would be superficial or just awkward. Japanese men are not generally known for being gregarious, especially with those outside their close circle.
Fathers’ Café begins
Our initial meetings were at a bakery café, and we actually got a good mix of believers and pre-believers, usually between four and six, with a couple of missionaries sitting in as well. Initially, Jumpei didn’t have a theme or program for the time. Some good discussion came up, and afterward, we missionaries wished that the believers had been quicker to seize on the opportunities to speak of how knowing Christ had affected their actions.
There were some pauses and awkward lulls, and, of course, some sidetracks and people dominating discussions, but people came every month for Fathers’ Café. It was quite different from the Mothers’ Café, yet there seemed to be the same felt need for a chance to speak openly without judgment.
In time, Jumpei started to develop themes for each evening, and he and the other believer who came along became more proactive in speaking about the difference Christ has made in their lives. What topics have we discussed? Marriage and the concept of love languages; parenting and, in turn, our own relationships with our parents; work and our challenges, frustrations and concerns; and recently our own strengths and weaknesses, a topic that would be strictly off limits just about anywhere else.
Of course, the pandemic has forced our meetings onto Zoom, but for busy men, this makes attending more convenient and feasible. The negative side is that salarymen have no shortage of Zoom meetings these days. In addition, the Zoom format hinders the free flow of ideas and responses. As my teammate has observed, the discussion resembles bowling, with each taking his turn to respond to the topic, rather than volleyball, where there is a natural back and forth discussion. As things open up post-pandemic, we’d like to get together face-to-face on a regular basis, if not every time.
While I may have wished for more structure—especially in the early times—it’s quite likely that more structure in the form of doing some kind of presentation to define the topic or start the discussion might have caused the men to take a passive stance with even more awkward pauses than we had.
We have two pre-believing men who have been drawn in to studying the Word and participating on Sundays, and while they have not yet made a commitment, we’re seeing progress toward Christ in their lives, and the times in Fathers’ Café have played some part in the process.
What looks to an outsider to be a group of men just chatting informally is in fact a chance for a believer to exercise his gifts in reaching out to others. It also provides a natural way for the other believer who attends to “give an answer for the hope that is in you” (author’s paraphrase from 1 Peter 3:15). As the Mothers’ Café is for women, it’s a nonthreatening first contact for men to come into contact with our congregation.
You can do it too
In thinking of an initial ministry to men for congregations that do not have anything, this is a very attainable first step to take. All it takes is one individual to set the date, the topic, and the tone; and some word-of-mouth promotion among the people connected in any way with the congregation.
The big fear is silence or awkwardness, yet while we have had that and have one man in particular who is very hard to engage in conversation, even he has opened up over time. There’s just something about an open, accepting atmosphere that is attractive and will bring even shy men out of themselves.
Believers should attend such a gathering with their spiritual eyes and ears open to opportunities to naturally share from their own walk with Christ. This kind of natural expression of the practical outworking of one’s faith is a low-key but powerful form of testimony. We are thankful for how the believing men in our congregation have been transparent, vulnerable, and ready to set the tone. With that essential element in place, this could be reproduced anywhere for making a difference in the lives of men.