There are many men in our culture who relate to “the church” in one of three ways:
The Affiliated, Non-Activated.
The antagonistic are those who have an ax to grind with God, religion, or organized Christianity. Perhaps they had a bad experience at some point or they were seriously wronged in some way by a pastor or church leader. Their anger over some real or perceived mistreatment or injustice has left them disappointed, disenchanted, disgruntled, or just done with the whole church thing. Perhaps their antagonism stems from a one-time event or a culmination of things.
These men matter to God. He wants to use their passion, zeal, energy, and even their anger and sense of justice to advance His kingdom and His cause, not to war against them.
The apathetic are unconcerned and uninterested. Many of them believe in God and would identify as Christians. They attend church on Christmas and Easter, but Sundays are mostly for golf and football or working on their motorcycle. Their wives and children may be involved in church, but these men are mostly indifferent to the whole thing.
These men matter to God. He wants to awaken them from their lethargy and passivity and show them that they were created as men for active duty and they’re needed now more than ever.
The affiliated go to church week after week. They faithfully sit and listen to the sermons. They give their money. They attend the meetings. They may help pass the plate, or set up tables, or serve in some other logistical capacity to facilitate the ministry. Their church experience, week after week, is safe, predictable, and comfortable. They’re like the old “Tract Rack” or the Missionary bulletin board: you see them every week without actually noticing them. They’re visible, but do they really make a significant difference and does anyone really care? Do they matter? If they disappeared from their usual spot, we’d all know that something was missing, but would any of us really remember exactly what used to be hanging on that wall?
These men matter to God. He wants them to know that they are not merely bakers and butlers in the king’s household, but that they are warriors in a battle. He wants them to be activated in ways that are meaningful and significant to the fight so that if they were absent the wall would not only be empty, but the wall would fall into enemy hands.
I believe that unless the affiliated are activated in meaningful ways, they will eventually become the apathetic and perhaps even the antagonistic. I believe this because all men, regardless of which of the above groups they are in, are also in a fourth group: the adventurers.
I believe that God created men to take risks, to be brave, and to seek adventure. I believe that men derive a great deal of significance and identity from being adventuresome. Men want to achieve, acquire, and advance. We’re not born passive. We become passive through disappointment. Sadly, churches have disappointed many men. We’re not born apathetic. We become apathetic through loss of hope that we can make a difference.
We’re wired to compete, to win, and to celebrate. We don’t want to be given a task to do. We want to be given a mission to accomplish, a battle to fight, a game to win, and an enemy to defeat. There is something extremely effective and productive about a man who is on fire for the right things. Put a group of these men together and no force on earth or hell can stop them.
On the other hand, there is something extremely sad and even destructive about a man who either has no fire because it has been doused or who has a fire for the wrong things. When men are marginalized by their families, by their communities, or by their churches, they may stay affiliated for a while, but eventually, they will find a new place to belong and be important.
As men, we all have a need for belonging and validation. If we don’t get it from our dads, we’ll get it from our peers. If we don’t get it from our churches, we’ll get it from our culture. Unfortunately, men will pursue all kinds of stupid adventures in order to gain a sense of identity to meet their deep need for significance. Our prisons, our streets, our military, our colleges, our locker rooms, our High Schools, and our nightclubs are full of men looking for a place to belong and to have a sense of meaning and significance. We just want someone, anyone to say, “You’re enough. I like you. You matter.” We’ll even pay for it if we have to.
Marginalized malcontents matter to God. They matter to God because He knows how powerful and effective disgruntled and discontented men are, both in terms of the good they can do if they are channeled in the right direction, and the evil they can do if in the other direction. He wants to see their power and passion unleashed in ways that advance His purposes and His kingdom. He doesn’t want them to fall into enemy hands and to be a force for evil.
The Old Testament presents four examples of marginalized, malcontent groups of men who were mobilized into powerful fighting forces. Two of these groups proved to be tremendous forces for good and the other two became tremendous forces for evil. Regardless, they remind us that these men matter and they find significance and meaning in one way or the other, either in terms of the good they accomplish for God and His cause or the pain they inflict for Satan and his cause.
Positive example #1: Jephthah and his group of adventurers
Jephthah was one of the judges who ruled Israel back before Israel was ruled by kings. The book of Judges records how Jephthah was treated by his family and community.
“Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. ‘You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,’ they said, ‘because you are the son of another woman.’ So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.” (Judges 11:1-3, NIV)
Jephthah was judged, mistreated, and marginalized by his half-brothers because he was the son of a prostitute. They thought that they were better than him because of their bloodline and they didn’t want to share the inheritance with him. This was not because they wanted more money, but rather because they didn’t want the family estate tainted or sullied by his shameful heritage. They rejected Jephthah because of their prejudice and their self-righteousness.
However, a group of adventurers gathered around him. They didn’t care who or what his mother was. He doesn’t attract the in-crowd. He doesn’t attract the elite. Some versions of the Bible translate the word “adventurers” with the term “worthless fellows.” However, these men were not as worthless as everyone thought they were. They mattered.
Something really significant happened a few verses later. War came to the land and Jephthah’s brothers wanted him to be their leader and they wanted his army of misfits to come and defend them. Jephthah toyed with them a little bit, but eventually he did come to their aid and they secured a tremendous victory. They really mattered. They saved the nation of Israel.
One of the lessons for us here is to be careful whom we marginalize during times of peace, because we may need them in the time of war. When the battle comes, you don’t want the purebreds or the politicians fighting for you. When the enemy strikes, the men with no battle scars don’t seem to matter much anymore. You want the half-breeds and the adventurers. When the war wages, you want the guys who are a little rough around the edges and who have an ax to grind. We just want that ax to be pointed in the right direction. Hopefully, they have an ax to grind with Satan.
Positive example #2: David and his group of distressed, in debt, discontents
David (before he was made the king) was in exile and running for his life from King Saul. He was accused of treason and he had a death warrant out for him. Notice the kind of men who naturally gathered around him.
“All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men with him.” (1 Samuel 22:2)
These men would not have passed the background screening we put people through in today’s churches. These guys were criminals. They were in debt. They had found themselves on the other side of the law. They may have been among those mentioned in 1 Samuel 10:27 at Saul’s coronation.“But some worthless fellows said, ‘How can this man save us?’ And they despised him and brought him no present.” (1 Samuel 10:27).
These guys were rebellious and antagonistic. They had attitude. When these men rode their Harleys into town the women and children hid. Left to themselves, they could have become a force for evil–raiding, pillaging, raping, and spreading pain and violence throughout the land.
And yet, these men found a home with David. They found a mission and an objective. They found significance, belonging, identity, and value. God used these men and they eventually formed the core of David’s mighty men of valor. Their names are later chronicled as some of the most courageous valiant warriors and mighty men who ever lived. Men will give their lives for meaning and significance.
Negative example #1: Abimelech and his group of worthless, reckless adventurers
Abimelech was one of Gideon’s sons. Gideon was another judge of Israel and he had lots and lots of sons, seventy of them! Like Jephthah, Abimelech was also the son of a prostitute. However, his drive for importance took him and his followers a different direction than Jephthah’s.
“Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone.” (Judges 9:4-5)
These men had the same beginnings as the men mentioned in the two examples given above. They all had the same social outcast status. They all had the same situation of being malcontents and marginalized. And yet, they had a totally different outcome. The two groups above brought salvation and life, but this group brought destruction and death.
Negative example #2: Jeroboam and his worthless scoundrels
“Yet Jeroboam son of Nebat, an official of Solomon son of David, rebelled against his master. Some worthless scoundrels gathered around him and opposed Rehoboam son of Solomon when he was young and indecisive and not strong enough to resist them.” (2 Chronicles 13:6-7)
Eventually, Jeroboam and his team of worthless scoundrels divided the kingdom and plunged the nation into a civil war that lasted for several generations.
Do marginalized, malcontent men matter? Absolutely! Life and death depend upon it. All of the men in these four separate stories were all the same kind of men. They were all searching for a place to belong. They were all searching for significance and importance. They were all adventurers. I would make the argument that at heart, all men are adventurers. We’re all on an exploration for what will bring us joy. The only difference between these four groups of men was that two of the groups found identity and meaning in a leader and in a community that had God’s purposes at heart and the other two groups found identity and meaning in a leader and in a community that had selfish interests at heart.
And so the fate of our world rests upon what kind of leaders and what kind of communities will do the best job of accepting and activating these kinds of men. Our mobilization to reach these men will determine if history remembers them as mighty men of valor who brought salvation, or as worthless scoundrels who brought destruction.
Will the men of our day find their identity in Christ or in culture? If we won’t invite and ignite them, the culture will. If they don’t matter to us, they will certainly matter to culture. Satan would love to have these men. He is more than happy to take and use the people we discard.
What men need
Men don’t need to be called back to church. The church needs to be called back to men. The church needs to invest in men, give them a place, and make them feel significant and necessary. We need to give men a strong vision for involvement. We need to stop marginalizing the half-breeds and the adventurers, but give them a place on the front lines. We need less “jobs” that are safe, comfortable, and predictable and more “mission impossible” that are risky and adventurous. We need to take the battle to the enemy in ways that stir the masculine heart.
What did Jephthah, David, Abimelech, and Jeroboam have in common?
They gave their men meaning: While the rest of society marginalized these men, each of the above leaders gave their followers meaning, significance, and value. When the “worthless adventurers” showed up at David’s church in the wilderness, they were not treated as worthless, but as necessary. They no doubt immediately felt, “I belong here.” Those who had lost their jobs, those who were in debt, those who were in despair, those wandering around aimlessly in life with no meaning finally felt, perhaps for the first time, a sense of purpose. “Maybe this is what I was born to do. Maybe this will make my life count for something.”
They gave their men mission: None of these groups of men lounged around all day by the campfire. They were not lazy. They had missions to carry out. They had objectives. They had cities to take and enemies to fight. They had just signed up for the greatest adventure of their lives. If they were given no mission, they would have grown frustrated and bored. They may have even grown apathetic, or worse, antagonistic and taken their passions over to the enemy.
They gave their men modeling: The key difference in why these four groups of men fell into two different camps, one for good and one for evil, is found in the modeling of their leaders. Jephthah is called a mighty warrior and so his group became a band of mighty warriors. David was a man of courage and valor and so that is what he produced. Both Abimelech and Jeroboam were wicked worthless men and so it should not surprise us that each of their forces became agents for tremendous wickedness and bloodshed.
The church has a tremendous message for men. It is a message that contains the greatest meaning, the greatest mission, and the greatest model of all. Malcontent, marginalized men matter. They matter to God. They must matter to us.