Encouraging Men as Children’s Ministers
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:4-7 NIV)
Too many American children are mentored in a feminine world. They grow up in homes, schools, and churches led and taught by women. Children have more than a 98 percent chance that their primary schoolteachers, baby-sitters, and day-care givers will be women.1 The situation is no different in the church. Most Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, and children’s church leaders are also women. We may wonder how society would be affected if children had more experiences with men as teachers and spiritual mentors.
Physiologists and psychologists say, generally speaking, that each half of the brain performs specific functions. The right brain specializes in creative things: painting, writing, innovation, and imagination. The left brain deals with cognitive and logical functions: language, numbers, and scientific concepts. The key to mental effectiveness is maintaining a balance between the two extremes of logic and creativity. Although neither of these functions can be fairly assigned to any one gender, their interdependence and balance illustrates our children’s present need for both male and female Christian workers. Just as we would never desire to be wholly dominated by either left- or right-brain functions, so the discipleship of our children must also be balanced between the unique contributions of both male and female workers.
How can one address the need and unique contribution of male teachers without implying that men are more effective, desirable, or capable than female teachers? Clearly, we need both men and women in the discipleship of children. However, anyone who is involved in church work can attest to the shortage of men who are committed to discipling children. Men are not more effective; they are just more needed. It is time for men to overcome the obstacles and observe the outcome of involvement in children’s ministry.
OVERCOMING THE OBSTACLES
Stereotyping is probably the most formidable obstacle that discourages male involvement in children’s discipleship. Men often view ministering to children as women’s work. Anyone can do it with little or no training. This view has boomeranged. Some women now feel that men are not capable of working with children. This female-dominated workforce has at times failed to recognize men as significant contributors in the spiritual lives of children.
Image consciousness is another hurdle for men. The rewards, recognition, and respect for children’s workers are not as high as they are in other areas of ministry. One pastor told about a man named David in his church who overcame this obstacle. The pastor said, “One of the greatest blessings of my pastorate was a man in my church who surprised us when he said he and his wife wanted to work together in the nursery. I’d walk by and see David on the floor playing and talking with the children. He was just loving the children, and they were loving him. After a couple of years, he was elected to the church board. But he is still serving in the nursery because he has his Kingdom priorities figured out.”2
Isolation can also become an obstacle to men. Because male workers are in a minority, they may feel awkward and isolated by the absence of other males.
A lack of challenge often faces men when their involvement is limited to either disciplinary roles or those associated with physical and manual aspects of the ministry rather than spiritual nurturing.
Fear is currently the greatest stumbling block to male involvement in children’s discipleship. Society’s hypersensitivity to pedophilia has caused men to feel apprehensive about having any interest in children or in showing affection toward them.
The most important thing to remember about these obstacles is that they are easily overcome once men understand that the rewards of their involvement far outweigh the cost of overcoming any of the hindrances. The rewards bring us to the second reason why children need men involved in their discipleship.
OBSERVING THE OUTCOME
Children’s ministry needs Christian men. Males bring a unique contribution that cannot be successfully substituted by females. Only men can serve as male role models and communicate the fatherhood of God in the female-dominated world of children.
The church may be the only place some children experience positive male role models.
Manhood is learned. In today’s culture, many children grow up in single-parent families. Children tend to think that what they experience at home is the way things are and should be. The church may be the only place where children have an opportunity to interact with men who model the loving, caring, and nurturing values of manhood.
The Scriptures make it clear that men are to be actively involved in the discipleship of children. In Joshua 4:4-7, after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, the Lord instructed Joshua to charge the men with the duty of teaching God’s faithfulness to the next generation. Joshua instructed 12 men to take stones from the bottom of the Jordan and build a monument that would serve as a vivid reminder of God’s faithfulness and assist the Israelite men in teaching their children about Him. Other examples of male responsibility for teaching children about God are found in Exodus 12:21-27; 13:8,14; Deuteronomy 6:7,20-21. Nothing has changed. Children still need to be around Christian men who are actively involved in ministry, possess spiritual passion, and are faithful fathers and husbands.
The educational system recognizes the reality of needing male role models. In one study about male influence, Patrick Lee found that the presence of father substitutes in the classroom could eliminate some of the negative effects of father absence and low father availability for both boys and girls.3
The former White House Administration even perceived the significance of a male presence in children’s lives. Al Gore and a vice presidential committee recognized this need in a consortium report that stated, “It is difficult for a boy to understand the responsibilities and expectations of fathering when there is no father or male role model present in his life.” The same report said, “Role models are needed for young men and boys to understand what constitutes a healthy marriage and a healthy relationship between a father and child.”4
Sunday school teachers have understood this principle for years. Kids need a male perspective of faith. Everyone seems to understand the increasing need for male role models except the majority of Christian men. By molding masculine Christianity for the next generation, we are building a new army of future leaders who will be better equipped to pass on faith to their own children.
Men make critical and unique contributions to a child’s learning.
The National Education Association Research Division found that less than 2 percent of teachers at third grade and below are men. However, men can make a unique contribution to the lives of children. A distinction made between male and female teachers is not determined just by the depth of their voices, their physical sizes, or by other noticeable differences. Certain characteristics describe most men who are in a teaching role.
First, men are seldom passive and rarely allow children to be idle in their growth and learning. Men approach problem solving in a direct way. They tend to be more aggressive and physical in how they interact with children. Men allow children more independence and freedom to investigate.5 One author says that men’s practical priorities more closely resemble those of children than do those of women. “The men in the day-care center have priorities that are closer to the young child’s priorities than are the priorities of most women teachers. It is rarely too cold, too hot, too wet, too windy, too late, or too early for men and children. Wearing hats, washing hands, listening quietly, sitting still, and staying clean are rarely valued by children or their male teachers.”
Second, male teachers are able to bring out the best in young boys. A study entitled “The Effects of Teacher Sex and Student Sex on Classroom Interaction,” in the Journal of Educational Psychology, reported the following:6
Self-control. Young boys exercise a greater level of self-control when taught by male teachers.
Patience. Male teachers are less likely to use harsh or angry tones with boy students.
Achievement. Young boys receive higher grades than their objective scores on achievement tests would merit when taught by male teachers. When taught by female teachers, they did not perform according to their ability.
Another study of the effects of male teachers on young children revealed that male teachers were able to provide boys with much more leadership experience than female teachers. When females are teaching, class leadership is made up of two times as many girls as boys. However, male teachers were able to increase young male leadership by four times.7
Third, masculine awareness relates things in sequential order while gradually building a complete picture. Studies show that males tend to employ a perspective that relates one part of a concept to another until a proper understanding of the whole is accomplished. Females, however, begin by intuitively taking in the whole picture and gravitating toward understanding the parts.8 These differences result in males possessing unique values, priorities, and interests that prove to be a positive contribution to the learning process. As a result:
- Male teachers were more likely to give process feedback following correct and incorrect answers by students.9
- Male teachers behave more optimally in failure situations than do female teachers. They were much more willing to work with students to improve their responses, while female teachers behaved more optimally in success situations by following correct student responses with feedback and praise.10
- Male undergraduates preferred to work with children labeled as underachievers, while females preferred to work with children labeled as overachievers.11
Only men can provide children with a spiritual understanding of God as Father.
The word metaphor comes from two Greek words, meta, meaning “across,” and pherein, meaning “to carry.” Together these words mean “to carry across, to transfer.” A metaphor is a verbal transfer of meaning that connects two seemingly unrelated things and creates from that union a new understanding. For example, when people talk about half-baked ideas, they’re comparing ideas to food. The Bible uses metaphors to communicate spiritual meaning as well. Metaphors, such as marriage, fruit, doors, and shepherds, are used to communicate spiritual concepts concerning our relationship to God, actions, will, and God’s caring nature.
Perhaps the most important metaphor in the Bible is one God chose to help us understand His desired role in our lives. When God wanted to communicate His commitment, love, and dedication to us, He selected a word from the human language that best described His nature. Over and over God revealed Himself to us as Father. The number of times the word father is applied to God in the Gospels is more than double the number found in the remaining books of the New Testament. In the Gospel of John, God is referred to as Father 107 times.
Our society, however, is becoming increasingly fatherless. About one-third of all children in the United States are born outside of marriage. In most of these cases, the place for the father’s name on the birth certificate is left blank. In at least two-thirds of every case of unwed parenthood, the father is never legally identified.12 Before today’s children reach the age of 18, more than half of our nation’s children are likely to spend a significant portion of their childhood living apart from their fathers.13
Author David Blankenhorn says, “Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society and the engine driving our most urgent social problems from crime to teen pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women. The most important absence our society must confront is not the absence of fathers but the absence of our belief in fathers.”14
When God revealed Himself to us as our Father, He wanted to capitalize on the images we associate with that concept–nurturing, responsibility, commitment, provider, and of the One who gives us a future and life itself. However, in our society, the word father is associated with images of unfaithfulness, abandonment, irresponsibility, and a lack of commitment. Children’s workers face the realties of this sorrowful dilemma on a weekly basis.
Bob Bringham, a children’s pastor in California, recently told about a time when he had a few extra moments in children’s church. He asked the kids, “If you could ask God anything, what would you ask Him?” Two of the first three children wanted to ask God if their dad was ever going to come home again or if they would ever meet their father in person. Bob then asked how many others in the room had similar requests. Seventeen hands went up. Brokenhearted, Bob called the children forward and prayed for each one.
Bob later said, “There are so many single-parent homes without fathers. We need our men to step forward and give these kids a view of what our Heavenly Father is like. Most of our kids have a distorted view of God as Father.”
Christian men can help children understand the intended meaning of the metaphor of God as Father. Their lives can stand as a testimony against the winds of abnormal normalcy. Only men can validate the divine metaphor of God’s character and self-revelation found in the word father.
I have explored the obstacles that keep men from contributing to the spiritual growth of children. Most of these obstacles are understandable, but all of them can be overcome. We have also explored the tremendous outcome resulting from men who are engaging in the discipleship of children. Role models breathe life into the dry bones of social despair and make needful deposits into a generation of children who are bankrupt of masculine spirituality. Through male Christian role models God is understood, received, and anticipated as a Heavenly Father who is faithful and forever true. Children experience the wonderful and unique contributions that men make to their discipleship process.