Editorial note: In late 2007 some men at my church asked me to write a few paragraphs explaining why I think doing a conference like this has value. So here were my thoughts then. I'm sure I could say it better or more profoundly (particularly if I got someone else to write it!) if I spent more time with it. Hope somewhere in there it speaks to you. Let me know if it does or doesn't... firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the purpose of The Gospel Man Initiative and Conference?
In short, helping men integrate the Gospel of Grace of Jesus Christ into the totality of their lives as the foundational and organizing principle.
In long, if you buy the proposition that most men's identity is wrapped in what we do and what we accomplish, then the Gospel of Grace through the work of Jesus Christ is a revolutionary concept and way of life for men. If you are familiar with salvation by grace through faith, the idea that living in grace is a fundamentally different way of living seems pretty obvious.
What is the evidence in men's lives of a radically different orientation?
But there's more to be said about a man's life and his external and internal pressures.
Compound our identity "hard-wiring" with a man's environment of competition, "winner-takes-all, losers-are-small" endgame mindset, bravado and swagger as a pride cover for insecurities, and the deficit of godly male/father role-modeling, what would one anticipate that most men's lives look like given our "driven-to-do" nature and the problems in our man's world environment?
Maybe like this:
Many of us spend our life as men treading water and gasping for air, chronically tired.
Most of us do not have a close male friend.
Many of us participate in church as solely a duty whether to God or our peers or our wives.
Most of us are as transparent as a piece of concrete. - "I'm not coming out; you're not getting in!"... exposing our 'radical spiritual insecurity'.
Most of us barely read the Bible regularly much less Christian books.
Most of us struggle greatly with anger, cynicism, and disengagement as we age.
Our spirituality is unconnected to our vocation or work.
Most of us don't exhibit that we experience joy in our Christian lives.
Most of us don't lead our families devotionally as in family worship.
Most of us suffer from the grip of the materialistic false god as evidence that we are competent and successful men. To choose to downsize our "lifestyle" is rarely seen or chosen.
Well now, how could you know all that? I don't for sure. I just am and have been one of these men and have observed our patterns in 30 years of ministry with men in the Church.
I act out of what I am, and then I can only give away what I have. After 30 years of knowing Christ, I am often stunned how little I love God and how little I know His love for me... after all, I'm so busy doing for Him... and often as I work away I feel or worry that it might be fakery. I and these other "straw" Christian men I describe could be the exception not the rule.
So let me ask you: Do you see yourself and men you know in this generalized characterization? If no, that's wonderful, thank the Lord. If yes, then that makes me feel less an idiot.
Beyond all the corruption of the Fall and the devil's scheming, how does this happen to us? Others surely have better answers than I. But let me offer a theory others wiser have suggested.
Many efforts for Christian men focus on what men need to do and be doing. And yes, Christian men have been derelict in more ways than one has time to enumerate. And yes, men need to know their biblical roles and responsibilities across all the spheres of life that the Lord has spoken to us about in His word.
But in building and growing a man, it absolutely matters when and how you lay the layer of his responsibilities into his life. If a man's godly duties and responsibilities, i.e. all the biblical imperatives of his life, are the foundation, a man will suffocate under the weight. God is not surprised by this by the way I think.
If the Gospel of Grace, a counter-intuitive way of thinking, speaking, and acting, is the foundation first of his spirituality, a man will live. As conference speaker Bryan Chapell points out in his book Holiness By Grace citing theologian Herman Ridderbos, "the imperative (God's commands) rests on the indicative (who we are in Christ), and this order is not reversible" (p.128).
If a man's spiritual foundation is God's grace rather the foundation being God's requirements, then a man can walk with His Saviour with a hop in his step, a smile on his face, a song in his heart, and a destination in mind and in hand. For all the reasons and more that others have much better articulated, and this is NOT a small point here, this understanding is harder to come by then one would think since the Bible clearly teaches it.
And finally it's worth mentioning that a man will only walk well even with this understanding IF he walks with other men not as a loner. We will fail, and often we will fail miserably. So we will walk well IF we have like-minded brothers there to pick us up, dust us off, and pull us back into the race. We still don't believe this last point much, and our pride is the culprit. Either we're less convinced that we're in a deadly war or more convinced that we can handle it alone. As for me, I foolishly think both ways far too much.
The Gospel Man Fellowship and its Conference is designed to focus on this core issue of helping men see the Gospel of Grace as the foundation of their lives and frankly their only hope of living what we would call "a godly life"... and doing it together.
It is my conviction that, for a few good and a few mistaken, even broken reasons, these truths are underemphasized in men's lives and sometimes men's ministry.
Why we don't believe at our core that God loves us, that that fact changes everything in a man's life, and that there is some evidence emanating out of our lives as men of this truth is, to me, one of the great devastating mysteries of the conservative church. Then again, I may be dead wrong.
So, this initiative is about amplifying God's love, mercy, and grace as the foundational emphasis in men's lives upon which then we add his directives. We will talk about grace in a big picture way as well as how it informs core issues for us, e.g. our sexuality and our devotional lives.
How does The Gospel Man effort differ from other efforts?
The Gospel Man Fellowship and Conference is sponsored by PCA men for PCA men. Of course, any man from anywhere is absolutely invited. But this effort is focused on helping and invigorating men's ministry in Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) churches. To my knowledge, there rarely has been a conference(s) solely for PCA men beyond church or presbytery bounds, particularly laymen, in its' 35 years of existence. If true, that's a tragedy I'd say.
Also, on the face of it, this question always seems like a good one. But when you consider that the number of men who need to be encouraged is extraordinarily large, then in many respects, you can't have too many men's efforts!
At the 2007 PCA General Assembly, teaching elders from different parts of the country expressed interest and support of this emphasis with men and were desirous of seeing a conference come near them. This feedback helped validate my assumptions.
What is the value of a conference?
A conference is often a catalyst for change. As an event, not a process, it has its own limited value. Without a doubt, the Bible promotes a 2 Timothy 2:2 ("what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.") mindset for biblical growth - discipleship. A conference is no substitute but serves as a part of the 2 Timothy 2:2 process.
A conference also builds community or as we would say, brotherhood. Men die by themselves whether we want to embrace that fact or not. The Bible screams this fact to us; but the cowboy always wants to pull those boots up himself. If men as groups attend the conference, they will grow together as a group (partly by our intended design) and meet like-minded brothers.
A conference as an event can cascade if it is re-occuring. One good experience will encourage a man to invite others if we repeat and that could be a good thing if what we are saying at the conference is as important and helpful as we think it is. But we might be wrong. God will show us; hopefully we will hear him.
"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand." Proverbs 19:21