Wussy Culture among Christian Men and Considerations for Emerging Men’s Ministries
by Danny Bell
By Danny Bell, December 16, 2013
I need to make a confession: I think most Christian men are wusses. I suppose I need to explain myself.
It starts from my own history with church culture and experiences of working with all kinds of men as a professional. It also includes an admission that I used to be a Christian “wuss” too. Not anymore.
From the day of my conversion in 1985 church life was as much my saviour as Jesus was. I embraced my new religion with white knuckles and never wanted to return to the old life. I was so wrapped up in my own personal experiences that I couldn’t see that it wasn’t all about me. I became devoted to getting a reputation as a “nice young man”—a wuss. Feminine church culture fostered my inner need to be liked at all costs.
As I grew in the church and entered pastoral ministry, I was getting a top-down view on things. I saw some things that shocked me to my core. I saw a cowardly side to many church men and how they compromised doing the right thing for a place in the popularity stakes. Ashamed and disillusioned, I remember reviewing my own stand and desperately sought God for answers but they didn’t come easily. I then had a break from ministry and went back to the pews where I began. God taught me many things, and it was there that I began to transition from being a churchy type to discovering my own biblical masculinity.
Something I discovered in my journey is the truth that many men don’t come to church to be transformed but to participate in comforting rituals that have changed little since their childhood. This is the trap of wussiness. Sounds harsh but the hand extended from the male sector of church is usually limp-wristed and feels like a dead fish–tell me you don’t know what I am talking about.
Jesus had a lot of patience with wussiness that he had to deal with on a daily basis—the silence of the men in the temple when he asked if he should heal the man’s hand on the Sabbath; the time when he got frustrated at the lack of faith in those around him, “Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?” (Matt 17). A characteristic of the wussy church man is that he has limited faith and vision and looks at why something can’t be done instead of the possibilities. Been there?
So how can the new emerging Men’s Ministries counteract wussy church culture and begin turning it around? There are some things that a men’s ministry can do in order to be effective and that is by modelling the masculine values of Jesus. A men’s ministry needs to stop fussing over the men inside the pen and concentrate on the men we are losing, which are typically not wussy kinds.
In another article I wrote about three basic types of men we encounter in church: The Core Church Male (CCM), The Fringee and The Non-Christain Male (NCM). Most ministries seem to concentrate on the CCM with programs that appeal to them and not other types of men. Marriage enrichment seminars, emotional spiritual exercises, prayer mushrooms, how to stop being a bad husband and father. These meetings that attract wussy types who come with cap in hand, head bowed eager for another lesson of brow beating and masochistic self-flagellation. “All men are bastards,” as one church pastor confided in me.
NCM’s and Fringee’s don’t warm to these meetings because they have heard it all before in society. We need to look through their eyes and create environments that attract them to our community rather than repulse them. The western church has lost touch with men and boys and become internalised. A men’s ministry should seek to push boundaries and church stumbling blocks back to allow these rarer fish to enter the pond.
A men’s ministry needs to come down on the side of men, advocating for them, defending them and batting for them. The problem is that most ministries come down on the side of feminism or popular cultural ideals—appealing to softer, narcissistic types rather than average men. How is the church offering anything different to what society already offers? Men can go to any local self help “come and see how much of a loser you are” session throughout the health system in our countries. Nearly all of these agencies offer men help to fit into the woman’s world and very rarely seek to offer the reverse.
Teaching men how to be better at being a husband and father is not unique nor is it God’s ultimate goal for men according to my reading of the Gospel. It’s important but not ultimate. Placing family as the ultimate focus of life (even above God) has been shown to be a feminine concern. A Man's ultimate charge is not to be the world’s best dad or husband but to seek God’s will, which may go against family. An effective men’s ministry needs to challenge this false notion in church culture and advocate that men aim higher than domestic bliss. Most Christian males unfortunately go to their graves known as “nice men” but never really do anything significant for God or country. Being remembered as a “nice man” may have its benefits, but is it realising our full potential under God? Are we choosing a safe wussy path so that we can sneak over the finish line with a gold star on our suit, getting us entry into the Lord's Supper without sacrifice?
Men’s ministry needs to be decidedly macho. This is where the wuss in us gets all twisted and bent out of shape. Most will misunderstand this word to mean egocentric chest beating, but this is not its true meaning. The original word is from Spanish history and was always used in a positive sense to describe those undeniable aspects of manliness and celebrated male characteristics. Modern uses have placed negative connotations on the word adding chauvinism and other attributes affecting our understanding of masculinity as something dirty or to be shunned. Feminist ideals have crept in and made being male almost a crime.
The church unwittingly adopts these ideals and we wonder why a wussy figure emerges from our classes—a domestic hero with an appreciative audience. The Alpha male on the other hand just left or at best remains on the fringes sensing something deep down grating against his God-given masculinity. Church culture is like Kryptonite to him.
To sum up, the basis of all ministry is found in the life of Christ and how he handled himself. Think about the above points in light of these:
Jesus did not fuss over the 99 in the pen but constantly drew attention to the lost sheep. His constant battle was with his community of faith and how it kept non-conformists out by attitudes and barriers that caused masculine men to walk away or be repulsed. An effective men’s ministry will work like Christ in pushing for change from an internal focus to looking towards the outer rings for those on the fringes.
Jesus defended his disciples from religionists. He came down on the side of men and not the establishment. While getting the disciples to look at motives for their actions, he did not dwell there but set their sights on much grander themes like dying for a cause rather than becoming domestic heroes. An effective men’s ministry needs to offer something different than what the world offers and challenge the church at every turn to create an environment where men feel welcomed and honoured, not feed the narcissistic gene in all of us.
Jesus demonstrated what kind of courage is needed for the last days. His enemies weren’t non-Christians but churchy types who were wrapped up in established ways of doing things, placing the bar so high that only the best etiquette athletes could scale it. Most of Christ’s courage and energy was not focused on teaching his disciples about duty to their families; instead, it was mixed up in battles with the establishment and creating space for the disenfranchised. If a men’s ministry is worth its salt, then characteristically it will be seen in the same position as Christ found himself, showing courage and determination in the face of opposition from religious leaders.
For me this is the ultimate test. As worthy pursuits as these are, there is no danger in being a good dad or father, in attending marriage enrichment seminars, in beating myself up in the company of other men—these won’t get me thrown in jail. Paul did not become imprisoned because he didn’t treat his wife well. He was incarcerated because he dared speak against his religious culture. The machismo, the masculinity, the toughness, the courage that wussy church men are lacking is not helping with the dishes after church potluck but may mean he will have to stand for something while his church or family deride him for doing so. He may have to speak up at the risk of losing his 20-year position. He may have to wear a badge of dishonour for blowing the whistle on something that is harming people. This is where the danger and true test of a man is; this is the ultimate place for our God-given journey as men, not tucking our children in at night, as worthy as that is.
A good men’s ministry will see it prepared to confront and go into battle for men as Christ did, not dithering around in please–and–thank-you–watch–your–language classes. If we are an effective ministry, then we will have trouble, and that trouble will come from the same place it came from for Christ. Any ministry for men that does not find itself challenging or confronting resistant cultures that don’t make space for men is a ministry that will eventually be absorbed and reach its ultimate destiny – wussiness!
 Why Men Hate Going to Church, Murrow, p. 24.
 The Cinderella Syndrome, Trench Mail, Nov. 2012, p. 3.
 Women’s sense of identity very closely follows their priorities, with 62% of women saying their most important role in life is as a mother or parent. Only13% of Christian women believe their most important role in life is to be a follower of Christ. (Christian Women Today, “Part 2 of 4: A Look at Women's Lifestyles, Priorities and Time Commitments,” Barna Group, Aug. 17, 2012).