We interview Pastor Kirk Tan, a lay pastor at Covenant Evangelical Free Church who has been involved in ministries to men for close to 20 years. He oversees the church’s men’s ministry, Men-in-Covenant, and is also the Chairman of the Men’s Ministry Network in Singapore.
What challenges do young men in the church face?
When guys join the workforce after NS, university or poly, they’re often not prepared for the worldliness that threatens to consume them. I call it a “tsunami of worldliness”.
Whatever corporate ladder they’re on, they’re starting right at the bottom rung. They’ll go through all the tough stuff and chalk up the late hours. They need to network, learn the ropes… it’s usually a very, very trying time.
I’ve had a couple of guys who asked me to disciple them. I said sure, let’s explore it. But then they’re hardly ever available – they’re just too busy!
The 20s is a time when they’re just swept and overwhelmed. Life can feel like you have to run twice as fast just to stay still. I’m not saying all jobs are like that, but it’s a very critical season of their lives when they need some really solid mentors.
Years ago, the Lord also spoke to me through the parable of the barren fig tree (Matthew 21:19). The Christian man is like a lone barren fig tree: He looks good from afar, but lacks fruit up-close. There were three things that struck me.
- Man is a loner
- Man is a pretender
- Man is a performer
That’s what men often feel they have to be in the workplace. The great irony is that, for men, the church often feels as unsafe as the marketplace!
A men’s ministry seeks to redeem this unfortunate experience. I’m convicted that every church needs to have a safe place just for men.
What do men really need?
I realised that a lot of guys actually need encouragement. And often, they don’t find that encouragement in church. They don’t find it at home either.
Often, churches come across as needing men for their labour or resources rather than encouraging them in their walk or worship. In the men’s ministry at our church, we try to focus on building the men!
When you build the man, you’ll have the ministry. Yet often we’re focused on building the ministry and not the man.
A key approach we take when ministering to men is meeting their felt needs as we point them to their real need.
It doesn’t quite help, if a man who’s having a big problem comes to me and I tell him all he needs is Jesus – that he just needs to trust God and pray.
Sure, he needs all that, but I should first seek to understand what he’s going through, how he’s feeling and how he can be encouraged and equipped to face his situation. That’s meeting his felt need.
Only after that will I ask: How’s your walk with Jesus recently? If he tells me it’s not been good, that’s his real need.
We have an acronym that we use in all the men’s ministries we work with.
S – Share authentically and humbly
A – Accept one another
F – Fix not thy brother
E – Encourage one another
A lot of guys crack up when they hear “fix not thy brother” because that’s exactly what men tend to do when they meet! And that’s what really makes it unsafe for them. Let’s face it, no man likes to be fixed!
So rather than fixing each other, how about fixing our eyes on Jesus together?
How did the men’s ministry begin in your church?
A big reason why a men’s ministry needs to exist is because guys have a spiritual mandate that they often don’t know much about – it’s the mandate of spiritual leadership! Even if they did, they probably only know it as a concept, but not quite how to live it out.
My heart’s appeal to younger men is this: Seek out the older guys!
I met my late spiritual father when I was in my late 20s and that dramatically changed my life. He was Dwight Hill, a godly man in his 50s who was then serving with The Navigators.
While I was worshipping in a very healthy church with very godly leaders, it was Dwight who first connected deeply with me. He modelled for me what Christian manhood meant, how to be a godly husband to my wife, how to have integrity at the workplace and how to humbly serve in the church. And after Dwight, God brought many other godly mentors and men into my life for which I am exceedingly grateful!
One of the reasons why I felt led to start a men’s ministry platform is because I realised a lot of guys didn’t have someone like a Dwight in their lives! I was recently married then, and if not for Dwight, I seriously doubt if I would still be married or walking with Jesus today.
A lot of us – first-generation Christians now in their 50s and 60s – had to muddle or struggle through. Some of us have come out better, but not for some: I’m seeing many marriages in trouble today, and often I find myself sharing with others what Dwight had taught and modelled for me in my 20s!
My earnest desire and prayer is that the younger generations of men today would be blessed by guys who have gone ahead of them, who have some handles in life they can share, and who can impart godly wisdom and life experiences to these young men, so that they can be inspired to follow Christ and equipped to live out their Christian manhood.
What role do your ministries play?
An authentic and empowering spiritual community is what gets my heart beating and burning. On the contrary, my heart is burdened when I see that churches are not intentionally cultivating, fully harnessing or actively leveraging the power of a spiritual community, particularly for their men. This is a great tragedy! I believe the health of a church ultimately depends on the health of her men.
The reality is that most men don’t feel safe in their churches – they walk alone, interact superficially and feel they have to look spiritual even in their churches! I was once at a men’s meeting with young adult leaders, and many of the guys there shared how they could not be “real” among their peers for fear of being judged as “unspiritual”!
Women tend to be more relational in their orientation, but men are task driven and are typically brought up in an environment where we’re taught to “shed blood rather than tears”. We often become disconnected with our sensitive side over time and suffer from a “meaningful relationships deficit”.
Herein lies another wider contribution of a men’s ministry. We need to tell all guys the truth that every man needs a spiritual brotherhood: You’ll never walk alone.
It’s so significant that God Himself lives as a community in the Trinity! This also tells us what He intended for us when He made us in His image: We cannot and should not live alone. We were not designed to.
How can we better engage men in church?
Most men are inherently wired as doers and task-oriented people.
To engage them in church, we need to have projects or areas of service that appeal to the nobility of men, where they feel they can meaningfully contribute. In our men’s ministry, we call men to serve, so that we have a context by which men can experience “ministries to men” among one another.
You can have ministries to men without a men’s ministry.
It’s a bit like Jesus calling the Samaritan woman to serve Him with water (the context), but His real purpose was really to engage her, bless her and minister to her! When you build the man, you’ll have the ministry. Yet often we are focused on building the ministry and not the man.
One challenge for men’s ministries today is that some of them are beginning to look like a fathers/grandfathers’ only club! Having said this, it’s encouraging to see younger guys in their late 20s to mid 30s who are starting to connect with us in our church.
Men-in-Covenant (MiC) is CEFC’s men’s ministry, while Men’s Ministry Network (MMN) is an inter-church relational network comprising of church pastors and leaders. MMN’s vision is to encourage ministries to men in our local churches to enhance the effectiveness of men’s discipleship.
By God’s grace, we have seen some progress with various churches that have started or are starting to explore men’s ministry as a discipleship platform, but there’s still so much work to do. God is certainly on the move as related platforms have also started such as various fatherhood movements and even father schools.
My heart’s appeal to younger men is this: Seek out the older guys! You need mentors, models. Don’t be paiseh to ask. Choose one wisely, with prayer – even persistence – and ask.
Don’t be discouraged if they reject you. Keep praying, asking and knocking! God knows the mentor that you need to have for the unique seasons and circumstances of your life, but you must humble yourself and ask.
What if my church doesn’t have a men’s ministry?
Some men have told me: “But I don’t have a men’s ministry in my church!” You can have ministries to men without a men’s ministry. A men’s ministry is a platform; ministries to men is the experience and outcome you’re seeking. So gather some like-spirited men.
The genesis of the men’s ministry at CEFC did not begin as a formalised men’s ministry platform. It started when I was led to gather a group of fellow leaders whom I knew. I shared that I was struggling with my prayer life and asked if anyone else was feeling the same way.
Seven of us gathered weekly at 6.30am every Wednesday to pray thereafter. Eventually, another men’s prayer meeting started every Saturday at 6.30am. No one told us to do it!
We did it because we felt the need, we were honest with one another and we were ministered by our time together. So when we finally launched the men’s ministry in our church with the blessings and involvement of our pastors, that was merely a formalisation of an empowering experience that was already taking place among us.
The other way to start: Approach the Men’s Ministry Network! We’re just a band of leaders who are brothers and deeply convicted about ministries to men in our local churches. We’d be most happy to engage with you and share what God is doing among His men in His Church!
Looking for an opportunity to connect with fellow brothers?
The Men’s Ministry Network, in partnership with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), is organising Manly Lessons from Ancient Kings on 25 July 2019 from 7.30pm to 9.15pm. Bring a brother and hear RZIM APAC Director Max Jeganathan share precious lessons from the reigns of ancient kings in the Bible that are relevant for success today.
Here are the full event details.
THINK + TALK
1. How many guys would you be able to call at 2am for help?
2. Do you have a safe space where you can share about your struggles and triumphs?
3. What does Christian manhood mean to you?