Lonely Christian Men

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Man aloneLast night, I got together with a friend I had not seen in about six or seven years. We shot the breeze on the porch of a pub and talked science fiction, trivia contests, copyright laws, and work. Reconnecting felt good.

Somewhere I read that by the time a man reaches his mid-40s, he has one close friend, the kind who would be there no matter the situation. Peripheral friends account for another two or three, at most.

Unlike women, who seem to keep their friends and add to them readily, men get married, have kids, and gradually so immerse themselves in their families that many of their friendships wither and die. One day, a man wakes up and wonders where all the the other guys he hung with vanished to.

For men, it’s all too easy to let friends gradually drift away.

I wish I could say that in the Church it was better, but I wonder about that. When I watch people who don’t know Jesus, it seems that the very lack of Him in their lives forces them to reach out, to value friendship just a wee bit more. I know a lot of Christian men who, if asked in confidence, would confess they are lonely.

In talking with this friend last night, we both noted how hard it was to get any group of people together. Everyone is so scheduled. Some have bought into a cocoon mentality and can’t seem to break out. Instead of doing anything as a group with friends, we instead pursue hobbies that can work without a group or we fall into a routine of only doing activities with our wives or kids.

Some of this is surely because of the guilt ladeled out by many parachurch organizations and some churches that contend that if we’re not spending time with our families, then we’re poor fathers and husbands. I think a lot of Christian men feel that oppressive burden. They can’t determine how much is enough or too little, so they spend all their time with their wife and kids, just to be safe—just to be “Christian.”

This is, in part, a lie.

Jesus said this:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. ”
—Matthew 12:25b ESV

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…”
—Luke 22:31 ESV

I am increasingly aware that the Good can be the enemy of the Best. There is too much in today’s church that appears Good on the surface, but it wars against the Best, ultimately hurting Christians and churches. Because so few Christians are actually listening to the Holy Spirit, that Best goes missing, while the Good prevails.

It is good that a man spends time with his wife and family, but the Church begins to hurt when men do not gather together regularly as just men. The lonely Christian man is a symptom of a breakdown in fellowship that is hurting our churches.

Some churches may offer a large group gathering for men every now and then. While that’s a start, it is no substitute for getting together more regularly. It’s also not a replacement for small groups of men gathering for a more intimate fellowship. Larger groups tend to stifle the kind of relational intimacy that men are dying for.

Whether large or small, groups of Christian men getting together offer the chance for men to get down on their knees together and pray the way men pray. Men and women pray differently, and it is to the shame of men that the prayers groups in most churches are comprised almost entirely of elderly women.

In reference to those Bible verses above, division is a bad thing. And Christian men are too often divided/separated by the world. We have believed lies about responsibilities that prevent us from getting together, and the result is that the Church limps along because men are off being individuals at a time when we should be united.

A house divided cannnot stand. Keep men apart; that’s the Enemy’s strategy.

Back in the 1990s, the whole men’s movement was a welcome awakening, but it was so heavily commercialized that it was doomed to fail. Too many moneychangers saw it as an opportunity to make some moolah, and love of money has a way of dooming many worthwhile Christian ministries.

In addition, the men’s movement of the 1990s was too national. It needed to be localized, and it never was, so it was doomed there too.

Christian men don’t need a commercialized, national movement. We need to cultivate friendships with other men on a local level. And as Christians, we need to rediscover what it means to be standing in the gap and covering each other’s backs.

Time is running out for us to do this. But too few recognize this because we are not getting together to discuss and counter it in the way that only Christian men can.

48 thoughts on “Lonely Christian Men

  1. Hearteak

    You make some very good points in this post. I can’t help but often think of Jesus’ words about 2 or 3 gathering together. Churches today simply don’t validate or affirm such ‘(very) small groups apart from the occasional specifically defined accountability groups. We tend to ‘understand’ that all of the fellowshipping we’re supposed to do has to take place in a larger group or organizational setting. Jesus clearly had His smaller inner circle of Peter, James and John (with whom He met on His last night before His death).

    I don’t think human beings actually have the capacity for the close relationships that genuine fellowship requires beyond more than 2 or 3 at a given time. How tragic then that we never are encouraged by word example or deed to actually seek out and enter in to such close relationships by our ‘institutions’.

    It is part of the whole Good vs Best that you reference. We speak of the great potential that Christian brotherhood and fellowship can offer but only provide affirm or encourage the watered down milquetoast of incomplete relationships which ultimately frustrate us instead of the Best of deep, life-giving relationships amongst brethren.

    • Hearteak,

      Small groups seem almost passé, as I am constantly hearing from people how hard it is to maintain them anymore. Heck, every single one I was a part of has folded. 🙁

    • ccinnova

      Hearteak, “accountability” has become a loaded word for those of us who’ve experienced any sort of spiritual control and/or abuse. I steer clear of such groups. Sadly, there are some in the church who consider men to be especially bad by nature and somehow in need of accountability.

      I’m a member of a church small group which is mixed in terms of gender, age and marital status, but I’m no longer able to attend meetings due to my work schedule. The previous groups I was a part of have folded, like the ones Dan attended.

  2. ccinnova

    Good post, Dan. I feel the loneliness even more since I’m single and childless, plus I live more than 100 miles from my closest relative. I’ve got the additional disadvantage of working evenings and weekends, which keeps me from attending most church functions aside from Sunday morning worship. At least I’m working, which is more than I could say for a long while.

  3. linda

    Hi Dan,
    I think one reason it is difficult to gather men is the value received from these gatherings. At first the men’s movement in the 90’s was exciting. There was so much potential. But it became more of a boy’s club over time, I think. This movement did not deliver on its promises and claims. There was a lot of hype and seemingly little fruit. This is a complaint about ‘church’ in our day. There’s little lasting fruit from what is organized and tried in the church.

    This can only mean that the power of the Holy Spirit is not present or sustained in the church or in these parachurch efforts. Men leave these gatherings and forsake them over time, as should be expected under this situation.

    I think we can see that it’s not just about men gathering together. Most times these gatherings are about ‘how to be a better father, a better husband, a better man, etc’. After a while (I would think) this gets tiring and ‘old’. Been there, done that, sort of thing. Men may think “it didn’t impact me that much last time, why would I go to something like that again? I have better things to do with my time”.

    There is lack of power in the church to accomplish anything substantial. Corruption soon enters because of this lack of power. The uselessness of it all becomes apparent. It’s nice to gather together for a while, such as men coming together, but without power from God this gathering will fizzle. We seem to have a crisis of ‘power to minister’ from every direction and out of every corner in the ‘church’.

    In days past people didn’t hear from God for 400 years at a time. I don’t think this kind of time lapse will happen in our day or in the future, but we do need to understand the ‘times’. We seem to be in a period of powerlessness as far as the organized church is concerned. Unable to help ourselves. Unable to make the changes that are needed in ourselves or in ministry. Unable to even understand well what changes are needed. It’s like we have a black hood on our heads and we are trying to grope around and figure out what we should be doing next in the church.

    The upper room where the disciples of Jesus gathered was not composed of just men. Women were there too. Jesus did not separate the men and the women waiting for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem after his ascension. I think that we have to be cognizant of this. Paul did not separate men and women that I know of, neither did the early church as far as I know. I wasn’t just Annanias that sinned against the Holy Spirit, it was Annanias and Saphira (his wife). It wasn’t just Appolos ministering, it was Appolos and Priscilla (his wife). It wasn’t just men ministering in the early churches when Paul travelled around to check on them, it was men and women.

    Jesus travelled with women who ‘ministered to him’ the Bible says. Debra ministered to Barak. She was not his wife. Barak would not have been able to do what he did (in his day) without Debra. Why did God do this with these two? I don’t know, but these are examples for us today. All scripture the Bible says is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction.

    The Bible says first the natural then the spiritual. We see in the natural women working alongside of men in many capacities in our time. In jobs, tasks, etc. In leadership positions also in the world. Change occured during the 60’s and 70’s for women especially in the developed nations of the world. We can assume that there is going to be some type of thing occuring in the leadership of God, in the work of God. Have women overtaken the world? No, men are still better paid, men still have most of the leadership positions in companies, etc. But women are not excluded.

    This situation for women was not current in the time of Jesus or the early church. Not really over all of history. It appears to be a ‘new’ thing for our century so to speak. We have to take notice of this in the church.

    We have evidence, we have testimony, from women in the church. This is similar testimony to what James received in Jerusalem when God was bringing in the Gentiles. When we think about it, this act of the Holy Spirit (saving the Genitles) was absolutely shocking to the doctrine and teaching of that day. Genitles were ‘dogs’ to the Jews. God would never work among Gentiles. But God did. I think that this must of been a shock to the system of many in the time of Jesus. Unbelievable and unheardof.

    We need to be mindful of these things. Prophecy has been spoken (from conservative godly men) about God doing something considered unusual and perhaps startling in our time. Will women be involved in this? For sure. God is not a respector of persons.

    • Linda,

      Have you considered starting your own blog? You have good comments, but they are almost blog-length or longer (your comment beat my post in length by 15 words!), and it seems a shame to have the comment stuck in one place only, and not even on your own place!

      I would think that a blog of your own would be a worthwhile endeavor. If you would need help setting one up, please ask and I can offer some suggestions.

      This is NOT to say your comments aren’t welcome here! I just think for as much as you put into them, you might as well start your own blog.

  4. I must say that I find it mildly amusing that the longest response so far is from a woman when the topic is aimed at men – not slight intended, just noting the fact that I find it humorous. She makes good points, as well.

    I am a lonely man in the church(es) I attend. I do not accept status quo thinking. I’m not into athletics or juvenile entertainment, or the typical alpha male garbage a lot of churches want to pawn off as “fellowship opportunities.” Give me a break!

    I have a close friend back in Virginia who, whenever we can get together, can pick up a conversational thread from years ago and still find meat to chew on there. Out here? No real relationships like that have formed yet, though a few are promising. Online fellowship? Nice – but limited in scope and practicality.

    My family here is myself and my wife. Could I get out and get together more? I have some availability, sure – but as much as I need male companionship right now (and the only way to have a friend is to be one, I’m well aware), what I need even more is a mentor. A role model. Someone who isn’t coming off like a jock with a bible tucked under their arm, or someone who wants to use any of “The Hangover” movies as great teaching moments.

    My biggest fear in the situation is that of becoming, at first, more isolated and later, if that is not addressed? Misanthropic – not a pleasant thing to contemplate.

    • Rick,

      I’m not into sports, though I follow enough to be able to hold a conversation about them without looking like a weirdo. I don’t really watch broadcast or cable TV, just a few shows now and then on Netflix streaming, and then not often. I work from home in a white collar job as a writer/editor, which is not what many men do. I don’t like to hunt or fish (which are both huge where I live). I like to read on esoteric subjects. I play board games, but not video games. I enjoy birdwatching. I used to be in into tech stuff but not so much anymore simply because I can’t afford all the gizmoes, and I’m not sure how anyone else can either. I’m not into cars or mechanical things. The conversations of most “men” bore me to tears because they are so banal, but I’ll participate because the social aspect on conversation is important. I like talking about science and “what if?” scenarios.

      At my church, I am always the odd man out when it comes to my interests, and those things I like to do are viewed as a little off by others. And while I would be lying if I said I don’t get a little ego boost when someone says, “Go ask Dan; he would know,” it still is distancing. Oh well.

      • It is comforting to know I’m not alone – you and I would probably be able to sit and shoot the breeze for a few hours (ok, days) without hitting the “Wonder what the weather’s going to do next?” wall.

        Because I’m a musician on the praise team at two churches, I’m highly visible, and folks like to chat with musicians, I can get into conversations pretty easily with a lot of folks, but they are almost all surface if not above the surface, never making real contact.

        Gotta run, but know I’m a regular here 🙂

  5. William Floyd

    Great post. It reminds me of another reason for the loneliness, a piece written by Tozer on the loneliness of the Christian.

  6. Mr. Poet

    Meet men half way, Dan. For example, what if you got involved with fantasy Calvinball? Or learn hyperdrive mechanics!

    • David,

      Sometimes that’s the case, but I don’t think it is the case most of the time. I think that many Christian men feel cowed by the “family time” and “perfect husband/father” thing preached at them so often. They don’t feel free to look outside their families for any relationships, especially with other men.

    • Michael Nevin

      If a man is honest enough to say he is lonely the worst thing one can do is blame him for his loneliness; as if all men who are not lonely are sharing their sins, fears, and failures constantly. I’ve got a big mouth and wear my heart on my sleeve. This has not served me well. I come to church broken from the week, and who wants to talk with that “hot mess”? Who wants to be dragged down by reality what with the up-tempo music, their extra-foamed Latte, and positive message? Sunday seems to have become the day to ignore the struggler, unless you want to invite them on the next men’s retreat.

      The observation by the author is spot on. My experience has been that if you want to hang out with [American] men you’ve got to have the toys and the knowledge that comes with those toys, which means you have to be able to spend both money and time on them. Want to go on the men’s fishing trip, you need a certain type of rod and tackle and a license and waders and . . . ; backpacking requires stamina and the right gear; cycling is not done on a Walmart bike (and it won’t be done at a leisurely pace either). Oh, and by the way, the men’s retreat boast and mountain bike ride, which starts with an insanely graded hill (most guys get dropped)and an unofficial trip to a local bar (if you are part of the in-crowd).

      We are isolated because our culture isolates us – cubicles, backyards, and vehicles are lonely places; we focus on the objects of our leisure time (which is dwindling in this country) such as cellphones and laptops. WE ARE expected to be more involved in our kids’ lives, and provide more materially for them,than our fathers were involved in ours or did for us.

      Perhaps we need to look outside the middle class Evangelical culture for companionship.I’ve been out of the country twice and noticed that men have many more opportunities to hang out with other men in public with little less than a few bucks and a backgammon board. I also notice that as America is changing culturally some of this out of the country culture is being imported. It has worked for my father who has found himself embraced by a different (non-Christian) culture who has invited him to their weddings, birthdays, and funerals.

      Then again, perhaps those of us who don’t fit the mold might just have to create our own.

      • Thanks for stopping by, Michael!

        Ironically, I get more fellowship lately out of the board game group I’m a part of than my church. In other words, “a few bucks and a backgammon board,” though we play something other than backgammon. 😉

        And yes, I’m beginning to see that the Church is provided less fellowship and the non-Church is providing more. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

  7. Mark Miller

    Am totally down with this article. I try to explain to my wife all of this, that a man gets married, loses all his friends, and she still has dozens swirling around. She seems to think the family interaction should fulfill all my needs.
    I try to tell her I am LONELY. Sigh. I have one good friend but we are distant now though I call frequently. He’s getting up there in years. I have no friends anymore that are my age. I tell my kids that there are friends, and acquaintances. Friends are the ones who actually show up when you are moving. Acquantances will just be busy. When you move, you find out who your friends are.

    • Mr. Poet

      It’s a little different in my experience between friends and acquaintances. An acquaintance is someone who only calls when he needs someone to help him move…or if he wants to get you involved in his multilevel marketing scheme…or if he needs help fixing his computer. A friend is someone who calls to get together to have fun once in a while. In that sense, I don’t have any friends. No one calls just to get together to hang out. It’s always because the caller needs help.

  8. Joe

    I have given up on church fellowship altogether because the “programs” of the church minister only to women and children. Christian men have no space to call their own. I have been so lonely for so many years. My wife and dog are the only ones in my circle. And no one cares. If you try to reach out, you will be ignored and rejected by so called “church people”. I think feminism is to blame for this. A man’s role is merely to serve women and children and not have his own needs met, according to the feminized churches

    • Joe,

      I think it is hard for any man over the age of 40 to maintain and nourish friendships. I think society is bent on men sacrificing everything to ensure their families prosper. There is self-sacrifice, and then there is self-annihilation, and the two are not the same, though society often thinks so. Sadly, the Church here tends to buy into that self-annihilation mentality too. Perhaps you can even make a case that the Church is the worst offender. Evangelicalism asks too much of men sometimes, plus it misuses the Bible to reinforce demands. Sadly, there really is not much grace there.

      What is the answer? If men in your church won’t be pals, then go outside it and find friends wherever they might be. Yes, avoid bad company, but also realize that most people are not going to lead you down paths of evil. If you have a hobby, then be involved with others who share that hobby. If there are Christians who share that hobby, then great. If not, then be a witness in that group. If you can find Christian fellowship with other men, then great, but there is only so much you can do. Throw the burden back on God for that need, and if fellow Christians give you grief for not associating strictly with believers, ask where they were when you were looking. Don’t tolerate hypocrites; there are too many out there. Call them on their lacks!

    • Michael Nevin

      As one of my female friends put it, women in the church benefit from the traditional family emphasis of the church and the feminist movement – a husband then is supposed to fulfill both the traditional and the contemporary role to the satisfaction of his wife.

  9. Randa

    You know, my mom who’s a widow and partially relying on me to help raise my younger brother has realized that Boy Scouts is a great place for him to find good, Christian (or at least men of character) male role models. I was pleasantly surprised how much these men sacrifice and support the development of the young boys’, and how they really love doing their job, too. While my mom gets to take the weekend or even the week off of running after him all the time, these men commit themselves to taking the burden and being a good example for him that same week. I find it admirable. Especially out in nature they can grow closer to God as well, and have a break from this media-driven society. 😀

    Perhaps many of these fathers, especially if they’re stay-at-home-dads, could find communion with these other men in helping the young Church grow.

  10. Tim Truesdale

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for sharing your blog post on Lonely Christian Men.

    I experienced the Promise Keepers Movement in the 90’s, and then the John Eldredge Wild at Heart teaching in the 2000’s.

    Both had their strengths, and for me, both added significant language and expectation to my journey.

    As I was journaling on this issue last week, I too recognized that a local, organic Movement may be part of the “next wave”.

    One of the questions I am wrestling with it this–is there a place where this discussion is currently occurring that is accessible and formed, or at least forming.

    I like a lot of what is happening at http://goodmenproject.com/. I really like their motto “The Conversation No One Else is Having”.

    I am wondering if there are other similar “Forums”, or if this is the only one in this space? Any feedback from you or your readers?

  11. Scott

    Dan,

    I appreciate your thoughts on this subject as I have long struggled with the idea and experience of male friendship. I keep asking myself if there’s something wrong with me. As I continue to pursue relationships that matter I am encouraged knowing that my every need is taken care of by our Father in heaven, including my need for meaningful brotherly relationships. Thank you Dan.

  12. Brian

    I’ve been reading over a few of these posts on Single Men in the Church from the perspective of a 34-year old Single Catholic Man (most blog writers on Single Catholics are women, so I actually lurk or comment on a number of Evangelical/Protestant Men sites, since I’d say we face 98% or so of the same issues). Here’s actually one topic, though, where I have something to throw into the ring from my perspective: although I’m facing the same loneliness on the dating/singles front as everyone else posting here, on the Men’s front, I’ve got my involvement in the Knights of Columbus with other men (both single and married) to make up for my own lack of close friendships outside of the church.

    Of course, the Roman Catholic Church being supranational helps support groups like the KofC, the Legion of Mary, and the St. Vincent dePaul Society for men, but there’s no reason why other Christian churches — whether individual churches or larger denominations — can’t put together similar fraternal & charitable men’s Christian groups on a smaller local scale based on their own interpretation of scripture: the ceremonials would be different, but the general thrust of things like pro-life work, doing repair projects around the church building, distributing food to the needy, and getting together for beers and a playoff game seem pretty ecumenical to me.

    I can’t vouch for your churches’ perspective, but I know that such groups are well-respected here. Although I get the sense that, while Catholicism still has no clue on teaching single men how to approach single women, it sounds like we do a bit more of teaching masculine virtue (not to the level that our Eastern Orthodox brethren — the manliest of Christians — famously do, but I think that part of the cultus of the martyr & the saints in the RCC has maintained some elements of that, at least in a quiet sense), so such elements are not untenable to Modern Christianity.

    P.S. Very nice work all around — even if some of the elements being discussed are foreign to me as a member of a different sort of church, I really like the writing (and comments) here!

  13. Joe

    Brian, you point is right on. The RCC has Knights of Columbus and St. Vincent dePaul Society. Men need a band of brothers. Protestant communions seem not to realize that or care. I’m sorry to say this, but most churches seem to be social clubs for women and children. They tend to be personality-driven, do not uphold or teach virtual and self-sacrifice, extrovert-oriented, and driven by popularity. These environments do based on character or virtue. The main reason why many men do not attend church – they have become feminized social clubs

    • Joe,

      Every Protestant Church I’ve been a part of has had a men’s ministry, and often more than one. The RCC has no advantage here. Zero.

      I think the problem for Protestant men is one of time of meeting (often crazy early in the morning or at 6 p.m., when half of men are just leaving work) OR the fact that men are less likely to hang with other men who do not share their interests (where women are less likely to suffer from this). Heaven knows I don’t want to hang around with a bunch of car/sports/hunting nuts, which seems to be the three kinds of group devolutions that most church men’s groups fall into.

  14. Bpk

    A couple of thoughts, (me being defensive)

    I am too exhausted to feel lonely. I don’t have many friends outside of work.

    I think work has overtaken this country. Gone are golf leagues, softball, and bowling. People don’t have time for this. Hard work is required to survive these days. Traveling for work, late nights, and working from home just to try to keep a wage that is not keeping up with inflation.

    I have little children who need me to be a father. That time I have with them is valuable. I need to support my wife, and I need to support my church.

    I feel as if adding in ‘guy time’ is selfish and does not help me or my family. I understand this is wrong. But at the same time, I don’t know how to relax anymore. There is little time for that either.

    I agree its not right, but it feels like reality. I just ask that God take my burden, and change my heart every day. I know He is the answer.

    • Bpk,

      Our lives are ridiculous. The way we live is NOT sustainable if we expect any normality in our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives. People MUST start fighting back against our societal and cultural norms. In addition, we must see the “dones” category of Church leavers as people who were pushed to the edge by the same frenzy and lack of grace that bedevils our entire society.

  15. Jason

    You, know…I’ll disagree about the Roman Catholic Church “no advantage” over the protestant churches. They do have advantages.

    The Knights of Columbus has usually a specific building for meetings. In the Roman Catholic tradition, they also have celibacy shown to them by the priest (and I am talking about the ones who TRULY live that life, and given their whole earthly body to Christ in that fashion). In my city, the Knights of Columbus charter three Boy Scout Troops. There is TIME to have meals, fellowship, learn from each other. The Knights of Columbus is also open for men to get together. There always seems to be something going on there.

    Go to any mid-sized city or larger in the USA, and there will be a Knights of Columbus.

    This place gives Catholic men a place to talk about problems in their church, or community……and this ministry isn’t “dominated” or “owned” by the local parish priest.

    “mens minsitry” in just about all the protestant churches I have been in (including mine)is this:

    -A Bible study telling us what we’re not doing enough of.
    -An outing of sorts here and there involving very married-life things, or a ‘football game’ (because in American-Protestant-Christianity today, if you are a guy who doesn’t love football as much as sex….you might as well be wearing a dress…….)

    Also, the pastor of the church tends to “dominate” or run the mens’ ministry with an iron-fist…….gently “suggesting” to the men what they should do, or should not be doing.

    Protestant ministers tend to think they are CEO’s first, and a pastor second when it comes to working with their men.

    Just one man’s opinion. That’s all. 🙂

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