Men leave the church when there is not a place for them to serve. This, according to Patrick Morley, author of The Man in the Mirror, considered one of the 20th century’s 100 most influential Christian books.
The second reason is if the church has a performance-oriented environment. This does not need to be spoken. It is a vibe that the church gives off about what it would look like to be a man in this church.
This, says Morley, was what happened to his father: “Youngest of four children, my dad was abandoned by his father at age two. He had two jobs at age six. He got up every morning at 3 am with his older brother to work.
“My dad never felt the scratch of his father’s whiskers, heard his father’s voice reading to him a bedtime story, smelled his father’s work clothes, never had his hair tousled, never tossed or kicked the ball at the backyard or heard a car or truck door slammed at the end of the day signalling that his father is about to re-enter the family’s orbit. So he was left to guess how to be a father to me, and a husband to my mom.
“He took us to church. But the church we went to weren’t ready for us. They had no vision on how to disciple him to be a godly man, husband and father. They just saw my dad as a worker bee so they put him to work. By the time my dad was 40, he was the church’s top layman. He got burnt out and we left the church and he never went back again. Though he died professing faith in Christ, he was very bitter with the church because all they did was to take from him; they never helped him for the real reason why he had come.
“When we left the church, I was in 10th grade. In the middle of my senior year, I quit high school. My next brother also quit school, and eventually died of a heroin overdose. Another brother never had a job for more than six months until he became a Christian at 50, and my youngest brother is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, a divorcee and a hermit. My dad just never saw it coming. If he could have seen it round the bend, he would have made a different decision. If he were here today, he would have said, ‘Well, I am partly responsible for what had happened to my family.’
“But I believe that the church is partially responsible for what happened to my family. This is the ‘negative’ reason why men are leaving church; it is just another place they have to perform instead of having their hearts transformed.”
Thankfully, Morley himself had a very different experience. “I became part of a church where they would ask why somebody walked through the front door, ‘Is there a problem he’s trying to solve?’ Unlike my dad, I had a church that was ready for me.”
Morley became a Christian early in his first career in real estate development. His life philosophy was simple: Money will solve all your problems. So, be successful and be happy.
By age 35, his company was one of Florida’s 100 largest private development companies. Yet he felt miserable. For more than two years he wondered at his own lack of peace, joy and love. Reading Matthew 13:22 one day, he realised he was like the seed that fell on thorns. He was reading the Bible everyday but the worries of life and the deceitfulness of money had choked out the Word. He eventually surrendered his life to God in a fresh way. His purpose ever since has been to live the rest of his earthly life for the will of God.
In 1986, at 37 he started Bible study, talking to guys about how the Bible related to everyday problems. He found that he resonated with the men and he was himself growing. In that time, his business was struggling.
Morley sees men express their problems in 7 general categories:
1. I am in this alone. I don’t have any friends.
2. I don’t feel like God cares about me personally.
3. I don’t feel like my life has a purpose. It feels random.
4. I have this destructive behaviour that keeps dragging me back down.
5. My soul feels dry.
6. My most important relationships are not happy.
7. I don’t really feel like I am doing anything that will make a difference and lead to a better place
Morley shared what troubles men most: “If you put all of the marriage problems in one stack, and all of the other problems with which men struggle in another stack, the marriage problems alone will be higher than the other problems combined. Easily, the number one problem men face is that marriage is not working the way that they would like and that God intends. I can say categorically it’s true in the US. I don’t have enough research yet to say that about Asia.
“In 1989, I sensed a call to write a book based on my Bible studies. I remember thinking, ‘Lord, that’s the dumbest idea You have ever had.’ First. I was not an author. Second. I was in business and didn’t have time to write. But that thought kept coming to me. Finally, after six months, I felt l would be disobedient not to at least give it a shot. I thought at that time that maybe the Lord just wanted me to do this to help me sort out my own thoughts. But the publisher heard about it, was excited to see if a book for men would work in the marketplace and published it. Thirty years later, I am still teaching it.
“In 1991, I left the real estate career and started Man in the Mirror, an organisation that now works with 35,000 churches to help them to impact 12 million men. Our aim is to help churches be more effective in reaching and discipling men.
Does Morley as a pioneer in men’s ministry feel the pressure to be the perfect husband, father and bro? Quoting Abraham Lincoln ”I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me”, Morley answered, “From the very beginning, I have openly confessed all of my vulnerabilities. That’s probably is the hallmark of my ministry that most men are attracted to − that I tell them about all my fallibility. That’s what gives them a sense that they can trust me. I am not a perfect husband, father or anything and I openly confess it. I just need to be transparent about this and not pretend to be something that I am not. So I am not really pressured.”
Asked what part of his ministry was most disappointing and which the most satisfying, Morley said, “I wouldn’t call it disappointing but the most unpredictable part of my career has been: Who’s going to do what they said they’re going to do? Do people follow through promises they have made in tears? I have discovered that when somebody makes a promise, you just have to wait and see. I am not looking to human beings to produce what they said they would do but I am looking to the Lord.
“Seeing the men getting it really satisfies me — a man struggling with his marriage, career, finance, and his children really understanding the gospel of Jesus, God’s grace and receiving His forgiveness, the gift that He offers of life eternal and then becoming a disciple; putting down roots to really grow in faith by reading His Word on a regular basis — I have never met a man whose life has been changed in any significant way without personally doing that. Secondly, to be involved in life-on-life with a group of guys to get to know each other; thirdly, active church involvement is so important not just for him but for his family. There is no such thing as a lone-ranger Christian.
“I love meeting with men one-on-one, really getting to know what’s on their heart I have been doing this since I became a Christian in the early 70s. So I’ve been doing this for 44 years. I have literally met thousands of men one-on-one, two to three guys a week.” One he met for 32 years until the man’s death.
On discipling millennial men, Morley said, “We have not found a millennial who says ‘no’ when asked by a more mature person if they would like to have a mentor; millennials want to be engaged with the people who can show them the ropes. Second, a lot of people think that millennials are these alien creatures but they are simply our own children. How do we reach our own children? Thirdly, a lot of millennials are really getting it right. They have a robust Christian faith, are on fire for Christ, so let’s not disrespect them. Of course, let’s not disrespect the older Christians too, who are getting it right.
“That said, we are not going to reach the millennials, using ‘an old wineskin.’ The new way of discipling millennials — they really want to have authentic relationships, to be personal. The idea is to exhort more mature Christians to rise up. I gave a talk, ‘How one cup of coffee can change the world.’ The whole idea is ‘Could we have a cup of coffee? Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do? Are you married yet? With kids?’ And then what I would call the golden question which I have asked thousands of men− tell me where you are in your spiritual journey. And in all these 40-plus years, I only had one person not wanting to answer the question. Everybody (else) wants to talk about it because they know about their spiritual journey and most are trying to sort it out.
“We have the millennial problem because people are not investing in the millennials one-on-one. It is a bigger problem that covers all age groups — of disciples not making disciples. It’s an oxymoron but what we are seeing for one generation, or at least for two in the States, is that the church has become focused on trying to please the people to come to church, feeding them with all the great spiritual teaching, worship experience−sometimes you hear the idea of ‘consumer’ church… Someone has said, ‘The church has many critics but no rivals.’ So the church is the place to be but what’s happening is that all these people have become spiritually obese−spiritual overeaters. The average American Christian doesn’t need more food; he needs more exercise. I am getting the idea that this is pretty much worldwide.
“The greatest privilege to which someone can aspire is to be a disciple of Jesus; the greatest mission,
to be a disciple-making disciple. Once you start getting filled up in your relationship with Jesus, you need to disciple others. We have given people the vision, training and tools to then turn around and disciple others, among whom are millennials.”
Patrick Morley is always looking around to impact the next man. He lives in Winter Park, a suburb of Orlando, Florida.
(The interview was featured in the Apr-May 2017 issue of IMPACT Magazine.)