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Conference helps churches connect with black men

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Christ, not culture, models how black men can best lead their families, churches and communities, speakers said during the annual “Be the Man” conference.

“When we look at Jesus Christ as our model, we have the model — not a model — as to what it is to be a man,” said Fredrick Brabson, pastor of New Covenant Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.

The conference seeks to provide resources for churches while countering the negative stereotypes that keep many men from attending church, described by two speakers as “60 percent women and 40 percent men acting like women.”

“You’re trying to reach the first generation of African American men that have never been touched by the church,” Edward Johnson, pastor of Greater Galilee Church in Louisville, Ky., said, adding that many older, unchurched men previously attended church. “Did you ever think about asking them why they left?”

Johnson and other speakers said many men avoid church because of stereotypes and a congregational culture that is more suitable for women.

“Jesus is seen in ‘the hood’ as an effeminate cartoon caricature and the possession of the majority culture,” Johnson said.

Kevin Smith, pastor of Watson Memorial Baptist Church in Louisville, urged churches to reach and disciple young men.

“We have got to gain [understanding] that the church is hurt when men are not where men ought to be,” Smith said.

A study of Old Testament characters would help church leaders better portray a biblical view of manhood that is more attractive to most men, Smith said.

“One of the things that the culture throws at you is manhood submitted to Jesus Christ is weak,” Smith said. “And anyone who’s read the Old Testament and seen David or Joshua or Moses … you realize that biblical manhood is anything but weak.”

Culture confuses submission and weakness, Smith said.

“U.S. military leaders who submit to the authority of President Barack Obama don’t lose their power,” he said. “It’s just an acknowledgement of the system.”

More than 450 men from nine states attended the conference May 8-9 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina, which began in 2003 as a joint initiative of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and the North Carolina Baptist Convention.

Attendance grew significantly compared to last year, when about 300 people attended, said J. Edward Richardson, senior coaching consultant for the North Carolina Baptist Convention.

The conference featured lively worship, resources and regular reminders that God has called Christian men to be spiritual leaders in all aspects of life.

“For us, the main goal is to help men become better men of God so that they can take the lead in their homes, to be better churchmen, leaders in their church, leaders in their community, to set the example of Christ and reach out to other men,” Richardson said.

The male-only environment allowed attendees the freedom to worship without many distractions, leaders said.

“If you think about it, most men never experience a man-only worship,” Jay Wells, LifeWay’s director of black church relations and consulting, said.

Workshops featured speakers on such topics as how churches can engage today’s masculine culture and ways to build men’s character.

Johnson said churches can reconnect with men by rebuilding bridges to their communities, presenting Jesus as the strong man that He was, providing authentic and culturally relevant worship and providing meaningful mentorship.

“Paul helps Timothy and Titus, Barnabas helps Paul, but who helps the young brother today?” Johnson asked. “The church has to re-engineer and revision herself … to serve this present age. I think what was done yesterday was good yesterday, but I do not believe it’s relevant to the present age.”

Brabson said men should match the character of Jesus in terms of their humility, treatment of women and integrity.

“When we read the life of Christ, we see He was not interested in people’s attention,” Brabson said. “He was interested in people. Is who you are speaking so loud that I can’t hear what you say?”

During the conference, LifeWay launched “I’m the Man,” a theme designed to encourage creative and intentional outreach to men. It includes a set of promotional resources and Bible studies designed to help black churches start or strengthen their men’s ministries.

“We want to start this movement across the country for men to step up and lead,” Wells said.

Wells agreed with several speakers that men often don’t feel comfortable, welcomed or affirmed in many churches that cater to women’s preferences.

“They don’t have the ‘man stuff,'” Wells said. “We want to help churches get that back, rediscover the masculinity part and affirm men in that. We’ve got to get a correction to make men more comfortable.”

Noval Mayes, a member of Greater First Baptist Church in Lewisburg, Tenn., said the Be the Man conference reinforces obedience to God.

“It means that I’m doing everything that a man’s supposed to do as designed by my Lord and Savior,” Mayes said.

Mayes said he rode more than five hours with 21 men from his church because he has been seeking God’s direction for several issues in his life. He said the weekend reinforced his need to focus on God’s activity.

“Mainly what I came out of it understanding was I still need to be patient,” Mayes said.

Next year’s conference is scheduled for May 14-15. More information is available from the North Carolina Baptist Convention or LifeWay Christian Resources.
David Winfrey is a writer based in Louisville, Ky.

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