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Men’s ministry is biblical mandate, Luter tells church leaders

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Men didn’t want to go to Fred Luter’s church, so he invited them to watch a boxing match. It worked.

When Luter became pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans in 1987, he knew it would be difficult to get men involved in the African-American congregation.

“We had very few men active in the church, and most of them were old,” Luter said. “More than 95 percent of the membership was women and children.”

Luter recounted his story as he led a conference on “Reaching Men” during Black Church Leadership Week at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center. The week was co-sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board, GuideStone Financial Resources (formerly the SBC Annuity Board) and Woman’s Missionary Union. About 1,300 people attended the Aug. 2-6 sessions.

For two years, Luter tried different methods to reach out to the husbands, fathers and sons of the women in the church, hoping to get them to come. Nothing worked.

“Finally, I started looking at what the men liked to do,” he said. “I saw that sports was a big attraction. I talked to my wife and decided to order a pay-per-view boxing match, then invite the men to come to our home to watch the fight on television.”

He invited the men and they came. “My wife had made a lot of food so we were ready. Then, here the men came, carrying their six-packs and wine coolers.”

Luter had placed a large trashcan outside his front door and asked the men to deposit all their alcohol there before entering his home. They left the booze outside and came in anyway, he said.

That night, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns were bigger draws than God. “I had 35 men in my home that night,” Luter said, “when I couldn’t get five to come to the church. But what else could I expect? These guys were sinners … and they were good at it!”

Out of that group, five men were at church the next Sunday. But those were five who’d never been before. When Luter introduced them, the women applauded. They were excited and the men were proud. The next week the men came back and brought friends with them.

Today, about 30 percent of Luter’s congregation is men.

“We started out with a wish and a prayer,” Luter said. “But while it is a struggle to get men, it’s even a bigger struggle to keep them committed.”

Luter’s commitment to men’s ministry isn’t just so he’ll have male company in the church.

“I’m convinced that God’s design and desire from the very beginning was for men to lead,” he said. “In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam work — a job and responsibility — before he ever gave him a wife.”

The struggle now, Luter said, is how to encourage the men who have come to church to go back and be leaders of their homes and families.

He told the story of a man who, for years, had sent his family to church while he stayed home. “He’d stay home, watch the game and drink his beer,” he said.

“One day, the man’s 12-year-old son announced he wasn’t going to church anymore. When his dad told him that, yes, he was too going with his mother, the son told him, ‘No, I’m going to go to hell with you.'”

Luter said the man got up, got dressed and went to church with his family and has been a faithful member ever since.

“Your sons and daughters will never be what they haven’t seen,” Luter said.

Luter said it’s crucial to show men respect.

Robert Coverson, pastor of Second Chapel Hill Baptist Church in Detroit, who attended the conference, agreed: “Women follow us because they like us. Men follow us because they respect us.”

Respect is one character trait Luter said he always shows the men in his church. “They have to see that before they will listen to you.”

Aaron Hilliard, a member of Luter’s church who is involved in the men’s ministry, said Luter’s character drew him into the church. “With him, it’s about the Master, not about the pastor. That kind of humility is great.”

Next year’s Black Church Leadership Week will be July 18-22 at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center near Santa Fe, N.M.

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  • Polly House