I had the pleasure of attending the annual men’s conference: The Company – a gathering of men, at Cityhope Church, Ripley, Queensland, Australia on the weekend. The event was hosted by Cityhope Senior Minister: Mark Edwards.
I’m sorry Mark but I must be frank mate, after enduring Beyonce on the overheads over breakfast last year and watching a lady frolicking around on stage in a leotard, surrounded by smoke machines, I was a little apprehensive – but I knew there would be bacon, and coffee. I also knew that Jim Wallace, a straightforward, plain talking Aussie patriot and current head honcho of the Australian Christian Lobby was going to be one of the speakers, which I was greatly anticipating. Fortunately this year there was no Beyonce, and I found the overall experience was well worth the price of admission.
I won’t say the breakfast was my favourite part, but I love bacon. It’s hard to ruin my spirits after a good bacon egg burger, or two, or three. The breakfast really was great. The ladies were generous with the helpings and it was well put together and very well organised. The line was long but moved very quickly and the food was hot.
It was great to see such a diverse group of men hanging around also. My mate remarked that it was ‘a good sign when there are no obvious biases’ with regards to the age groups, and other cultural and economic factors amongst the group. I had to agree at least in this case. The point was there were lots of blokes there. It wasn’t a metro fest, nor was it a sea of curmudgeonly brown tweed.
The main foyer was laid out with an array of somewhat typical male tropes and display’s including a nice looking Harley Davidson, a gaming console and a dart board. But the highlight of the sideshow entertainment had to be the blacksmithing demonstration. A man looking the part, bandied around bare handed with a hammer and an anvil; toying around with sticks of red hot iron over a flaming pile of hot coals. It didn’t just look like a ton of fun, but looked badass too. While I might never turn my hand at a blacksmithing project myself, I have no illusions as to the value and the attraction that many men have to good hard labour, and beating a hot iron rod is about as classically manly as it gets.
As the first session kicked off we were ushered into the main auditorium and greeted with the extremely loud, typical modern worship music which has come to define modern Christianity and what it means to ‘worship’ the Lord.
It was fine. It was as good as any other Sunday, but that’s what bothered me. It really wasn’t unique in any obvious way from what you would expect in an ordinary worship session, and I found myself asking ‘Am I at a men’s conference, or just a conference with a lot of men?’.
Shane Willard was the opening speaker, and his message was a good one, if a little overdone. The thrust of his first message was ‘make good choices’, or as he put it, ‘don’t sell your ‘birthright’ for a bowl of bean soup’. However, in the context of Shane’s message your ‘birthright’ was a metaphor for good choices, and not an actual birthright; and the ‘bowl’ was a metaphor for, sin basically, rather than a literal bowl of bean soup which is what Esau traded for his literal birthright. One great point that really struck out at me was his quip about our tendency to obsess over the single faceless coward (which is apparently me in this case…). As a blogger I can relate to this point well. It’s one thing to have opinions, and it’s easy to be right when no one can hear you. It’s only when you put yourself out there that you’re really tested.
My blog is in it’s infancy, so I don’t have very many comments yet. Which means that ones like the one to the left do not get lost in an ocean of praise and adoration.
Anyway, haters gonna hate (yep, I did it).
Shane’s follow up was to bolster the point about making the right choices with having the right attitude which in his example was an attitude of sacrifice rather than duty. It was a little unclear what he meant by his use of the terms ‘sacrifice’ and ‘duty’ if they were again metaphorical, or somewhat more plain meaning. But even if they were meant to be taken literally it was still a little ambiguous how this looked in practise. He brought the whole message back to men’s choices, and choosing to do the right thing, often the hard thing. This is really on point. Shane mentioned at their core men of all stripes want one thing (I might suggest men want ‘at least one thing’) which is to be known as good decision makers, which I do agree with, but then I wonder, who doesn’t? Even so Shane’s message really touched on a fundamental component of biblical manhood, which is the call to live a life of righteousness. It was a satisfying message and a reminder that it is so much easier to eat a bowl of bean soup (and heckle from a distance) than to strive, day in and day out, for excellence; to make your bed on the oil stone.
By far the most memorable part of the whole conference was the armchair session during which Jim recounted the men with his harrowing experience at the hand of Islamic kidnappers.
Before I knew that Jim was a retired SAS officer, he had already earned my respect as a fearless and outspoken advocate of Christianity and its forgotten values… like inalienable human dignity, the right to life, or the right of a child to be raised by its biological parents. I’ve seen Jim on at least one occasion jump into the ring on national television with supposedly professional telecasters and endure with total grace the kind of treatment one might expect from a tabloid journalist. Such is the cost of standing up for the truth, and the Word of God.
Nothing prepared me however, for hearing the words out of his mouth, ‘we were forced to sit there, while overhearing a conversation in the next room between men who were discussing whether or not to execute us’. The man sat with such a humor in his voice, and the humility to downplay an incident like that, as if it is not up there among the most terrifying experiences a human can endure. Despite the nonchalance with which he spoke, it was riveting. This is also not to downplay other great aspects of the conversation, such as his boldness and forthrightness about his faith in the military, and his reputation for being a man of principles.
Jim is a real Aussie bloke. Having him speak was a breath of fresh air. Not just for reminding me to ask the question, ‘where are all the Aussies?’, but his message was straightforward and unapologetic. Christian men need more courage. Christianity is on its knees, bowing the powers of the left, and men are just sitting around in church or at men’s conferences gorging on bacon and eggs and playing into the hapless modern male stereotype. It’s time for men to start being more vocal about what they believe. There is a silent majority within the church, and around Australia that is sitting back and letting a few brave warriors do all the work for them. Margaret Court is showing Christian men how to be men.
Jim didn’t have quite the presence, and commanding oratory experience that Shane had, but he didn’t mince his words. He spoke plainly and gave a much needed message.
And that is that it’s time to step up.
Overall the gathering did a great job of touching on the lighthearted side of modern manhood with an air of the modern man. The general theme was one of a vaguely defined male stereotype with references to obvious masculine virtues such as courage, integrity and the like. But what these conferences demonstrate, to me at least, is that there is a considerable lack of discussion in the modern church about what manhood really means for the Christian. Are we just Christians of the male gender who like to play games and eat bacon? Does Christianity expect little more of manhood (as distinct from good Christian living in general) besides its reproductive success?
Does manhood have no relevance in the modern Church except as a target for self deprecating cliche’s like being illiterate gamers and buffoons? This is just a tragedy.
This is not so much a criticism of the conference. I had a great time, and I think that in a general way they seem to be touching on what men want. If the attendance was a measure of success, then I’d say it was a hit. But the expectation for men in the church to simply be good Christians, and not good manly men, is exactly what a men’s conference should be seeking to crush. If these events are ever going to be more than simply a time slot in the modern Christian man’s calendar, and instead be something that changes them, fills their hearts full of thumos, and rouses them into righteous action, then I think it’s time to put the harmful stereotypes to the wayside and start expecting more from the men of the Church.
Exactly how to go about doing this, is a challenge still to be met, but I don’t think it will be done by reducing manly virtues into abstract concepts and buzzwords.
I started this blog because I saw a need in the church. I found myself wandering out of other conferences and men’s events in the past thinking to myself ‘I can do better, I need to do better’.
I did the same thing on Saturday afternoon, only this time it felt more like a challenge than a conviction.
See you next year Cityhope.