If you are an Australian man aged 15-44 years, you are more likely (by far) to die from suicide than any other cause says mental health support organisation Beyond Blue.
It’s a concerning statistic – as is the fact that 80 per cent of all suicides in Australia are committed by men, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Men are also twice as likely to have a substance-abuse disorder, and will be the absent parent in 81 per cent of homes where children live in single-parent households.
This is an unsettling picture of Australian men – a portrait of disconnection and despair that is true not of all men, but certainly for many more men than most of us would be aware. And as we turn to the church, the concern continues in a less dramatic but nonetheless noticeable way.
“Men are less likely to own a Bible, and less likely to be at church on a Sunday.”
For a start, men are less likely to own a Bible, and less likely to be at church on a Sunday. The National Church Life Survey (NCLS) discovered, “In every denomination, in every age grouping, women outnumber men.” In broader church life, many leaders would report a noticeable gender imbalance when it comes not only to church attendance, but also involvement in Bible studies, participation in serving roles, the discipleship of children, and even the practices of daily Bible reading and prayer. Of course, this isn’t to say that men aren’t doing these things – but generally speaking, women are over-represented.
There are many possible reasons for this imbalance, but I would like to offer one of my own – a distinct lack of role models for younger Christian men.
At last year’s BASECAMP men’s conference, the highlight for many was the interview with Joe Mullins. Escaping death three times during World War II, Joe is now 94 years old and still serving the Lord Jesus with great enthusiasm. Where many men have slowed down and now spend their days cruising and caravanning, Joe is a tremendous example of what it looks like to keep your spiritual fervour. His example was a huge encouragement to younger men to see what it looks like to keep running hard:
“It was good to hear stories of real men persevering in their Christian lives. We all benefited from the short testimony of Joe Mullins – the 95-year-old man. It was good to hear that there is no silver bullet for persevering in the Christian life but simply living in hope, reading God’s Word and obeying him.”
“If you are a Christian man, let me ask you the question – whose life do you observe and think “I want to be like him when I’m 70?” How many men come to mind?”
Younger Christian men need role models like Joe Mullins. Christian biographer Eric Metaxas made this observation in his book 7 Men:
“I’ve come to the conclusion that, in our culture, we’ve skimped on providing role models – for young people especially – and I’m convinced that this is tremendously important. We learn by observing the lives of others, whether the people around us, or figures we observe in the media, or figures we read about. We need to see the lives of real human beings lived out in ways that help us figure out how to live out our own lives.”
Role models are a gift from God to teach us how to persevere in suffering, what a lifelong marriage commitment looks like, how to make wise decisions, how to repent of sin and every other facet of living a holy life.
And yet, living role models (as opposed to those from history) are surprisingly hard to find. This year I’ve searched far and wide for other men like Joe Mullins to share their testimony at BASECAMP. What’s required isn’t an incredible story from the front lines of Burma – it’s a story of joyful service and faithfulness, of men who haven’t taken their foot of the pedal when they reach “retirement age”.
I have asked many pastors and ministers to suggest some names. I have been far from overwhelmed with men to follow up. Most ministers struggled to think of a single man. Let me be clear – I am in no way suggesting that we conclude that godly older men simply don’t exist. But if you are a Christian man, let me ask you the question – whose life do you observe and think “I want to be like him when I’m 70?” How many men come to mind?
I fear that in writing this I will appear harsh and condemning – this certainly wasn’t my objective. As a younger Christian man, my desire was to share what many of my peers have observed, and end with two exhortations for older Christian men:
1. Keep running hard.
There are many challenges as you get older – not least of all the pain of our broken bodies that are “wasting away”. Even so, please keep living with a sense of urgency – please live every moment in the knowledge that Jesus is coming back soon! Please don’t “retire, cruise on your 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells”! Please run, don’t crawl, across the finish line.
2. Get alongside us.
I know I am speaking for many younger Christian men when I say “We want you in our lives!” Your many years are a gift from God – not only to you, but to us as well! We want your wisdom, your encouragement, your example, your prayer. Will you run this race with us?
And whether you are younger or older, I’d love to see you at BASECAMP next month – join men of all ages and denominations to hear from God and renew your strength.
BASECAMP - a men's ministry of Katoomba Christian Convention
Australian Technology Park, Redfern NSW