Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Men and the Church

Special guest blog with Sorted publisher and editor Steve Legg

Being a real bloke in the 21st century is difficult. We suffer with man flu and many of us cried when England were knocked out of Euro 2012. Some men use moisturiser and eat fancy sandwiches with rocket in them. 

My dad knows how to tinker around under a car bonnet and change a wheel on the car. I don’t. I call out the RAC. I’m a disaster at DIY.
But being a Christian bloke is even harder. It seems to me that church these days is mainly geared for a particular type of person. I used to say women, but my wife assures me it's not her cup of tea either. Whoever it's aimed at, men don’t come and that’s a tragedy; because most men don’t want anything to do with the Church.
I think part of the problem is that we run meetings in buildings with embroidered banners and nice flower arrangements. Many men just don’t feel comfortable in that sort of environment with lots of singing, sitting down for ages and listening to long talks in a building that looks like something out of a Laura Ashley showroom. They feel uncomfortable with hugging, holding hands and sitting in circles discussing their feelings in a church context.
We also seem to have turned Jesus into a wimp with a beard. You know the sort of thing: gentle Jesus meek and mild, long flowing hair, blue eyes and wearing a white M&S negligee and sandals. He’d be nice enough to present Songs of Praise alongside Aled Jones, but he wouldn’t turn the world upside-down.
Statistically we’re told that the Church is made up of 70% women and 30% men, with 90% of boys leaving by the time they hit their late teens. I guess church didn’t quite match up to their spirit of adventure and turned out to be less Bruce Willis and more Bruce Forsyth. Men are looking for a challenge; they need the gauntlet to be laid down before them with a strong, motivating message that relates to their everyday life.
Jesus was a man’s man – a powerful, amazing, revolutionary bloke – and the first thing he did when he started his public ministry was to choose a bunch of lads. They weren’t professional, well-spoken good boys; they were a bunch of working class, down-to-earth blokes who constantly put their foot in it. But he chose them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Around 150 years ago, the Industrial Revolution meant many men went off to find work in mills, mines and factories leaving mainly women, older people and children in church, so ministers adapted services to suit the new congregations and church began to change. Add in a bit of Victorian respectability, send the men away again to a couple of World Wars and Bob’s your uncle, but church is no longer a place geared up to meet Bob’s needs!
The wars are over but the men have come back to find a church they don't feel at home in, so they choose to opt out altogether. It’s like going shopping with my wife – I just don’t want to do it.
To get men back and involved, we need to change the way we run church. Men often struggle in a classroom environment so that’s why Jesus didn’t sit them behind desks or hand out study guides. They did stuff together and learned along the way.
Jesus taught Peter how to step out in faith by getting out of a boat and walking on water – not by listening to a CD series, hearing a sermon or watching a documentary on God TV. That should be a valuable lesson for starters.
When it comes to reaching men for Christ, men love doing stuff together – team sports, fishing, pub quizzes, paintballing, DIY projects, curry nights, bowling, clay pigeon shooting and going out for a beer. 

If we build genuine relationships with men through active events we’ll put ourselves in a position to introduce them to a God who never sits still and who is relational to the core.
But I don’t think it’s about trying to create a masculinity that’s more to do with John Rambo than Jesus Christ, because we’re all different and that’s where some churches and men’s groups get it wrong; they forget that although Jesus sat round fires with fishermen, he cried with them too.  
The thing we do have in common is that all men crave warmth, honesty and authenticity. Most are genuinely interested in spirituality, meaning and asking deep questions. They want to know how to become better dads and husbands.
Sorted surveyed hundreds of Christian men and asked them what subjects they’d most like to see tackled in church. Family issues were top, followed by money, anger, sexual purity, addictions, pornography and gambling.
It shows men are looking for answers to important questions, but this doesn’t have to be on a Sunday at 11am in a cold building with a tall steeple. It’s a case of connecting with men where they’re at and showing them that Christianity is worth following, has real answers to tough questions and isn’t just for girls.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Sorted's golden Olympic dream

As deputy editor of Sorted magazine, I have the privilege of reading every article and piece of text before it hits the pages. 

I also get to see it laid out using all the fancy techniques the design team has at its fingertips. Seeing as I’m not really the artistic type, I’m always impressed when the dry text turns into such eye-catching spreads.

So when I got my first glimpse of the printed Olympic edition a few weeks back I shouldn’t have been surprised at its quality; but I have to say that I was.

I may be a little biased, but I genuinely think it is our best issue yet. It’s packed with stunning images and layouts, but also offers something wholesome and informative that just doesn’t seem to be available from other men’s magazines.

But while it makes for a great read, there’s an even more important reason for it to be such a special edition. Sorted has an Olympic dream to distribute 250,000 copies of its special London Games edition across the capital as a fantastic evangelistic opportunity.

“Our goal is to provide a world-class giveaway and flood London with free copies of our special Olympic edition of Sorted,” said the magazine’s publisher and editor, Steve Legg.

“Our dream is to distribute quarter of a million copies through our innovative network of free distribution points: tube and rail stations, Eurostar carriages, Olympic campsites and tourist locations, including open-topped red buses. Plus free copies in the Athlete's Villages during the 2012 Games.

“The reality is, at this moment in time, we can only do 30,000, but we are believing and praying for support and financial provision to reach our original goal.”

This is the biggest edition ever of the magazine, featuring more than 100 pages and including exclusive interviews with Steve Redgrave, Jessica Ennis, Phillips Iduwo, Rebecca Adlington, Tom Daley and Victoria Pendleton.

Steve believes this edition of Sorted will really complement outreach events taking place this summer: “The London Games is a once in a generation opportunity and is too good to miss. Churches have opportunities to get involved with the national Torch Run, plus showing the Games on big screens at their own premises.

Sorted is such a high-quality yet non-threatening giveaway that we are making available at super reasonable price (from just £1.25 a copy). Giving a magazine away is the easiest form of evangelism going, yet could have profound results.”

TV adventurer Bear Grylls, who is a regular contributor to the magazine, said: “This is the best Sorted issue ever. It embraces the courage of Olympians and the sort of faith that can help you run like the wind.”

To order your copies of Sorted or to donate to this Olympic outreach opportunity, visit the Sorted website today.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

We could all learn a lot from the Irish

It would be impossible for me to write a blog this week without referencing the Euros – seeing as watching them is about all I’ve done over the last week or so.

There have been thrills, spills and various stomach ills since the tournament kicked off, and there’s plenty more action to come.

But there have also been some pretty unwelcome contributions to the games, primarily from the fans. I was really angered last night to see the behaviour of the England and Sweden fans in Kiev before kickoff.

Riot police and members of the military were called in to keep the two sets of fans apart. The military! How disgusting. And from the footage I saw on Sky Sports News, I’m ashamed to say the English fans seemed to be the more antagonistic of the two sets of supporters.

In other news, Uefa has hit the Russian FA with a £96,000 fine and a six-point deduction in the qualification phases of the next Euros in France. The association was penalised for violence inside the Wroclaw stadium during and after their game against the Czech Republic on June 8, including the assault and battery of match stewards when the final whistle was blown.

Russian and Polish fans are also being investigated for an outbreak of violence in Warsaw on June 12. If found guilty over the fan violence that led to 15 injuries and more than 180 arrests, Russia could find the suspended six-point deduction imposed immediately. (It’s worth bearing in mind that Russia are set to host the World Cup finals in 2018…)

But that’s not all. The Croatian FA has also been fined £20,200 for its supporters' behaviour during Croatia’s game against the Republic of Ireland. Croatian fans let off flares during the 3-1 victory in Poznan on June 10. Stewards also had to tackle a supporter who ran onto the pitch to kiss coach Slaven Bilic.

Uefa is also investigating reports that a banana was thrown on to the pitch during the match between Italy and Croatia on June 14, with monkey chants reported to have been directed at Italy striker Mario Balotelli.

And we all thought Ukraine were going to be the major villains of the contest! With all the attention on the country ahead of the tournament following the BBC Panorama documentary Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate, many fans decided not to travel to Ukraine; which perhaps explains why some of the stands have looked a little sparse.

Although Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin accused fair-weather Ukraine fans of "wanting to shoot” the team when they’re not winning, there haven’t been any signs of Neo-Nazism as far as I’m aware.

There were rumours of monkey chants from Polish fans in Krakow while the Dutch team were training, but the Ukrainians seem to have kept themselves relatively under control overall. Maybe last night’s storm stole their thunder!

It is shameful, though, that violence and racism are still making headlines during football competitions (or anywhere else, for that matter). How dare people discriminate against others based on the colour of their skin or where they were born? And how dare people allow a bit of friendly football banter to bubble over into ‘patriotic’ fisticuffs.

I appreciate that people want their national teams to win and are disappointed when they don’t, but this disgusting behaviour needs to be stamped out, and hard. Let’s introduce lifetime bans for racist fans and hooligans. And let’s threaten to impose proper fines against teams who break the rules.

Maybe we could all learn something from the Irish supporters (and I’m not talking about how to drink many, many pints of beer). I really admired the way the fans in green got behind their team, even when their players underperformed.

Yes, they were the first team to be booted out of the tournament, but the fans were a pleasure to watch; in the stands as they sang their hearts out; and on the streets, where good-natured celebrations continued. They may not have won any silverware this time round, but the Ireland team should be proud of the way their fans have conducted themselves throughout. 

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Give a guy a break this Father’s Day

This Father’s Day, Compassion is urging support for men who fight against local culture and tradition to be the hands-on dads they long to be.

In many parts of the world being a ‘hands-on’ dad is frowned upon. Childcare is often considered the sole responsibility of the woman. 

Compassion believes this denies many children the opportunity to have a close relationship with their father and that it is detrimental to their development. 

According to Unicef, children perform better academically, have fewer discipline problems, and become more responsible adults when both their mother and father are actively involved in their learning and development.

Compassion child development centres are working alongside local churches to involve both parents in the development of the child, with a specific focus on encouraging men to take a more active role in their child’s life. Across the world there are waves of fathers who are rising up against the cultural binds that prevent them from being the kind of dads they long to be.

Twenty-year-old Allus Yikwa is just one example. He’s part of the Wamena tribe in Western New Guinea, where gender lines are strongly drawn. When Allus lost his wife, the pressure within his community to give his son Yalimur away was fierce. He faced a lifetime of rejection and shame, but still he stood firm. 

“I do not want to give Yalinur to someone else, including my relatives or wife’s relatives,” he says with resolution. “I should take the responsibility of taking care of him. I cook, wash, plant, and take care of Yalinur by myself. I have lost my wife. I do not want to lose my son.”

Thankfully, through the Compassion project, Allus found staff to help him learn how to take care of his son and become the father he longed to be. Life isn’t easy, but he no longer has to walk it alone.

Compassion is a fantastic child development charity that serves more than 1.3 million children in 26 of the world’s poorest countries.

Read more about Compassion in the next issue of Sorted magazine. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

A real, living faith

Guest blog 
Tim Childs

Life is made up of ordinary moments and occasional magical ones; but mostly ordinary ones. 

We demand from God a faith that moves mountains, but perhaps it’s just enough that we have faith enough to get us through today, and not worry about tomorrow. We worry about where we are going in life, what’s going to happen to us, and of course – in this deeply uncertain economic and political climate – we perhaps worry most of all for our futures and how we’ll make ends meet.

Modern society and its values of modern society seem to show us that to be happy we must be rich, successful, accomplish all our dreams and to be able to sit and have lunch by our expensive swimming pools in a huge back garden attached to our expensive properties. Anything less just wouldn’t do, would it?  Who makes up all these ‘rules’? Are wealthy people happier than poor people? 

There is, of course, a greater truth that begs to be looked at, a truth that might at times be staring us in the face. Christianity is about more than wealth, more than power, more than acceptable social standing; in fact it goes beyond all these things. The greater truth is that we can be happy, content and have wellbeing without being wealthy; without scheming against or exploiting other people and find meaning and purpose to life without being ‘important’ in life.

If God has called us to serve Him, He Himself has the power to bring us true meaning and purpose in an often meaningless and purposeless world. He can bring happiness and contentment in a world that is often chaotic and disordered and filled with discontented people.

I know what it’s like to be unhappy; I have had depression on and off throughout my adult life. But this reality had little to do with money, or the lack of it. Some of the best times of my life as a kid were going on caravan holidays to Wales. My family weren’t particularly wealthy; we were poor by most standards in fact. If we’re told that to be happy we must be wealthy, is it any wonder people are so dissatisfied with their lives?

We need to find ourselves through God and through living out our faith. Faith is an adventure, a journey, as well as a destination. God will supply all our needs if we ask Him. He might not make you wealthy, and you won’t necessarily win the lottery (I haven’t yet!) but you will find hope, a purpose and find a life worth living.

Wealth, to some extent, is illusory, although most of us would rather be affluent than live in poverty. It’s illusory because it seems to offer happiness, but I don’t think it really does. It might buy friends, but what sort of friends? It can’t bring real happiness, because real happiness is more a spiritual condition not really dependent on the acquisition of material things; and although it might cushion us from certain things, it can’t stop real life from happening around us. In short, it is better to be moderately comfortable and happy, than wealthy and cut off from God.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying you have to be poor to be spiritual and neither am I a rich person telling poor people to be happy being poor, far from it. I aspire to be a success in my own life, but it isn’t just about money! 

Success for the Christian is about serving God with a whole heart first, and then focusing on other considerations after that. There’s no reason why a Christian can’t aspire to be successful or get a better job or start a business; we should even pray about this. But, in all we do, we should put God first and never unfairly exploit or harm others in an attempt to ‘better’ ourselves. Like so many things, it’s a fine balance that can only be found if we put our faith in God; a faith that is more than ritual and religion; a daily and intimate walk with our creator. 

Read more about faith in the upcoming issue of Sorted magazine. It's your last chance to take advantage of our Father's Day special offer of 50 copies for just £75!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Men are the biggest cheaters… aren’t they?

Growing up I believed men were the only ones who were ever unfaithful. And the stories of husbands who had left their wives and kids (including my own father) for other women seemed to back this up.

But what does the research say?

Well the most recent UK survey suggests that 15% of men have had "overlapping" relationships, but only 9% of women do so. A similar study from the US found that nearly twice as many married men have had sexual relations with someone other than their spouse than women.

Case closed?

Well, not really. The reliability of the research relies on several factors. The first is that the people surveyed actually tell the truth. Maybe women are just more likely to lie about their illicit relations than men…

While men have often been lauded for having many conquests, promiscuous women tend to be frowned upon. This may prevent some women from being unfaithful, but it is certainly likely to stop them from admitting it as readily as men.

The second is that it doesn’t take into account the frequency of the affairs. While fewer women are thought to be doing the dirty, experts suggest that the ones that do it are likely to do so on multiple occasions.

Age can also play a part. Married men tend to have affairs with younger women, who are often single. So while the man is cheating on his wife, the ‘other woman’ is not strictly guilty of adultery (although I would argue that she is equally culpable!).

Prostitution may also affect the statistics, with around 4% of men thought to be paying for sex. If these men are married and the women aren’t, then that could add to the deficit. This of course assumes that fewer women pay for sex than men.

Head of the American General Social Survey, Tom Smith, suggests there are some clues to the people who are most likely to cheat, suggesting that a lack of religious conviction might somehow be connected to unfaithfulness…

"Among the groups that are more likely to be unfaithful are the less religious and people who are separated from their spouses for extended periods, such as by travelling or working away from home," he says.

So what does the Bible say about infidelity? Hebrews 13:4 says this: “Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

Jesus himself said: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).   

Finally, the Bible makes it clear we can be unfaithful even if we don’t cheat on our partners. Anything we do – whether in secret or in public – that goes against God’s Word makes us unfaithful.

The good news is, God is full of mercy!

Leviticus 26: 40-44 says: “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me … I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.”

Because Jesus died for our sins, we can be cleansed from our unfaithfulness – whatever that might be – and have our relationships with God and (hopefully) other people restored.

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine.