By Paul Miles
The greatest cause of ministry failure is the lack of intimacy. The Greeks had several different words for different types of intimacy, but American culture has come up with a new word that describes a special type of love: bromance. The term, bromance, comes from the words bro or brother and romance. Bromance is love between men that is not romantic, but still intimate. Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble are two classic examples of bromance. There was never a hint of romance between the two, but they were no doubt intimate bosom buddies. There is a serious lack of men in church today, and this is no doubt the result of a lack of intimacy in church. The solution to the man-shortage is more bromance in church, but this is easier said than done. In an age where the word, intimacy, usually refers to romantic male/female relations, men tend to find excuses to avoid intimate same-sex relationships. Three such excuses that men use to avoid bromance are the misconception that intimacy with other males isn't manly, the fear of rejection, and demographic differences. This article will consider each excuse and give an example of men who have overcome them and glorified God.
Excuse #1: Male intimacy isn't manly
One reason that men hesitate to become intimate with each other is the fear that it isn't manly to have such friendships. To many men, intimacy is a word that is used in reference to sappy romantic emotions that are only appropriate on cheesy Valentine's Day cards. Nothing could be further from the truth, as illustrated in one of Israel's greatest bromance stories, the relationship between David and Jonathan.
When David and Jonathan first met, David was holding a giant's head that he had just lopped off using the giant's sword. The head had blood and brain matter oozing out of it through a hole in the forehead that David had put there by sinking a rock in it with a sling. This is the same David that before taking up giant-slaying would grab bears and lions by the beards and kill them. Jonathan was no weakling either. 1 Samuel 14:1-23 records an instance where he and his armor bearer crawled into an enemy garrison and killed about 20 Philistines. Were David and Jonathan manly-men? Absolutely! Did this keep David and Jonathan from intimate male relationships? Absolutely not! Jonathan loved David as his own soul. They made an agreement to be best friends and David even joined Jonathan's family by marrying Jonathan's sister. As time went on, David became the greatest military leader in the kingdom. In fact, he got to be a little too good for King Saul to be able to handle. When the king got angry with David and wanted to kill him, Jonathan saved him. He had David hide out in a field, and while Jonathan went out to do some manly-man archery, he informed David that it wasn't safe to return home and that he should keep on the run.
The wars with Israel went on and eventually Jonathan was killed in action by the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. When he heard the news of Jonathan's death, David cried:
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
You have been very pleasant to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Surpassing the love of women. (2 Sam 1:26)
These are quite strong words coming from a man like David, whom all the women adored. Eventually, David went on to become a great king and lead Israel in its golden years and even contributed to the Messiah's genealogy.
Anyone who claims that bromance isn't manly had better kill at least a bear and a lion barehanded. In order to have the credentials to pass judgment on male intimacy, he had better slay a giant using his own sword against him and then go on to become a great military general. David met all standards of manliness and understood that his bromance with Jonathan was a unique relationship that could only be between two manly men.
Excuse #2: Fear of rejection
Another reason that men tend to shy up when it comes to making new friends is the fear of rejection. It is risky to make new friends. Maybe the new guy at church is a little awkward. Maybe he likes a different football team. Maybe he is an anti-Christian extremist that has killed other church members. Well, perhaps that third reason isn't as common as the other two, but it's exactly what Barnabas was up against when he befriended Paul.
Saul was a young man who had been up to no good. After helping the mob that was responsible for stoning Stephen to death, Saul was making havoc of the church by forcing Christians into prison. Roman prison was bad, but not bad enough for Christians, so Saul decided that it would be better to tie up any Christians he could find and take them to Jerusalem, so they could stand a Jewish trial and face execution. Changing the penalty for being a Christian had some red tape involved, so Saul had to go to Damascus for some paperwork. When Saul returned from Damascus and approached the disciples of Jerusalem, they were terrified of him. Saul claimed that he had converted on his way to Damascus, but this didn't seem very likely. What did Barnabas do? Did he play it safe and keep his distance from Saul? No. He took a risk and befriended the very man who had wanted to kill him. Barnabas took Saul to the apostles and spoke on his behalf. Paul and Barnabas ended up serving together for years and it all started with Barnabas' willingness to take a risk and be a friend.
Barnabas risked more than rejection when he reached out to Paul; he risked death. Throughout their bromantic ministry together, Paul and Barnabas were often rejected by men. Eventually, Paul was sent to prison himself because of such rejection, where he wrote some final letters to his friends while awaiting his execution. Looking back on his life, Paul wrote to the leader of a church in Ephesus that endurance in the face of rejection is worthwhile and encouraged him to present himself as an approved workman before God, who doesn't always use the same measuring rod as men. The fear of rejection should never stand in the way of showing love to another person.
Mamertine Prison cell where Paul awaited his execution
Excuse #3: Demographic differences
Probably the biggest reason that men avoid relationship with one another is demographic differences. Churches today tend to divide themselves based on demographics. Children meet in this room at this time, retirees meet in that building at that time, college and career class is on Thursday night, young married couples meet on Wednesday night, and so on and so forth. Organizing small groups around similar stages in life certainly has its benefits, but sometimes it has a negative effect on the church's ability to mentor its younger members. Victor Street Bible Chapel in Dallas, Texas, does an excellent job of tearing down the barriers and establishing personal relationships with its members. I've had the privilege to be mentored by a man from Victor Street named Luis Rodriguez, who has made a significant impact on my life.
I was 13 when I met Luis. He would have been about 55, which, in the eyes of a teenager, is about as old as Methuselah. We were on a short-term mission trip in Mexico that he was leading. In addition to being over 40 years older than I am, Luis is Hispanic and speaks Spanish fluently. Luis and I crossed paths several times while I was in High School and later on in life, I ended up studying at The University of Texas at Arlington. UT Arlington is about 30 minutes away from Luis' church in Dallas, so Victor Street became my church home while I lived in Arlington. As a teenager, I didn't even know that Luis' church spoke English, because I had always heard him teach in Spanish, but Victor Street welcomed me with open arms and took me in as one of their own. I enjoyed fellowship at the Lord's Supper after every Sunday morning service, as well as our Wednesday night prayer meetings and monthly men's Bible study. In addition to the regularly scheduled church events, we would have occasional fellowship at different church members' houses just to have fun with each other. Sometimes, Luis would have me come over just to help him figure out how to work his computer. I really don't know much about computers, but I always thought it was a real privilege just to have the opportunity to hang out with him. Luis has taught me more through his friendship than any pastor has through sermons. The reason is simply that relationship is a more effective teaching tool than the pulpit.
Christians should mentor one another. This doesn't just mean sticking to one's respective demographic and helping others of the same age, it means finding someone younger to mentor or someone older to be mentored by or even both. It can be intimidating to reach outside of one's comfort zone, but in my experience, I have found that it can be quite rewarding.
Author Paul Miles with Luis and Fel Rodriguez
The man-shortage crisis in church today is a serious issue, but not one that is out of the church members' control. The potential for bromance is everywhere. Know that even the manliest of men have relied on intimacy with other men. Overcome the fear of rejection. Seek ways to mentor and be mentored. Go forth and find your Barney Rubble!