What college men really need from the church

What college men really need from the church October 9, 2013


Young Man
photo – iStockPhoto.com

Two days ago Marcus Brotherton wrote an excellent post on this blog: “Why College Men Need Church.” If you haven’t read it, please do so.

This is a follow up to his post.

Brotherton cites a sad statistic that’s becoming an epidemic: most boys who are raised in church abandon it during their late teens and early twenties. He warns these young men:

Why is this gap such a problem? It means you’ll pass through your most formative years as a young adult with your Christianity on the back burner. All the life-shaping decisions of that decade—to finish college or not, what career to pursue, where to live, whether to get married, who to marry, whether to have children, and many more crucial questions—will take place without the positive influence of spiritual assembly.

Then he pivots to the central metaphor of his essay: college men need church like Luke Skywalker needed Dagobah.

For those not immersed in Star Wars lore, Dagobah is the murky planet Luke visits to complete his training as a Jedi.

Luke has a certain experience in mind – he’ll arrive on the planet and be greeted by his warrior/mentor, who will guide him through a series of well planned lessons that teach him to do amazing things. His training will proceed smoothly until he’s acquired the skills he’ll need to defeat his archenemy.

But instead, everything goes wrong. His ship crash-lands in a swamp. Hostile creatures emerge from the muck and nearly kill him. And he fails miserably before his pint-sized mentor, Yoda, whom he almost failed to recognize.

Yet this seeming debacle transforms Luke into a true warrior.

Marcus compares the local church to Dagobah; both are gnarled, fetid, fearsome places plagued with discomfort. He implores college age men to stick with the church during these years.

I’d like to take Marcus’ metaphor even further: What young men actually need is a more intentional Dagobah experience. Maybe guys are leaving Christianity because they are longing for a kind of discipleship they see in the movies, but can’t find in the local church.

Let’s break down Luke’s Jedi training:

  • There was a master-apprentice relationship.
  • The master reluctantly accepted the apprentice.
  • The experience was not open to all – the apprentice was chosen.
  • The apprentice learned to trust his master’s commands, even when he did not understand them.
  • He never knew what was coming next. The master kept him off balance.
  • The apprentice had to pass a series of tests.
  • There was the genuine possibility of failure.
  • Only those who remained faithful to the end were given the authority of the master.

If you’ve read the Bible, these steps should seem familiar.

Jesus put his disciples through a three-year Dagobah experience. Go back and read the list again. These steps describe how Christ dealt with his Apostles. Only after they endured these tests did the Spirit come – and they were empowered to change the world.

Why don’t we disciple men like this any more? Honestly, I think we’re afraid of what we can’t control. So we put men into spiritual incubators and spoon-feed them the answers. Bible studies. Volunteer projects. Pancake breakfasts. Crack-of-dawn video teaching sessions.

Nothing wrong with any of these incubators. They work great for older guys. But young men need Dagobah.

The Mormons realize this. They send their college age men on a two-year mission. These 19-year-olds are torn out of their comfort zones and shipped to a strange land. From day one things go wrong. The young missionaries never know what to expect. They’re verbally attacked. Most never win a single convert. Their missions seem to end in failure.

Yet over that two-year period something changes. They become men. Their faith (or lack of it) is revealed. The LDS misison is one reason Mormonism is North America’s fastest growing religion – and remains very popular with men.

I’m working on a true Dagobah approach to discipleship. I call it Men’s League. My goal in the next eleven months is to find a bold church that will bring me on staff and allow me to develop it within a congregation.

I will leave Alaska and move anywhere in the English speaking world to do this. I just need to find the right church that believes in me and is willing to take a big, frightening chance.

The Men’s League approach differs from any other men’s ministry regimen I know if. It’s not based around book study, peaching and discussion. It’s not designed to nurture men’s faith. Instead, it is a series of tests. The tests are confusing. Challenging. Frustrating. We don’t give men the answers. Heck, some weeks we might not even open the Bible (gasp).

The men who persevere become the next generation of disciple makers.

Please pray that God helps me find a church with the guts to roll this out. My goal is to be in that church in the fall of 2014.

So how about you? Has God led you through a Dagobah experience? An experience where you are out of control? Where you don’t understand what’s really going on? Where your faith is being severely tested? Feel free to share it in the comments below. Or join the discussion on my Facebook page.



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  • John

    More please… You allude to an idea that you suppose will set the traditional minded on their heals and you sing the accolades of the Mormon approach. I already like it. My Dagobah experience – yea, I moved my entire family to Africa to be missionaries never having set foot on the continent. Failure started on day one and ended just under two years later with a complete leadership breakdown. The best-hardest experience of my life. Wouldn’t trade it for the world, even through I and others made a mess of things. Completed seminary and now lead a home church. Recently moved my family into the poor side of town (amidst shocked looks by others) to live among the people who need hope. A homeless woman who attends is trying all my patience, love and grace. Still, the best of times. Am always seeking ways to put others at risk, especially the next generation. Would love to hear more of your ideas.

  • Levedi

    You miss a few crucial details, most significantly that Yoda is a rotten teacher. Real teachers in real life recognize how ineffective his maxims are.

    More importantly, you’re misreading Christ and the Scripture if you think Jesus is like Yoda.

    The master reluctantly accepted the apprentice – No, Jesus actively sought out and called his disciples to him. And you KNOW this, as your next point illustrates.

    The experience was not open to all – the apprentice was chosen. — Half true. Jesus did call a specific group of twelve to be apostles. However, he had many more disciples who he also sent out into the world. Furthermore, your point implies that Jesus’ kingdom is somehow based on some form of elite status. This is Phariseeism, not Christianity.

    The apprentice learned to trust his master’s commands, even when he did not understand them. – Unlike Yoda, Jesus spent a LOT of time explaining himself to the apostles. Nearly every parable is followed by an exegesis. None of them are followed by a Marine sergeant style “just do it, maggots!”

    He never knew what was coming next. The master kept him off balance. — Jesus repeatedly told the apostles EXACTLY what he was up to. He even remarked on the fact that he had to keep repeating himself; they didn’t understand because they didn’t believe, not because he was playing sadistic mind games with them.

    The apprentice had to pass a series of tests. — Nope. Nope and nope. Peter failed. Then he was restored. Thomas doubted. Then he had his doubts answered. Need I go on? What you’re describing is works righteousness, the opposite of sanctifying grace.

    We do indeed need to better reach the young men who are leaving the church in such droves. But we won’t do it by misreading the character and work of Christ.

    • I don’t think Christ is like Yoda. I think Yoda is like Christ.

  • Joel

    I think you are right on with your assessment of young men and church. We need to provide initiatory experiences that touch the soul and inspire, much like Jesus who was drawn to the Baptist and into the desert. Only then did his “adult” ministry begin… Would love to hear more, too, of your ideas. And blessings to you for daring to dream and having the courage to offer your gifts to the world – a sign you’re initiated yourself!