Carl Beech: 'I've got testosterone for a reason'Updated 9:22AM, Wednesday August 29th, 2012 by Sam Hailes, Christian.co.uk 20 comments
Last time we interviewed Carl Beech, it was the most-read article on Christian.co.uk for weeks on end. No pressure then.
Having seen the head of Christian Vision for Men (CVM) give his seminar at New Wine, I waited patiently as a queue of people formed to speak to Carl. He would later reveal, while making a point about lust being a “primary issue” for men, that every conversation he had was about sexual sin.
After half an hour of Carl counseling and praying for people, we made our way to the speaker’s tent to discuss his vision of seeing a million men come to faith in Jesus.
One Million Men
Carl tells me that according to surveys, 75% of British men are antagonistic when it comes to the gospel. “Which leaves 25% who are not…I think we can take a million of that 25%. I think it’s a God given figure actually. I had a prophetic guy contact me recently who said ‘I don’t think a million is enough, you need to up your game’ which is quite interesting.”
Speaking bluntly throughout our interview, Carl keeps his answers to my questions brief and to the point. He’s just explained CVM’s four levels of evangelism. 500 small groups across the UK and beyond aim to: 1) Befriend other men 2) hold an event with a speaker who shares the gospel 3) organise an all male course further explaining the gospel 4) help people find a male friendly church.
Starting a fight
Next, the subject turns to testosterone.
“I’ve got my testosterone for a reason and since I don’t need to hunt a stag for dinner anymore, I might as well use it for something,” Carl says.
I’m trying to call the guys to get involved in a fight with something that’s noble and good.
“We’ve been given a fighting spirit so I’m trying to call the guys to get involved in a fight with something that’s noble and good. I’m not talking about bar room brawls but the spiritual equivalent of that."
"Let's tackle issues like violence against women, seek to become better husbands and fathers or if we’re single keep our sexual integrity. We’re there to make a profound difference and bring men to Christ. So use your testosterone for good.”
The 12 point honour code Carl developed has resonated with thousands of men across the UK. What is it about?
“It’s like a new monastic order without the celibacy and we can still have a drink,” he says.
“The idea is you read it, are inspired by it and take action because of it. There’s things like ‘Jesus is my captain brother, rescuer and friend’ which is a declaration of faith and the last one is ‘I’ll never give up because he’ll never give on me’ which is a declaration of grace."
"There’s stuff like ‘I’ll treat all men and women as brothers and sisters.’ If you do that you’re not going to jack off to porn because she’s a potential sister in Christ.”
“We thought about 12 areas of a man’s life that need to be brought into sharp focus. It took two years to work out 12 statements. Normally I do things in half an hour so that was quite challenging,” he admits.
Following on from The Code, Carl has just released a series of short snappy devotions for men called The Manual.
“On the basis that most men’s attention span is short and we like things that are blunt and direct we thought we’d pick on the issues that man are facing. They are 200-300 words long and start with a verse and end with a prayer. The idea is everyday a guy can pick them up, read it and get something out of it. It’s not irrelevant fluffy stuff, it’s real stuff that men are facing.”
It’s not irrelevant fluffy stuff, it’s real stuff that men are facing
Although these devotions are hot off the press, feedback has been rolling in already. “I had one guy saying he’s reading it outside of work with two younger men he’s led to Christ before they walk through the office doors. Crucially what we’ve done is we haven’t dated it, we’ve numbered it. If blokes miss the date they won’t look back at it through guilt but if they are looking at number 13 it doesn’t really matter.”
'Why are there tissues everywhere?!'
Those familiar with Carl and his ministry will be unsurprised to hear him complain about what he calls the “romanticisation” of the Church. His seminar at New Wine included a moment where he kicked a box of tissues across the stage asking, “Why are there tissues everywhere!? Do they think we’re all going to cry or something!?”
It was moments like this that made me compare Carl to the controversial US pastor Mark Driscoll. “Yeah people say that,” he replies when I put this to him. “We’re the same age but I’m not as belligerent as he is. I don’t know. I think I’m my own man.”
CVM’s annual event, The Gathering certainly sounds like an event for manly men. “1500 guys together in a field. We burn stuff, eat stuff and talk to people about Jesus. We sing hymns, we don’t sing romantic songs. We make a lot of noise and it’s great fun. We have sports cars and that kind of stuff, it’s good blokey fun.”
Carl says the women he speaks to hate the romanticisation of the church too. “There’s a really small group of people who are really heavily into some of the intimacy stuff and I wouldn’t want to take that away from them but I would say is ‘don’t inflict that on the rest of us who don’t get it.’”
“A lot of people think you’ve not achieved this revelation of God if you’re not in that zone. They think you’ve got issues because you can’t say ‘Jesus is my lover’ or ‘He is beautiful’. I say ‘if that means I’ve got issues then I’ll keep them! I like those issues!’”
Amusing throughout our short conversation, Carl isn’t afraid to be direct and make important and weighty points. But he isn’t quite as macho as he sometimes comes across. “I drink warm beer in warm pubs with newspapers,” he says as we finish our conversation.
After thanking him for his time, I get up to leave. “Don’t write anything that will make people hate me too much,” he asks. Smiling I reply, “I’ll do my best!”
Sam writes news, features and reviews exclusively for Christian.co.uk. The job involves meeting influential and interesting Christians from across the country and beyond. Most importantly, he never talks about himself in the third person.
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Penny's asked her FB friends if we wanted to read the article and chip in. So I will.
I've suffered from the apartheid that Penny talks about. I was the main caregiver to my daughter and my son (and still am, though now they're both teenagers, their needs are significantly different!) from when my firstborn was 6 months old.
Our family church at the time was a conservative evangelical C of E, which had lots of groups going on during the week, daytime and evening. There was, on occasions, a men's group during the day - but no creche was provided. There were three daytime groups during the week which did have creches, so that I could have had an uninterrupted Bible study - but these were exclusively for women. My wife was invited to join one of those, but she was out at work. She asked if I could go instead, and was unequivocally told no.
This left me (and remember, this had been my church for over a fifteen years by this point) with the Mother and Toddler group. At which I was the only dad, which was fine, as I wasn't there for me. My friend who ran the group attempted to change the group's name to Parent and Toddlers, but that was quashed from on high as pandering to a feminist agenda. I kid you not.
Outside of church, the secular world catered for me extraordinarily well. There were baby changing facilities in the men's toilets, swimming sessions for toddlers were often attended by dads as well as mums (and grandparents), I got invited to coffee mornings and playdates from the mums at my children's (secular) playgroup. It was only in church did I ever feel like I was doing something wrong in looking after my own children.
The point is this: to those who say "men and women are different and learn in different ways", can I suggest that you really need to do some more research, and not fall back on crass stereotypes? People learn in different ways - and it might be that more men than women learn in one way, and vice versa, but by restricting approaches to a single sex, you simply exclude those who would have appreciated that ministry and they have to choice about it. Some women would jump at the chance of going to the pub, and inviting their non-Christian friends along. You've excluded them. Some men would love to do a day-time Bible study and have a break from the children. You've excluded them. Which also answers the "along as everyone is included somewhere" line. The painful fact is that you haven't included everyone - and you haven't noticed because it doesn't affect you.
The question the church needs to be asking itself is why the secular world is better than she is (bearing in mind Paul's comments on the matter) at integrating male and female, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free.
Well, you've succeeded, Sam. I certainly don't hate Carl Beech, in fact I admire his heart for mission and desire to make Christ known in a relevant way. However, it does make me deeply sad (and I don't need tissues, thank you) at his exclusivist approach.
Any initiative that targets one group while excluding others has no place in our churches. Of course we want more men to come to Christ. We also want more women /young people/older people/children/black people/white people/Asian people/people with disabilities/poor people/rich people... you get my point. Arguably, the place these people are most likely to come to know Christ is in church, or at least in some activity initiated by Christians.
Studying trends and asking questions about why one group is under-represented, for example, is fair enough. As is taking measures to ensure that under-represented group is encouraged to access the church. Running activities for one group only is going too far down the positive discrimination route. By all means find creative activities to appeal, but open the activity to anyone. I am deeply concerned by the proliferation of men's groups.
Step back a moment. Imagine a church whose mission committee has a great idea. "Okay, we're a black majority church and we want to appeal to the whole community, so let's find ways of reaching everyone." Nods of approval. "I know, let's start a white person's group!" Alarm bells ringing? Perhaps they should be. We are doing exactly the same thing when we consider men only activities.
So where does this leave us? Perhaps Carl and his organisation see this as an interim measure. Perhaps there will come a time, when we look around the congregations of our churches and see men, women, black people, white people, etc all working, socialising and worshipping together. Surely we agree this is desirable, maybe even a foretaste of heaven.
Until then, I would disagree with Carl and his organisation that this gender-apartheid is the way forward in evangelism.
I hope Carl won't hate me too much, either...
Penny, I couldn't disagree more, and I think it's a real pity that you load your comments with emotionally-charged terms like 'apartheid'. If you had the first idea what apartheid actually entailed perhaps you would think twice. As it is, my alarm bells are ringing at the casual way in which you conflate issues of race and sxe in order to give your opinion the appearance of being self-evident.
Think for a moment about your own church's outreach to children and young people. Would you think twice about excluding adults (except designated leaders, of course) from an event designed for those in their mid-teens? Our churches have recognised for decades that this particular demographic group requires a particular approach. What's the difference with the demographic group called 'men', especially when it is so obviously under-represented in our churches today? Certain sections of 21st century Western Christian culture is turning many men away. Men and women are not the same and the idea that any event designed for one or the other is by definition discriminatory is just another silly Western obsession.
A church I was a member of many years ago recognised the different ways in which men socialised (and the different opportunities for them to socialise in a church context) and devised a weekly discussion group, exclusively for men, with an opportunity for discussing questions asked anonymously on a range of issues. I'm sure you're a wonderful person, Penny, but there is absolutely no way anyone in that group would have felt comfortable discussing some of the difficult personal issues that came up if you had been in the room (or any of the women from our church for that matter). The result of this group operating over a period of months was strengthened relationships between men which then fed back into the whole life of the church and an environment in which many felt a new confidence in sharing their faith.
A group of Christian men I'm associated with these days does a fortnightly prayer-and-pub. The committed Christians meet to pray first, then spend the evening in the local, inviting a wider group of men along, many of whom have a loose affiliation with the church because their wives belong to it, though they might darken its doors themselves only on very special occasions. After about 18 months of this, the social connections between the Christian men in my local community and men in general have become much stronger and some of them have begun to think more seriously about why their wives go out to church every Sunday morning. With some of these blokes, the chances of this happening in any context involving their wives directly, or a Bible study with a cup of tea in the kitchen, were somewhere south of zero.
If the aim of Carl Beech's outreach was to create men-only churches then you might have a point. But it's not. His call is simply to speak to a distinct group in its own language, the better to draw that group into the family of the whole church.
I second Chris's observation that issues of race and gender should not be conflated. I don't think that men's ministry should termed 'apartheid' either.
"Until then, I would disagree with Carl and his organisation that this gender-apartheid is the way forward in evangelism."
The next logical step is to oppose to youth-work since it is age-apartheid. Children learn differently according to their age range, and thus are (flexibly) grouped; men and women learn differently, and thus each are given the opportunity to be grouped (if they wish).
Well done to Carls and his previous article "Jesus is not my boyfriend" I too am sick of the songs that take Jesus as someone to whom we lay a head on his chest and look up into his face. We men want to focus on Jesus as Lord, Saviour Master Redeemer Remember as CS Lewis said in the lion, the witch and the wardrobe. when speaking of Aslan who represented Christ - Aslan is not a tame lion
"Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved." - John 13:23.
Penny, I appreciate your heart on this, but I disagree too, and would add to Chris Townsend's insightful comments the point that we don't always recognise the strength there is in our differences. Yes, we are a body that is united across the world, but we incorporate many different cultures and styles, each of which is capable of reaching some people but not others.
The "race" issue is a case in point. It is true that there are many churches in which all races are represented, whichis fantastic, but also many in which you will only find, for example, African Americans. This is not the product of a choice to segregate races on the grounds of supposed superiority, but rather evidence that people are drawn to congregations that reflect their own culture, where they feel at home. This is most clearly seen in the fact that many cities host congregations for foreign nationals in their own language (in my home town we have Korean, Chinese and Brazilian/Portuguese churches, and more besides).
Ministry by, for and to men works because it overcomes the perception some men have that church is for women (and old people), and because it addresses men's specific concerns and needs. This is all the more important in a society in which the role of men has been consistently undermined and marginalised.
It is also important to note that there is a process of maturation in Christian growth: a non-believer or new convert will gravitate to what attracts him and serves his needs. A mature believer will seek to serve others and not just "consume". Somewhere in this process, believers who are engaged by (for example) Christian men's groups will be drawn into the body of the church and become more involved with the whole body of Christ. But you can't rush that process, and there will still be a need for the man to spend some time with other men so that he can be inspired and built up.
Yes, the fact that church is a big, united family is also a powerful draw for many, but in any trade (music, restaurants, fashion, etc.) when you always try to appeal to everybody you actually end up attracting (almost) nobody, and the church is no different. Wisdom dictates that in order to reach as many people as possible, you have to be prepared to specialise.
PS Sorry this all came out in one paragraph - it was supposed to have line breaks!
Thank you for your reply to my comment, Chris. Yes, apartheid is a very strong and provocative word, and that is precisely why I chose it in this context. Race and Sex discrimination issues are aligned as the UK's anti-discrimination laws in 1975 and 1976 show. I find it appalling that one of the few places the egalitarian values enshrined in these laws are flouted with such abandon is within the church, which surely should be the epitome and example of welcoming and embracing all.
Let me clarify that I am not opposing social activities or interest groups within churches. I also think it is important to examine the demographic of churches to ensure there are no practises that are putting people off. Also, constructing the life of the church so that it encourages as many as possible is laudable. My only argument is with exclusivity, "You cannot belong to this group because..." and some immutable reason is offered. Another reason to align it to issues of race.
I don't know about your church, Chris, but in mine, any other group except the Men's Group would welcome anyone. We have a group of particular interest for older people (which I sometimes attend although I'm under 50) and youth events, which as you point out are open to older people to act as helpers or, for example, a concert, which anyone would be welcome to attend. Men's groups (and any groups exclusively for women) are the only example of exclusion on the grounds of unchangeable circumstances entirely out of their control. With that tends to come an air of superiority and belief that the excluded group is not able to understand the issues.
Also, any groups of friends of whatever gender can meet, go out, do what they like, including or excluding anyone, just don't call it a church activity. If I choose to go to the pub with my husband, sorry Chris, you are not invited, but I don't announce it in the church newsletter. I would also argue, that these single gender groups, if they truly are evangelical in their outlook are not really the place to discuss difficult personal issues, whichever gender is in attendance.
I'll leave the final word with theologian Karl Barth, " Everything which points in the direction of male or female seclusion, or of religious or secular orders or communities, or of male or female segregation - if it is undertaken in principle and not consciously and temporarily as an emergency measure - is obviously disobedience. All due respect to the comradeship of a company of soldiers! But neither men nor women can seriously wish to be alone, as in clubs and ladies' circles. Who commands or permits them to run away from each other? That such an attitude is all wrong is shown symptomatically in the fact that every artificially induced and maintained isolation of the sexes tends as such - usually very quickly and certainly morosely and blindly - to become philistinish in the case of men and precious in that of women, and in both cases more or less inhuman. It is well to pay heed even to the first steps in this direction". (Church Dogmatics III/4, 165)
Penny, I'm also going to throw my support behind what Carl has said and what CVM is doing on behalf of men in the church. Since (and before) Biblical times, men have gravitated toward men and women toward women. Not in an effort to exclude one or the other, but because the interests and activities of the two groups are very different.
What really concerns me is that there are people in the Body of Christ that continue to diminish the differences in genders--and we wonder why we have such confusion with young people and homosexuality--creating boys who feel guilty to be boyish and girls who feel guilty to be girly.
Finally, men's groups are not created to run from women; in fact they are created to encourage each other to be better men, better boyfriends, better husbands, and better fathers.
(P.S. monastic living, to which Barth is referring, is far from what men's ministries advocate!)
I am particularly interested in your comments that:
'Men's groups (and any groups exclusively for women) are the only example of exclusion on the grounds of unchangeable circumstances entirely out of their control. With that tends to come an air of superiority and belief that the excluded group is not able to understand the issues.'
As the father of a disabled child I have, on occasion, attended support groups for parents with disabled children. These groups are designed to provide an environment where people facing similar issues can come together in discussion, and hopefully friendship, with others facing the same kind of issues on a day to day basis. I would not expect parents without disabled children to attend such meetings, not because they are unwelcome, or because they would not understand some of the issues involved, but because the groups are for specific people in specific circumstances. The kind of understanding and empathy of people who are connected by 'unchangeable circumstances entirely out of their control' is why such groups are needed.
I would argue that men, given that they are a specific sex, benefit greatly from outlets in which to explore their identity with other men. They should not be an alternative to inclusive church, or to mixed discipleship groups etc, but merely an outlet for men to discuss faith, deepen friendship and hopefully have a good time!
Your reference to 'the UK's anti-discrimination laws' also misses the point here. It is not discriminatory to have a men's group any more than it is discriminatory to have a single parent group, youth group, mother's union, women's institute or (as mentioned above) any number of support groups. I would not dream of shutting down any of these groups on the grounds of discrimination.
This is not about segregation it is about providing opportunities for men to relate to each other, something which is often lacking in todays society and I would argue even more lacking within the church. To liken this initiative with apartheid polarises the issue in a most unhelpful way. It fails to recognise the importance of diversity and difference within the church. We are part of the church at all times and in all places, whether on our own, in mixed groups or in groups with specific needs. As such I do not see why a men's group cannot be considered a 'church activity' and an aid to wider unity.
There will always be those who seek to misuse power and influence in any group (churches included) and this kind of behaviour is not to be condoned. However, I do not believe that CVM is separating women from men in some kind of sinister hegemonic way. If that were so then the initiative would be seriously flawed. It is, however, trying to fulfil it's mission of 'Connecting men to Jesus & the church to men' which is to be applauded.
I have no problem with there being exclusive groups within a church as long as (a) the whole church is inclusive and (b) those who fit in to that category are welcomed in that group.
For example, I have encountered churches which say they are "family churches" (i.e. are there for folks with kids) or have an obsession with students. Now, there is nothing wrong with family outreach, as long as those who are single and/or childless are made to feel that they have a place there. Nothing wrong with events aimed at students- as long as there are things aimed for young people who are not students (I notice these days there are 18-30s groups which get round that problem).
Where the problem does come in is where there is one group which seems to be the axis the church revolves round, and it would be wrong for a church to emphasise men's work to the exclusion of other things.
When I was converted, as an undergraduate 22 years ago, I did notice that there were churches with noticeboards that advertised Ladies Fellowships, but none with any events aimed at the menfolk. When I went back to my parents' for the first vacation after my conversion, and went to the local parish church, it was immediately obvious that church was women=dominated, with men being very much in a minority. And the only people round my age were those who went with their parents.
There are two extremes that men's groups should avoid, IMHO. The first is to go too inclusive- what's the point of calling it a Men's Group if every men's event is advertised with the phrase "Ladies are also welcome"? On the other extreme is the emphasis on men's groups being "for blokes". I am a man (an adult male in the image of God) not a bloke (a late 20th/early 21st century British social construct) and if I see something advertised for blokes it sends out an immediate message that those men who are not blokey are not welcome.
It's exactly because of the prevalence of attitudes like those expressed by Penny that CVM and Carl Beech need to exist and their ministry needs to prosper. Why are men under-represented in church? Because a lot that goes on there makes them feel uncomfortable or out of place. You can't minister to people who aren't there. You can't start conversations which might lead to someone coming to know Christ if they're not there to listen.
Men and women are different. They interact in different ways. They discuss things in different ways, make bonds and friendships in different ways. Men like to talk stuff over with other men. Acknowledging this is not discriminatory, it's essential in order to put in place a set of activities and ministries that achieve a church's evangelical and outreach objectives.
It's foolish to insist that every activity in a church must be open to everyone and to bring charges of discrimination and apartheid when they're not. As has been said already, if a church *only* ministered to men, that would be discriminatory. But a series of activities with the objective of allowing men the opportunity to grow to know Christ in an environment in which they feel comfortable, presented as part of the church's overall programme, must be a positive thing.
Insisting that everything must appeal to everyone and be accessible to everyone is a recipe for watered-down lowest-common-denominator ministries without the ability to target under-represented groups in the way most appropriate to them.
It's worth readinghttps://www.cvm.org.uk/why-mens-ministry as a more in depth analysis of why CVM do what they do. Likewise it's worth reading the stats from Evangelical Now that Carl talks about here:https://www.cvm.org.uk/blog/carls-thoughts/93/
With all respect to Barth, if CVMs approach isn't the "right way", then we really need to find something better fast.
Thanks guys! Some great insightful comments leading to an very interesting discussion. Sam has suggested that I write an article on this issue. I'm keen to represent both sides of the discussion, so if you have anything to say that you'd like me to include (I may not be able to include everything and may have to shorten some comments) let me know through my websitewww.pennyculliford.com Thanks!
Forgive me, Penny, but I don't see a useful way of commenting on that website - there's a 'contact me' page with a tiny text box, is that what you mean?
Yes, Peter. That box should expand when you write your comment and it comes through to my email inbox. Thanks.
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