My response to ‘Act Like Men’

I attended the ‘Act Like Men’ conference last week. I’m not an expert, but I am a man seeking to live out the Gospel of Jesus. And here I feel compelled to use my voice. My hope is to shed light on the helpful teaching and also pay attention to the areas I found concerning, embarrassing and heartbreaking. I’m not attempting to wade into the theological debate about gender roles, but as a man entrusted with discipling young people, I feel compelled to address the insensitivities expressed when men were being called to step up.  

 I entered Friday night knowing that I would not agree with everything taught. I have an egalitarian view and advocate for gender equality. The conference leaders do not.  Knowing my belief, I had chosen to be aware of my heart and open to receive from God. As I expected, God did show up and the Holy Spirit was present. It was beautiful to see 200+ men deciding to (re)commit their lives to Jesus and live into the forgiveness he has given them. It was also fun to be in a space where men were worshiping and seeking relationship with Jesus.  One would think I would have peace and joy leaving from the conference that night.  I cannot say that was true.

 Chauvinistic mistreatment of women and pointless insensitive generalities peppered the teaching earlier in the night. Women take forever to get ready. Real men aren’t vegetarians. Women are only helpers. Men don’t follow, they lead. Real men don’t order low fat decaf lattes. Women are the weaker vessel.

In essence, let’s make fun of women and call them weaker; but we were told “it’s ok because women are awesome and we get to go home to them after this conference is done”. Phew.

I was embarrassed to be a man in this setting. I was saddened by the attitude of these teachers who shared my gender. And I was actually texting a woman mentor for advice, wisdom, and prayer in those moments. Does that make me a weaker vessel?    

I didn’t want to go back the next day. But I did. I believed God wanted me to receive teaching and be present in the conversation. Saturday brought more peace than the previous night and I valued a lot of the teaching. I appreciated Matt Chandler calling us to “know that we are justified by God, to enjoy being His adopted sons and to receive love from him.” These are great lessons to learn.

Sadly, just as I was beginning to appreciate solid teaching, a pastor opened his sermon with a gay joke. “1 hotel room + 3 men +1 bed = ineligible to speak at a men’s conference.”

 I mean, surely no man in that arena has ever experienced same sex attraction or identifies as being gay or bisexual. That’s not what real men deal with, right? Wrong. My heart was broken.

And the trend continued. Conference organizers drummed up audience support with ‘the most insensitive man ‘ competition, literally celebrating the lack of sensitivity towards others. Judges picked finalists and sat them on thrones about the stadium floor. At first we were laughing at farting jokes, but then we were booing and laughing at the church treasurer who tried to completely cut the women’s ministry budget. Next we were boo-laughing at the man who told a hopeful woman that he doesn’t dance with anyone heavier than him. These men’s stories were insensitive (and sinful), but we failed to talk about how we can repent and be forgiven. Instead we crowned the winner (literally) by boo-cheering and gave him an Ipad.

Abuse your power. Demean women. This is what gives you the prize. 



Men, my dear brothers, if you want to learn how to act like a man, look at Jesus. He’s arguably the best example we’ve got. (an argument sadly missing from the conference). Mark, Matt, James, Greg, and Eric called men to step up and centre their lives on Jesus. That is the right call to make. We need men to be leaders and influencers. At the same time, the organizers need to be held accountable for their unjust and unloving treatment of women, gay men, men confused about their sexuality, men who like soy, and men who like to wear aprons over their pants etc. This teaching is not the way of Jesus. It is neither funny nor harmless. I felt gross being a man leaving that place.

Conversations about identity, gender, and faith are important. I will to continue to ask Jesus what it means to be a man. I see in Jesus one who depends on women, is vulnerable before women, elevates women, and educates women. I hope you consider, men, what it would be like to have someone tell you that you shouldn’t preach the Gospel.  Or you don’t have the gifting to do so. Or that your interests aren’t masculine enough. I hope that we can be men who embody Jesus. So much is at stake here. We must do the hard work of seeking Jesus and ask together – what does his life teach us about being a man? 


161 thoughts on “My response to ‘Act Like Men’

  1. I appreciated your comments which are on target and very well thought out. Thanks for speaking up. We can be men without treating women poorly and we don’t have to act like a primitive species. Thanks for writing!

    • Mark, you might want to watch the conference material before you agree. This post is about as slanted as it could be. Very sad. Thousands of other men left encouraged and challenged to follow Jesus. He is the example.

      • So, Lance, you are saying that women were not made the butt of jokes at this conference, overweight women were not made the butt of jokes, nor were homosexual males?

  2. Yes. Thank you for making it, ultimately, about what JESUS does/says about women and men. It is earth shattering to walk through Jesus’ life (especially chronologically) and look at women… they’re EVERYWHERE. Especially once you get past the call of the 12 leaders, when he starts training those leaders… it’s women, women, women everywhere (and gentiles, gentiles, gentiles). I love it. People don’t see that he had women in leadership in his own ministry!

  3. Hi Preston, thanks for your insights. Do you know if the videos to these speakers talks are posted anywhere? I’d like to see what their original words were.
    Thanks. Anna

  4. Pingback: My experience this weekend at ‘Act Like Men’ | Write a blog on a log, Sam I am

  5. When I was in seminary I had to help with both the women’s and the men’s conferences. As a young woman I was looking forward to both. I wanted to know what men were looking for in women and I wanted to learn how to be the kind of woman I should be. There wasn’t much in the way of gender jokes, but what I did notice was the vast general assumptions.
    The men’s conference was amazing. They had burgers. Even veggie burgers (which was great for me) and talks on love and sex.
    The women’s conference provided a free salad. You could also get a baked potato, but that was an extra $5 in addition to your conference fee. We learned about being your own business woman by selling beauty care products.

    Oh the empowerment……

    • Interesting topic for the women, especially in the light of 1Pet 3:3-4. I wish I had the power/platform to substantively ask for your (and other women’s) forgiveness on behalf of all Christian men. To put it simply, we are bullies. Always have been, always (sadly) will be, at least a sizable chunk of us.

  6. I didn’t have time to read all of the posts in regards to this so I don’t know if this has been shared or not, but I think a great resource for men in regards to what it means to be a godly man is the book “The Resolution for Men” which goes along with the movie “Courageous”.

  7. I too attended the conference in Hamilton, and have spent a couple weeks reflecting on my experience. Reading the many and varied comments above, I felt the need to comment on a moment from the first evening that I found very symbolic of the entire event. One of the songs sung by the band was the traditional hymn, “How Great Thou Art”. In the final verse, the words read “Then I shall bow in humble adoration…”. My image from the conference is these words being SHOUTED by the lead singer, with FISTS PUMPING IN THE AIR!! Complete and confusing dissonance and distortion. This to me is an impression that fits the entire conference. Though some of the words were helpful and meaningful, the primary message of the event was one of powering up and fist pumping in a way that was incongruous with the best of what was said.

    Humility was a theme that was not welcome, nor was there room for any variance with the narrowly defined image of masculinity, nor for brokenness which haunts the lives of many men. As a therapist, with a significant portion of my clientele being men, both Christian and otherwise, I see themes of brokenness and pain in men’s lives that rattle them to the core. A conference like this brings little understanding nor true healing for the men who know they are broken, and rather paints a cartoon of masculinity for those who refuse to admit brokenness and who would rather hang onto a caricature of manhood.

    I sense a deep underlying fear that drives the leadership of this type of men’s event, with comments about men being “under attack” in our society…a fear that any show of weakness or need will emasculate them. And the men who hang onto these exaggerations of masculinity also live in fear that they might not live up to these contrived expectations, The so-called humour betrayed deep prejudices against women and those who are different, and discomfort with those parts of themselves that do not neatly fit into the promoted image of manhood.

    We are in desperate need for honest and open reflection by men about the full breadth of our personhoods, in the context of the important and welcome changes that are being gained by women and also by those who do not fit the simple binaries of gender existence. The previous “job description”, with it’s rigid and stifling constructs, is no longer adequate. I believe the opportunity is ripe for men to enter this dialogue in humbleness, with creativity, and with openness to and trust in God’s continuing work in our world.

      • Rick, curious if you attended the conference? Interested if you agree with the comments made with a first-hand account of what was actually said at the conference. Humility was the goal men received it. Following Christ as our example was the thread, the whole point of the conference. Different perspectives are great, discussion even better, but slanted commentary and blind agreement is just sad.

      • Could one of you point out any particular things that have been said that were not true? Just saying “I was there” and “exaggerated” don’t seem to me appropriate arguments, you are just saying we can’t take criticism.

      • Hi Tim, sure thing.

        Some of what is written in the original post are out of context and off from what actually happened at the conference. “In essence, let’s make fun of women and call them weaker;”.

        The take on the insensitive man competition is sad. It was 10 mins of the conference and was meant to show what not to do as men. Offer a light-hearted moment, the same as the talent contest. Here is the summary that I disagree with “Abuse your power. Demean women. This is what gives you the prize.”

        These items are simply not what was communicated at the conference, but of course anyone can take these on their own and blow them out of proportion.

        The conference challenged men to follow Christ. If the men who attended missed that then maybe they walked in already tainted.

      • Thanks, so basically you seem to be saying that the horrible “game” was intended to be horrible, and so should not form part of the review of the conference. Is there anything else?

  8. That’s really sad. I’m a sort of moderate complementian and I don’t have an issue with light-hearted gender jokes (the women in my life DO take ages to get ready!) but it sounds like they took things too far and the lack of sensitivity (which is not a Christlike virtue) could have done a great deal of damage!

  9. I truly appreciated your post, and I am someone who has put a lot of thought (and research) into gender and theology.

    I did want to point out that regulating Jesus to be a role model for men specifically essentially steals him from women. Yes, Jesus was a male while he was on earth: he couldn’t help but be one gender or the other, and let’s be honest, in a patriarchal culture, being a male was in his best interest. However, Jesus as God on earth is a role model for both women and men. He is a role model for how to be a Christian, not how to be one gender or the other. I can look to Jesus and see how I should behave just as well as men can. I want to be a woman who can embody Jesus, too.

  10. Thank you for this post. As a woman in the church, I want to believe that men in the church (at the very least those in leadership!) are striving to follow Jesus’ call to love and honor each other and I am saddened to be continually disappointed. Your report on the conference grieves me but I am so encouraged that you are calling out and naming these attitudes as sins. Please keep speaking truth into your brothers’ lives!

  11. The most important note in this conversation is that this criticism is not about theological disagreements, but about hateful language and poor character.

    Someone above compared the whole thing to a “buffet” where we can take what we want and leave what we don’t, which may be a fair perspective to take regarding theological disagreement.

    The difference is that in this case someone cut into the buffet line, poured soup all over your friend, and laughed because he “doesn’t eat with fat chicks”. At that point we are way beyond what “food is being served” and are talking a fundamental change to the table, one that tears down others present and judges based on worldly values.

    I guess at that point we have to ask what kind of table manners we welcome at this meal, and whether we want to continue to support the ongoing shaming that the bully has done at our peace table.

  12. I’m firmly convinced, and have been for many years, that one of the biggest dangers facing facing the Church (and Christian women), is the abuse and misuse of Christian women by Christian men. “Husbands, live with your wives ‘according to knowledge’ as the ‘weaker’ vessel, and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life” (1Pet 3:7). My personal belie is the men are “stronger’ and women are ‘weaker’ (generally and broadly speaking) only in terms of physical strength and the accompanying force of personality. Men can more easily ‘force’ women to submit because of these traits which allow them (men) to be bombastic, filled with hubris, and demonstrating power ‘over’ rather than, in the example of Jesus, power ‘under.’ May their tribe decrease!

  13. Having attended Mars Hill Ballard for several years, I have to challenge you in what you have written. Read some of what Mark’s wife Grace has written about women, women’s ministries and marriage. According to your conclusions, what you should find is a demeaned and abused by power woman. You conclusions couldn’t be more wrong.

    Mark Discoll is not right on every word he speaks. But, he is right in that every man is a wounded sinner and needs to deal with BOTH elements of his physical and spiritual existence.
    I did not attend the conference and am not questioning anything you experienced there. My challenge to you is to interpret those experiences an emotions through the lens of the gospel and anything that does not measure up to the gospel, you need to leave that at the cross.

    • I don’t think fist pumping while singing “How Great Thou Art,” measures up to the gospel. Kevin mentioned above that judging by worldly values is a problem within the church, and I think that the “complementarian” view of human relations is particularly susceptible to this problem.

  14. Thanks for the heads up. I am taking some men to the conference in Indy and will be able to prep them for what they might hear. I am a personal friend of James and if I have the same response I will direct me comments to him as well.

  15. Stan, (my husband) and I have been discussing the conference CONSTANTLY for the last few days, after one of his coworkers attended it.

    (Notably, the question came up in one of our conversations: “Can having a narrow definition of ‘masculine’ push/bully men off in another direction?”, but I’ll leave that one alone for now as it would need to be more of a research question in order to account for a million various situations)

    Overall, we each had a different focus. Stan was not thrilled with the hyper-masculine approach that narrowly defined what it means to be a “man” in terms of eating ribs/watching sports/liking cars/exercising authority/etc. There is nothing un-Christ-like about not liking ribs, and in many ways, Christ was a servant leader.

    I was all for a conference that tells guys in their 20s/30s/40s to “man up” in terms of character-building (i.e. stop sleeping with your girlfriend and marry her, porn is not for adults any more than it is for children, playing video games 16 hours/day does not help you to become the man you just said you WANT to be, etc) as my two dating relationships prior to Stan fell apart due to hidden sin/addiction (and a lack of desire for change once discovered) on the part of the guys.

    But I think we would both generally agree…harsh gender roles and sexist jokes probably aren’t particularly helpful. Both seem to miss the point: As Christians we are all called to be living sacrifices, which God is shaping to conform to the image of Christ.

    For me, that is readily apparent when Stan does the dishes. It’s not because he shouldn’t have to do the dishes, or because he is miraculously transcending a firm gender role. He does the dishes simply because I hate dishes. When he does them, it is an act of service and love…and after all, who actually likes doing the dishes?

    • Sky & Stan, did either of you attend the conference? The teaching had nothing to do with what is described above. It actually challenged and humbled men; to follow Christ, to serve their wives. To get over themselves. Jesus is the example. If ‘eating ribs’ was brought up, it’s because it was lunch-time and guys where hungry. There was no emphasis on masculinity or femininity for that matter. Yes, about biblical roles of leadership. Hoping you get a hold of the teaching and compare it to God’s word.

      • Great response, the writer of this article is way off base with his comments. I do agree that the whole most insensitive guy thing did not go over well, and I am assuming that the organizers will see that it failed to encapsulate what I believe they were attempting to do. I would be surprised if they do not alter it in some way for the subsequent conferences. There will always be slips of the tongue or comments that can be misconstrued at an event like this. The overall theme of the conference was for men to stand up and fulfill their Biblical roles as men in their families, churches and communities.

  16. This post was pretty dramatic Preston. I mean, I think a lot.of the stuff that happened is lame too, but we can lighten up a little. I am a complementarian and it has nothing to do with gender equality. It has everything to do with spiritual authority in the church. I simply cannot dismiss the vert explicit passages of scripture that speak on this. To say “Paul is referring to a specific problem” is very dangerous. What else doesn’t apply to us today because Paul was referring to a specific problem in a specific church?

    Oh and women (for the most part) do take forever to get ready. It’s not mean it’s just true.

    • It is fantastically naive to say that being a complementarian has nothing to do with gender equality. Try telling that to women whose gifts and callings have been suppressed by complementarian theology.

      And for the record, not every woman takes a long time to get ready, just like not every man thinks sexist stereotypes are funny.

    • That’s because there is so much focus on women’s physical appearance and the consequent hair/clothes/makeup preparation so many of us feel is needed to measure up to an unrealistic standard.

      • Yep, this. Before it is ok for men to make fun of women who are insecure about their appearance, they had better be unshakeably sure that their behaviour towards the women in their lives show that they value character, personality, and God-given natural beauty above having the “right” clothes, hair, body, and sexual demeanour, as defined by the world. As someone whose husband does this exceptionally well, I have transformed from a woman who could neurotically change outfits three times for a minor event to one who actually gets ready more quickly than my husband. The idea that complementarianism can be separated from gender stereotypes and gender equality is rather nearsighted and perhaps a reason complementarianism is held in such disdain by those who disagree with us?

  17. Your agenda was clear throughout this post. So sad. Funny how thousands of men left humbled, encouraged and charged to love their wives like the Christ loved the Church and you find it necessary to exaggerate comments made toward women. So untrue. Unnecessary. Sad. To everyone else. I hope you will get a copy of the DVD of the teaching sessions, measure it against God’s word and draw your own conclusion. Praying for the local church. It’s obvious we are all broken and need more of Christ. Less of ourselves.

    • Lance, I think we would benefit by making a distinction between explicit and implicit theologies. Explicit theology is what a community of faith *expresses* as its belief (e.g. Westminster Confession, EFCA Statement of Faith, pastors’ sermons, conference messages, etc.). Implicit theology is what members of faith communities *do* when they come together: How worship is done (style, order, liturgy), nature of fellowship (what happens after service, cliques, food service), decision making (who makes the decisions for the church, communication of those decisions), leadership, who are the heroes, who are those ignored or underappreciated, how are resources used (money, time, which ministry gets the most funding, the least funding?), and, in this particular case, the nature of humor (what kind of jokes are acceptable? who are the butt of the jokes? who benefits?)

      When there is integrity between one’s explicit and implicit, when these are complementary people are optimally served and the gospel is optimally communicated (keeping in mind that communication is just as much about how the message is received as it is how it is delivered). If there is a disjunct, however, the formation process of people and the communication process of the gospel are inhibited. Also, when there is a disconnect, the theology communicated at the implicit level is more powerful in affect.

  18. I was at the conference in L.A, and I loved the event and it’s teaching on being men of integrity who are willing to be servants to their wives and families. The most insensitive man in the word was for humor and fun – sorry to the author to have missed that. I guess different people have opposite tastes in humor. It was a great event calling men to be the strong men our families, churches and communities need. Too bad people keep looking at it in a wronged negative light.

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  20. I attended the Act Like Men conference in Long Beach so I speak empirically. I want to point out something that is an epidemic among Christians today. We hear a spiritual comment in a sermon, conference, or blog post and shake our heads in aggreement at something we really do not understand, but think we should. It’s been called “Christianese”. A sermon may end with, “now walk in the spirit”. Although we struggle to live this out or understand the meaning, we fail to ask for clarity.
    The article above admits that “the Holy Spirit was present” at this conference. We like to throw this disclaimer out as if behaving correctly invites the Holy Spirit to hang with us. If one person, ONE, was at the conference in which Christ dwelt in them, then the Holy Spirit was present. It’s not based on good deeds, but the finished work of Jesus Christ. I am one in whom Christ dwells, so in Long Beach, the Holy Spirit was present. And let me make this clear, it was not because I’m a good guy, but because Christ is in me.
    As far as incensitivity goes, the stories above need clarity as well. Matt Chandler is a ferocious man of God. What I did not say was that he is God. All of these men who spoke are flawed just as you and me are. Matt pointed out that he does not make light of the struggles we men have. He noted that some men at the conference no doubt struggle with same sex attraction. It is not something to laugh at or make fun of. The overarching theme of the conference was not women bashing or homosexual bashing.
    The most insensitive man in the world contest did not reward sin either. The task was to text or email in a story about a friend that was at the conference with you that did something insensitive. The receiver of the ipad was not the so called winner of the story, but the friend who texted the story in. It was not an attempt to glorify sin.
    Overall it was a great conference. I would love to chat about it more with anyone who is interested. U hope I brought some clarity to the conversation for those who could not make it.

  21. I was at the event in Hamilton with 40 other men from my church… I’d have to say that Preston has missed it big time.So many men (including the 40 who joined me) were challenged to be the best men they could be in Christ.
    We all can find anything in anyone’s words to criticize if we want to… depending on our perspectives. I personally loved the 2 days and definitely sensed the Holy Spirit using these men’s words in a huge way. So because I saw things differently am I wrong? Was I in error regarding the Holy Spirit then… or did He just show up in my section of Copps Colisium and not Prestons for some reason?
    The Pharisees who were very zealous for God and sincere about following God still missed the whole point with Jesus. My take is that Preston is being very zealous for God and very sincere about following God and yet missed the whole point with these guys who pointed many men to Jesus. Maybe Preston allowed cultural realtivism to be the ‘deciding’ factor? Just my two cents.

  22. Why are there no “Act Like Christians” conferences? “In Christ there is no male and female”, so “acting like men” has to come from the world, not the scriptures. Let’s ditch the gender-based conferences and just “act like Jesus”.

  23. Pastorbradyoung, I have not attended the conference, and won’t concern myself with comments about it. However, I get the distinct impression that you feel that Preston’s handling of it was one-sided and irksome. I must say, the same commentary applies to your description of the egalitarian stance. “The very explicit passages of scripture” you allude to are typically not clear, and usually badly interpreted by complementarians. Your closing questions don’t reflect the egalitarian position. Hit the Greek. It may not change your mind. But at least you’ll understand why egalitarians hold the views they do.

  24. Thank you for posting about your experience. I applaud your courage. You did some tough work staying (at the conference) and you’re doing some tough work to be an advocate and ally. Your experience reflects many of my own memories growing up male and in the church. I also hope you can find other men to encourage and support you as you make your way through, what at times, can be a masculine wasteland. I’m not sure if you can see my email, if you can, contact me; we’ll hang. Peace-

  25. Preston, Thank you for your remarks. I too attended this “act like Men” conference. Since I have attended many Promise Keepers events in the past years, I was looking forward to this gathering. I even listen to many messages that James presents on the radio and was looking forward to what he had to say as well as many of the other presenters. What took me by surprise is that the opening remarks, which in many public events, would be the intent of the whole weekend. I was taken back by the negative intentions in the message, such as men are not….men are not….men are not… I had a difficult time in this day and age that we are challenged by the things that we are not to be….. what kind of training, teaching publicly says the things that we are not, as to the things that we are.
    I have real concerns when our life is about the things that we are not, as to the things that we are. Isn’t it suppose to be much more of an impact if we are trying to be the things that we are as to be focused on the things that we are not.

    I do appreciate your comments very much….

    Lets be motivated by the things that we are to be, like the song says, they will know we are Christians by our love.

  26. I also was blessed to been able to attend the conference in my eyes it was amazing just to put it out there the soy latte joke was still being shared but I like soy lattes no biggie really I think the conference was great love the worship and the speakers all four might not be for everyone but to each his own like the saying goes chew the meat spit the fat lol

  27. Just wanted to say I was there and I thought they all did a good job. And no one has said this but they said it many time do all you do in love and that is very Christ like and I would go again and would like to say thanks to these men.

  28. I was in Indy for the conference. All I can say is that the author’s portrayal is a far cry from my experience and the message I heard. I and the men I was with would have been flatly offended at any suggestion that we should abuse our power or demean women. The message of the event was “Be like Jesus”.

  29. Pingback: On gender equality and cat GIFs | Sonja Goes to College

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