I read Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys from Church on the heels of reading Raising Boys By Design (linked to my review over at 5 Minutes for Books). Raising Boys by Design is a companion title, of sorts. It focuses more on the science of the male brain (with good Biblical advice on how to raise a boy), whereas Searching for Tom Sawyer focuses on the need for churches to recognize the differences between the sexes in the way that they design their services and minister to the males in their congregations. Both titles are very useful reads. Honestly, my favorite was Raising Boys by Design and I can do nothing but highly recommend that you read it over and over again until you assure me that you have. That's not to say that I did not appreciate Searching for Tom Sawyer because I did, but I thought it the weaker of the two and if you only have time to read one, read the other. (If you have time to read both, then absolutely do!)
I'm going to tell you what I didn't like about Searching for Tom Sawyer before I tell you what I like. Part of the reason for that is because my list of reasons not to like it is much, much shorter than my list of reasons to like it. I didn't appreciate two things, in particular. The first is that while I understood the reason for the choice of title (Mark Twain) I thought Tim Wright went into too much detail trying to incorporate the story of Tom into the book. The title speaks for itself and received too long and drawn out of an explanation. Read Twain on Tom and not Tim. (Make sense? Ha.) Secondly, I don't feel like Wright is a strong writer. However, that said, he has a passion for his message and this makes up for any lack of finesse or particular skill. The book is worth reading ten times over so it behooved me to get over my petty dislikes and I was completely able to do so. (It does help that the further you get into the book, the less Wright tries to draw analogies from Tom Sawyer.)
As a mother of boys I appreciate Tim Wright for taking a stand to reach the heart of men. However, I don't think you need to be a mother of a boy to have a reason to read this book. If you are a Christian then I think you should. If you have daughters I think you should if you care about their potential future spouses. It should concern both males and females how a portion of the Body of Christ's needs are being met and/or ignored. Wright makes a good case (as did Jantz and Gurian in their book) that males are being ignored and that should make us all a bit heartsick, just as it has whenever women
are wrongly defined and mistreated.
Following on the heels of the research done by Jantz and Gurian (Raising Boys by Design), Wright's desire is for pastors and laypeople alike to recognize the differences between boys and girls so that the church can have the greatest impact possible on young men (just as the young women). This involving everything from checking the lyrics of the worship songs sung (carefully considering removing songs which are heavy on romance and short on responsibility before God) to pondering the effects of splitting up Sunday School classes and having separate classes for boys and girls in order to accommodate boys' innate design and desire to be more active and less cerebral than girls. He challenges the pastor, the elders and the men in the congregation to reach out to the boys in the church, to invest in their lives and to teach them what it means to be men. Wright's passion is that boys in the church would stay in the church, growing strong in their faith and convictions.
Now, even in writing the above paragraph I know that people will be up in arms complaining about statements differentiating between males and females. Wright acknowledges that he has had some kick back from his message and anticipates more of the same. Does this make his message wrong? I say no. I say we should be silent for a moment longer and take a second or two more to process his message internally and try to make sense of what he is saying.
Wright believes (and I do agree) that men and women are created and designed differently. This difference does not mean that one sex is greater than the other. He is quick to point out that scripture places both sexes on equal footing but he does note that each sex is designed for different things and I agree. Both Wright and I would also both agree that while each gender has traits that are specific to themselves, there are also exceptions to the rule. Wright acknowledges that he's the sort of fellow who likes to use a lot of words and is quieter and more thoughtful than some of his male counterparts are. Saying that someone is male doesn't mean that they are loud, active, aggressive, or in any way disagreeable (as they are wont to be described). He also is quick to acknowledges that although there are exemptions and variety within each sex, men are the same in that they desire to be heroes and they love challenges. Wright's firm belief is that the greatest example of a hero is Jesus Christ and that if Jesus and right theology is taught, then men will be drawn to the church and the church's mission to be the representative of Jesus on earth; to want to save the world.
Wright encourages the reader to work themselves away from a weak worship service - one that does not actively present a king, a Savior and a conqueror who redeems people from their sins by dying on the cross. Cleaning up the message takes away the meaning and the impact that can (and should!) be had on the hearts of not just the men but also the women! Weak theology will never serve either sex well! The heart of the Gospel message tells men that they need a Savior. It tells them that there is an enemy and a war to fight. (As a woman, right theology tells me that the battle is won and I am saved and redeemed and am safe and secure . . . among other things.)
Ladies and gentleman both, we should not be watering down the Bible, editing it, changing it, or apologizing for it. I choose not to mince words with my kids. I read the Proverbs to them straight up so that they'll know the difference between wise men and fools. They memorize the Psalms as-is to know how to worship God and also to take refuge in Him when things look uncertain. We read the "hard parts" and discuss them so that our boys and our girl will grow in understanding and discernment. And then we solidify what we've talked about by memorizing songs, hymns and spiritual songs so that their souls (and the souls of others!) will be easily encouraged. We strive to show them Jesus and in so doing we show them the greatest example of compassion and commitment to a cause. We show them a truthful and honest King and use our daily experiences to point out the need for Him. As their parents, it is imperative that our theology is correct so that we can teach our boys to be men (and our daughters to be women). And likewise, it is important for the church to hold the truths and scripture higher than any program or any activity to make sure that whatever programs and activities they do put to their use, will be used accurately and profitably.
To that end, Tim Wright does have suggestions for how churches can bring about changes to their ministries in order to appeal to men. I think his suggestions are well and good but the bottom line (and I do believe he would hastily agree) is that theology matters and the Bible can stand all on its own without my help or assistance and draw men to the Lord. Our job, above all else, is to preach the Gospel to our kids straight up, making no excuses, apologies and/or leaving any part out. Preach the word to your children - your boys and your girls. Live the word for your children - your boys and your girls. It is enough. It has always been enough. It always will be enough.
On the topic of worship music (which Wright brings up a couple of times) I think he has a point. I recognize there are differences in musical preferences, but I'm not a huge fan of the "Jesus is my boyfriend" worship songs which you hear a lot of today. I roll my eyes at being romanced by the King of the Ages for example. But if you tell me to arise and hear the call of Christ my captain, you'll have my attention. (That's just to give a little example.) Yes, this book (and this post) sort of focuses on boys and men - which I think is important and necessary to do at this time in history - but I think that if you commit yourself to the Gospel then what is fluff and nonsense will fall away when examined by the same Scripture. If you ask God for wisdom and discernment to know how to approach your young men (and young women) He will give it to you.
Almost to explain how I think men should be within the church (and outside of it), here is one of my favorite modern hymns written by the Keith Getty and Stewart Townsend. I'd love to see this one replace some of our fluffier singing material because I believe it accurately communicates scriptural truths and thus pierces the heart and brings about conviction during a period of worship. We've been memorizing this song as a family and let me tell you, it reduces me to tears every time we sing it. Also, I've noticed that my boys cannot sing this one sitting still and I don't ask them to. Action is a result of truth believed.
Many thanks to Tim Wright who sent me a copy of his book in order to facilitate a review. I have received no other compensation for writing this and all opinions expressed are my own.