Maybe you’re doing it wrong.
Once every few years I make it a point to re-watch HBO’s Band of Brothers miniseries. This ten-part offering from Spielberg, Hanks, & Co, follows Easy Company of the Army’s 101st Airborne from training in Georgia through World War II’s end. It’s absolutely a story about war. It’s a story about a specific war. It’s a story about the experiences of a particular group of men in one specific war.
But the main takeaway, it seems, is that it’s a story about camaraderie. It’s a story about a handful of guys – young guys, terrifyingly young given what we asked them to do – who experienced something few of us can imagine, and the bonds that formed between them.
I’ve noticed that all the good war books I’ve ever read, and all the best war movies I’ve ever seen, have this theme: the bonds that form between men who share foxholes. There’s something to that, something worth investigating and latching on to.
And that’s exactly where Christian men’s ministries find themselves. The effort now seems to be to correct the previous generation’s disinterest in men by amping up the emphasis on camaraderie in their church men’s groups. There are even ministries called “Band of Brothers” in a no-attempt-at-subtlety theft and adoption of the cinematic motif.
The goal of each of these ministries is to: solidify the bonds between a group of men such that their connection can be useful in their spiritual growth and discipleship.
I respect the effort. I really appreciate that the church seems to be waking up to the importance of reaching its men. And that they’re starting to understand the significance of men’s friendships is a burst of useful insight I don’t usually associate with the church. But I think the approach exposes their lack of actual mastery of the subject of manhood. Here’s what I mean:
The Formula is Backwards
We begin with a correct premise: Camaraderie is an essential ingredient to surviving war. A tight-knit group of soldiers has infinitely greater odds against the Germans and a tight-knit group of Christian men will be vastly more successful than the isolated Christian.
But how is the camaraderie formed? With the tight-knit group of soldiers, it’s forged in the fires of battles. The hell of boot camp begins to meld them together, but once the shit hits the fan, that’s when it really gets real. Watch Band of Brothers again. Watch the interviews with the actual men. Note their obvious affection for their comrades in arms. They love each other because they battled and bled together.
The church, however, approaches it backwards. The dominant assumption is that you can stick a dozen guys in a room, feed them, and – BOOM – camaraderie. Then, with camaraderie in place, they can survive whatever battles (in reality, there aren’t any – we’ll come back to this) they find themselves in. But this is a facade. It’s not the real thing. You can’t expect proximity and a few shared core beliefs to solidify a group of men into a fighting force. It doesn’t work that way. But odds are the local chapter of Band of Brothers assumes it will.
Men need shared struggle to form bonds.
There’s No Initiation
Post Battle of the Bulge, we see the tired, wounded, shell-shocked troopers of Easy Co in flatbeds being hauled into whichever town they’re to defend next. Meeting them there was a soldier that had been with them since the start, but was rehabbing war-wounds in a hospital while EASY was shivering in the Ardennes. As he approached his former mates he was, essentially, shunned. They wanted nothing to do with him. Why? Because while they were digging into the dichotomously frozen and molten ground of the Ardennes forest, he was safe. He didn’t suffer with him. Thus, he was not granted instant access back into the group. He had to prove himself; he had to earn the right once again.
On the other hand, if you want to join a Christian Band of Brothers, just fill out the bulletin insert.
It’s too easy to get in. And once you’re in, say the rules of the feminized culture, you’re equal. Anything else wouldn’t be nice. And we may be pretending to train for war, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be nice. There’s no point at which a man has to prove himself to the men he claims (by his presence) to intend to fight with and for. No show of skill or grit. No litmus test for loyalty or valor.
And not only is it too easy to get in, it’s too easy to stay in. You can be unreliable, unprepared, even uninterested, but if you show up for the bi-weekly meetings, you’re part of the group.
Easy, free access devalues the mission to all the men. When access and equality is guaranteed, people lose their passion and lower their standards.
We’re Not Fighting Any Wars
Hear me well. I did not say there weren’t any wars to fight. I said we’re not fighting them. This is a cornerstone to the Band of Brothers concept. Without Nazi Germany’s aggression and Imperial Japan’s delusion these men would not know each other and we would not be inspired by their tales of heroism and camaraderie. But they did have a war to fight. They had a homeland to defend. They had a cause worth dying for.
The church doesn’t know much about war. We pay lip service to it. We tell the masses of bored, neutered, nice guys to put on the armor of God, watch Braveheart, come to the weekly Band of Brothers pancake breakfast, but we don’t know much about war. We couch our daily responsibilities as “battlegrounds” but we don’t really believe it.
Most of us – myself included- don’t know shit about battle.
Don’t Waste Your (or my!) Time
Until the church is willing to pick a fight – until the men in the church have that lifetime cause that drives them to stare defiantly down the barrels of the enemies’ weapons – don’t waste your time with a Band of Brothers. It’s just a fancy new name for the same, rehashed waste of time we’ve seen for a generation.
More importantly, it won’t actually have any consequential positive impact anyway. It is the truest definition of futility to say, “We don’t have the purpose, the outlook, the passion, or the cause, but, by God, we’re going to get something on the calendar!” STOP!
If… IF… we could just muster the courage and develop the vision to pick a fight you’d see men come alive. Their Brothers in Pancakes would become actual brothers. Their friendships would be true and deep and serve an eternal purpose. Their battle stories would inspire their neighbors, and their sons would listen in awe – a new generation of warriors learning in real time. What an amazing thought – legions of dangerous, strong, battle-ready men storming the enemies’ lines, defending the kingdom, raising our flag where once the darkness reigned.
So, instead of trying to design programs with catchy themes based on popular entertainment, let’s get pissed off that evil is on the march. And let’s infect the guy next to us with our rage. And let’s demand our leaders train us well for actual battle.
And then let’s fight. The camaraderie will take care of itself.