Why Church Leaders Should Be Re-examining Men’s Roles Within

with Brett Clemmer

Counselor in a psychiatric ward, supervisor of a juvenile detention center, manager of a homeless shelter: The bullet points on Brett Clemmer’s résumé read like a grand tour of human suffering and brokenness. But Clemmer says that’s just how he’s wired—or, more accurately, how God wired him. “I guess hurting people are something that I’ve just always been drawn to, helping people find their way through times that don’t look like they’re possible to get through,” he explains. “Every one of those jobs has a big backstory for how I got there, but through it all you can see God’s sovereign will being exercised.”

Today, Clemmer carries out that will as the president and CEO of Man in the Mirror, a Florida-based organization that both ministers to men struggling with a wide range of problems, from addiction to family dysfunction to homelessness, and works with pastors and lay leaders alike to help them better serve those in crisis.

“We try to equip churches and other men to walk alongside those guys, be a spiritual guide as they’re confronting the problems they’re facing,” he says. “The world has its own answers for those things, whether it’s through counseling or sheltering, or other social services; they’re trying to meet immediate needs. I think we help churches and men go to a level deeper than that and get to the spiritual roots of all those things, the spiritual ramifications of when a guy’s hurting.”

In the process, Clemmer hopes Man in the Mirror can get more men to view church participation not as a source of guilt or busy work, but as a fulfilling pursuit that can make a real difference in the lives of others. “We want to reach guys who are struggling, and we do that by loving them like Jesus loved them,” he says. “We help meet their physical and their spiritual needs, and we remember that some of Jesus’ greatest encounters were with people who had ongoing issues they were trying to deal with.”

What do you think are the most important keys for disciples in our current society?

 There are a few ways to answer this. One is, are you willing to reflect honestly on who you are, where you are, what your place in the world is, how you’re wired—are you willing to look at yourself honestly and have some self-awareness? Then, are you willing to pursue God wholeheartedly and look at who you are in light of who God is and what your relationship is with Him, taking your needs and weaknesses and all of that to God, metaphorically leaving at the foot of the cross all your failures and sinfulness?

Then once you do that, the third key is to live life abundantly. You’re not walking around like you’re defeated all the time, but you’re living a life that other people are envious of. Paul says in First Corinthians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Are we leading lives worthy of imitation? Are we enjoying the life we have in relation to God and other people? Discipleship is self-examination, it’s selflessly pursuing a relationship with God, and then it’s living the life that He promised you, visibly, publicly.

When I say “envy,” I mean a life that’s winsome. Look at the people that we look up to in our society—when you take the famous people out of it, what do we look up to? We look up to sacrifice, selflessness, people who put others’ needs in front of their own. We look up to people who have long, happy marriages, and if you’ve been married for any length of time you know marriage isn’t always happy, it’s very, very difficult. So that’s what I mean when I say a life that people would be envious of—not in the worldly, flesh-tinged ways, but in the spiritual, soul-level ways.

Why do you think men aren’t more involved in the church these days? Do you think men have started to take a view of church work as something that’s more in the women’s sphere?

No, I think that what’s happening is men came to church looking for something and they didn’t find it. So when they didn’t find it, they started looking elsewhere. What they were looking for is true community, fellowship, brotherhood, a sense of purpose. Instead, what I think a lot of guys experienced was a call to “busy-ness,” a call to performance. And they already get that at work, they get that with their wives’ “honey-do” lists. So why should they get up and go to church when they can go play golf with their buddies? There are lots of demands on our time these days, and you’ve got to decide where to invest that time.

And COVID’s made it a ton worse. Pre-COVID, we had three kinds of men in church: the guys that were doing all the work, the leaders, staff and volunteers; a group of people who were pretty engaged for one reason or another, they were serious about growing in their faith; and then this third group that were the “cultural Christians.” These are the folks that enjoyed the culture of the church, but they were really just going through the motions. Maybe it’s good for their business to be involved in the church, maybe their wife was involved and that just gave them a set of friends. Then COVID hit and I think what we’re seeing is those cultural Christians aren’t coming back because there’s nothing compelling to bring them back, and they got out of the habit. With the habit broken, and also realizing that they weren’t finding what they were looking for to begin with—just busy-ness and guilt—they just aren’t coming back.

I know a little piece of it, too, is that once you couldn’t go to church, even if you were serious about it, you realized you could watch at any minute an incredible sermon by an amazing preacher anywhere in the world. So that’s not bringing you back to church. Not that you’re actually watching the services, necessarily, but you just know you can.

What I think brings guys to church its other guys. They’re gathered in the context of relationships and community, they’re pursuing Christ together. When you don’t feel like you’re pursuing Christ but you’ve got guys who are your brothers, you’re in close relationships with them and they’re doing it, that’s what gets you through those times when you’re a little dry and stagnant. When you don’t have that, I think most people just stay away.

Many men who are struggling with addiction or other life problems are thinking to themselves, “My life’s so messed up, I can’t possibly carve out time to devote to a church.” How do you convince them that getting more involved in a church could actually help them find the solution to those problems? 

I think a guy with an addiction does not think church can solve his problem because historically the church hasn’t solved this problem. The church has brought judgment and guilt, even if it wasn’t explicit. There are wonderful exceptions to this, like Celebrate Recovery or AA, which is pretty secular these days but didn’t start out that way. And there are still many denominations that host AA groups.

I think part of the issue with guys with addictions, it’s not a time thing; it’s a soul thing, a guilt thing. They don’t think they belong and they don’t think they can be honest, because if they tell people at church they’ve got a gambling problem or a drug problem or a porn problem, it’s not like the church goes, “Oh, we’re so happy you came here so we can help you with it.” The church looks kind of aghast, like, “Oh, God, I can’t believe you’re struggling with that.” The church has not historically been great at helping people who are being honest about their sin struggles with much more than “You need to do better.” And that’s not going to help anybody, especially with an addiction issue.

You talked earlier about how more guys will come to church if they see more guys in the church—maybe those are the kinds of disciples men in crisis need to see, guys who are willing to welcome them and help them with what they’re dealing with.

 We want to reach guys who are struggling, and we do that by loving them like Jesus loved them. We help meet their physical and their spiritual needs, and we remember that some of Jesus’ greatest encounters were with people who had ongoing issues they were trying to deal with. We want this to be a place where guys can come and heal, but you can’t heal if you’re constantly being made to feel guilty and weird.

And while we think of addiction as drugs, porn, and alcohol, there’s also gluttony, there’s addictions to your kids’ success, addictions to people thinking well of you, addiction to your own reputation. We look at those as somehow less sinful when they’re really not.

So I think the issue is, how are we preparing our guys to be as Christ was to guys who are in pain and struggling and suffering? And not be the guys clucking their tongues and raising their eyebrows? Because guys are super-sensitive to that. Guys know. You can sense it. And when a guy experiences that, you often don’t get a second chance with him.

Those other things you described, they may not be the first thing that pop into our heads when we think of “addiction,” but they’re no less common. Maybe even more so.

Basically, it comes down to idolatry. What do you worship? If you worship your bank account balance more than you worship God, if you worship your kids’ success more than you worship God, and you just can’t stop doing that, that’s an addiction. From a spiritual standpoint, it may be more dangerous. Jesus was pretty kind to prostitutes and people whose sin was public. The people he got the angriest with were people who covered up their sin with piety.



What does restoration mean to you?

At a micro level, I think of restoration as people being back in the right relationship with God. I also think of restoration as recovery, I guess. When a person’s had difficulty, they’ve had a fall of one kind or another—it could be a moral fall, but it could be a relationship fall or an economic fall—and when they’re able to look past the sort of material world of that immediate impact and look more to the spiritual opportunity it presents, to see God restore somebody through difficulty, through pain, through suffering, that’s a beautiful thing.

the redeemed log lion inside a crown of throns