I remember Obert Olia, Eddie Wipperfurth and John Sherman. They were great guys!
Obert and John are now with the Lord. I see Eddie once in a while when I visit my home church near Sun Prairie, Wis. Back in the early 1970s, I was a teenager whose father had died. These men played dartball at the Church Brotherhood meetings and invited me to join them.
Along with a few other high school-aged boys, and these guys in their 50s and 60s, we met on Tuesday nights and threw darts against a painted baseball game board. We played dartball against other men’s teams from neighboring Lutheran churches. It was competition and about skill and luck. And yet it was much more.
The nights were about the game of dartball. But the hours spent in that church and in other local churches, as well as in the car driving with these guys to and from the games, were also about life and growing up and faith in God. It was a men’s ministry, and it helped shape me as a person and as a pastor.
Twice a year, for nearly 10 years, I have served as the bishop’s representative to the churchwide board of Lutheran Men in Mission. It is a wonderful experience. Yes, the meetings are about budgets, personnel and programs, but it is mainly a weekend about faith and life. Seated with a dozen other men, I hear wonderful stories of how God is at work. These lay people (usually, I am the only clergy) are successful and busy professionals and self-employed men who feel called to share the gospel in their own way. They see a need for men’s ministry in this church and want it to grow throughout our congregations.
When I return from these meetings, I tell my wife and staff at the synod office that it was more like a retreat than another business session at “the building” in Chicago. The Spirit is present and alive and well in this church.
Some question the need for a specific ministry for men. I do not. As human beings, women, youth and men have special gifts and needs and hopes. Whether it is because of cultural formation or biological similarity, we develop relationships with people of the same sex and age.
I look at our congregations, and the biggest demographic group missing from our worshiping communities is working- age men, fellows from 16 to 60. If a men’s group can assist our people and help the guys involved to name and claim God’s work in their congregations and communities, I am for it.
I have the same strong encouragement for Christian groups for women and for youth.
I realize men’s ministry is not for everyone. Yet, I have seen with my own eyes the opportunity it presents for people to hear the gospel and share their lives with others. Some of the biggest supporters of this work are our church women who see the need in their husbands or sons for a living growing Christian faith, and a place where they can honestly talk about the issues in their lives with others who will understand them.
I thank God for Obert and John and Eddie, and for those people of godly faith who saw a need for men’s ministry and made it work in a small congregation in southern Wisconsin. It made a difference. And still does!
Thomas A. Skrenes, bishop
Bishop Thomas Skrenes