Going Deep: Leroy Miles
Leroy Miles Jr. serves Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., as associate pastor of pastoral care and counseling. As such, he heads up My Brother's Keeper, a spiritual development ministry that seeks to reposition and restore men to what God's word instructs them to be, tackling issues like domestic violence and pornography.
Where did your passion for working with men and men's ministry begin?
Miles: Before I became a pastor, I found that many of the churches did not have enough men in them. The women were leading and serving in every capacity, and I began to notice that guys would just come and go. When I got into ministry myself about 12 or 13 years ago, I began to focus on men and on small fellowship opportunities, things like taking a bus trip to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, or playing tackle football once a year. We called it the Enon Bowl, and we'd play full contact the Saturday before the Superbowl—it took us a year to recover after each game! We found that the guys who came saw us as leaders, and they would come and begin to ask questions after the game—"Hey, man, I'm going through this or that, what do you think?"
How has your approach to men's ministry evolved over the years?
Miles: We were very fellowship-oriented initially; then we began to create specific Bible study opportunities for the guys separate from Sunday school. Now, in addition to those groups we have this wonderful initiative called My Brother's Keeper, which is Sunday school but more of an accountability group that we created as a response to our domestic violence ministry focusing specifically on women. We realized that a lot of the guys were not the monsters they were made out to be but just really frustrated and not able to articulate what was going on with them, not having a safe place to be vulnerable. So we created this opportunity every Sunday, and it has grown into the third largest Sunday school class, and men are coming from all over to attend.
In addition to all of that we created our Men of Iron group, where we look at seven areas of fitness: mental, spiritual, emotional, physical, financial, social, and martial (where we teach self-defense and how to protect your family if a challenge presents itself).
So we are strongly encouraging men to be responsible and pay attention to the whole man. I'll give you an example of the physical area: Once a year we contract with a local hospital to come and bring all their equipment and diagnostic stuff with them. They tap into our computer system, and we cancel our Saturday service, and the church becomes a hospital for one day. The two years since we started this have had over 1,200 men come each time. We screen for prostate cancer and measure cholesterol, height/weight, BMI, blood sugar, and HIV. At the end of the day we offer classes. When the men leave we scan the bar code on their wristband and their whole health report prints out, and they walk out with a one-pager that gives them all their numbers, which they can take to their primary physician or, if they don't have a primary care physician, at the very least they will know their numbers for the year. Because of working with the hospital liability, if we see guys whose numbers show them to be at high risk, we have to call the ambulance and send them straight to emergency treatment or, at the very least, we have a triage station set up, and we've had a significant number of guys who had to have immediate treatment at the church. So men see how committed we are around the physical heath piece of it. A responsible man knows his HIV status and knows his PSA numbers and cholesterol and owns that.
My Brother's Keeper is demanding in terms of accountability. The men are given a card with all seven areas of fitness on it and are asked to submit their card each time and show what they've done for that week. It is a nine-month initiative. Last October we had 188 guys who owned their fitness in those seven areas. These are responsible men who are leaders in their home, the church, and their communities. Our work with men is very systematic but with broad strokes.
What do you find to be the greatest challenges in men's ministry?
Miles: Transparency and vulnerability, encouraging men to go deeper. So when we talk about emotional sickness we say, "Face it, trace it back to its origin, and replace it." Getting men to want to face the challenge was already a big deal, but then to trace it back and do that deep contemplative work—that has been an issue. As ministry leaders, we try to be as vulnerable as we can be, we try to encourage them by showing them: "This is how you do it. We are not perfect, but this is the work that is necessary." We are really creating relationships across the board where we can do that type of work, but it's been challenging to say the least.
How much of a challenge is pornography use among the men, and how pervasive is it?
Miles: From the conversations in the men's group, I would have to say very challenging as well as pervasive in the broader Christian community of our church. We talk about it. Many feel that to some degree it is socially acceptable—a picture here, a joke there, a short video sent via an email attachment, or something along those lines. But we have identified this as not acceptable; pornography takes on a life of its own. Addiction is defined as being enslaved to a practice that is psychologically or physically habit-forming to the extent that its cessation causes severe trauma. Also its effect on the man's family can cause trauma—the wife may have found pornography on the computer and blamed it on the children, who then become frustrated because they are innocent in this particular case, and the family is suddenly in disarray. Now the dad has to admit he was looking at inappropriate sites. There's the guilt that comes with disclosure, when he says, "Hey, I need help here. I need help in this area." Church leaders/men's accountability groups offer that help. So they come to us and we help them see that it is very pervasive, very damaging, and it is not a victimless crime. It goes hand in hand with the human trafficking problem.
In what ways do you seek to address the subject of pornography, lust, sexual exploitation, sexual addiction, and sexual justice with the men?
Miles: We are very open with the discussion of pornography addiction, very open and honest. It's a part of the teaching, a part of the sermonic presentation over the weekend. It's been a hard conversation at the men's retreat annually and in the small groups. And that's where My Brother's Keeper accountability comes into play. A conversation may look something like this: "Even though it may appear she is enjoying this act on video, we know that no healthy woman—and when I say healthy I mean emotionally and spiritually—would participate willingly in such acts. Pretty Woman has done us a disservice in that it makes it appear that prostitution is this cute profession that women choose and Richard Gear is going to come and swoop them off their feet. Prostituted women, pornography performers—these women are someone's mother, someone's sister, someone's daughter. So let's flip the script and ask ourselves, "If I saw my mother, sister, or daughter engaging in this act, how would I feel?"
How has working with men on such issues changed you personally?
Miles: It has taken me to the next level of sensitivity. I have been exposed to it. I don't think there's a person on this earth who can say he has not been exposed to it. But looking at it differently now, as 1 Timothy 5:1-4 says, if a woman is not your wife then you treat her as your mother or your sister, depending on her age. We are trying to teach the men about accountability to God and to others and in particular to females.
Are you involved with any related men's ministries conferences, events, or courses outside of Enon?
Miles: Enon is enough! Enon is big—about 15,000 people, and that is a real number not a fluff number. Then we have another 2,000 or 3,000 people we track who have come to the church but have not yet joined. We will provide support for anyone who comes seeking support from the community. But that said, I do go out and speak at other churches about pornography. We're really trying to get it out there, so whenever a church or conference is willing to take on the subject, I try to further the conversation. I presented in early May at the Christian Research and Development conference in Cherry Hill, N.J., on this very topic. This was an annual conference held in our area for Christian counselors and church pastors.