Brent Henderson can claim many identities: men’s ministry leader, author, professional singer, commercial fisherman and director of mensministry.org. But you should simply know him as a follower of Jesus.
He spends his life helping men understand the power of their identity, something he says is vital to effective men’s ministry for churches or parachurch organizations. Henderson says most men unintentionally adopt “workplace theology,” meaning they believe their value comes from what they do. This leads to shame and doubt because realities never meet their expectations of themselves.
Henderson learned about workplace theology the hard way during what he coins “shipwreck moments”—times when he hit rock bottom.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, he was one of the smallest kids in his class. He didn’t play sports like his peers, so he struggled to find his place and was bullied. He found solace in the outdoors, building forts and shooting his BB gun. This was the beginning of his lifelong love of outdoor adventures.
After finishing high school, he went to work in a steel mill where, again, he tried to prove his manliness and find his place in the world. An explosion at the mill was a wake-up call to make the most out of his life.
He enrolled in Anderson University in Indiana, where he joined several choral groups and eventually was approached by future Grammy Award winner Steven Curtis Chapman and his brother. The three of them performed together until Chapman moved to Nashville. Then, Henderson started a band called One that caught the attention of Christian artist Sandi Patty, who invited the group to be the opening act on her tour. Later, Henderson opened for Avalon and Crystal Lewis as well.
“I went from being this skinny, bullied kid to performing in big arenas,” he says. But old habits die hard, so Henderson once again began to look to his output and work to define him. “I felt like a somebody when I was on tour but then felt like a nobody when the tour was over,” he said.
He stepped back and began to lead worship at a church in Pennsylvania. Later he launched a men’s ministry there, which grew rapidly. However, while employed at the church, he grew too close emotionally to a female co-worker. The church leadership asked him to confess his feelings in front of the church—which included his wife and kids. He chose to leave to church because of the way the situation was handled.
“The enemy nailed me with shame, but that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Henderson says. “Now, it’s the driving force for my ministry. I can share with other men about all the lies the enemy was throwing at me about my sin and how those didn’t change my identity [as a child of God].”
About a decade later, Henderson's marriage ended in divorce but he has since remarried with a woman that does ministry alongside him.
Once he left the Pennsylvania church, Henderson moved back to Indiana and began facilitating men’s retreats and wild game dinners. These are gatherings where men come together to eat a good meal, watch footage of Henderson’s many wildlife adventures in Africa or Alaska, and then hear him speak about finding his identity in Christ. His men’s dinners range in attendance from a few hundred to close to 3,000 men. To date, 11,000 men have decided to follow Jesus at a wild game dinner.
He’s also spoken at men’s conferences for Billy Graham and Promise Keepers. In 2018, he released his book “Into the Wilds: The Dangerous Truth Every Man Needs to Know,” and he is working on his next book now.
Henderson has learned a lot about men’s ministry throughout his life and says the key is to set a noncondemning tone where men can be authentic with one another.
“An incredible amount of men see church and men’s ministry events as unsafe,” he says. “We have to create a safe space for them to confess their struggles.”
“It’s also difficult to hold a man’s attention,” he adds. “He’s busy working and doing things with his family. If we try to use programs or just give men lists of steps to being a better husband, that’s not enough. We have to start by talking to them about their identity so they know they’re not the bad guy. It’s the enemy who has spoken lies over them about not being good enough.”
Henderson says that’s the key: “A man who knows who he is in Christ is a dangerous man.”