(Advance apologies for non-Christian readers who may be put off or confused by my use of “Christianese” language. This post is primarily targeted toward churchgoing Christians, and I am trying to use the best words I can to convey my meanings. If anyone needs me to clarify my terms, do not hesitate to ask in the comment section.)
My friend Kara recently shared a post called “Men Vs. Church,” about how women vastly outnumber men in the Christian church, and the problem of men who seem passive and detached from Christianity.
This excerpt is the best bit, and it makes me really sad:
Today’s church offers the things women crave: safety, relationships, nurturing, and close-knit community. Women instinctively understand the unspoken rules of church culture: be nice, sensitive, cooperative, nurturing, and verbal. The modern gospel is every woman’s fantasy: find a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally.
On the other hand, men need adventure, challenge and risk – but these things are discouraged in church. Although our official mission is one of adventure, the actual mission of most churches is making people feel safe and secure. Men are born risk-takers, but churchgoers are a cautious bunch….
Volunteer opportunities in the local church revolve around traditionally female roles: childcare, teaching, music, hospitality and cooking. Men who want to serve in church often end up attending meetings or passing out bulletins. Where is the adventure in that?
Men are dying for a leader, but today’s Jesus is a lover. He’s sensitive, caring and beautiful. Our praise music invites men to express love for Christ in romantic language no man would dare say to another. Jesus barked, “Follow Me!” but we’ve softened that; it’s now, “Have a personal relationship with Me.” [emphases original]
Putting aside my desire to nitpick gender roles (hey, lots of women want adventure too! men need close non-romantic relationships too! not all women are instinctively nice! some men are just really lazy!), I think this is a very good article.
I have to sit back and wonder, How did we get here? How did the mainstream Christian church in modern-day Western culture get to this point?
One major factor that I believe led to this problem is that the modern church often ignores Eternity in favor of focusing on serving the world and living in the Present. Now, I’m not saying it’s not important to work toward serving others and telling them about Christ–that’s why Jesus came, and it’s our commission as His followers. But we are only here for a short period of time in comparison to Eternity, and we need to think about not just the impact we will have on our neighborhoods in the next 10 years, but how our actions will affect Eternity and what that might look like.
The second part of the issue is that I believe the modern Christian church has shied away from tackling the issue of sin and obedience. In an effort to appeal to visitors, newcomers, and skeptics, many churches downplay the awfulness of sin to try to make people more comfortable, to avoid appearing judgmental and puritanical. The church has moved from preaching hell-and-damnation and fire-and-brimstone to something more like, “God loves you regardless, so it’s okay when you mess up, nobody’s perfect, just do better tomorrow.” There is an element of truth in all these things, but my suggestion, as always, is balance.
I believe that the combination of these two things–downplaying sin and ignoring Eternity–then takes away the urgency of following Christ. Striving to obey God is really a life-or-death situation. Our souls are on the line, but without the proper teaching, it is difficult to grasp that. Church is so focused on cooperating with our modern society that it doesn’t convey how much of an adventure and a risk it really can be to follow Christ. This is especially difficult in the West, where we are not experiencing the persecution that Christians face in places like Pakistan and North Korea. It is difficult to see how living the Christian life in modern-day America is much of an “adventure” when no one is arresting us, firing us, or burning down our houses because of our beliefs. There’s little obvious risk in being a Christian in America. But living the Christian life can be difficult on a more internal, less-visible level, with its demand for virtues such as chastity, forgiveness, and self-denial.
If churches focused more on the valor and honor and nobility of following God, and the importance of it (beautifully summarized in Ephesians 6:12), in addition to the warm-and-fuzzy “let’s all be a community and support each other and talk about family and kids and go hug a random stranger and get together for coffee,” then it might be better at engaging men. It might seem more genuine to them, and that is something that I know a lot of men value.
(And guys, if you really don’t want to read your Bibles, at least read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. It’s fascinating and entertaining and it gives you a good idea of what we’re up against.)
Some men’s retreats do try to reach out to dudes with more “manly” activities like camping, barbecues, and motorcycle rides. And kudos to them for trying. But those are only occasional events, or at best a semi-regular hobby, and don’t appeal to all guys. They also don’t always apply to real lives full of changing diapers, working in cubicles, dealing with annoying mothers-in-law, or paying off student loans. Church needs to examine and teach men how to be a warrior for Christ in those contexts.
I honestly feel sympathy for men when I think about this sort of thing. I don’t–and can’t–know what it’s like to be a man in a modern U.S. church. But as a less-feminine female introvert and a late-twentysomething single, I at least understand in a broader sense how terrible it is to feel at odds with “your” culture, and to feel like there’s not really a place for you and your needs.
I wish I could tell all the men who are avoiding church for the reasons mentioned in the article, “There is so much more to God and Christianity than what the church is showing you. I’m so sorry that it sucks, but please don’t give up, because God is worth it, He is worth wading through all this crap that our culture has foisted on us.”
I’m also sorry that I don’t have a lot of practical, specific solutions to this issue, but I think examining the possible causes are an important first step.