Caution: Men at Church

(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.

7 thoughts on “Caution: Men at Church

  1. I apologize if this is rabbit trailing, but this reminds me that a robust gospel message remains both a challenge and a comfort to every person. People who want to care for the day-to-day needs of others are challenged to see the present in the light of eternity, but at the same time, care for orphans and widows and hurting people generally remains close to God’s heart throughout scripture. People who tend toward ignoring the world’s troubles because it will all pass away are challenged to love their neighbors right here and right now, everyday, but at the same time, have an eternity with God in which to rejoice. People who want to let everything slide and be nice are confronted with a God of justice but also of mercy, and people who call for holiness without fail are confronted with grace but also with holiness. Men and women, whatever their general tendency may be, should find in the good news of Christ something that unsettles them a lot, but also something that speaks to the longings of their heart. And I agree with you, most churches and most people tend toward one direction or the other and leave a group of people feeling left out and a group of people unchallenged.

    • That’s all true. Lewis said in “Mere Christianity” that everyone is going to be uncomfortable with *something* if it is true Christianity. Not quite the point of this post, though.

  2. Good musings and great points, Em! I will show this to my husband later, as I think he will agree with many of these points.
    As an INTJ female who is part of a local church, I can say that many of the women’s events can leave me feeling alienated. I do not possess many stereotypical female traits, so we when have separate men’s and women’s events, I usually prefer what the men will be doing, versus talking about my feelings or scrapbooking (and we’ve discussed the INTJ & children topic, haha!). LOL! I long to be part of a deeper adventure and to feel alive, but am willing to serve where needed, and to set aside my natural preferences to be open and in relationship with others.

    It’s an interesting topic, for sure, and I will pass along this post for others to read!

  3. Personally I think the problem is not only in church itself but also modern gender roles in general. Women are strong, emancipated and they so not need men as much as their grannies did. We tell them there is no need to open the door for us. They do not need to protect us anymore. And I have seen many women taking care of the kids while hubby is having fun drinking the night away. These days, she will even drive him home if he is too drunk too drive, clean up if he barfs and then tuck him in gently. Men do not have to behave like gentlemem anymore. By their strong wives they have been reduced to little kids. He is not considered the head of the household anymore. And if I read the Bible correctly, the only people under the woman are supposed to be kids. But if wives can put the crone back onto his head and expect him again to behave like the romantic gentlemen again. For example, if he took her out to a party, then he should see that she gets home safely. If he could be expected to set a good example to his children, etc, then maybe men will find their place in the family again. Then the church can put them in leadership roles again and they can teach boys and younger men. So, I feel a little sorry for men because modern woman took away their important roles. I theink the problem is not so much the church, but the vague gender roles set by modern society and women in general. Sorry ladies, but it is our fault.

  4. INTJ Christian guy here (and regular reader) who’s attending worship services less and less these days…just wanted to share a few thoughts in response to this excellent post. It is indeed true that establishing a sustained pattern of church attendance has become an elusive goal to a lot of men, but actually being part of the Church (the bride of Christ) is not as uncommon among men as some would have you believe. Large numbers of us still believe in–and faithfully follow–Christ, but our ideas on contemporary interpretations of the Gospel, society’s fixation on neutering its male demographic, and our refusal to tolerate manipulation by money-hungry clergy (Dire Straits “Ticket to Heaven” should be mandatory listening for all Christians), make us a bad fit for most congregations these days. I know brevity is valued in these spaces, so I promise to keep this short. Topping the list of things that grate to the point of inspiring serial male absenteeism include the following: 1) Pastors putting words in Christ’s mouth (i.e. use of the phrase “And if you still engage in [insert pastor’s favorite pet peeve, idiosyncrasy, habit, or tendency], then you need to reevaluate your relationship with God because there’s NO WAY you could be saved), 2) Attributing random decisions to the Voice of God (i.e. “The Lord told ME Saturday on the beach in the Bahamas that we WILL have this new parking lot funded by summer or you all will need to reevaluate your relationship with Him”), 3) the seizing of the modern worship experience by the purveyors of “Entertainment Worship” (and I speak here of the near total displacement of traditional hymns by what’s commonly referred to as “Worship Music”), and finally, being continually assaulted by this bizarre expectation that male Christians conform to some Stuart Smalley-like portrait of masculinity (i.e. a man who’s more in touch with his emotions than his logic) instead of being accepted as Christ accepted the rugged (but wholly grotesque by today’s standards) vessel that was Peter, the Rock upon which his Church was built. I have no problem whatsoever with the concept of “Me, the sinner, who needs Christ, the Savior”, but I and those of my stripe bristle at the notion that Jesus ever expected any of us to become effete automatons as the price for following Him. Just my thoughts. Nice blog, by the way.

    • Pretty much this. Thanks a bunch for commenting; I think most of us have experienced at least one of those grating things in church at one time or another. Last night I went to a Saturday-night service at a new-to-me church that had some good things going on and other things that made me go, “eeeeeehhhhhhhh this is questionable,” mostly because of #2 on your list.

      I generally consider #3 an issue of taste rather than a moral issue, but I do agree that it can become a problem. Example: a former church of mine had an Easter service that was mostly spectacle. It did not feel like the whole congregation was engaged and participating in the celebration, but that we were at a concert watching other people perform and worship on our behalf, which I think is NOT appropriate for Easter, of all times.

      And yeah, I think the article that inspired this post was primarily a complaint against your #4, the “Stuart Smalley-like portrait of masculinity.” As a single woman who is on the lookout for a reasonably masculine life partner, I can tell you that there are way too many of those types in the church, and it is incredibly frustrating and quite sad at times.

      Also, I really appreciate “I and those of my stripe bristle at the notion that Jesus ever expected any of us to become effete automatons as the price for following Him.” Well put.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. Fortunately, there’s a minstry out there that helps churches with this. Man in the Mirror. “We help churches create an environment where the Holy Spirit inspires men to engage in life-on-life discipleship”

    So if you want help doing this in your church, check them out.

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