Does your church expect men to behave like women?
What in the world am I talking about?
Well, if your church has more men than women—or at least maintains an equal gender proportion—save your time and don’t read this posting. But if you belong to one of the great majority of churches (including ours in Mid-America) that attract more women than men, come now and let us reason together.
(Most churches also have far more attendees in their 60s than their 20s and 30s, but age is a subject to tackle another day. Today we are dealing with gender.)
Recently I read David Murrow’s thought-provoking book, Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2005). He suggests that, from programming to theology, the typical American church has been feminized. At least somewhat, usually significantly.
Picture the familiar effeminate portraits of Jesus in both visuals and narrative. Never mind that the perpetually “gentle Jesus meek and mild” never could have chased the bad guys out of the temple. He wasn’t the touchy-feely wimp many Christians try to worship.
Even the décor of our church facilities usually connects with women more than men. Visitors venture into the foyer and see a frilly white doily underneath the pretty cut flowers. (Did I spell “doily” correctly? My wife thinks so but I, being a man, don’t really care.) Even the communion table up front has been effeminated. (Is that a real word? Doesn’t matter—this is a blog, remember, not a magazine.)
Now if your church foyer is decorated like the women’s restroom, your ladies may like it. At least the older ones. But what does it say to men of all ages about Christ and His church?
Something even more serious: Many churches alienate men by emphasizing relationality above service, as if Christ’s Great Commandment to love each other (interpreted as “always be sweet and nice”) is more important than His Great Commission, with its global mission to accomplish. Women seem naturally drawn to “having a relationship with Jesus” and everybody else. Men are typically more task oriented. They need a mission to grab hold of, a sense of some great plan for their lives.
God wired men for high voltage action. Have you got a problem with that?
Many churches do, apparently. I think we’ve gotten so afraid of salvation by works that we sometimes fear any talk about working for God, even in appreciation for saving us. The trend in recent decades to value relationality over service has left many men in church feeling left out. So, not a few have dropped out. No wonder most churches attract far more women than men.
Seeking to remedy this, many attempts at men’s ministries have innocently but ignorantly adopted the worst possible strategy: trying to make men behave like they expect women to be doing: sitting around a circle talking about feelings.
Consider marriage enrichment weekends—some of them perhaps feminized in the aftermath of the women’s liberation movement of the ’70s. The currently popular Christian movie/DVD Fireproof takes several giant steps forward with its fireman action hero taking up the challenge of a “40-day dare” project to fix his marriage. So far so good. But even Fireproof comes up short by framing the marriage problem as totally a male relationality issue, instead of fostering mutual understanding between a male and female as partners in marriage.
Now, getting back to connecting with men for the Gospel. Jesus didn’t call Peter and John away from their fishing boats to sit around the campfire toasting marshmallows and talking about feelings. His call to them—and to men today: “Follow Me!”—an action-oriented relationality that sent men out two by two with a mission to accomplish.
Certainly men need to get in touch with their feelings. (I’m glad I finally did, as is my wife, Darlene. And if you care to know, I’m feeling quite passionate about all this—a popular “feminish” word that assaults men in church.) But men don’t connect with their feelings when we put them on the spot in a feminine-friendly format. To get a man to talk about his feelings, go with him on a long hike (as from the seashore of Galilee to Jericho).
Am I making any sense, people? I think I heard a few “Amens” even from women. After all, they want their men in church with them.
As a veteran volunteer police chaplain whose job it often was to get divorce-prone officers talking about their feelings, I learned this: Action encourages interaction. You take down a bad guy, haul him off to jail, and then drive off to the nearest donut shop (a valid stereotype!). In the trimphal glow of mission accomplished, they become suddenly verbal about anything you want to talk about—even their feelings.
This principle tends to work with most men, I’ve discovered. First they experience the excitement of accomplishing a mission with you. Then they trust you enough to spontaneously discuss the fulfillments and frustrations they are feeling.
Smart churches are realizing this. Many of America’s fastest growing congregations don’t start with men they hope to baptize by sitting them in a small group circle to chat with strangers. Instead, they teach men of the church to connect with men from their workplace (not usually a cold contact whose heart was won by knocking on his door and interrupting his ballgame). Instead, men of the church invite friends from their jobsite or office to “come, follow me” this weekend and tackle some social justice challenge. Like fixing up houses for the poor. Then, “Let’s go to my home and watch that ballgame.” Talk between friends happens naturally between innings or quarters. And this would include talk about God. Even talk about feelings about God.
Sometimes we feel that we’ve got to lead people through the sinners’ prayer to “get saved.” Actually, God’s Spirit may spontaneously lead men (or women) into the Gospel as they join with believers in working to fulfill the Gospel Commission. (Relax—this is not righteousness by works! It’s experiencing God for the first time instead of just discussing Him.) Even teenage boys come to life for God when you get them out of a stuffy religion classroom to go on a mission and actually do something. God’s Spirit stirs their spirit as they experience fulfillment in selfless service for the Savior. This works much better than dumping guilt on them for not spending quiet time with Jesus to “develop a love relationship with Him.”
Do you see how this works? Most men find Jesus not by spending quiet time in a passive relationship with Him but by finding purpose in Him through an action-oriented relationship with other men—the proverbial band of brothers.
Let’s get introspective as a church family: Are Seventh-day Adventists serious about winning men to Christ instead of just talking about it? Then let’s learn what our Lord meant in saying: “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me” (Matthew 11:28). Taking a yoke goes beyond sitting around in a circle. It means doing something with Jesus. This is how most men learn to know Him. This is how they learn to surrender their lives to Him—including finally their feelings, in the context of a masculine-style, task-focused relationship.
This might disturb some of you who are reading this, but I must communicate my conviction that it’s because of a feminized approach to relationality that many churches, local conferences and union conferences (including the Mid-America Union?) have had far more success with women’s ministries than men’s ministries.
But thank God, things are changing. We are learning to call men into action to build a relationship with them.
“I am noticing a difference these last few years,” reports Randy Ruppert, who leads men’s ministries in the Dakota Conference. “Men are beginning to recognize responsibilities God has given us.” He views men’s ministries as a vehicle to embrace God’s plan of action for their lives within church life.
One pastor who has gotten on board with Ruppert’s call to action is Pastor George Shaver. Shaver and his elders declare: “No red-blooded breathing male can use the excuse that they aren’t needed in church.” Shaver has succeeded in men’s ministry by putting them to work for God.
They have built garages, shingled roofs, repaired cars for single moms, installed flooring, replaced windows, doors, walls–whatever needs fixing or moving. They take their motto from Nike, the sports outfitter: “Just do it!”
Men in Shaver’s churches also perform church-related tasks like preaching, teaching anyone from toddlers to adults, giving rides to services, mentoring children of single mothers and conducting prison ministry programs.
An unexpected outcome eventually emerges from all this missional activity: men of the church become role models to other males as brothers in Christ, husbands, fathers and grandfathers.
One final benefit from all of the above, as earth’s final tribulation is about to burst upon us. Instead of scaring God-fearing men (and women) into silence, the action surrounding last day events will turbocharge the church. And when it’s time for men to lead the way in heading for the hills and crawling into caves, they won’t find frilly white doilies inside to distract them from feeling God’s love.
(Adapted from a previous blog post by Martin Weber in 2009.)