THE RELIGION OF MASCULINITY
Why Men Hate Church
By David Murrow
-- Cliff is a man’s man. On the job he’s known
as a go-getter and a very hard worker. He’s a good provider
who loves his wife and kids. He’s well respected by his
neighbors. Cliff drives a humongous four-wheel-drive pickup. He
loves the outdoors and takes every opportunity for a little hunting
and fishing. He enjoys a cold beer and a dirty joke. He does not
go to church.
Ask him why he doesn’t go to church, and he’ll offer
up words like boring, irrelevant, and hypocrite.
But the real reason Cliff doesn’t go to church is that
he’s already practicing another religion. That religion
The ideology of masculinity has replaced Christianity as the
true religion of men. We live in a society with a female religion
and a male religion: Christianity, of various sorts, for women
and non-masculine men; and masculinity . . . for men.
Cliff practices his religion with a single-mindedness the Pharisees
would envy. His work, his hobbies, his entertainment, his follies,
his addictions, everything he does is designed to prove to the
world he is a man. His religion also demands that he
avoid anything that might call his manhood into question. This
includes church, because Cliff believes deep in his heart that
church is something for women and children, not men.
Cliff is not alone. Men have believed this for centuries. In
the 1800s, Charles Spurgeon said, “There has got abroad
a notion, somehow, that if you become a Christian you must sink
your manliness and turn milksop.” Cliff sees Christianity
as incongruous with his manhood. It’s a women’s thing.
CHURCH ...A WOMEN’S THING?
We’re only in chapter 1, and I know I’m already in
trouble with a lot of you. I can just imagine what you’re
thinking: Church is not a women’s thing—it’s
a men’s thing! It certainly looks that way, doesn’t
it? After all, a man and His male disciples founded Christianity,
most of its major saints and heroes were men, men penned all of
the New Testament books, all of the popes were men, all of the
Catholic priests are men, and 95 percent of the senior pastors
in America are men. Feminists have been telling us for years that
the church is male dominated and patriarchal. Are they right?
The answer is yes and no. The pastorate is a men’s club.
But almost every other area of church life is dominated by women.
Whenever large numbers of Christians gather, men are never in
the majority. Not at revivals. Not at crusades. Not at conferences.
Not at retreats. Not at concerts. With the exception of men’s
events and pastoral conferences, can you think of any large gathering
of Christians that attracts more men than women?
Visit the church during the week, and you’ll find most
of the people working there are female. Drop in on a committee
meeting, and you’ll find a majority of the volunteers are
women—unless it’s that small bastion of male presence,
the building committee. Look over the leadership roster: the pastor
is likely to be a man, but at least two-thirds of the ministry
leaders will be women. Examine the sign-up sheets for volunteer
work, prayer, Sunday school, and nursery duty. You’ll be
lucky to see more than a couple of men’s names on these
lists. One pastor recently told me, “If it weren’t
for the postman, every visitor to the church during the week would
be a woman.”
Male pastors come and go, but faithful women provide a matriarchal
continuity in our congregations. Women are the devoted ones who
build their lives around their commitments to Christ and His church.
Women are more likely to teach and volunteer in church and are
the greatest participants in Christian culture. The sad reality
in many churches today is this: the only man who actually practices
his faith is the pastor.
With so much female presence and participation, the church has
gained a reputation as a ladies’ club in the minds of men.
Cliff does not attend church for the same reason he does not wear
pink: neither is proper to his gender. Does Cliff know why he
hates going to church? No. Can he offer a detailed explanation
of his feelings? Of course not. He’s a guy, remember? Cliff
knows one thing: he hates going to church.
HOW THE GENDER GAP AFFECTS WOMEN
If you are a woman, you may have picked up this book because
a key man in your life does not go to church, or if he does attend,
it means little to him. You are not alone. Connie is a lifelong
Episcopalian, a fifty-six-yearold mother of four boys. She says,
“None of my sons goes to church anymore. Two of them are
divorced, and now all four are living with their lady friends.
It’s sad.” Bernice from Connecticut says, “I
have a large extended family. Not one of the men goes to Mass,
let alone confession.” Vicki’s husband, Ron, attends
their local Baptist church. “But he’s a total hypocrite,”
she states. “He screams all the way to church. Once he’s
inside the sanctuary, he puts on a smile and plays ‘Mr.
Charming.’ Why won’t he let God change him?”
Caroline is a twenty-nine-year-old single woman who won’t
date non-Christian men. “But I’m beginning to rethink
that,” she admits. “I go to a small Pentecostal church.
There are no single guys my age. This man at work was pursuing
me, so I told him our first date would have to be church. He came,
but I think it freaked him out. He never called again.”
Connie, Bernice, Vicki, and Caroline know from personal experience:
the modern church is having trouble reaching men. Women
comprise more than 60 percent of the typical adult congregation
on any given Sunday. At least one-fifth of married women regularly
worship without their husbands. There are quite a few single women
but hardly any single men in church today. Every day it gets harder
for single Christian women to find men for romance or marriage.
Step into any church parking lot, and you’re likely to see
an attractive young mother and her brightly scrubbed children
scurrying to Sunday school. Mom may be wearing an impressive diamond
ring on her left hand, but the man who gave it to her is nowhere
to be seen.
WHERE ARE THE MANLY MEN?
Although males have not completely abandoned the church, manly
men like Cliff have all but disappeared. Tough, earthy, working
guys rarely come to church. High achievers, alpha males, risk
takers, and visionaries are in short supply. Fun-lovers and adventurers
are also underrepresented in church. These rough-and-tumble men
don’t fit in with the quiet, introspective gentlemen who
populate the church today. The truth is, most men in the pews
grew up in church. Many of these lifers come not because they
desire to be transformed by Christ but because they enjoy participating
in comforting rituals that have changed little since their childhood.
There are also millions of men who attend services under duress,
dragged by a mother, wife, or girlfriend. Today’s churchgoing
man is humble, tidy, dutiful, and above all, nice.
What a contrast to the men of the Bible! Think of Moses and Elijah,
David and Daniel, Peter and Paul. They were lions, not lambs—takecharge
men who risked everything in service to God. They fought valiantly
and spilled blood. They spoke their minds and stepped on the toes
of religious people. They were true leaders, tough guys who were
feared and respected by the community. All of these men had two
things in common: they had an intense commitment to God, and they
weren’t what you’d call saintly.
Such men seldom go to church today.
Furthermore, of the men who do attend church, most decline
to invest themselves in the Christian life as their wives and
mothers do. The majority of men attend services and nothing more.
Jay is such a man. He’s in church most Sundays, but he’s
not very excited about it. “I go mainly for my kids and
my wife,” he says. “Church is okay, but it really
doesn’t enthrall me like it does her.”
Who is being touched by the gospel today? Women. Women’s
ministries, women’s conferences, women’s Bible studies,
and women’s retreats are ubiquitous in the modern church.
Men’s ministry, if it even exists, might consist of an occasional
pancake breakfast and an annual retreat.
How did a faith founded by a Man and His twelve male disciples
become so popular with women, but anathema to men? The church
of the first century was a magnet to males. Jesus’ strong
leadership, blunt honesty, and bold action mesmerized men. A five-minute
sermon by Peter resulted in the conversions of three thousand
Today’s church does not mesmerize men; it repels them.
Just 35 percent of the men in the United States say they attend
church weekly. In Europe male participation rates are much worse,
in the neighborhood of 5 percent. This hardly sounds like a male-dominated,
patriarchal institution to me.
What’s worse, nobody seems to care about the absence of
men. Have you ever heard a sermon on the church’s gender
gap? I’ve never heard a pastor or church leader bring it
up. Heck, I’ve never heard anybody bring it up. It’s
just one of those things Christians don’t talk about.
WHO’S TO BLAME FOR THE GENDER GAP?
For decades those few people who noticed the gender gap have
assumed that men are to blame for it. Sometimes they are. Many
men intentionally reject the Christian faith. Some men are proud
and want to be their own God. Men hate to admit weakness or neediness.
Millions are captive to sin, unbelief, and other religions that
preclude commitment to Christ. Men get distracted by the concerns
of this world and lose interest in spiritual matters. Men suffer
abuse at the hands of church people and fall away.
But let’s be honest—women grapple with these same
issues. Women are just as susceptible to sin, atheism, other religions,
and pride. There’s nothing in the Bible to suggest that
women are more virtuous or less sinful than men. Women are just
as likely to have father issues or be victims of abuse. So why
do women seem drawn to the church when men are not? What’s
Let me be blunt: today’s church has developed a culture
that is driving men away. Almost every man in America has tried
church, but two-thirds find it unworthy of a couple of hours once
a week. A wise Texan once told me, “Men don’t go to
church ’cuz they’ve been.”
When men need spiritual sustenance, they go to the wilderness,
the workplace, the garage, or the corner bar. They watch their
heroes in the stadium or on the racetrack. They plunge into a
novel or sneak off to a movie. Church is one of the last places
men look for God.
More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five
out of six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six
attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality
of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.
Men’s disinterest in Christianity is so consistent around
the world, it can’t be explained by pride, father issues,
sin, or distraction. Neither can we say, “Well, men are
just less religious,” because this is untrue. Male and female
participation are roughly equal in Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
In the Islamic world men are publicly and unashamedly religious—often
more so than women. Of the world’s great religions, only
Christianity has a consistent, nagging shortage of male practitioners.
What is it about modern Christianity that is driving men away?
That’s the question I hope to answer with this book.
NOW FOR SOME GOOD NEWS
Can the church turn the tide with men? Yes! It not only can,
but it must. Jesus built His church on twelve Spirit-filled men
who changed the world. We must do the same: you cannot have
a thriving church without a core of men who are true followers
of Christ. If the men are dead, the church is dead.
Fortunately, pioneering churches and parachurch organizations
are enjoying remarkable success in reaching men for Christ. New
forms of worship and ministry tailored to the needs of men are
springing up in the unlikeliest places. Some of the fastest-growing
churches in America are also those most successful in reaching
men. To learn more about these ministries, visit my Web site,
Can your church turn the tide with men? Yes! But please
don’t hand this book to the minister and say, “Pastor,
you need to do this!” Many of the needed changes cannot
be imposed from above, but must bubble up from the congregation
itself. Too often it’s not what the leadership imposes
but what the laity demands that causes the church to repel men.
If your church has a large gender gap, it’s probably
not the pastor’s fault. The people in the pews hold the
steering wheel on this one. In the coming pages I suggest dozens
of ways to make your congregation more attractive to men. Your
job is to read, pray, and take action wherever you can. Individual
churchgoers have more influence than they think.
ABOVE ALL, DON’T DESPAIR!
As you read the dire statistics on male participation, don’t
panic! This low ebb may be part of the church’s natural
cycle. Over time the church tends to get out of balance and lose
its masculine spirit. Then God raises a lion—a Martin Luther,
John Wesley, Charles Finney, or Billy Sunday—to drag the
church back into balance. The men return. The great revivals of
the past three centuries always transformed large numbers of men.
God has balanced His church many times before. He will do so
again. Our job is to confront the current gender gap for what
it is: a strategy of the evil one to weaken the church. We need
to understand what causes the gap and have the courage to remove
the barriers that discourage and demoralize men. God will call
men back to Himself. Will the church be ready?
Dream for a moment. What would church be like if the majority
of the worshippers were men? Not just males taking up pew space,
but strong, earthy men who were truly alive in Christ. Men who
were there not just to please their wives, to fulfill religious
tradition, or to go on a power trip, but men who were there to
rock their world. Can you even imagine what that would feel like?
Imagine what such a church could accomplish for the kingdom of
Impossible you say? Just read the book of Acts. The church was
like this once; it can be so again.
Let me say this in the strongest possible terms: the answer
is not a maledominated church. I am not advocating the “submit
to me, woman,” brand of Christianity in which men are kings
and women are pawns. Not only is this model unbiblical; it doesn’t
create spiritually mature men. The answer is a balanced
approach: teaching, practices, and opportunities that allow for
both masculine and feminine expression in the church.
Please read this book with an open mind. Some of my conclusions
may upset or shock you. I’ve tried very hard not to stereotype,
but you can’t write a book about men without making some
generalizations about the sexes. (For example, I say that men
are more competitive; women are more cooperative. Not every man
is more competitive than every woman, but considering the genders
as a whole, the observation is true.) If you agree with 90 percent
of what you read herein, please don’t throw out the whole
book based on the 10 percent that makes you mad. This book is
not a perfect plan to bring men back. Rather, I hope it is the
match that ignites thousands of conversations and millions of
prayers about a problem we’ve ignored far too long. I pray
God’s people take what’s written in this book and
test it, refine it, and use it to bring multitudes to Christ.
There are hundreds of great Christian books written to help men
come closer to Christ. This is not one of them. This book does
not contain the usual calls to repentance, purity, and holiness.
You won’t hear me talking about the sins that commonly ensnare
men. I’m working the other angle. As I said earlier, I am
not calling men back to the church. Instead, I am calling the
church back to men.
At times this book may not read like a typical Christian tome.
I won’t offer many suggestions such as “we need to
pray more” or “we need to show men God’s love.”
Nor will you find a Scripture reference on every page. Prayer
and Scripture are vitally important, but in this book I focus
on practical barriers to male participation, because
so little has been written about them.
Nor is this another book about how men ought to be.
It’s designed to give you insight into men’s hearts,
to illuminate the chasm between men’s needs and the ministry
of the local church. So let’s make a deal: I’ll give
you the straight story on men, and as you read, you resist the
urge to utter the phrase, “Well, men should just . . .”
This is not a book about what men should be. If we can’t
start with men as they are, we’ll never reach them.
You might be interested to know I pitched this book to a number
of publishers who rejected it. One publisher thought Christian
women couldn’t handle my message because it wasn’t
“sweet enough” for them. Women, what would you rather
have—a book that tickles your ears or a book that tells
you how men really feel? I think you’re tough enough
to handle the truth about men, even if the message isn’t
sugarcoated. This is a prophetic message and may at times sound
negative. Please don’t take it that way. I’m confident
the church will get back on course, and you will play an important
role in this turnaround story.
Here’s how I see it: imagine a ship leaving England for
New York. If that ship is just a couple of degrees off course
for the entire journey, it will land in Boston instead of the
Big Apple. This is where most churches are today—a couple
of degrees off course. We’re doing the things Jesus told
us to do. Great things are happening in many areas of the world.
But we need a few gentle course corrections to bring men back.
Only then will we reach the goal Christ laid out for us. The longer
we wait, the more drastic the corrections will need to be.
With all this talk of changing the course of the church, you
may have the impression that this book is for pastors and church
leaders. Not true. It is really a book for laywomen.
I truly believe women must play a key role if men are to return.
Because women dominate in attendance, leadership, and volunteerism,
they hold great sway in the local church (even if they don’t
realize it). Women must humble themselves, pray, and allow the
men of the church to lead the body toward an adventure. A frightening
adventure. A “we’ve never done it that way”
Women, will you allow yourselves to be swept into this adventure,
or will you stick with the safe, predictable, tried, and true?
Will you allow men to take risks, dream big, and push the envelope
within your local church? God made men for adventure, achievement,
and challenge, and if they can’t find those things in church,
they’re going to find them somewhere else. But if you allow
your church to embark on a great adventure, the men will return.
Slowly but surely, they will return.
Reprinted by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN.,
from the book entitled Why
Men Hate Going to Church
copyright © 2005 by David Murrow. All rights reserved.
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