How the Gospel Applies to Men who are Bored at ChurchTuesday, May 03, 2005
I subscribe to New Man Magazine, 'America' s #1 Magazine for Christian Men,' as it touts on the front cover. It is enlightening because it keeps me on the 'cutting edge' of neo-Christian masculinity. Basically, through this publication I get to interact with where the majority of 'Christian' church-going men are going spiritually. I find that as a general rule, I'm not usually involved in churches which make it a point to stay on this cutting edge of Christian masculinity. Thank you Lord!
In the recent May/June 2005 edition, David Murrow wrote the article entitled "Art Thou Bored With Church?" By pointing to the fact that many men are bored at church, and appealing to that sense of old-fashioned masculinity, Murrow hopes to help rescue such men who might otherwise find an adventure outside the local church. The audience he intends to reach in this article are those who, like himself at one time, would find their bodies in the pew, but their hearts elsewhere (p. 45). What is so amazing is that he writes, "I was so desperate I began exploring alternative religions, including Islam." And then comes the smack in the face, at least for me as a pastor. He comments, "Did I mention I was an elder in my church?"
Now, for those on the cutting edge of Christian masculinity out there, can anyone guess what rocked his world? What best-selling book for men gave him an epiphany of the 'biblical' view of men, thus immediately repairing that which is supposedly broken in the local church? You guessed it! John Eldridge's book Wild at Heart. Per Eldridge, "Walk into most churches, have a look around, and ask yourself: What is a Christian man? Without listening to what is said, look at what you find there. Most Christian men are...bored."
To be sure, Murrow strikes at the heart of the seeker-sensitive, and church-growth movements, explaining that their perfectly designed systems which seek to produce the right results are all part of a delivery system that is designed to reach women and older folks. I agree with him in one sense that these movements are designed to be systems which operate much like a corporation and reach a specific targeted audience. I disagree that the system is designed primarily to women and older folks. But that's neither here nor there.
Murrow rightly acknowledges that 'church' is filled with far more women and children than men. "On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America's churches, and 6 million married women are worshiping without their husbands..." (p. 45). Ultimately, "Men avoid church for the same reason they avoid baby showers: They think its a women's thing." Murrow follows that comment with a hearty 'amen.'
So has he accurately identified a problem area? No doubt. Everybody and their brother knows that men have shirked their spiritual leadership responsibilities for generations. And therein comes the weakness of Murrow's suggestions at how to "turn things around in your church." This isn't a recent problem, women coming to church more often than men. The reason the church reflects more of female Christianity is because, as he correctly sees it, mostly women come to church in the first place. But the answer is not to turn things around by making it more appealing to men. Here are his nine suggestions to repair the damage (pp. 46-47).
- Practice a masculine spirituality.
- Get organized. "Get the men of your church together to discuss the problem of missing/passive men. Talk about ways you can make your worship service more man-friendly (and your Sunday-school more boy-friendly). Also write your pastor a letter, asking him to move the congregation into new adventures and challenges..."
- Take risks.
- Watch your language. "Use masculine metaphors when sharing the gospel...Most men don't think in terms of relationships" (p. 47). In short, we must speak of our adventure with Jesus, "using masculine terminology that makes the gospel intriguing (instead of confusing) to men" (ibid).
- Corner the music minister. "Ask for more upbeat songs with masculine lyrics" (ibid).
- Rediscover the masculinity of Jesus.
- Get into platoons. This would be defined as "little bands of men meeting together regularly" not in classes but in small groups to live the Christian life as a team (ibid).
- Get active and less verbal.
- Get help and support. Visit the website http://www.churchformen.com/, the author's website, for more resources, to join the "men around the world who are praying for a return of the masculine spirit in their congregations" (ibid).
Consider this question: if men have long since ignored their God-given leadership responsibilities in the home and in the church, is this problem which Murrow identified really new? Of course not. Next, ask yourself, which culture seems to reflect more masculinity as we would think of it today, this century or the last? Of course, the last century would, for it was a time when men worked hard in the fields, won the west, settled and pioneered much of our country's resources and industry. So I guess the question for Murrow would be this: If the last century was much more 'masculine' how come men still didn't go to church then? Masculinity then, at least in my mind, has little to do with why men don't go to church today, and why they are bored.
As you guessed it, the gospel has everything to do with the problem. That is what transcends this century and the last. Murrow's failure to understand the gospel, I believe, is why he sees his suggestions as helpful. He believes, "Even the gospel itself has been recast: It's no longer an epic struggle to establish God's kingdom, it's a personal relationship with Jesus." But the Bible teaches it's both. BUT! It is not an epic struggle to establish God's kingdom in the way Eldridge or Murrow see it: some mix of Gladiator, Braveheart, Lord of the Rings and Kingdom of Heaven with the center roles of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other 'heroes.' That's the way Wild at Heart tries to recast the gospel.
No, the establishment of the kingdom of God is not about an epic struggle as reflected in an epic motion picture. It is about the sudden revelation of God's righteousness and wrath in the person of Jesus Christ so that now sin is more sinful than ever before, and God's righteousness is needed as never before. Justification by faith is the thing most needed, not masculine spirituality. The gospel calls for the recognition that our such attempts to be 'more masculine' or make our church to be such, all ignore the call the gospel makes on us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, not to some image conjured up in our minds by the movies we've watched.
Further, the gospel is about a personal relationship with Jesus. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). We are friends with God, brothers with Christ Jesus. We live in a family in which the aim of our attention is the encouragement and edification of our spiritual brothers and sisters, not the increase of our masculine drive. The gospel has torn down the walls between males and females, employers and employees, husbands and wives, blacks and whites, etc. The gospel shows that the cross has made us all one in Christ. The gospel does not allow the church to take on either feminine or masculine reflections. It is a reflection of Jesus Christ. So the gospel simply does not allow for turning things around in a local church so that it will appeal more to men.
Perhaps the most telling phrase is this one: "He's using masculine terminology that makes the gospel intriguing (instead of confusing) to men." Has it ever ocurred to us that the reason the gospel is not intriguing but confusing is because men's masculine stubbornness and pride has caused them to reject the humility that is so very needed to rearrange our thinking? In other words, their pride must be killed and their hearts humbled so that being masculine is not such an all-consuming passion any longer. The reason men don't come to church is not because church is boring, but because men in their masculinity are arrogant and prideful. As a pastor, I wouldn't want John Wayne and Clint Eastwood in our flock!
The gospel shows us that 'church' is about pursuing others and not ourselves. Unfortunately, Murrow and Eldridge have missed that most important point. And as a result, men are being taught to go out and pursue their adventure, and consequently the church languishes more than it ever did before. It is just another fad of our times which shows the absence of the gospel's effect upon the minds of believers.