Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Why Men Hate Going to Church
Why Men Hate Going to Church
Pb., 232 pp. $14.99
Why do men hate going to church? According to author David Murrow it is because modern church life is dominated by women. As a result, "almost everything about today's church – its teaching style, its ministries, the way people are expected to behave, even today's popular images of Jesus – is designed to meet the needs and expectations of a largely female audience. Church is sweet and sentimental, nurturing and nice. Women thrive in this environment. In modern parlance, women are the target audience of today's church" (p.14). Men, however, are bored to death by all of this, and for this reason have largely dropped out. They have little interest in joining a girls' club.
Murrow's book is certainly thought provoking. He delves into the differences between male and female psychology, and shows why men feel so out of place in church. The question is, what to do about it? How can the church attract more men? Murrow has plenty of suggestions. Because men, according to him, are more aggressive but less verbal than women, he suggests having strong, forceful leadership, clearly defined goals, a high standard of quality, physical activity, competition, along with fewer unison readings, less singing and shorter sermons.
Many of Murrow's insights and suggestions are indeed valuable. The truth is, many churches today do offer up what Murrow calls "velvet coffin Christianity": "show up on Sunday, participate in comforting rituals, listen to a pabulum sermon of familiar truths; then go home and forget all about your faith until next Sunday" (pp. 26-27).
But in some ways we cannot help but think that Murrow's book itself is part of the malaise of modern Christianity. Like so many other books on the market today, it takes an essentially sociological approach to what is really a spiritual problem. We conduct surveys, we examine people's perceptions, feelings and beliefs, and then we devise a strategy to reach the selected "target group." We have been searching for decades for effective methods and strategies, but what has it gotten us?
There are, in fact, serious problems with this whole approach. First of all, a sociological survey does not make value judgments. It does not distinguish between virtues and vices among the respondents. A vice is thus often confused with a "need." A good example of this in Murrow's book is his discussion of men's alleged "need for greatness," in Chapter 12. According to Murrow, men have a "need" to be recognized for their accomplishments, and he makes some pointed barbs about the "humility police," certain churchgoers "who see it as their job to humble anyone who might get praise or credit" (p. 98). Murrow insists that "it is no sin to recognize men for the good they do" (p. 102). To support this assertion he appeals to Mark 10:35-45, in which James and John approach Jesus and ask to be given positions of honor in the kingdom. Jesus replied by saying, "If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others" (v. 43). Murrow interprets the words "if you want to be great" as an endorsement for the quest for greatness. But the whole point of the passage was the exact opposite of this. Jesus was encouraging a servant attitude. It may be a sociological fact that men crave recognition, but that does not mean that the church should be in the business of stroking male egos!
But more to the point, a sociological analysis of the church's problems overlooks the spiritual and supernatural dimension of true religion. What exactly is it that should draw men (and women) to Christ and transform their lives? Is it music and architecture, technology and organization? No! The New Testament church had none of these things! They relied instead on the power of the Holy Spirit working in hearts and minds – convicting, illuminating, and regenerating. Most churches today, however, have lost that dimension, and the gender gap is the result. Women are in church for the wrong reasons (the music, the flowers, the fellowship) and men are not there at all. The church has become a social club, and a social club that appeals to just one particular demographic group. But in true Christianity men and women from every walk of life are drawn to Christ. The common interest that brings them together is not their social backgrounds or cultural tastes. Rather, it is their common interest in the Savior.
Is the church too feminine? It undoubtedly is. But the standard must be God's Word, not what polls and surveys tell us men want. The real question is, are we measuring up to what Christ wants us to be? Where we have failed, because we were content to be a women's social club, we must repent. But the answer is not to become a rowdy bunch of jocks. It is to become sons of God, who know Him and serve Him truly.