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 is masculinity.
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?
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
Connie is a lifelong Episcopalian, a fifty-six-year-old 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—take-charge 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.