I’ve long held a theory that while women are generally more sensitive to spiritual issues in their broader context, the nature of men to take bigger risks will mean that they will best women in seeking out the deeper aspects of the faith. That may not be a popular view with some, but it explains a great deal. That theory has also been the cornerstone of the advancement of Christianity since the age of the apostles.
I have to admit, though, that a brief survey of American Christianity bears a strikingly different picture. When I look at the composition of most churches, the sex on the leading edge of ministry is, more often than not, female.
Which sex predominates on Sunday mornings? Women.
Which sex predominates in small groups? Women.
Which sex predominates in non-leadership roles of ministry (which comprise the largest total numbers of participants)? Women.
Which sex reads Christian material in order to grow their spiritual lives? Women.
Which sex drives the spiritual life of the average home? Women.
This concerns me because a quick overview of the hotspots of revival around the globe always reveals the same truth: men are at the forefront.
So what’s going on here in America?
I have a few theories on this:
1. Men choose money over ministry. This has led to an abdication of the masculine role of leadership on spiritual matters. It’s not that Christian men aren’t truly Christian or fail to hold a Christian belief system. It’s just that Christianity occupies a secondary station in a man’s life. American Evangelicalism continues to hold out a standard of the male as breadwinner (and preferably sole breadwinner) that forces men to choose which role they will more ably fill with their increasingly limited time, breadwinner or spiritual leader. Men aren’t stupid; they chose what was presented to them as the best option by those held up as leaders within the Faith. Being a captain of industry who mouths Christian platitudes plays better than struggling to make ends meet while being faithful to the demands of true discipleship.
2. Women have encouraged #1, whether they realize it or not. The demands of cultural conformity coupled with the (false) sense of security that predominates in the American Dream only amplifies men’s abdication of spiritual leadership. This has led Christian women to prefer men who are captains of industry over those who are poorer in the pocketbook yet richer in treasures in heaven. Having one’s kids in an expensive private Christian school looks a whole lot better on paper than sending little Joey or Janie to the wreck they call public school, especially when that public school is vilified from the pulpit each Sunday.
3. The pursuit of #1 has enabled/forced women to pick up the spiritual slack. With men pursuing the American Dream, women have been freed in some respects to bolster their spiritual lives, even if this comes at the expense of men’s overall spiritual health. However, while some women gladly take up the mantle of leadership, a few are resentful that their men have laid it down for them to carry (though, in most cases, those wives fail to understand the hidden forces bending men toward that abdication).
4. The Church no longer preaches godly rewards for faithfulness that in the past appealed to the souls of men. While the prosperity gospel has some traction in some sectors of the American Church, men, in general, are engaging in self-examination that finds them asking where the real reward is. Work is not always its own reward, nor is the Church embodying any example of the rewards of faithfulness outside of reinforcing the American Dream. In time, this lack leads to spiritual malaise in men. They end up, more often than not, merely going through the spiritual motions, either to please the Church or to satisfy their wives.
5. Because Church leaders have not gone deeper, they are unable to lead other men to that deeper place. Shallowness breeds shallowness. While men may be capable of great depths of faith, more often than not those depths are achieved through spiritual heroes who have gone on before to mark the way. Modern Evangelicalism is a vast spiritual wasteland devoid of true spiritual adventurers. Rather than holding up as examples those men who have made it to “the third heaven,” Evangelicalism holds up for emulation those men who have made it to the corner office or the boardroom. Much of the blame here lies with today’s American Evangelical leaders, men who are a mile wide and an inch deep. The end result? Far too many men in America are tasting what is being held out as the ne plus ultra of the Christian life and are asking, “Is this it?”
The upshot of all this is that the bastions of faith in the country are the women. The real saints in America 2008 wear negligee.
Some people seem perfectly fine with this. In fact, if you polled a lot of pastors in Evangelical churches, you’d find that most of them think everything’s just fine and dandy. Actually, George Barna’s already done that polling. Sure enough, he’s found that few male leaders in the Church today are alarmed that men have largely handed over the reins of spiritual leadership in church and household to the ladies.
Something has to give for the proper order to be restored.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been engaging the readers of a few other blogs that have linked to my posts on these issues of money, ministry, work, and economics. What I’m finding is a total inability to question the status quo on these issues and to ask what the true Christian response might be. We have become so fused to our way of living that even if that way of living cannot be reconciled with genuine discipleship, we’ll forgo the discipleship before we give up the lifestyle. How that’s going to play before God is beyond me.
I’m convinced that the only way the Church in America is going to catch blaze like the church in the Third World is if we radically rethink every part of how we live. This may seem like the same chronic drum I’ve been beating for years on this blog, but unless we change, we will definitely become irrelevant. Our cultural conditioning will extinguish our lampstand and God will remove that lampstand to whatever place is willing to keep it ablaze. That removal may already be in process.
Here’s 10 questions I ask you:
- How do we break this pattern of living that reinforces the five issues I raise above?
- What does a truly countercultural Christianity in America 2008 look like?
- What can we do to not only break the hold our jobs have on our spiritual lives, but replace our current ideas of employment with genuinely Christian models?
- What would those models of work look like when practically enabled?
- What do you believe are the rewards for faithfulness that we are failing to emphasize in our churches today, rewards that appeal to men as much as to women?
- What must we do to encourage our leadership to go deeper?
- How does the average American Evangelical man take back his proper position as spiritual leader?
- What tools is that man lacking that he will need to be all God intended?
- How do we sharpen those tools?
- What is the first step toward making these changes?
Thanks for your input. Have a blessed weekend.