Is the American Church Too Macho?


Gunplay between brothers?If there’s been a clarion call in churches the last few years, it’s the alarm of people decrying the feminization of the Church in America. We hear over and over how there’s no place for men in the local church anymore.

But the more I think about this, the more I wonder if it’s the presence of too much femininity that is driving out the masculinity, or have men traded-in genuine Christianity for a macho fake?

Consider this…

Your church decides to start two new “ministries” that meet on different nights:  an intercessory prayer group and a fantasy football group primarily for church attendees.

Here’s my bet: In the vast majority of cases, men who claim they have very little extra time outside of work and home will flock to the fantasy football group and shun the prayer group. Well, that’s obvious, you say. Let me fine tune it, then:  If you remove the fantasy football group from the mix and start just the intercessory prayer group, in most churches the attendance for that prayer group will still be 75 percent women and 25 percent men. And in some cases, it will be even more lopsided in favor of the women.

Is this the result of a feminized Church, or a Church where men dropped the ball on genuine Christian masculinity?

Men are typically hopelessly outnumbered by women in many churches in the following areas:

Children’s ministry

Visiting the sick & shut-ins

Visiting the elderly

Intercessory prayer

Christian education

Ministry to the disadvantaged

What gets me is that none of those ministries is intrinsically feminine.

But if the church sponsors a barbecue cook-off, you can bet that 80-90 percent of the cooks in that competition will be men. They’ll be in the church parking lot at dusk with their slow cookers, camping out all night, ready and eager to display their masterpieces in pulled pork by noon the next day.

In fact, it seems to me that men come out in droves for stuff like church-sponsored softball games, fishing trips, men’s retreats, and all the stuff that smacks of being the caricature of manliness. Meanwhile, in actual ministry-related work that supposedly favors neither male nor female, it’s the women doing most of the heavy lifting.

And don’t say it’s because of the 3:2 numerical advantage women have over men in the American Church. I don’t buy that cop-out.

Case in point…

I was part of a church at one time that had about 3,500 attendees. That church had a fairly level ratio of men and women. At that time, the church had groups for motorcycle-riding, gun-shooting, and many others with a  “just for the fellowship” emphasis that would appeal to men. Fine by me—I’m all for fellowship groups. The only problem was that this same church had one men’s Bible study and about a dozen women’s Bible studies. I was painfully aware of that inexplicably lopsided ratio too. Why? Because I was the men’s Bible study leader. When I asked why there was only one men’s Bible study group, the answer I usually got was that they’d not been able to maintain more than one or two for any length of time. (What made it even nuttier was about half of the ten or so men that filtered through my group on a regular basis didn’t even attend the church.)

It seems to me that men will show up for church stuff when they have a chance to show off their machismo, but flex some spiritual muscles? Not so much.

So I don’t think it’s as much of a case of the Church being feminized as it is a case of men surrendering their God-appointed roles as spiritual leaders within the Church. They’d rather watch March Madness than bow their knees at  a 24-hour prayer meeting for the soul of the nation. Meanwhile, elderly grannies are keeping the devils at bay.

So the next time I hear some guy whimpering about how women are taking over the church, maybe a swift kick to the ‘nads will get him to wise up.

Or some spiritual equivalent. 😉

The Saint Wore Negligee


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. Satin and bows...and spiritual headship?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.