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.

42 thoughts on “The Saint Wore Negligee

  1. Sell all we have and go follow Him.
    Yield our rights; to body, time, health, possessions, talents, family, friends, reputation and future.
    That’s not going to happen on any kind of ‘revival’ scale, or any kind of scale in a free market culture.
    Individuals hear and obey.

    It’s too late Dan.
    Evangelical Christianity is a multi-billion dollar industry in the US that is being exported around the world.

    How many Christian men have created jobs for themselves in what is just another industry?
    I’m not referring to prosperity leaders, they are a garish fringe.

    I was unaware you were a complementarian.

    I’m not making light of what you ask at all, a few are chosen to work within existing systems.
    At least you can be a wilderness voice and make a living at it.
    God has not given up on His bride, as He purifies and sifts, submitted individuals just don’t fit into what you want fixed or even how your ‘fix’ questions are framed.

    “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.”

    Why would you expect otherwise?

    He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. – Jim Elliot

    • Bene D,

      I’m more positive than you are concerning our ability to turn things around here. I think we can. But there are going to be a lot of martyrs for the cause in doing so.

      Why do you think I am a complementarian?

      I may be a wilderness voice, but trust me, I’m not making a living at it! Not even close. (But that’s the subject of another post soon to come.)

  2. I’m still thinking about the questions. In the mean time, I’m feeling particularly dense this morning. Help me understand what you are getting at when you say, “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.” Are you saying that we generally live vicariously through the lives of the Saints of old? Or am I just missing it?

    • Seaton,

      I believe that women are more spiritually sensitive than men, in general. However, while there may be more Christian women, I don’t believe that Christian women are as likely (as men have the possibility to be) to get to that really deep place. I mean, I know women who are on fire for God, but I’ve met next to none who are totally ablaze, on another level, a roaring conflagration, if you know what I mean. I’ve only met men like that.

      So while there may be some very dedicated women servants out there, the most dedicated women don’t seem to approach the same level of intensity as the most dedicated men.

      That’s my observation and I’m sticking with it.

  3. Don Fields

    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.

    Did you see the recent article that highlighted the lack of church attendance among well-known, evangelical businessman? I found the link at Sharper Iron.

    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.

    Few of us want to take the time and effort to evaluate and rethink our beliefs and actions on anything. It is easier to just build our fortress and defend.

    Very good questions, but I am overwhelmed by all of them. Maybe just one at a time.

    What must we do to encourage our leadership to go deeper?

    Free them up from miscellaneous responsibilities to focus the majority of their time on Bible study and prayer. Release them from the pressure of doing all of the programs and “force” them to become pastor/theologians who go deep into the Word of God and take others with them.

  4. Don,

    Since you’re a pastor, I’ll ask you this question (since you brought it up): Why is there so little corporate prayer in our churches today? I remember a lot more from when I was younger.

    • Don Fields

      A loss of theology. Pastors aren’t men of prayer for a number of reasons, but a lack of theological understanding of prayer is probably at the heart. We (pastors) don’t pray because we don’t “get” prayer. We don’t teach others about prayer so they don’t understand or practice it either. In that kind of culture the corporate prayer meeting is going to be powerless, pointless and completely ineffective. Why pray with others, when I don’t pray on my own?

      Most of our prayers are centered around personal and physical needs. Those don’t make for exciting corporate prayer meetings.

      • When I pray, I don’t want to feel better, although that would be nice. I want results. If I pray for a deeper relationship with the Lord, then I want a deeper relationship with Him…to hear Him, sense Him, be led by Him. If I pray for my need to be met, then I want my need met. I have a question which I have not had answered satisfactorily. I believe that if I walk in faith, then I will get the result that I want, get the result that He wants, etc. But how do I know that I am walking in faith while I am walking in it and not after I get the result?

        I don’t want to waste my time in a prayer closet, on a prayer retreat, at a corporate prayer meeting, or anything else related to prayer if I’m not going to get results. I can think of much more entertaining things to do with my time. (See comments below.)

        • That’s an awfully utilitarian view of prayer, Michael.

          If you think of it this way, if you had a wife and you didn’t ever want to talk with her unless that talking immediately led to sex, you’d pretty much be the world’s worst husband.

  5. I think all of your statistics come back to the fact that Western Religion and the church itself has been ‘feminized’, and primarily appeals to women. The sermon topics, the structure of services, the song choices, and even the music styles. I suggest picking up and reading “The Feminization of American Culture” by Ann Douglas. Good stuff.

    • Shannon,

      Well…maybe. I think the feminization thing has been overblown somewhat, a kind of catch-all bogeyman for what ails us. The root issues are deeper. The feminization, as it is, can be blamed more on a work mindset that takes men away from home and community, forcing couples apart and forcing women to carry a higher load of the rest of life, a sort of “if the sistuhs don’t do it, who will?” kind of thing.

    • cld

      Absolutely, we would! As one who comes from a circle of young college/career age women, I say we would be delighted to see strong, confident servant-leadership from older and younger generations of men alike. We get tired of being urged to compete with men in the workplace and in the home, of being told that “equality” is found in eliminating differences, and being told that we lack ambition if we desire to marry and raise families. Those women who would hesitate to agree, I think, have never been given a compelling picture of how things could be different, i.e. how men and women in the church SHOULD act and interact. When men are strong the ways they ought to be, women also become strong in the ways they are meant to be. Who wouldn’t want that?

      • I hate to say it, cld, but I think that women fighting men for jobs and prestige in an industrialized culture is one of the worst things that ever happened to the human race. But tell that to young women today and you might just get lynched. I think you may overestimate how many young women are on your side.

  6. connie

    I don’t think the problem is so much what jobs the men have, I think the problem is that entertainment takes the time left over after work.

    • I am addicted to entertainment. I realized it the day I woke up, read the newspaper, turned on talk radio and the computer, goofed off on the computer while listening to talk radio, went to work (where I worked by myself), and turned on talk radio there. After the last talk radio show went off, I turned on the workplace TV. At home after work, I goofed off on the computer, watched TV, and went to bed. That was my day.

      After that, I realized most decisions in my life are driven by how I want to entertain myself: what I listen to on the radio, what I read, what I do online, what I watch on TV, and even what I eat. I avoid boring situations (which would include praying and reading the Bible) and seek out exciting ones (which have become fewer and fewer in my life).

      The Church cannot compete with the world within the realm of entertainment. My best friend’s youngest son complained to me last Sunday that church is boring. Of course, it is boring, I told him. If you are not interacting with the Lord, then church is boring. Why go to church if you do not (or will not) engage with Him? Then I considered what might be done to make our church interesting: indoor play equipment, video games (which the youth room has to an extent), foosball tables, pool tables (which would get me into almost any church!), etc. But I realized this was not the answer. My little friend would love all that stuff…as long as he could go when he wanted to go. Force him to go every Sunday, and no amount of shiny baubles can entice him.

      I already have stopped arguing with his older brother. He did not go to church this past Sunday, despite all the good food we had at fellowship lunch. These two boys do not pray. They do not read the Word. They do not stand or sing during praise and worship. The younger one complains that he has no one to play with in his neighborhood. When I suggested he walk himself up the street to the Baptist megachurch for midweek youth services, not because it was church, but so he could make some friends, he vehemently objected, although I clearly told him I would not force him to go. So I let him whine and be friendless.

      • At the very bottom of this issue remains this: the church isn’t there to entertain people. It’s there as a “safe place” for those of us trying with every fiber of our beings to serve God everyday and a shelter for those who do and don’t know Him – so that those who do know Him can show, not force, lost people His direction. Sometimes, you just have to worship your way out of the ho-hum.

        Did you ever stop to think that the worship service isn’t really about us, either? It’s about what we’re bringing to the table for Him. We bring us. Broken. Battered. Weary. Sometimes losing hope that anything in any circumstance that we’re praying about will change. Laying it all at the foot of the cross. Just to take some time to look at Him.

        Is that the mentality that most mainstream churches are taking? No. They know that people want to be entertained and are “feeding” that want. In reality, they’re getting what they want and not what they need. They need Jesus. Scripture even says that we don’t even really know what we need – so we pray for the things we want, even though those things may have a devastating outcome.

        The youngest son of your friend will need to find Jesus for himself. That may or may not take some time. If he’s not willing to bend, he’ll be miserable. He’ll eventually realize that it’s better to have friends to share the joys and pains of life – and with that, help you pray to the Lord that all will be well.

        BTW, interesting discussion.

        • AuntieB,

          I’m not sure the Church can be boiled down to simply a safe place. Sometimes, the Church needs to be a not so safe place that challenges us to grow and move out into unsafe waters. Perhaps safety is the main reason the Church is failing in this country!

          • The bottom line wasn’t about the church being the “safe place”. It was about that the Church isn’t there to entertain for the sake of entertainment. If we’re trying to “entertain” anyone, it would be God. And even He doesn’t want us to entertain Him. He wants us to worship Him. Despite what we’re going through. Even when “it all falls apart”. And when you just don’t feel like it.

            The Church needs to be the “safe place” for believers to recoup a little from the garbage that some face through the week. Life is hard. Sometimes, as a believer, you just need reassurance that this life is not the end.

            As far as challenging us to “get out of our comfort zone”? I agree. Although, there are some that are challenged on a daily basis to consistently show Christ by external circumstances, others don’t have a clue. They ho-hum through their days and think that’s enough. I agree – they need more of a challenge, but that also ends with a question: How can you get them off their “duff” and get them motivated when those trying to do the motivating are just plain worn out?

            In the end, I believe that there are some who are living life by the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. I hope that I’m anything but that. =)

      • Michael,

        We fall into entertainment because our lives are disconnected from one another. When you have no interactions with others outside your family, it’s all too easy to go the entertainment route.

        (I have other responses to this issue of entertainment, but it will have to wait for another day.)

  7. I could have been clearer.
    The American church. Includes Canada, we don’t quite have quite the level of commercialized, mind numbing blowback – yet.
    We’re getting there, and we certainly have families struggling to make ends meet, loaded in debt, sleep deprived, work is the centre, it’s easier to purchase what the bubble produces, expect church to entertain us, etc.

    I’m not at in in despair about the Church anywhere in the world.

    I thought you were talking about structures; buildings and programs and denominations.
    If all that disappeared tomorrow, the Church would continue.

    Men run the structures, took the risks, did the marketing, designed the programs, implement them, they make their living doing so, which is why I thought from this post you were a complimentarian. It wasn’t an insult, it’s a theological stream of belief.
    Discussion isn’t even possible.

    And please forgive me for my second assumption, I thought you were a professional Christian and want to be one.

    I’m hearing you say: Men and women are pursuing money.
    Men have to work harder so they aren’t in the building. We are numbed to collective problems. The men in the building dummy down the message. The women do the care giving and learning in the church. We don’t know our history, we don’t know the present, we aren’t being taught, we don’t know God and don’t care to unless it’s on our terms
    There is gender/generational disconnect. It’s business as usual.

    I’m not understanding why you’d want to save/fix church.
    I’m not understanding why you think you can or should.

    • Bene D,

      I’m not just talking about institutional church. I’m saying that THE CHURCH in N. America (apart from buildings) is in trouble if it can’t change in this area. Buildings and institutional mindset are one thing, but not the only thing.

  8. Here is an idea:

    Churches need to accomodate people who cannot make it to the usual Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night rituals. Churches that even seem on fire for Jesus typically shoehorn their services into these time slots. Most small groups meet at night, too. This can leave out people who work afternoon, evening, overnight, and weekend shifts. Some have careers with hours that require it: police and nursing come to mind. Sickness occurs and crimes are committed at all times day and night. Telling the faithful to pray for better hours so they can come to church simply is not going to cut it.

  9. His Sublime Direness: “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.”

    Man, does that ever look to be true. I suspect that the majority want nothing better than to have a nicely smooth running church-machine. Noses and nickles, noses and nickles…keep ’em comin’…noses and nickles, noses and nickles. The bills get paid, and the forty year mortgage on the big box church building gets serviced. Gotta keep those noses and nickles coming…gotta make the payroll. And for discipleship, oh that’s simply a matter of keeping everybody real busy.

    Come to think of it, those men had better punch in at work, after all, where are the nickles coming from?

    • Oengus,

      Barna had a poll a couple years back that showed that the vast majority of pastors, like 85%, rated their own preaching excellent. Given that at the same time Barna was showing continued slides in congregational understanding of basic Christian doctine…well, SOMEONE’S not right there!

  10. With all due respect Dan, I’m thinking we need more of Jesus and less of “man” (or “woman”) in the Church. Prayer would be a very good place to start and your question about Corporate Prayer is an excellent one. Just an idea!

  11. I just remembered another part of the conversation I had with my best friend’s youngest son. Mind you…he’s only eleven years old. He said that having God in our lives is great and all, but life is also about getting stuff and having fun. I told him that he had learned that from observation. As much as most Christians he knows talk about knowing Jesus, by example, it looked like what they really want is to get stuff and have fun.

  12. I apologize if it seems I am commenting too much, but I hope these comments help you and others readers out, Dan.

    What does a truly countercultural Christianity in America 2008 look like? There really is not much you need to do to separate yourself from worldliness. Turn off the TV. Don’t visit seedy Web sites. Skip gossip columns in the newspaper. Once you disconnect yourself from most founts of useless information, you’ll find that you may have plenty of time to find real answers for real people’s real problems. And I do not mean replacing TV and Internet with a list of good books. You can fall prey to intellectual pride that way and end up wasting just as much time.

    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? We need to take Jesus into the workplace. Yes, that sounds like a platitude. But the Word teaches us that we need to pray without ceasing and to meditate always on the Word. How do we pray without ceasing? Do we pray in tongues under our breath? Do we practice the presence of God like Brother Lawrence? There has to be a way to do it while we are busy doing other things. We can meditate on the Word, too. As a young believer, I worked as a dishwasher. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I had read in the Bible while on duty. I believe the Lord taught me a lot that way.

    We have to learn this. A huge percentage of our lives will be involved with work, one way or the other. We cannot relegate prayer and other spiritual disciplines to our homes when we have time off.

    And sometimes you just do what you have to do. My house church meets Saturday nights. My other church meets Sunday mornings. For a string of Saturdays and Sundays, if I was scheduled to work during church time, I wheeled and dealed with coworkers so I could get time off for church. So what if I only went to these churches once a week? Others’ situations may not be like mine, but I have to do what I have to do. Plus, when it came to my best friend’s sons, after factoring in their school and homework during the week, Sunday afternoon was the only reasonable time I could spend with them. So I did it for them, too.

    What would those models of work look like when practically enabled? My “ideal” America would be agriculturally based with a strong communications sector, a strong health sector, a vital but not loony arts community/movement, and a strong military…because we have to live in the real, fallen world. Most people would grow their own food and raise their own livestock.

    What tools is that man lacking that he will need to be all God intended? Their Bibles. Men need to get comfortable reading the Word and letting the Holy Spirit teach them what it means. This is a big problem in many churches. I’ve encountered enough pastors and Sunday School teachers who either dismiss or cut off at the knees any reader who makes a less-than-seminary-educated comment about the Bible.

    How do we sharpen those tools? We could talk about what we’ve read in the Bible instead of engaging in casual conversation. Of course, this could lead to some awkward conversations at first. Imagine replacing “Hi, how are you?” and “Fine, how are you?” to “What did you read in your Bible last night?” and “I read about [insert some very obscure passage, beyond the usual Noah / David / Goliath / Revelation topic].”

    What is the first step toward making these changes? The very first step? Other than a drastic step, say, selling all that we have and following Jesus, we could learn some strategies to streamline our day while absolutely refusing to take on more responsibilities and/or leisurely activities and hobbies. I am trying to do this in my own life. I read about Getting Things Done [GTD], which you might have heard of, Dan, but the hidden drawback I always sensed in GTD is that the strategies there to get things done were really designed so I could get even more things done, even to the point where I would pack more things into my day that were not previously there. So I stopped reading about it.

  13. Matthew Dalton

    Great thought-provoking post. As a man, husband, and father, it’s an issue I think about a great deal. I’ve found that, to many Christian men I know, the fact that I try to spend time in the Word, attend a men’s Bible study to have fellowship with other brothers and encourage one another to live the faith, usually meets with comments like “You should be a pastor” or something of that ilk. In actuality, I’m just trying to be a disciple, to follow Christ, to live the faith.

    In our Bible study this week (we’re in 1 Samuel), we saw how Samuel, a great man of God, failed to disciple his own kids. While he did great things for God and had a huge public ministry, he evidently didn’t spend time ministering to his own family (see 1 Samuel 7:15-8:4). Granted, this is the reverse problem of what you’re speaking of, but the root issue is similar. Men failing to take care of the things entrusted to us. We are given the role as “head” of the home for a reason. And to whom much is given, much is required.

    There is no downplaying this issue, in my opinion. We are called to provide for our families in more than just financial ways. We are also given the task of going and making disciples. This is not for the chosen few. It’s for all of us. It’s dying daily to our own selfishness and giving ourselves for others. And I think it begins at home and works out from there.

    • Matthew wrote:
      I’ve found that, to many Christian men I know, the fact that I try to spend time in the Word, attend a men’s Bible study to have fellowship with other brothers and encourage one another to live the faith, usually meets with comments like “You should be a pastor or something of that ilk.

      Yeah, sometimes when I was reading the Word at my old job, where I had time to do it at work, customers would ask me if I was studying for the ministry.

  14. Tina

    To Michael and Matthew,
    Rarely have I EVER met a godly christian man in the marketplace in my work setting. You are much more needed there IMO than public christian ministry. Keep letting your light shine for Christ. You will reach more godless men where you are than you ever would in a local church as difficult as it can be at times.

    • I was surprised at how many Christians, or at least churchgoers, work where I work, most of whom are women. I worked with one for over a year and only found out recently that she is a professing believer. One minister who visits my church now and then called these Christians “the secret service.” After he came to Christ, he was shocked by how many Christians there were around him, who told him, “Oh, yeah, I’m a Christian, too.” They never told him about Jesus, though!

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