Monday, June 27, 2005

'Mainlines' in Trouble, Part 2

This entry is to be a more extensive discussion of the book Why Men Hate Going to Church. Actual quotes from the book will be scarce, as I'm typing this at home and it's over in my office. But I'm going to try to get out a few main points.

First, the book's main focus group is the so-called 'manly man.' The author acknowledges that men are in church, but they tend to be more of the sensitive variety. The rugged outdoors types are more scarce. In part, it's because they see the sensitive ones and don't feel comfortable. This group of men would be much harder to reach with many current programs, even the ones geared toward men: anything involving 'sharing feelings,' hand-holding during prayers, and worship or studies that have focus themes of security, falling in love with Jesus, God as primarily comforter or nurturer.

So what does Murrow suggest instead? A focus on discipleship. A focus on risk. A focus on learning side by side rather than in a circle, a hands-on learning style. Jesus as leader rather than lover and God as sender and caller. These are all Biblical themes and they're all themes taught in the church, but Murrow suggests that they get downplayed more. Themes of safety and comfort appeal primarily to the elderly, women, and children. And by golly those are the groups that tend to show up on Sunday.

Next, men need projects rather than programs. They need short-term hands-on projects such as a Habitat build, a capital campaign or repair project, or even a softball team. I added that last one myself, but have you ever looked at the people who come out for church softball? Half of them are unrecognizable by the average churchgoer, usually because they're either long-lost husbands or ringers. A short-term project means that there's an end in sight, a measureable goal, rather than what might feel like perpetual floating round and round.

Finally, I mentioned in my last post that men follow men. This was the toughest one for me to swallow because it felt so much like a regression. Murrow suggests that men follow the lead of other 'masculine' men, strong leaders who have goals. Murrow writes, 'Yes, men are sexist pigs, but this book is about how they are, not how they should be.' Men are much more likely to follow a male pastor than a female pastor, as well as other 'manly men' who are in charge. There's more theological give-and-take that one has to deal with when addressing this.

Those are some of the main points of the book. The first point is the one that I've been thinking about the most, chiefly because I've been trying to gear things more that way anyway. The lectionary texts for the past month have been from Matthew 10, where Jesus calls disciples and tells them of the risks involved. Murrow states that a focus on texts such as these inspire men to follow because there's purpose and challenge in those words.

Now, after all this I come back to the notorious words of Ted Haggard that I cited a while back. It doesn't sound like the leader of one of the largest megachurches in the country is concerned with risk, and as churches are in some sense reflections of their pastors I doubt many in his flock are either. Well, they ARE concerned with risk...concerned with avoiding it. Chances are there are quite a few men who attend his church. So how does Murrow's thesis match up against such a huge number to the contrary?

Murrow often uses Bill Easum's Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers. I've been meaning to read this text for a couple years now. A couple times Murrow suggests that churches' so-called sacred cows might need to be sacrificed to get men passionate about Christian life and service again. Anyone who's attended a 'mainline' church has some idea of their/our steadfast adherence to how 'it's always been done that way.' And, Murrow suggests, how it's always been done turns men off.

That's enough for now. Two more entries in this little series to go. Next up: some of my own thoughts on how church programs and practices could be made more relevant.


Unknown said...

Wow, Jeff, that's some offensively generalizing commentary with regard to women as clergypersons, or perhaps I should say in terms of what men will respond to favorably.
In my church there were literally no men under 45 and over 10 when I arrived; there were 4 regular attenders in the 45-55 bracket, none in the 55-70 bracket, 4 in their 70's and two in the over-80 crowd. Most weeks, men accounted for 8-10 of the 50-60 adults in worship.
After almost three years I can say that on an average Sunday I look out and see most of those guys still in church (one died and another moved South to be near family due to his poor health), and we have also added 4 men in the 30-40 bracket with their families, and 4 in their early to mid 40's with their families (a total of 14 kids in all), as well as a gentleman in his early 50's. I'm not preaching any kind of muscular gospel, but I don't think it's feminized either. We've seen new women come, too, but the number of men present on a Sunday morning is striking. And several of these guys come without their wives!! (The wives in these cases are practicing Catholics.)

Jeff Nelson said...

Like I said, this is the point at which I cringed the most. I know plenty of women clergy who would respond similarly to what you said about the type of gospel you preach.

To Murrow's credit, he does acknowledge that what he says is mostly generalizing as there are many degrees both to men's responses and the message that female clergy bring. But in order to bring a commentary to begin with, some generalizations must be made.

It might not even be a conscious thing for some men. They might just feel more comfortable with a man in the pulpit. But Murrow also says (thank God) that because some/many men are still in this mindset, we shouldn't revert back to an all-male clergy.