A recent story in the USA Today cites poll results that should come as neither shocking nor revealing to any local church pastor. According to the article, “Women outnumber men in attendance in every major Christian denomination, and they are 20% to 25% more likely to attend worship at least weekly.” The article goes on to document several other percentages and polls which communicate the same phenomenon, one that seems to transcend denominational, racial, socio-economic, and geographic divisions. That is- a greater percentage of women than men attend church on a weekly basis.
The default explanation of many church leaders for this undeniable reality tends to be something to the tune of- “women are just inherently more spiritual than men are.” While such explanations may help lessen the reproach felt by these pastors about the absence of men in their pews, such statements are neither biblical nor pragmatically helpful.
The argument that certain aspects of humanity’s rebellion and aversion to God have somehow bypassed women is founded upon a deficient doctrine of the fall and depravity of mankind. The biblical witness is clear- women are no less fallen than men are! Such unbiblical explanations, while intended to ease consciences, in effect compound the problem at hand. To argue that femininity better facilitates spirituality is to imply that masculinity and all things masculine are spiritual obstacles to overcome. And such is the plight of our churches.
I am convinced that an essential element for the mission of the church, the convention, and the Great Commission in the 21st century will be local congregations with a vision for getting their iconography in order. By iconography, of course, I do not mean images etched in glass or stone, but the image etched in flesh, the imago Dei. Churches that preach the loving fatherhood of God, the covenant faithfulness of the Bridegroom, and the sacrificial headship of Christ in word, yet model something less than godly masculinity in deed, cripple themselves from Great Commission effectiveness. If the purpose of the imago Dei is that mankind would represent God to the ends of the earth, that the nations may know Him, I submit that one of the primary reasons for a sparseness of men in our pews is not that males are more opposed than women are to the God of the Bible, but that they are more opposed to the God they see imaged in our churches. In light of this dilemma, I will present three areas for further exploration regarding biblical manhood in our churches and its implications for Great Commission effectiveness.
1. Pastors who model the Fatherhood of God and the Headship of Christ
There is great truth to the axiom, “the medium is the message.” When pastors stand in their pulpits week by week, their hearers cannot simply evaluate the cold data of a sermon as if they are reading a transcript. Rather, the entirety of the message is bound up in the measure of the man. We have all seen tragic examples of men whose verbal communication skills were remarkable, but whose character and integrity undermined even the most eloquent of their orations. While we rightly place emphasis on the importance of moral integrity to the mission and the message, have we considered the possibility that the message might also be stifled by other, more subtle factors?
When a pastor stands and preaches about walking by faith, not by sight, but descends from his pulpit to fearfully glad-hand the “big givers” and “power brokers” of the church to ensure job security, are mixed signals being sent? When a pastor preaches about exhibiting self-control and moderation, but then has to constantly adjust his wardrobe to accommodate his expanding waistline, are inconsistencies detected? When a pastor preaches about a Father who will “never leave us nor forsake us”, and a Christ who “lays down His life for His friends,” but constantly checks his email and missed calls for any signs of a pulpit committee that might be considering his resume, is the message blurred?
We all know (and largely reject) the excuse of unbelievers about “all those hypocrites at church.” But could it be that their response warrants consideration by the man on the platform? Men will not follow a leader they do not respect. So, as long as pastors are content to image a cowardly, weak, effeminate, self-centered, and appetite-driven deity, will it be any wonder that masculine males are not drawn to such a God, let alone such a pastor?
2. Families that model the Union of Christ and the Church
The marketing world has identified the two factors which most obviously motivate males: violence and sex. The twin lusts for blood and sex have driven generations of men to the brothels and the coliseums (both of which can be found contemporarily and most horrifically in electronic format). While it is indeed necessary to denounce the moral and social ills caused by the perversion of these impulses, we must also look to the Creator and understand that, at their core, these things are rooted in His image. A drive toward the one-flesh union was written on the heart of the first man to function as an icon of the Christ-church mystery. A drive toward “violence” was given to this same man to protect and provide for his wife and children in the midst of a chaotic fallen order. That these impulses have been distorted by the sinful nature is no flaw of the design, rather its perversion.
When men experience these God-given impulses sinfully, their rebellion drives them to fulfill the desires selfishly and violently. The antidote God gives is the church. There, a lust-saturated world should be able to look and see the purposes behind their deepest desires. There, they should see men who delight themselves in the wives of their youth and welcome children as the fulfillment of that union. There, they should see men who sacrificially lead, sanctify, provide for, and protect their families, even to the point of laying down their lives. Is it possible, though, that this imagery is being squelched by congregations in which men are downloading the same images, perpetrating the same immoralities, and exhibiting the same self-gratifying hedonism as the world? Is the message being muffled when the men in our congregations are distorting their God-given headship by refusing to lead and sanctify their families? I wonder if the world is able to look to our churches and see the image of God being restored in our men when they see them violently turning on those in their care by selfishly pursuing career goals at the expense of the father-hungry souls of their children or handing their brides over to wolves by abandoning them for younger, more attractive prospects. In a climate like this, I wonder if the world is even able to see anything different at all. I wonder if they are able to see the image for which they long.
3. Congregations that model true Brotherhood in Christ
Men who are not in church will find brothers somewhere. They are the men at work. They are the men with whom they gather around the television with coordinating team colors. In some cases, they are explicitly those with whom they gather in a lodge or in a smoke filled frat house and call “brothers”. All of these are paganized manifestations of a God-ordained longing for brothers…but these things do not true brothers make. When the New Testament describes the community of the redeemed who have been brought from death into life in Christ, the imagery used to describe the relationship forged between them in the Spirit is that of brotherhood. We often throw the term “brother” around flippantly, but seldom think about the relationship being described here.
A brother is not simply a friend, he is family. He is a man who looks you in the eye and says things that sting, because he loves you. He is someone who presses you and challenges you and makes you work for everything you get, but who then turns and fights to the death alongside you against a common enemy. This kind of family is not found in a workplace, a sports stadium, or a fraternal order, nor can it ultimately and most perfectly be found in the home. This kind of family is designed to be found in the body of Christ. Perhaps when the men in our congregations break down the walls of cynical distance between one another, perhaps when we stop going for one another’s heads and instead look for the common enemy to fight, perhaps when we stop facilitating superficial hang-out sessions and begin to cultivating genuine, sanctifying, godly, and manly relationships…perhaps then the watching world may be able to look at our churches and see a picture of “brotherhood” that resonates with the deepest longings of their souls. And perhaps then, we might see more males in our pews who have become, once and for all, true “brothers.”