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.”
Nick, thanks for this! This is insightful, convicting, and inspiring. Man, I look forward to seeing more stuff like this coming from your keyboard.
Good stuff, but if you think that men are absent from your churches, you should look at the utter absence of single men from our churches post 30 or so in age, when cmpared with the overall demographic. (If you don’t believe me just talk to the single women).
We are not connecting with this ‘demographic’, for all sorts of reasons. Get the *single* men coming back to church and a whole lot of other pieces of the jigsaw just might start coming right too.
I agree with your observation. As one very wise man once said, “A college and career (singles) class is kind of like the baptist version of purgatory…a holding tank that we all know exists, there’s just nobody in it.” With this in mind, however, I would point out the need to be discerning here. I would first ask myself whether, in my particular local congregation, the absence of “single” men over 30 is due to a lack in outreach or due to an emphasis on the beauty and joy of marriage. In my opinion, we should be encouraged by a fledgling “Over 30’s Singles” ministry if the cause of the fledgling is the fact that the “singles” are recognizing their created purpose and pursuing marriage.
This said, I understand your point that after youth group and college ministry, outreach efforts for singles in most local churches come to a screeching halt, reverting more to an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. As a result, in an age in which extended adolescence has been fostered in so many of these single men, the glory of biblical manhood has been drowned out by the allure of x-boxes, x-games, and x-rated websites. As I say above, all of these lusts are rooted in godly desires that are woven into the very fabric of the created order. It is our task, however, not to be drowned out by the culture, but as the city set upon a hill to shine the light of Christ which displays the surpassing glory of biblical manhood to a watching world. And we must do this not just in word, but in deed.
Hi, true enough: but the problem that a number of my Christian single friends report is that they find talk of the “beauty and joy of marriage” very painful, if they are not getting to be part of it themselves. And even more so if they, to put this as rudely as I can, are not wanted by the opposite sex.
I was involved for some years with Promise Keepers and pointed out to them that while they made much of men as husbands and fathers, many of us were neither, and thus were finding it difficult to relate to much of what was being talked about. At the next local railly, accordingly, a ‘single men’s breakout’ was organised. They thought they would get along 40 of the 700 or so men at the rally. They got over 120. At that point they realised that addressing single men’s issues had real merit – and, I would now add, as outreach as well.
Great point. The bible tells us that all men are set apart for one of two life callings: there are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom and then there are husbands and fathers. Often, however, we do exalt the latter to the point of neglecting those instances in which someone has been given the divine gift of celibacy and is not pursuing marriage or those instances in which husbands and fathers have yet to recieve their wives and children from the Lord.
I’m reminded of the pain often felt by couples during Father’s Day and Mother’s Day worship services in which mothers are honored for the newest child, the most children, or the most Christian children, but mothers and fathers who still await spouses and babies have their hearts torn out all over again. As we lift up marriage and family as the rightful icon of the Gospel that it is, may we have hearts that are sensitive and burdened for those who are patiently waiting upon the Lord for the fulfillment of their created purpose.
OK: if you want to show that your singles have a place in the church quite apart from their waiting to get married: give them positions of responsibility and even leadership – in my own church, I have had opportunities to teach and preach, and served for many years on the church board. This means that other single men will *see* that they are not ‘kept off to one side’ because they are single (which is what happens when the emphasis on marriage and family is pushed a little too far).
Here’s how not to do it. Years ago, I was in a church where a newly-appointed deputy pastor got all the singles together for a lunch after church. The reason? “The real reason why I have you here today is that there are lots of jobs in the church that need doing that aren’t being done. You people have time on your hands, so can you help?” Well, no, we *didn’t* have time on our hands, as most of us were more than occupied – and if he’d been doing hs job as pastor, he would have found that out first. The other point is that many of us were finding it extremely draining emotionally to be single, so we really didn’t have the energy to be doing more.
I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!