A Faith for Manly Men?

There are far more women than men active in my church, and we’re pretty typical of other churches. I am a man. Aye, there’s the rub.

While God is the God of women and men, women are more likely to be involved in the Church. We are talking here about women in the pews, not necessarily in leadership, which varies according to tradition. And this is not a new situation; it has always been the case (as far as I am aware). In fact, as Rodney Stark contends in his The Rise of Christianity, its appeal to women was one significant factor in Christianity’s eventual domination of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.

One common portrayal of Jesus…

For male pastors the challenge has always been how to draw in men, who need the Gospel as much (I’m tempted to say more) than women. But men are not likely to feel at home in a congregation mostly female. And we male pastors, because we run an institution composed mainly of women, tend to do things in a way that appeals to that constituency. Thus, many men charge pastors with being too feminized. It doesn’t help that the qualities needed to be an effective pastor, which include a certain level of sensitivity, patience, and emotional know-how, plus a certain bookishness depending on the tradition, are not seen as very manly traits.

Like many male pastors, I am sometimes tempted to try to be more manly in order to connect with men in and out of the church. I am not one of those Harley-riding pastors, but I try to pepper my language with sports references occasionally, don’t advertise that I care not a bit for the NFL, and avoid cataloging the list of birds I saw last weekend, since birding is not so macho.

At the same time, I have appreciated the men-focused events and teachings I have encountered over the years. I went to a Promise Keepers event around the time my first daughter was born and I ate up the emphasis on being a good husband and father, using my strength as a man for the benefit of my wife and daughter. The reminder that the Gospel is an adventure and a quest, as John Eldredge, among others, has written, does resonate with me deeply. I have always come back energized from the men’s retreats our church has attended, appreciating the connection with other men and the teaching.

…and a different portrayal, still with great hair, though!

The question in my mind is what can we do in the church to better present the Good News of Jesus Christ to men, especially men who do not value the church, yet do need to know Jesus. Can we present the Gospel differently? Can we have programs and ministries focused on men? Can we do something outside of the church? Perhaps a more important question: should we do these things?

To get at an answer to these questions, I turned to the men’s movement that spanned the turn of the 20th century, the Muscular Christianity movement. The men involved sought to save a “feminized” church and arouse the sleeping giant of men’s committment to the Church, by calling men to a vigorous Christianity so that the world might know. What I found was not what I expected…

Upcoming: The Muscular Christianity of Teddy Roosevelt and the Christian Student

So, what have you done or seen done in an attempt to involve men in the life and work of your church? Leave a comment below.

 

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