A reader named Patrick referred me to this article from the Biola University Web site. It’s titled “The Feminization of the Church: Why Its Music, Messages and Ministries Are Driving Men Away.” The article includes references to Why Men Hate Going to Church, by David Murrow, and The Church Impotent, by Leon Podles. Both are sitting on my shelf, as yet unread. Both authors claim that Christianity has become increasingly feminine in its appeal and membership. Podles traces the roots back to the 13th century, when he says women mystics popularized the personal use of “bridal imagery.” In response to the article, Patrick had this question:
Do you have comments, ideas, approaches in your ministry to address the needs of men vs. women in worship (in general), music and the arts (specifically)?
First, let me say that I agree that the church at the beginning of the 21st century is becoming increasingly feminine. The obvious example is the acceptance and increase of women pastors and leaders. More subtle examples are music we tend to classify as “worship” (slow and intimate, focusing on mercy and beauty, with add2 or major 7th chords), the percentage of women at church services, and the emphasis on “feminine” traits over “masculine” ones in churches. For instance, many pastors are more prone to talk about sensitivity, tolerance and nurture than courage, holiness and the offense of the Gospel. I realize that this is a broad oversimplification of the issue, but there’s ample evidence that things are changing.
Back to Patrick’s question. God has made us male and female, with undeniable differences that are biological, cultural, psychological and sociological. Those differences affect the way we process and perceive information, as well as the way we interact and communicate. Women in general tend to be more relational, talkative and sensitive to others. Men, in general, tend to be more achievement oriented, difficult to engage in conversation, and self-reliant. Again, I understand this is a generalization with exceptions. In any case, our starting point for relating to God is not the way we like to perceive him, but the way He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. Though men and women may be different in gender, we find a common root in our status as sinners. That is why Paul writes that in Christ, “There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Both men and women can understand that they have fallen woefully short of God’s righteous standards and are in need of a Savior. Our “need” in worship is to realize our innate self-centeredness and self-exaltation, the judgment we were under as a result of our rebellion, the provision God has made for us in the atoning sacrifice of His Son, and our appropriate response of repentance, faith and gratitude.
But how is that communicated? In ways that are masculine or feminine? Do we respond to the current trend by singing warrior type songs, helping men get in touch with their masculine heart? Do we remind guys that Jesus was a carpenter, that He got His hands dirty, and encourage them to take risks and be a man’s man?
I don’t think so. Simply encouraging guys in supposedly masculine traits doesn’t necessarily bring clarity to the situation or resolve the current dilemma.
In my years of pastoring, we’ve sought to focus people’s attention not on the particular way we say or do things, but on the One we have gathered to worship. His self-revelation determines our communication. It’s not about worshipping God in a feminine or masculine way, but worshipping Him for Who has revealed Himself to be and in the ways He has commanded us to worship Him. As we do so, we’ll find men becoming more manly and women becoming more “womanly.” Given the current climate in many churches, this would probably result in many churches becoming more “masculine” in their worship, but also any church becoming more biblical.
We celebrate Jesus Christ in His divinity and His humanity. We should praise Him for His meekness and humility as well as His wrath, justice and fearsome holiness. We sing to God not because women like singing more than men, but because God commands us to sing His praise. We use songs that reflect God’s strength, power and majesty, as well as songs that celebrate His care, love and mercy. We take a strong stand for truth because we are to contend for the faith, but seek to do so with humility and kindness. We believe that God has ordained different, but complementary and equally worthwhile, roles for men and women in the church, and that doctrinal and directional leadership in the church is to be male. However, all we do as men or women is meant to be an expression of servanthood. When the different roles of men and women are honored, both see their gender in light of the God who created us in His image for His glory.
One pastor suggests that men and women have an inherently different way of relating to God:
“The classic example is the worship pose of the eyes shut and the arms raised in this tender embrace, singing a song that says, ‘I’m desperate for you. You’re the air I breathe.’ Guys don’t talk to guys like that.”
That may be our common experience in our culture, but it was David, the warrior-king, who penned these words:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Ps. 63:1)
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Ps. 27:4)
“Fainting for the Lord” and “seeking to gaze upon his beauty” may sound like feminine expressions, but they are specifically biblical attitudes. I want to learn what it means, as a man, to so desire the Lord that I am physically affected. Also, these aren’t meant to be the only ways we speak about God. They should be filled out with other expressions that communicate a love for holiness, a passion to live for God’s glory, and a hatred for sin and everything that opposes God’s will. Men in particular need to be aware of God’s command to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). As we keep our focus biblical and balanced, we’ll find that both men and women are less concerned about worshiping God “their” way, and more concerned about becoming conformed to the image of the Savior they worship.
I realize this has barely scratched the surface of answering the question, but I pray it sheds a little light on an appropriate way to address the feminization of the church.