Thursday, May 14, 2009

More on Men, Women and Church

There were some interesting and insightful comments to this first post. Many thanks to those who responded.

I promised a follow up, but before I get started, I'd like to answer a question. Much 2 Ponder asked about why I did not interview men who did not attend church as part of the article published in Mutuality. Good question. I was asked by the editor of the magazine to rework a post she saw here into an article, and that is what I did. There were time constraints, and while I did some further research (a closer look at demographics in my church and those in the area among a few other things), I did not have time to do much else before the magazine's deadline. Also, it would have made for a much longer article..

I would love to do this, however. I am thinking about coming up with a survey that could be used for this purpose, and I'll let you know if I do so. I will likely ask for help! Also, some of you commented last time that you were going to "count heads" at church. If you did, please comment about what you found. Thanks!

Now on to Part Two.

While there seems to be no denying that we need more men participating in our local churches, it is hard to generalize across both "sides of the aisle." Some comments came from people in mainline church traditions; others are in the evangelical camp. Are the issues different? My opinion at this point is that some are and others are not. And in this post I seem to be asking even more questions--but I hope church leaders think more deeply about this issue.

An Aging Church Usually Means One With More Women

Several commenters noted that in churches where there are more older people it is not surprising that the women outnumber the men, since that is true in the population at large. Ruth says, "In some ways I think the age difference is more noticeable than the gender issues." Gilly says, "It seems to me that churches that attract families, have men in the congregation. Where young families do not attend there is a preponderance of women. So the aim would seem to be to attract families, including the men. If you 'catch' the children, you 'catch' the women...If you 'catch' young men then you get the women along too." LutheranChik seems to confirm this when she says, "In our church we have a good male/female ratio, I think because we have an influx of younger families with kids..."

In the first church Ken and I pastored, the women outnumbered the men by about 1/3, but a large part of the congregation were over fifty; several were in their 70s or 80s. None of the books or articles I read about gender disparity and the supposed "feminization" of the church mentioned age as an issue. It seems that a church (or a denomination) that notes an aging demographic increase might need to think about attracting younger members instead of a single-minded focus on manly ones.

Spiritual Cotton Candy for Women Versus Meat for Guys-- Could it Become the Opposite?

Some noted that women's ministry sometimes tends to be spiritual fluff, with the meat reserved for men. Bad Alice calls it, "bland...on women's topics." I hope that this is an unconscious thing and not intentional, but I have no doubt that it happens. Not long ago I attended a function that was advertised as a "Prayer Retreat for Women." Prayer was a small part of the proceedings. Instead we got decorating tips, tips on how to be submissive wives, personal testimonies from women (while those were good, they were not meat) and a speaker that was so girly (for lack of a better word) I could hardly stand it--and I was not alone.

I believe this is at least partly due to Victorian ideas of women as more fragile and less intellectual than men. The woman of the 21st Century is vastly different than those of a century ago--not in innate intelligence or ability, but in her perception of her "place" and what she can or cannot do. Some segments of the church, it seems, have yet to realize this.

Ironically, however, if you take even a casual look at the 'manly" genre of writing you will find a fairly negative stereotype of men as, in Murrow's words, "less studious than women" as well as less disciplined and more juvenile. Frankly, I am mystified as to why any intelligent man finds this anything other than laughable. Any men out there who can help? Please chime in.

However, might we find in the not-too-distant future that women are seen as studious and spiritual and men are seen as wanting something less? A family member recently told me about attending the men's ministry gathering at his church for the first time. He is intelligent and studious and was looking forward to prayer and some study of scripture. Instead it was an evening of watching a football game on the church's big TV. Not even a simple devotion was offered. He did not give it another try.

Is it a "Lack of Male Leadership" Issue?

Here is a quote I saw recently, from a Men's Ministry director, "The great majority of ministry in Protestant like the Titanic..."women and children first." God appointed men to lead. Men don't follow programs, they follow men."

Is it true in your church that a disproportionate amount of money and attention goes to women and children? It wasn't true in my church. And what about that claim that men follow men?

Rev Sis seems to have a healthy balance of men and women serving at her church, but she expressed some of the concerns I had too, saying, " My concern is in addressing the needs of men as a female pastor. Some will come to me with their issues but not nearly as many as women." I wonder, do male pastors have this problem with their female parishioners? In a male-dominated clergy, do women open up to their pastors, or do they find other avenues for help?

Sally says, "I think that almost 70- 80% of the Church in the UK is female, but the leaders are still mostly male." Gilly, also from the UK, says, "I've never met 'girly' worship, but I have found...powerful worship which both men and women have participated...I have heard boring sermons from both men and women! If it really was a matter of men v women 'up front' then surely those churches that forbad women to be ministers would be full of men? And they are not."

LutheranChik's church has a balanced male/female ratio and "a balance of women and men in leadership positions." On the other hand, P.S. notes, "Currently our whole paid staff is women and a good strong part of the volunteers are men. It has been an interesting evolution of the "old days" when the man pastor did everything, the men...didn't have to do much...[for] women...there were always the kitchen and cleaning duties...duties with the children...We now assign both men and used to just wait around for the wives to finish in the kitchen; now they are in there pitching in."

I found that remarkable, and if she is on to something, having a woman in the pulpit would not have a detrimental effect on men volunteering--in fact the opposite might actually be true. Thinking back to my own church, we had men serving alongside women in every ministry team of our church (except the women's group, of course). My husband was the only man who volunteered for nursery duty, but I think that will change too. As noted in the magazine article I found that the churches near me had about the same ratio of males to females, regardless of whether the pastor was a man or a woman. I don't find much, if any, evidence that male leadership translates into more men in the congregation.

Are Women Dissatisfied Too, but Stay Anyway?

Kristen's church is growing and has a balance of men and women. But she notes that some of her acquaintances attend churches where there are more women than men. She adds, "Some of these women have told me that their church isn't really that great for them...the sermons don't engage them...the worship doesn't uplift them...but they go anyway, out of a sense of duty and 'for the children.'" She wonders if cultural conditioning plays a part, saying that if men don't like going to church, they just won't go. Women, on the other hand, are much more conditioned to do things because we feel obligation or duty. She concludes, "So for some churches...maybe sometimes nobody really wants to be there. But the women are the ones who stick around anyway."

Are "Masculine" Stereotypes Part of the Problem?

Iris said something I find very significant. "I believe that in the conservative evangelical branch we have burdened the men with this 'godly man image' which no one can effectively bear. I believe they are expected to be and do far too much and as a result they feel inferior, ineffective and eventually back completely off. If we would forget these 'roles' and images (women ones included) and just work together in the Kingdom I believe there would be a proper balance."

I absolutely agree. Those pushing the men the hardest to "step up and lead" may actually be doing the opposite. If you were a man who was not necessarily a leader, not particularly "manly," perhaps quiet, a follower, or maybe unsure of your abilities, what would you want to do when every men's leader tells you about your "leadership" role and the extra burden you bear just because you are a Christ follower who happens to be a male?

Bad Alice seems to confirm this when she notes that the men in her church are active and involved, perhaps because "...the men seem to be honest with each other about their problems and challenges (at least according to my husband). Perhaps the men at my church just feel that there is a place for them -- that they don't have to be godly, upright, and strong and they can safely admit that they aren't and be encouraged.

Love and Authenticity Not Programs and Causes

That leads to the next point. Several commented about a need for authenticity in relationships, and a sense of community that transcends divisions of age, gender, etc. Much 2 Ponder said, "One thought that I can't get away from is the fact that gender is even an issue. It makes no sense because it is contrary to the way that I believe God sees men and women." Grady says,
"Gender is real, and there are times to focus on it, but that will always be secondary to God's love and calling for each individual. I doubt that any church which is fully focused on the reality of God and His Word will have much gender imbalance."

Nightmare says he is not a "fan" of church but that this has nothing to do with being a man. He says many churches focus on "the acorns and are oblivious to the forest." He wants to see more focus on Jesus' love and less on evils to "fight." (Incidentally, the is exactly the opposite of most of the advice I read on how to "masculinize" a church.) He adds, "It seems to me I remember Jesus hanging out with lepers, prostitutes, the downtrodden, and he showed them how to live a life to honor God..., [not]...pointing fingers, talking down to them. He lifted them up, he did not shame them, they were not rebuked, they were shown love, mercy, and compassion, something sorely missing from a few of the churches I no longer attend."

My husband, Ken, sort of fits the "manly" stereotype. He is a big guy who likes sports and the outdoors and he is a natural leader. He says, "I think it is self-fulfilling statements. 'Real Men' don't go [to church] so if you are a Real Man you won't want to go. You will find something else to do with your time that is more manly. I love the bumper sticker that says 'Real men serve God.' That is want a 'Manly Man' should be doing, not letting someone else dictate their feelings or choices...It matters little who is the pastor or song leader."

After I wrote the first post about this issue, I ran across several on-line discussions about men and church. I'd like to share a little of what I found, much of which was in the form of comments to various posts. You might or might not agree. One said,

Two reasons, I think:
1) Religion is seen as a *crutch* - as something that helps you cope with life - and men like to pretend we don't need help. It's the same reason we drive in circles for 3 hours instead of asking for directions.

2) We like to think we're more logical than women. (I didn't say we *were* more logical, but we think we are.) Faith requires the abandonment of logic to a certain degree.

Another said,

"Here are some observations, not value judgments:
1) Women tend to be more emotional than men on average and religion can address this rather well.
2) Women still have the lion's share of child rearing responsibilities. Support structures such as those offered by churches, synagogues, etc. will therefore naturally see more traffic from women than men.
3) The feminization of society, and religion, continues unabated. Women will feel more comfortable with this than men -- on average.

And this from another post and another comment,

I don't think it has anything to do with religion at all, but rather with the structure of our churches. Men in general are less willing to be subservient to the authority of another than women. Following a pastor or church leaders requires deferring to their judgments over yours, implicitly acknowledging them as being "above" you at some level. Our culture makes this a negative trait for a man, but a positive for women. Also, outside of the authoritative hierarchy of the church, it is more like the family structure where women traditionally take more responsibility of organization and maintenance than men, so I'm not surprised they they volunteer more for those areas.

Interestingly, the e-magazine "New Man" featured an article last week titled, "What Does it Mean to be a Real Christian Man?" Here is a part of what was said (and I would give credit to the author but I could not find who that was).

What does the ultimate, ideal Christian man look like? That would be Jesus.

Its funny how the source of our faith seems to get lost in the debate among various Christians. Although each group claims a different aspect of Christ, I keep looking to the gospels to see the ideal godly man. Jesus had it all. Want solid thinking? How about constantly answering questions by quoting Scriptures and providing revelations from the Old Testament. Want a strong man? How about a guy who can spend 40 days in the desert without food, or sacrifice Himself for the salvation of everyone? Want a balanced man? How about a guy who treated women with more respect than anyone in His day and age.

I've almost always found that the best answers in Christianity are the most simple ones. If you want to know how to be the best Christian man you can be, look to Jesus.


Sally said...

wow this is a post and a half and requires more serious thought from me. I do object to "spiritual cotton candy" that is so often offered through womens ministries, let me at the steak! Seriously though we face the same problems in the UK without the differentiation between mens and womens ministries to anything near the same extent, though if anything ministires are lacking in general. There are some separate mens and womens events, but on the whole nothing.

So what is the problem, I think here some of it stems back to WW1 & 2, spirituality became womens stuff, over recent years though there has been a shift, it is a case of watch this space.

the Dragon's Right Wing said...

In the section "Are "Masculine" Stereotypes Part of the Problem?", you talk about men being pushed into leadership roles - I've been blessed that I have not had a church push me into that. I am not a natural leader, and certainly not a natural administrator! Yet God (and not my church) has pushed me into positions of leadership recently: and He is giving the grace to function there! I have become the worship leader for our church, and have now preached my first sermon - something I never thought I would do! I have been able to do these things - fulfill these roles - because it is God's doing, and not the church pushing me into them "because you're a man"!

much2ponder said...
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Ruth said...

There is a lot covered here and it will take a lot of bone gnawing for me to digest all of it. I think "the church" is losing people due to many reasons, not just men. Older men, like my guy, have been worn down, chewed up, and spit out by their churches, so over-used they need a rest from church. Younger men, like my daughter's boyfriend, have been very badly burned by church people so they reject all of it. Other men I've talked to are bored by what's offered. But then, so are my daughters. So am I!

I don't believe this is truly a gender thing. It's possible that men are just more honest in leaving "the church", as you mentioned in your post. But it could be that people are in church because, as a friend of mine put it years ago, "it's good discipline". I'm not sure that's a good reason to be in church. It's not a good enough reason for me.

Ruth said...

And... I forgot to put this in my previous post. I think it's a whole lot easier for male leadership to look at declining attendance and decide it's "the women's fault". It was the first excuse ever given for a problem. It shouldn't surprise anyone that it's the first one that leaps to many people's minds. It's much easier to put the blame somewhere else rather than do a careful study on the reality of what's going on and *doing* something about it.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Wow! DRW / Grady, do you have a tape somewhere? I'd love to hear you. How wonderful that you hare finding that where the Holy Spirit works, grace is given for the task! I'm proud of you! And I know what it is like to be afraid of speaking, and yet be given grace to do things you never thought you would do. Let God be God! And yes, M2P, God is still God. But sometimes God's people make it more difficult for folks to connect instead of easier. Being drawn to church and to God are not the same, but I can't escape the belief that God works, most often, through people. And I heard something interesting today, "To be a Christian means not only to be a folower of Jesus but a part of community." Pondering that--but that is another issue for another day.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

And Ruth, I am sad to say I agree about it being all too easy to look for someone to blame--and back it goes to the Garden. Nothing new under the sun.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Back to the earlier comment. I didn't say it very well, but I think it is important that the people of God's Kingdom take care not to hinder folks...Jesus has bad stuff to say about that. So part of this whole discussion, to me anyway, is thinking about the fact that the church represents God (right or wrong) and we'd best take care with what we do. THose of us in leadership will be held accountable for how we cared for those God gives us to shepherd. I want to be a good and faithful servant.

Not sure that cleared it up. I think I'd better head for bed.

much2ponder said...
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Gem said...

You might find some more food for thought in this 5 part series. Here's a link for part one:

The masculinization of the church, part 1Personally, I think the men who stay away are exercising good discernment. "The church" (as in "the institution") is immature. Seems like your mention of the lack of solid food goes along with a "church" which keeps people babies. I put "church" in quotes because I don't believe that is the way a genuine biblical church is supposed to function.

"and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be infants," Eph 4

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

I know, M2P. Not saying it is. :-) Just pondering the concept at the moment.

Gilly said...

Wow! I must read this again and again, and let it all sink in!

But I think the issue of gender is always there, even if it is not overtly expressed. You quoted someone as saying "What does the ultimate, ideal Christian man look like? That would be Jesus".My reply would be "what does the ultimate, ideal Christian woman look like?" And you will get some answer like Mary, or no answer at all. Because, of course, we should all strive to be "like" Jesus. We should all be followers of him.

Once you start stressing the gender of Jesus to half the population, the other half feels ignored, or is made to feel she should be that doormat, the "submissive" woman. And then it subverts into "Woman are not allowed to do this.... or that.... or the other."

I think we forget that God has no gender nor has the Holy Spirit. Jesus was male because of the time and location he came to earth.

But you would never guess this in many churches.

There is just one more point: in the UK we have an ageing population. Older people will be in the majority in a few years. Also, older people, and these are mainly women, because they live longer, may either become churchgoers because they arre looking for some meaning in their lives now, or contemplating a life after death, or take up the habits again of their youth, when many, if not most children went to Sunday School or Church, and these now elderly people feel the need of the comfort a church and church community can bring. So an ageing church population is not necessarily a dying church. It may be very active. Just older. And as others grow older, they too may join a church. there is an organisation in the UK called OUTLOOK! which aims to bring the Gospel specifically to older people.

There are many ways forward. Not all of them are right for all of the people all of the time!

the Dragon's Right Wing said...

M2P - you said "... being a part of that community you speak of is not always in the church." - I would not entirely agree (although I certainly understand what you mean - my disagreement is effectively semantic). I firmly believe that the church IS that community, but what is commonly called "the church" really isn't the church at all - it is mere forms: organizations which can never be the Body of Christ. These organizations can serve a purpose, but should never be confused with the biblical church.

May God grant us all His grace and understanding ...

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

That was a great link, Gem! Thank you.

I agree with what you say here about maturity...and my concern is not just saying what is wrong when I ask about men and church (or anyone and church for that matter). Knowing that we are human and will never get it all perfectly right, how can we help God's people do it better--or more importatnly fulfill the "ministry of reconcillation" that we have been given? For, men, women and children? The issue of men and church is, to me, only of concern in the broader view of how the church can BE the church. And I mean in the way God intends.

I suppose I am thinking about this because I hope to be sharing some things with the Body of Christ in a broader way than I did when I was the pastor for one congregation. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but I am feeling a need to clarify some things for myself so that perhaps, when the time comes, I can help clarify them for others.

Betsy said...

Much to think about here and many excellent points.

One new thing occurred to me. In general, women seem to be more inclined to gather for the purpose of relationship, without a specific task (it's the moms, not the dads, who stand around chatting in the school parking lot!). I wonder if women are sometimes more drawn then men to the part of church that happens after worship, the visiting with friends and catching up. If that's the case, then a woman has an additional strong reason apart from worship to go to church on a given day, one that may not be as compelling for a man. And since many people are making the decision anew each Sunday morning, perhaps that's part of the difference in what they end up doing.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Many ways forward! Yes, PTL!

You are right. Jesus is the example for all of us--men and women as well.

Hmmmm...might that mean that what matters and what lasts and what is really important to be or do or live out is not so all-fired different for men and women?

And DW, you said "I firmly believe that the church IS that community, but what is commonly called "the church" really isn't the church at all - it is mere forms: organizations which can never be the Body of Christ. These organizations can serve a purpose, but should never be confused with the biblical church."

And I say, Amen!

And now I will be silent on this subject for a while.

much2ponder said...
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much2ponder said...

The point I was trying to make is that we do not always need to find that fellowship among believers in the church, but in reality I have yet to see the biblical church you speak of. I can only make statements to what I have been exposed to. Sorry if I offended anyone.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

That biblical church is invisible...many people...many eras...many places. :-)