Review: Why Men Hate Going to Church

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The ratio of men to women in Kenyan churches ranges from 1:2 to 1:4 (Mbogo, CM #4) so the work of David Murrow, though very much from and aimed at the US context, scratches a very real East African itch.

Many of his analyses of the problem and criticisms of the church are spot on. In particular he challenges:

  1. Feminised Christianity – characterised by the spiritual and emotional atmosphere (and even colour scheme) being far more feminine than masculine. Songs like ‘My Jesus My Boyfriend’ (as my friend refers to it) are culprits here. Instead we need not only to see Jesus the shepherd who gently carries the lambs but also Jesus on a war horse, with a sword, coming to tread the winepress of the wrath of God.
  2. Feminised leadership – embrace of women’s ordination tends to be co-ordinated with an increase in theological liberalism and a reduction in male attendance.
  3. Programmes rather than projects – programmes and formalised weekly ‘ministries’  proliferate while, Murrow argues, men prefer a defined mission with a beginning and end point (cf. Acts 14:26).
  4. Comfort rather than challenge – In perhaps the best sections of the book Murrow laments the way that the church has swapped Christ’s emphasis on “Come and die; whoever would save his life will lose it” and the apostolic emphasis on bold confrontation with an emphasis on comfort and safety. “What’s our top prayer request? ‘God, keep us safe. Keep our kids safe. Watch over us and protect us.’ God’s job is to keep our well-ordered lives flowing smoothly” (p. 162). (cf.
  5. Vague, woolly sentimentalism rather than clear doctrinal preaching – men don’t want sugary inspirational nonsense they want bold statement of uncomfortable truth, doctrine with sharp edges, preachers willing to nail their colours to the mast.

All this is very helpful. But a few misgivings:

  1. Murrow is very largely dependent on sociology, (contested) biological anthropology, church growth theory and poll data for his analysis and suggested remedies. Sometimes this intersects with a Biblical analysis and prescription and sometimes not. In particular he lacks a) a real acknowledgment of the power of the gospel and the sovereignty of saving grace which overrules the most ‘seeker-friendly’ or most ‘seeker-off-putting’ presentation; b) a solid biblical definition of manhood and so often gravitates to a stereotypical alpha male (tough, shooting, drinking, big man).
  2. The stereotype that annoyed me the most was that men are not willing to read literature or listen for more than 10 minutes and are turned off by teaching. As a friend pointed out, Who wrote most of the books of classic literature for thousands of years? Who was politics and formal education limited to until 100 years ago? Men! As Mez McConnell and Duncan Forbes have proved, men saved from hyper-masculine working class cultures can become highly literate given the chance.
  3. Expressing love for Jesus is not necessarily a feminine thing. Think of Psalm 42 or 63. Think of the Song of Songs (depending on your interpretation). Paul even pronounces a curse on whoever does not love the Lord (1 Cor. 16:22). Similarly, singing is not a particularly feminine thing. David did it and commands it (e.g. Psalm 9:11). Jesus and the disciples did it (Matt. 26:30). Lots of men do it for 90 minutes at top volume on the football terraces. If we truly see Christ’s greatness we’ll be very happy to express our love and admiration and joy.
  4. Most importantly, as Mark Simpson, points out, there is a very real sense in which the gospel itself demands that men humble themselves and realise that they are actually very weak. When it really matters, in relation to the wrath of God, we can’t do anything, we are incompetent, we can’t ‘sort it’. In the reverse of African traditional initiation rites, we have to become like helpless little children to enter the kingdom. We have to admit our inability and let Christ save us. That is true manliness.

[Read Dr Rosemary Mbogo’s two part series Addressing the Male-Female Gender Gap in Kenyan Churches in the 3rd and 4th issue of Conversation Magazine.]

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