In this updated edition of his 2005 book Why Men Hate Going to Church David Murrow has addressed a real, verifiable problem. Men don’t go to church, at least not in the numbers that women do. Why is this? Are Women more spiritual than men? Less fallen? No, but among the various factors that keep men out of the pews, Murrow finds that the church have soft-pedaled parts of the gospel painting Jesus as the gentle lamb of God without also showing us that He is the Lion of Judah, ferocious and wild. He asserts that if the church is to recapture the culture, grow, fulfill its mission, take risks, do something significant, be more orthodox, cultivate commitment among the youth, then we need to retool how we do church in ways that appeal more to men and make them feel like church is worthwhile.
What Murrow attempts to do in these pages is point out the lack of men in church, identify some of the ways that church culture has excluded men, and offer some practical advice on how to make church more man friendly. I applaud this goal. The issues he speaks of are real and if men are to be encouraged to pursue a real and vibrant faith, clearly this means doing ministry in ways that speak to men. A promise keeper’s male hug-fest doesn’t translate to more men in the church. Murrow tries to put his finger on the pulse of what does. For this I applaud him. And so, what is the problem? Several in fact:
1. Murrow bases his analysis on unhelpful gender stereotypes garnered from pop-psychology. In chapter one, Murrow makes the case that the church displays feminine values because Christian values. Murrow utilizes Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus to make his point that culturally, the Church is seen as feminine. Women value things like communication, connection, beauty, whereas men are all about power, efficiency, proving oneself and skills. While I think John Gray makes important distinctions in the way men and women are socialized, I think it is a mistake to absolutize his claims. If men are to thrive in life, the so-called feminine characteristics he describes are what will enable it. Without the ability to empathize, and relate to others (feminine traits), a man demonstrates a low E.Q. and will not succeed in business or life. This is what a number of popular business books are telling us guys. Men are not simply task master automatons; they are also relational beings. I have a problem with a book about men which begins with an assumption which denies their full humanity.
2. While Feminization is a problem in the church, Murrow fails to see that it is actually a broad cultural problem, not a simple ecclesial problem. At one point, he does acknowledge that women are starting to be a significant portion of the academic world is also excluding men. This is a societal problem. Men are withdrawing from business, from academic institutions and the church. This book addresses the problem in the church in isolation from culture. Therefore Murrow’s analysis is flawed from the get-go.
3. Murrow’s use of statistics is irresponsible. Well, at least he is inconsistent. Some of his stats are good; sometimes he relies on non-scientific polls to make his point. Other times he draws conclusions from stats that are not judicious. For example, when 11 out of 95 men leaving a sportsman show think that church is not masculine, this is hardly compelling evidence of how feminine the church is. Let me be clear, I agree the feminization of the church is a real problem; yet most of the data Murrow sites is more anecdotal than empirical.
4. Sometimes Murrow fails to accurately name the reasons for the problems he sees. For example, he rightly points out that the biggest gender disparity he sees, is in African-American churches. What is the reason? Gay pastors, the formal and traditional dress of African-American churches, and the length of their services are Murrow’s answer(91, 109, 159). While there may be some truth to his answers, this fails to account for the wider societal issue of the absence of the African-American male. African-American males are under educated, under represented in the workforce, do not have the political clout of African-American women. They are the highest representative demographic of men in prison. Murrow’s analysis doesn’t account for any of this. It makes me think that much of what he says is more conjecture than actually helpful.
5. Murrow operates on the assumption that because something is cultural feminine, it excludes men and therefore we need to do something different for them. I agree up to a point. But he makes the case that men are uncomfortable with physical affection, talking about their ‘relationship’ with God or being in intimate settings with other people. He suggests mega-churches attract men because they feel unthreatened and can be anonymous. Okay. But is this good for men? Personally, opening up relationally and talking about uncomfortable things has been my biggest growth edge in my ‘relationship’ with God. I get that some of relational language can be seen by macho-men as a little bit ‘candy-ass,’ but honestly relational language captures the experiential reality of what it means to walk with God. Murrow would argue that we should abandon the unbiblical language of ‘personal relationship’ which sounds icky to men and anyway is not biblical, to the harder more challenging language of discipleship. I agree that to be a Christian is to come to grips to what it means to be a disciple, but this does not fully encompass our life with God. Jesus himself said to his disciples, “I no longer call you disciples but I call you friends (John 15:15).” There is a personal relationship at the core of how we relate to Jesus. If men object to the language of ‘personal relationship,’ they still need to contend with Biblical language which commends intimacy and friendship. If this is problematic for the would be disciple, maybe they need to let go of some of their gender stereotyping. Man up! Having a personal relationship with Jesus doesn’t make you less of a man. It makes you a member of the new humanity. You want to be a man, have a personal relationship with Jesus. You don’t want to do that? Then die in your impotent idea of manhood with its antiquated appropriation of gender stereotypes.
6. As long as I am mentioning language, another place where Murrow gets this wrong is when he eschews the language of ‘family of God.’ He rightly, if woodenly literal, points out that Jesus never used the term ‘family of God; instead he talked about the Kingdom of God. I personally have no issue using Kingdom language, but to dismiss family of God as simply something that appeals to the feminine, fails to emphasis our relationality to one another. To be in the church, is to be connected to other Christians in ways more profound than our marriages or family of origin. The fact that Jesus never says, “family of God” doesn’t illegitimatize the term. Jesus does say, “Those who do the will of the Father are my brother, sister and mother. (Matthew 12:50)” My guess that this statement is more offensive to women than men. Paul, Peter, James and John all use the term ‘brothers’ to refer to those in the church. When you think of the church. this is your family. It is a theological truth for Christians, not gendered language aimed to draw women into the church and exclude men. It is a fact for those who would call Christ their Lord and want to be his disciples.
7. On a personal note, I like church. I am bummed if I miss church. According to Murrow’s analysis, the fact that I like church, thrive in church, have good verbal skills and am relational is because I am feminine. My schmaltzy talk-about-your-feelings-pastoral nature fits well in church and its girly. Well Murrow here is a newsflash. I am all man. I am so manly that other men cower when I walk to a room. If you are a man reading this now, I know you are intimidated. I’m just saying.
This isn’t to say all the advice that Murrow gives on how to reach men is bad. Some of it is pretty helpful. He talks about providing places where men feel like they are offering something significant and are taking leadership. He also offers some helpful tips on teaching that connects with men. Occasionally he overstates his advice like when he says don’t allow churches to display flowers because it’s too feminine and men feel uncomfortable. If your church doesn’t look like a bed and breakfast probably most men can handle a few bouquets. I find the inherent sexism in his analysis problematic, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get some things right.
Thanks to Thomas Nelson (via Booksneeze) for giving me this review copy in exchange for my review. I was not asked to write a positive review of this book. So I didn’t.