In recent years there has been a lot of criticism of the “feminizing” of the church. Much of this language became popular with the publication of books like Wild at Heart that blamed the drop in male attendance on the overly female conceptions of Jesus. Jesus seemed too passive and gooey to attract the average man. The solution? Remind men of the red-blooded, radical, masculine Jesus.
Since then, this language has remained popular. In more recent years, church leaders like Mark Driscoll have critiqued the sweater-vest wearing pastors and soft music playing churches that women supposedly love but men seem to hate.
And this reclamation of the masculine has seemed to result in its desired goal. A whole sub-section of men who were somewhat alienated from the church appear to be returning. And for that I am truly grateful.
I am not opposed to altering a church’s style of worship in order to remove obstacles from attracting men. However, there are a couple of cautions that we need to keep in mind to prevent the church from swinging too far in the opposite direction.
Gender Distinctions v. Gender Stereotypes
While I firmly believe that God created men and women in different ways, we need to beware of language that reinforces worldly stereotypes. For instance, the language of “feminizing” can be quite derogatory towards women given what it implies. It assumes that ALL women, or at least the majority of women, prefer soft music and passive leaders. It equates fluffy theology with femininity, and it implies that passivity is in some way inherently feminine, which it is not. Women may be called to submit, but they are not called to be passive. That is an important distinction.
This language also has worrying implications for how we understand masculinity. There is an implication that the majority of men, or at least strong men, dislike these supposedly feminine styles of worship. Again, this is a dangerously narrow understanding of gender differences. My dad, for instance, is one of the strongest men and greatest leaders I know, but he can’t stand the loud, more “manly” styles of worship that are popular today. He prefers the hymns and the more contemplative styles of worship. Where is the evangelical construct of masculinity that accounts for men like him? Have we blurred the lines between evangelical culture and Scripture too much?
All of that to say, we must be extremely cautious when we slap the label of “masculine” or “feminine” onto styles of doing church, especially when the subtext of those labels is “right” and “wrong.” We not only flirt with the line between culture and Scripture, but we run the risk of excluding anyone who does not fit our extremely cultural constructs of gender. In doing so, we are not far from the judgmental Pharisaism described in Scripture.
A Misdiagnosis of the Problem
While I certainly understand and support any method of outreach that reaches individuals who the church failed to reach in the past, I would caution against any language of making the church more “masculine” or less “feminine.” If something has gone awry in our church, then our re-centering should not pivot upon gender. It should center around Christ.
A particular emphasis on reaching men can convey the subliminal message that women are somehow less sinful or lost than men. Even though women are no less likely to go to church than men, I have not witnessed the same intentionality in reaching women.
Yet if we stop being intentional about reaching out to women then we can be certain they will stop coming. We live in a culture that FEEDS upon women. Every day it chews them up and spits them out, so we need to be fighting for women with as much zeal as we fight for men. Otherwise, we will not only see a decline in the number of women in church, but an increase in the number of broken women in our country.
Ultimately, the church doesn’t need to be “less feminine” or “more masculine.” Yes, there are logistical elements to be considered in facilitating church growth, but the language of “feminine” and “masculine” is usually a complete misdiagnosis of the problem. Our problem is not feminine churches. Our problem is the lack of unapologetic preaching of the Gospel and the passionate worship of God. The lack of those two pillars is not feminine; it’s flat-out broken. That means that no amount of tough guy personas or drums in worship can compensate for their absence, nor can any sweater vest detract from them. Let us not be so distracted by misplaced gender stereotypes that we altogether miss the conversation we should really be having.