Early last year I purchased and read a book strictly based on its cover. The book’s title intrigued me. The picture of the snoozing man in an empty church made me laugh uncomfortably. I wondered what insights David Murrow might have into why men hate going to church. I understood that most churches, regardless of denomination, were heavy on women and light on men. I also daily experienced the atypical.
At that time I was still serving as the Associate Pastor of the Dearborn Baptist Church. In our congregation men were in abundance and actively involved in ministry. Few were the families where Mom had to drag the kids to church on her own. Those families existed, and they received special attention and care. Those were, however, the exception rather than the rule. We also had few men who attended just to keep peace at home. Yes, there were men like that, but they were the minority.
I read the book in one night. My overall opinion of it is not positive. Recently, a friend and fellow blogger read the book and wrote a review. Since his blog – Doses of Reality – focuses on political and parental issues he asked if I would post his review on The Oxgoad.
His review is what follows. Next Friday I will comment on Philip’s view of the book. For the most part we agree, but there are some minor areas of difference.
Book Review: David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church
Murrow’s intriguing and daring book asks a startling question: Just where are all the men? Though his book sometimes relies on shock value, a misinformed view of the church and an obsession with popular worship trends, Murrow does manage to sound the warning bell on some all too familiar problems facing congregations of all shapes and sizes. Why Men Hate Going to Church paints a damning portrait of modern churches devoid of men younger than 50 and immersed in a predominately feminine culture. Men stay away from church because they feel uncomfortable with nearly every part of the worship service. They fear a loss of masculinity in the eyes of their peers. They cringe at mediocrity and inefficiency. And, all too often, they conclude that Christianity just doesn’t seem to matter. Yet, Murrow offers some thought-provoking solutions to this unfortunate situation and points the way toward a better tomorrow.
The author begins by laying out a convincing expose of the alarming gender gap many have failed to even notice, much less combat. While his enthusiasm carries the point too far at times (during one section he laments the absence of criminals and “dangerous” men in our midst), he slams the door on any argument to the contrary. Indeed, churches have largely become the domain of women. They cater to the needs of women and children far more effectively than they minister to men. Ministry opportunities also fall more often to women than men. A startling chart depicts a square peg (a man) trying to fit into the round holes of ministry. Except for being an usher or caring for the maintenance of the building, men have a shockingly small array of choices. The remaining jobs (the more spiritual and “important” ones) demand the superior language and relational skills often possessed by women.
Even more powerfully, Murrow describes the extent to which churches have adopted a feminine view of Jesus and feminine language and imagery. The Jesus of Sunday school gently caresses lambs and pats children kindly on their heads. An emphasis on sharing, loving, nurturing, gentleness, and kindness leave men with a partial and destructive view of Christianity. Even the sound of “being saved” evokes an image of womanly passivity. Murrow recommends the invitation to “follow Christ.” Christians using phrases like “an intimate relationship with Jesus” and singing too many love songs can send the wrong message to men. Men do not need a Lover in the form of Jesus Christ, Murrow argues. They need a Father—a fearless Leader.
Murrow’s chapters illustrating the biological and psychological differences between men and women leave something wanting, as he succeeds only in producing one-dimensional caricatures. This misinforms a number of his minor conclusions later in the book. For instance, he seems bent on describing men as uneducated and lacking attention spans greater than ten minutes (he considers “bookish” men effeminate) and having little power over sexual desires, alcohol and drug use, as well as a host of other risky activities. Therefore, he advises pastors to preach in short bursts of no more than ten minutes (with a break in between segments), include lots of macho examples and references to pop culture, and make liberal use of simple object lessons. While there may be some wisdom here, the possibility of expositional and doctrinal preaching seems all but excluded.
However, Murrow does make a number of excellent suggestions. He notes that men need strong male leadership (though he often makes allowances for women in leadership). They also need vision, a sense of purpose, obstacles to overcome and high standards. Classes or small groups that allow open discussion and even debate tend to attract and benefit men. He urges that moral nagging be replaced by an emphasis on total life transformation. Men may prefer ministry projects (having a specific purpose and conclusion) to open-ended ministry programs. Men need opportunities to minister in ways more suited to their natural gifts, such as building houses or repairing cars for the needy. Murrow makes the case that ministry should not be comfort-oriented (something security-minded women value), but rather it should be challenge-oriented. Real Christianity needs a dose of adventure and risk, so he suggests taking mission trips and outdoor camping retreats. Perhaps the brightest jewel to be found is Murrow’s conception of the “spiritual father.” This label encapsulates a practical method of male discipleship, where older Christians claim younger Christians as spiritual sons. These “fathers” develop close relationships and act as guides during difficult transitions, all done in a very organic, non-official capacity. Murrow also stresses the importance of men belonging to a “band of brothers.” Too often, men come to Christ but fall away from church after only a short while. Murrow argues that this would not happen if a group of fellow believers enlisted the new convert into the ranks of a little “platoon,” busy living the great adventure of the Christian life.
For all its imperfections (especially in the eyes of fundamental Independent Baptists), Why Men Hate Going to Church stumbles onto some incredible truths. Perhaps our churches are not so affected by the prevailing trends. Then again, perhaps we could do with some frank discussion, asking: Where are our men? Honesty may force us to admit a certain absence of danger and risk, so palpable in the book of Acts. Could it be that our men feel unchallenged and unnecessary? Whatever prescription is required, holding fast to the truth of God’s Word and preaching the whole counsel of God will light the way. We must reveal our Fearless Leader to men, and allow Him to take us on the journey of our lives.
Philip duBarry, Assistant Pastor
Addyston Baptist Church