Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Men Hate Going to Church, by David Murrow

Book Review by Chris Haven

The book is divided into three main sections: “Where are the Men,” “Church Culture v. Man Culture,” and “Calling the Church Back to Men.” Each of these sections is divided up into multiple chapters. Murrow moves from establishing that there is a problem (i.e., men are significantly underrepresented in the church at large) to showing some of the reasons (i.e., church is girly) to putting forth some suggestions for how to fix the problem.

There are a number of positives to mention in this book. First, I think church-going men will get a good laugh at the various descriptions of the more “feminine” aspects of church life. We’ve all been there – extended emotive praise choruses, holding hands with a guy across the aisle, hand-sewn banners in the sanctuary, etc.  Many of the anecdotal stories resonated with me personally and were very humorous.

Second, I generally agree that there has been a feminization of the church as men have become increasingly MIA. Even when there are men physically present in large numbers, they often are absent where it really counts. Leadership may be vested in males theoretically, but often these men are passive and fail to provide and execute a clear vision for the church. As Murrow rightly observes, “high achieving men” typically get fed up with churches because of “the inefficiency of church meetings,” unproductiveness, and lack of proper focus (p. 30). He goes on to say:

Being a church leader is a frustrating experience because a man cannot lead like a man. Instead he must be careful, sentimental, and thrifty; make every decision by consensus; talk everything to death. Decisions take months or years to make, and if someone’s feelings might be hurt, we don’t move forward (p. 33).

I’ve been there. Maybe you have too.

Third, Murrow provides helpful ideas for how to eliminate external obstacles that stand in the way of men being engaged in church life. He advocates, for example, teaching and preaching to visual as well as verbal learning styles (p. 91). This is good solid advice that learning professionals have been advocating for many years.  Praying in a more conversational tone to God is also a good suggestion, not only because it makes men more comfortable, but because it is, as Murrow points out, biblical (p. 197). God is not interested in our “many words,” but what is behind them (Matt. 6:7).  I also agree that our churches would do well to turn the lion’s share of ministry energy to developing men. Murrow provocatively suggests:

What if we canceled the children’s ministry and put that effort into building up the men of the church? I firmly believe that such an approach would, in the long run, win more youth to Christ. It would also save more marriages and produce happier women. Children’s ministry and youth ministry are good things – but spiritually healthy male role models are the best thing.

I couldn’t agree more.

There were several problems with the book in my view. The first one is serious. In attempting to show Jesus’ “manly” side, I frankly think Murrow crossed the line and actually advocated a sub-biblical, heterodox position about Christ. He writes “Christ had a volcanic temper and regularly expressed impatience with his disciples. He didn’t show much peace, gentleness, or self-control” (p. 48). “Jesus is… rude” (p. 49). I don’t know how else to view a “volcanic temper,” “impatience,” rudeness and a lack of “self-control” other than sin. And if these are sinful heart conditions, then Jesus sinned. Giving Morrow the benefit of the doubt, I don’t assume he meant to make that point. However, that is really what his statements imply.  I understand the point he was trying to make: Jesus is not a wimp. But it is a false dilemma to force one to choose between sissy and sinner. Jesus was neither.

Second, there seems to be a tendency in the book to reduce the problems with low male participation to strictly external impediments like sanctuary environment and childhood religious baggage. It seems to me that the spiritual component of the equation was almost completely absent from the book. The fact that a husband only attends church services at Christmas and Easter with his family surely is not merely an issue of the husband not wanting to raise his hands during corporate singing or sit through a sermon longer than twenty-five minutes. The kind of apathy shown in such a man should at least raise a question as to a serious spiritual problem. In chapter ten, Murrow lays out 12 reasons that men don’t want to go to church. To that list I scribbled in at the end of the chapter: “#13 - Many Men are Simply Unregenerate.”

Third, Murrow seems to idealize the Megachurch throughout the book. I don’t disagree with the author that the Megachurch has perfected many of the systems that make a church run like a well-oiled machine. I have been a part of several churches that do many operational things well and that I have very much appreciated. But with all that the Megachurch does right in reaching men as they walk through the front door, I question whether the Megachurch model is quite as effective in leading men from the casual observer to the devoted follower of Christ, even though they are likely to have that as a missional goal. What seems to be prevalent in many Megachurches is the reality that there is greater cover for men to never move beyond anonymity in the sea of people and smorgasbord of arm’s-length programming. It seems that meaningful one-on-one discipleship infrequently occurs, and individual growth in a given man is rarely, if ever, measured. Murrow’s example of Elmbrook Church’s systematic “spiritual fathering” model of discipleship of focused and intensive one-anothering is hardly the norm in the Megachurch, but is very much a model that more Megachurches should seek to emulate (pp. 216-217).

In summary, David Murrow’s book seeks to identify some cultural obstacles that make involvement in the local church difficult for men along with providing some suggestions for how to break free from the “gender gap” that exists in most churches. The theology of the book is in places thin (if not problematic), but overall,  there is much that can be learned through Morrow’s experience and research.

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishing for this review.


Roxann said...

Thanks for writing your review, Chris. Believe it or not, sometimes our churches are a bit too "feminine" for many of the women as well as the men. Great observation regarding the potential effect of doing away with children/teen ministries and diverting those resources to equipping men!

David Murrow said...

I blogged about your blog...

David Murrow said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris Haven said...

Thanks, David. I appreciate the interaction.