Patrick referred me to this article from the Biola University website. It’s entitled, “The Feminization of the Church: Why Its Music, Messages and Ministries Are Driving Men Away.” The article includes references to Why Men Hate Going to Church, by David Murrow, and The Church Impotent, by Leon Podles. Both are sitting on my shelf, as yet unread. Both authors claim that Christianity has become increasingly feminine in its appeal and membership. Podles traces the roots back to the 13th century, when he says women mystics popularized the personal use of “bridal imagery.” In response to the article, Patrick had this question:
Do you have comments, ideas, approaches in your ministry to address the needs of men vs. women in worship (in general), music and the arts (specifically)?
First, let me say that I agree that the church at the beginning of the 21st century is becoming increasingly feminine. The obvious example is the acceptance and increase of women pastors and leaders. More subtle examples are music we tend to classify as “worship” (slow and intimate, focusing on mercy and beauty, with add2 or major 7th chords), the percentage of women at church services, and the emphasis on “feminine” traits over “masculine” ones in churches. For instance, many pastors are more prone to talk about sensitivity, tolerance, and nurture than courage, holiness, and the offense of the Gospel. I realize that this is a broad over-simplification of the issue, but there’s ample evidence that things are changing.
Back to Patrick’s question. God has made us male and female, with undeniable differences that are biological, cultural, psychological, and sociological. Those differences affect the way we process and perceive information, as well as the way we interact and communicate. Women in general tend to be more relational, talkative, and sensitive to others. Men, in general, tend to be more achievement-oriented, difficult to engage in conversation, and self-reliant. Again, I understand this is a generalization, with exceptions. In any case, our starting point for relating to God is not the way we like to perceive him, but the way He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. Though men and women may be different in gender, we find a common root in our status as sinners. That is why Paul writes that in Christ, “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Both men and women can understand that they have fallen woefully short of God’s righteous standards and are in need of a Savior. Our “need” in worship is to realize our innate self-centeredness and self-exaltation, the judgment we were under as a result of our rebellion, the provision God has made for us in the atoning sacrifice of His Son, and our appropriate response of repentance, faith, and gratitude.
But how is that communicated? In ways that are masculine or feminine? Do we respond to the current trend by singing warrior type songs, helping men get in touch with their masculine heart? Do we remind guys that Jesus was a carpenter, that he got his hands dirty, and encourage them to take risks and be a man’s man?
I don’t think so. Simply encouraging guys in supposedly masculine traits doesn’t necessarily bring clarity to the situation or resolve the current dilemma.
In my years of pastoring, we’ve sought to focus people’s attention not on the particular way we say or do things, but on the One we have gathered to worship. His self-revelation determines our communication. It’s not about worshipping God in a feminine or masculine way, but worshipping Him for Who has revealed Himself to be and in the ways He has commanded us to worship Him. As we do so, we’ll find men becoming more manly and women becoming more “womanly.” Given the current climate in many churches, this would probably result in many churches becoming more “masculine” in their worship, but any church becoming more biblical.
We celebrate Jesus Christ in his divinity and his humanity. We should praise Him for his meekness and humility as well as His wrath, justice, and fearsome holiness. We sing to God not because women like singing more than men, but because God commands us to sing His praise. We use songs that reflect God’s strength, power, and majesty, as well as songs that celebrate His care, love, and mercy. We take a strong stand for truth because we are to contend for the faith, but seek to do so with humility and kindness. We believe that God has ordained different, but complementary and equally worthwhile, roles for men and women in the church, and that doctrinal and directional leadership in the church is to be male. However all we do as men or women is meant to be an expression of servanthood. When the different roles of men and women are honored, both see their gender in light of the God who created us in His image for His glory.
One pastor suggests that men and women have an inherently different way of relating to God:
“The classic example is the worship pose of the eyes shut and the arms raised in this tender embrace, singing a song that says, ‘I’m desperate for you. You’re the air I breathe.’ Guys don’t talk to guys like that.”
That may be our common experience in our culture, but it was David, the warrior-king, who penned these words:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Ps. 63:1).
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple (Ps. 27:4).
“Fainting for the Lord” and “seeking to gaze upon his beauty” may sound like feminine expressions, but they are specifically biblical attitudes. I want to learn what it means, as a man, to so desire the Lord that I am physically affected. Also, these aren’t meant to be the only ways we speak about God. They should be filled out with other expressions that communicate a love for holiness, a passion to live for God’s glory, and a hatred for sin and everything that opposes God’s will. Men in particular need to be aware of God’s command to ““be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1Cor. 16:13). As we keep our focus biblical and balanced, we’ll find that both men and women are less concerned about worshiping God “their” way, and more concerned about becoming conformed to the image of the Savior they worship.
I realize this has barely scratched the surface of answering the question, but I pray it sheds a little light on an appropriate way to address the feminization of the church.
This is an interesting post because this idea has *never* crossed my mind. I’ve known men that don’t like worship in song at all, but I’ve honestly never known anyone who thinks that men and women should be catered too differently, for a lack of better words, in choosing music for worship.
Our worship team is made up of 6 men and 4 women. Two weeks a month the music is picked by a man, one week we have a hymn sing where members of the body choose songs during the worship service to sing, and the last week I choose the music.
When I started to read this, I was thinking that it shouldn’t matter whether we choose music with men or women in mind, but at the same time, I kind of got a knot in my stomach because I was thinking that perhaps I should have been taking this into account and no one ever enlightened me!
Praise God for your simple words of His truth:
“Paul writes that in Christ, “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).”
(I would add to that, unless you are talking about leadership – then God’s word has made it clear that men are to be leaders and teacher of the body, not women — which is probably where this whole thing got started.)
So I agree with you whole-heartedly. The focus of choosing music should never be men vs women. The only focus should be to glorify God.
My name is Jonathan Pan. I am college student under the shepherding ministry of John Macarthur. When I return home for the summer, I attend a bilingual Chinese Church. Over the last five years, we have received a large influx of immigrants from China (as opposed to Taiwan, Singapore, or Hong Kong). One characteristic trait that many of these immigrants bring is the desire for community. Many of the wives attend our church while the men remain at home. Concequently, I always feel the pressure for feminization whenever I return home. Thank you for your biblical wisdom.
Excellent reminder, Bob, that it’s all about Jesus, not about us. Thank you for that encouragement. We do notice different “styles” of worship between our women and men worship leaders, and I do wrestle at times with being the bride of Christ, but as you note about Scripture, that is what we are called.
Could you help me understand this sentence (it seems to have a typo and I’m not coming up with the solution):
“Given the current climate in many churches, this would probably result in many churches becoming more “masculine” in their worship, but any church becoming more biblical.”
Thank you for your response. I sent this question to you before attending the Desiring God national conference this weekend with my Dad. It was a blessing to be presented with a fully orbed portrayal of the biblical Christ, the power He has to save, sanctify and inspire us to glorify Him. I am in full agreement that the answer is not to fascilitate masculine worship, or feminine worship per se. It seems that the question really is what is the content that we’re singing. I have noticed that most worship is insufficiently biblical, and the form its currently taking is more feminine. One final comment, since some comments by Mark Driscoll were so very provocative (surprise, suprise). He contended that today’s youth see through this sham, and that they want to worship a meek Christ (power under control), and not the effeminate, passive, psudo-homosexual Jesus that liberal society prefers. This struck a huge chord with me personally. In response to the singing, which included wonderful propositional truth mixed with authentic expressions of emotion (they did more than one of the SG songs), I began to raise my hands, sway and clap–something that is very outside my comfort zone–even though these are things I would have considered more on the feminine side in the past (a perception problem which existed in my mind). It felt fully male expressing worship with my whole body when the focus was on the biblical Christ. Thanks again for your post.
I wonder if some of the current voices on this issue have read things like the letters of Samuel Rutherford (to pick but one prominent example) in the context of his biography, and pondered this issue in the light of his use of language.
Spurgeon often mentioned Rutherford’s work. Here’s one quote: I will defy anyone to take Rutherford’s Letters, and sit down, and after he has read them, to help saying, “Rutherford seems to have been like an angel of God; I am only a man, I never can stand where Rutherford stood.” [source] And Rutherford, like many Puritans, could make free use of the Song of Songs to express their devotion. For example, in Letter 87 Rutherford writes: They are happy forevermore who are over head and ears in the love of Christ, and know no sickness but love-sickness for Christ, and feel no pain but the pain of an absent and hidden Well-beloved. And as the notes to editions of these letters make clear, this echoes SoS 5:8.
I am sure it is right to think that the more we biblically focus on our Lord and Saviour, the more all of life will grow into the shape the Creator intended it to have.
Surely men worship in a uniquely different fashion than women. Perhaps we are yet to see this aspect of masculinity flourish in our age. Who knows this will develop or what it will look like?
Communion with God effects a man. When Moses spoke with God at mount Sinai, “the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.”
Of what significance are our outward activities and achievements, however pious, if our souls are not married to Him? Do we esteem one day in his courts better than thousands elsewhere, do our souls pant for God as the deer for flowing streams?
In no way does worship contradict those masculine traits that Bob pointed out. Ultimately worship adjusts and prepares us to serve God with knees trembling and face made white with precious communion with him. Without my soul’s anchor I will quickly drown in my follies.
Frank Laubach –
“The fate of every man depends upon what he does with his love instinct. The repression of that instinct is impossible, for they who try to repress it in one direction find it breaking out in another….”
“The way to purify love and make it lift the soul constantly higher is to fall in love with Jesus, to lavish one’s affections upon him as Mary Magdalene lavished her affections upon him when she knelt weeping at his feet and pouring costly perfumes on him. There need be no restrain with Christ.”
St. Augustine was a man of similar mind. I am suspicious that these mystical types have something to tell us.
Anyway, worship seems such a precious medium provided by God for us to experience Christ, receive the influence of the Spirit (for surely worship is a means of grace), and express that love and adoration.
Something about that is part of a man’s masculine identity. How could it not be, when we see Jesus spending hours, days, and weeks in communion with the father? Oh may the Spirit of God descend upon us in measures not known to our continent since the second great awakening! May we rediscover a long atrophied aspect of manhood, and may the result lift the Savior high in the sight of the world!
Thanks Bob for Valley Of Vision. A friend bought a copy and I reimbursed him for it. I am enjoying it thoroughly for 2 days now.
Thanks for your encouraging comment. I did want to respond to your mention of Frank Laubach and other mystics. I haven’t found it helpful to read the “mystics” because so much of what they communicate, while often full of passion and a focus on Jesus, lacks a solid grounding in the Word of God. They certainly say helpful and true things at times, but there’s often an unclear line between principle and practice, between God’s unchanging Word and my changing experience. More importantly, many mystics give the impression of an “unmediated” presence of God. Experiencing God’s presence becomes mostly about what we do rather than what Jesus accomplished for us at the cross.
I try to read writers who mine the riches of Scripture, and then help me apply it to my daily life, in a way that motivates me to love both the Word of God and the God of the Word more.
Having said that, I pray as well that God would raise up many men in this generation who passionately love the Savior.
You’re right Bob, thank you for engaging with me about the way to pursue God.
I go to Psalm 119.16, “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
This is something that I have always thought about. Between a woman and a man their minds are so different and when put in a leadership position I think that a worship service, or a church would be ran differently when led by a woman compared to a man. I think that the majority of churches today are more feminine than masculine. Not that there is anything wrong with this except a more feminine church is going to appeal more to woman than to men. This could present a problem if traditionally man is supposed to be the leader in the relationship. If woman are bringing their husbands to church, and the man does not really feel like he wants to get involved, than who will be carrying out the spiritual leadership of the family?
May I ask why you listed holiness as a “masculine” trait? I understand what you are trying to get at, but holiness is NOT a gender-specific trait.