David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church was an incredibly frustrating read. Ten years ago I was introduced to John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart, and ever since I have been thinking about what it means to be a man. If life in the kingdom of God means becoming the person God created me to be and he made me a man, how am I supposed to live? In other words, what does authentic, God-designed masculinity look like?
The lack of men living according to God’s design of masculinity is a very real problem in our culture. And while the church should be helping men make strides toward becoming the men God created them to be, it is not. Men just don’t go to church anymore. Murrow cites a study that shows men make up only 31% of church attendance, and this is the problem he hopes to help solve with this book.
Murrow does a fantastic job identifying what keeps men away from church. He suggests that men do not feel like they belong because our services, communication and practices are geared toward the feminine mindset, and he offers valuable suggestions for addressing this issue. We need to pay attention to the décor of our churches. He suggests we include more stories, object lessons, visuals and humor in our messages, and he encourages us to embrace the larger story of the Gospel that includes God as a warrior
But he also suggests some things that left me wondering how Murrow would answer my earlier question, “What does authentic, God-designed masculinity look like?” Some of his statements lead me to think he may buy into the cultural caricatures of masculinity.
This is perhaps most evident in the way he speaks about relationships. He suggests that talking about relationships is feminine, so we should limit how much we refer to relationship with God. He correctly points out that the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” never appears in the Bible, but he is wrong when he writes that we are not commanded to enter into a relationship with God. Jesus calls us to follow him… relationship. God says he will take the Israelites as his people and he will be their God… relationship. And the numerous references to knowing God throughout Scripture (Jeremiah 9:23-24, 24:7, Daniel 11:32, Hosea 6:3 just to name a few) actually refer to an interactive relationship.
Relationship is central to the life of a disciple. While we may need to examine the language we use when we talk about relationships, we cannot eliminate this critical element of the Gospel simply because it doesn’t line up with culture’s misunderstanding of masculinity.
Murrow’s treatment of the American man’s mindset is good and spot on. We need to be aware of these things as we prepare our messages and design our services, but we also need to be careful that we don’t pander to the cultural stereotype of the macho man. We need to be aware of those things that make men uncomfortable in church and we need to tread lightly there. However, we need to be willing to challenge men to step out of culture’s incorrect definition of masculinity and into authentic, God designed masculinity. And we certainly cannot cut the Gospel in half and stop teaching on surrender, righteousness and loving God with our whole selves because these things make men uncomfortable.