Book reviews are not a regular feature of this blog (primarily because I’m not reading enough books), but I picked up WMHGTC during a week of 24/7 prayer recently and mentioned on Twitter that I was reading it. There were literally seven responses. And I carelessly promised a review when I’d finished the book. So, as a man of my word, here it is…
The premise of David Murrow’s text is that there aren’t enough men in the church. That’s because, he suggests, church is too feminine. Yes, many church leaders are male. But many of the subsidiary roles are filled by women. The average church meeting comprises rather more women than men. And many of the church ‘trappings’ are, for us testosterone-fuelled types, uncomfortably female too. Flower-arranging. Committees. Hugging.
Now, unfortunately, Mr Murrow is an American. Whilst that isn’t his fault, it does give him a skewed US perspective. Church is different there (what is an Episcopalian anyway?). Men are different there (they like hunting bears and drinking Mountain Dew). Life is different there (they don’t queue, they ‘line’ – not ‘barge’ as I pronounced in a meeting on Tuesday). So some of his musings do need to be interpreted in the light of a very different culture.
The book title itself has caused unprecedented levels of outrage amongst my Facebook friends. ‘I’m a man, and I don’t hate going to church’, ‘too stereotypical’, that kind of thing. Let’s just leave that to one side, and agree that Why SOME Men Hate Going To Church would not be quite as powerful a title.
Culture and choice of title aside, I found a lot of wisdom contained within the tome’s 256 pages. In my experience, there is often something of a tension between the ‘comfortable’, ‘don’t rock the boat’ type church that is common in the UK and the kind of raw, taking-no-prisoners way of life that Jesus modelled. Jesus confronted rather than cuddled. He challenged rather than acquiesced. He was strong. He took risks. He overturned the tables in the temple. He was a man’s man.
Most men thrive on excitement and competition, are goal-orientated and want to be part of something successful. Despite my XY chromosomes, I neither like nor understand football. But I do understand something of why the Premiership attracts such a large male following… it has all of those elements. The church, on the other hand, is frequently viewed as sappy, dull and failing. Even if that isn’t the reality, it is the perception – and it’s not one that we are very good at correcting. The church often shies away from positive publicity, as we have a super-spiritual notion that the glory should go solely to God. David Murrow does not agree.
Even if men are attracted (or dragged in, kicking and screaming), the church service is not a place where maleness is celebrated. Paintings and figurines of Jesus often portray him clean shaven, contrite and with such flawless skin it makes you wonder why Nivea haven’t signed him up. The songs that we sing are often soft-rock ballads with lyrics such as ‘Jesus I am so in love with you’ and ‘hold me close, let your love surround me’. Essentially, they are emotional tugs on the heart strings that statistically work better for women. But men tend to either reach for the sick bucket or run a mile. Love, for us, is much more of a doing word – we don’t want to express those sentiments publicly to another man. And in song too. The horror! Murrow analyses some of the fundamental pyschological differences between the genders, and how they (should) affect church life. Referring to John 4:24, he highlights the inclusivity of ‘worshipping in spirit and truth’.
At COGS, the church I go to, we do have a decent smattering of men. Our vicar is a very hard-working guy who does far more than his fair share. Our youth and children’s worker is a hugely inspirational chap too. But we’re not exempt from girliness. On Sunday morning, for example, it was assumed by the woman leading the service that ‘we are all feeling emotional now’, after a testimony was given. Sorry. I wasn’t.
By the time I’d read two-thirds of the book, I was feeling pretty fed up with the Christian church. A lot of Murrow’s observations resonated with different church experiences I have had. Mercifully, he then went on to suggest some different ways of doing church that would be more man-friendly, without alienating the women. So, let’s get on and do it. I speak entirely for myself here, but I need challenging sermons, a goal to focus on, some risks to take spurred on by a sense of danger.
If you’re interested in man-church (and I’m guessing that if you’ve got this far without hitting the Google ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button, you probably are), David Murrow’s book is well worth a read. He quotes John Eldredge quite extensively, and his book Wild at Heart should also be considered mandatory study material. You might not agree with it all, but it’s certainly man-food for man-thought.