The church can reach more men

Sunday, May 13, 2012

In a 1975 episode of the TV comedy M*A*S*H, the following exchange occurs:Visiting Chaplain: "So, you are a regular churchgoer?"

Maj. Frank Burns: "Oh, sure, church is a great way to kill an hour."

Burns' line is actually more amusing than it may appear in print. Amusing or not, the sentiment is troubling.

Being on the pulpit side of the church for so long, it's easy to forget what it may feel like to be in the pews every Sunday. Worship may feel like "killing an hour," and if it does, there are some reasons why. Dear reader, here's one idea for this Mother's Day 2012: Worship (indeed, the whole church experience) simply does not appeal to a lot of men.

The 2005 David Murrow book "Why Men Hate Going to Church" suggests that men want respect while women want love. Our churches, Morrow argues, have music with lyrics overflowing with references to love. Ergo, congregations are effectively feminized -- and men, in reaction, flee for the exits. If Murrow's conclusion sounds too harsh, then consider how difficult it is, particularly in mainline Protestant churches, to get men to step up into leadership roles. In the churches I have served over 20 years of ministry, women are -- more often than not -- the tribal leaders of congregations and on balance, the most dependable in terms of following through on commitments.

As a man, I can reach for the simplistic conclusion that my gender can't be counted on to do the Lord's work. That surmise sells us way too short. I think there's a better answer: our churches could present a more masculine face to the world. We could embody -- in our liturgy, in our sermons and in our imagery -- a more muscular Christianity. In one congregation I served in St. Louis County, we used as a motto the following: "Christianity With a Spine." Jesus loved and healed. Yes. But he also physically threw money-changers out of the Temple, and John's Gospel says he used a whip to do it. Paul had a "thorn in the flesh" and spoke of his personal suffering. Yes. But he also got rid of John Mark on a missionary journey because the young man didn't cut the mustard.

Men wonder if Jesus ever got angry. (He did.) They wonder if anyone ever had to toe the line or else St. Paul would show them the door. (Yes.)

My parents have a graphic arts sketch of a windburned Jesus hammering a nail into a board, a determined look in his eyes, sweat dripping down his face. A blue-collar Jesus, one who understands that men do home improvement projects on the weekend, who climb underneath a car's chassis to change the oil, who take a wrench and try to fix leaks in the kitchen drainpipe. Why don't we preach and teach -- on a regular basis, a masculine Jesus, one who taught others to demand respect from the abuser -- from the one who strikes you on the cheek?

Instead, in so many of our sanctuaries, we are left with the famous "Head of Christ" painting, with a Jesus who never saw a suntan and sporting an angelic look. And although you can't see them, you have the sense that this Jesus is resting his hands daintily on a copy of the Scriptures. Five hundred million copies of this painting have been sold since 1941. One of them hangs on a wall at Centenary.

We ask -- where are the men in our congregations? I ask -- where is the muscular Christ in our churches?

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.

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