Saturday, January 20, 2007

Church is For Women

The door jingled as I walked inside Blessings, hopeful to find the new Donald Miller book. Soft music filtered from the speakers. On the left a number of tables had been set up, filled with little figurines of Jesus and cherubim and small plaques. I strolled through the nearly empty store and said hello to the older lady working behind the counter. Two other women, who looked to be in their mid-thirties, were whispering softly as they glanced through the books. Every time I entered a Christian bookstore I had a strange sense that I was walking into a women’s section of the library. It hadn’t bothered me in the past, as I was more at home in quiet bookstore than I was in a garage. Lately, however, I’d started to notice things. Mainly, I’d come to notice just how feminine the church had become.

I headed to the men’s section. I browsed through the titles, and went to another aisle before realizing that the men’s titles were all located on just the one shelf. Ah. Slim pickings. As usual. It wasn’t the publisher’s fault. Every Christian writer knew that women purchased more than 85% of any books sold through Christian retail. No wonder they tailored their stores – with the soft music and rose colored walls – towards women. Still, it made me shake my head. When I finished my shopping and headed out a few minutes later, I wondered what the chances were of one of my friends actually walking into a store like this.

I pulled my jacket up as I headed back to my car, the cold wind slicing through my clothes and whipping up the bottom of my leather coat. I jumped in my car and rubbed my hands together, urging the heat to kick in. Lately I’d been doing a fair bit of reading about the church, in particular the place of men within the church, and lately I’d begun to notice some discrepancies, discrepancies that had me and many others worried. Particularly the lack of men, especially ‘manly men’, in the church. I’d never really noticed it before, but there was a reason for that.

The car had warmed enough and I put it in gear and headed to Starbucks to do some work. The statistics for church attendance were alarming. George Barna had found a gender gap of over 13 million (more women attending church) in the U. S. As well, twenty to twenty-five per cent of married women in the church were going alone. Any one who had worked in a church understood this. I remembered my time as a pastor. I remembered the women who came alone, and I remembered how much we (the pastoral staff) leaned on the women to run the programs. Except for the deacons, it was hard to find men consistently in the building. Perhaps one of the greatest misperceptions of the modern church was the idea that it was patriarchal. More like a frosted cake, below the frosting of ministers and clergy, still predominantly men, most of the church's programs were run by and for women.

I pulled into the parking lot and found a spot right near the entrance. I hustled into the cafĂ©, and then promptly chided myself for being such a wimp. A bit of a cold spell and suddenly I was a girl. I ordered my coffee, and found a spot at the study table, watching the people pass as my 1987 laptop ‘warmed’ up. This whole idea about men ‘missing’ in the church was something of a revelation to me, understandable I suppose for the fact that I related to the men and women who attended church quite well. I was artistic. I liked small conversations. I liked teaching. I also enjoyed singing and music and learning. Unfortunately, most men just weren't built that way. I decided that the next Sunday I would step back and take a closer look at the Sunday service, which so many authors seemed to suggest had only become increasingly feminine.

It was snowing. I pulled my car carefully through the parking lot, past the entrance, and waved to a few of my friends. It was mild enough, but I hustled towards the front anyway, reminding myself that today I was going to try and see from an outsider's perspective. A 'manly' man’s perspective.

The first thing that struck me was how NICE-ly everything was arranged, how NICE the people were, and how it fit with the elevator style music softly leaking over the sound system. I hung up my jacket and strolled into the sanctuary, greeting people along the way. By the time the service started, I’d already had about ten small conversations filled with warm fluff and lots of smiles. After brief announcements, we started singing. We sang for a good thirty minutes before one of our pastors and some others delivered some more announcements, all of which were presented in soft, smiling voices. Our senior pastor finally rose to speak, and after a short prayer, delivered a forty-five minute teaching that was both interesting and long. I say ‘long’, because as I imagined myself as a non-artistic man in the congregation, I wondered how good it felt to be back in school for an hour and a half every Sunday morning. Not only school, but taking a feminist course on relationships and submission and passive interaction.

When I finally left, after saying goodbye to half a dozen people, I began to understand what the writers were talking about. Sunday service was nothing more than adult school. Most of my teenage friends had despised high school. And then there was the soft music, the emphasis on relationships and small talk, the almost desperate longing for people to be NICE. And through it all, if you listened closely enough, you could almost hear the unconscious murmur... Don't rock the boat. We're all safe here. What was dangerous and manly about that? Where was the adventure and pulsing life that men longed for?

I decided to head home after service and write down some of my thoughts. By the time I walked into my apartment, I felt a strange sadness come over me. Sad because I truly understood why so many men did not like church, why they felt so emasculated every time they walked through the doors. It was easy to judge men who didn’t want to go on Sunday, but the reality was that church -- as we practiced it in North America -- had not been designed for them. At any level. Church, for whatever reason, had become an exercise for women and artists and passive types who relished security over risk, who longed for relationship over greatness, programs over projects. Something had happened between now and that daring New Testament church that was filled with ‘manly men’, risk takers and adventurous types who understood that becoming a Christian did not mean more tea and crumpets. I wasn’t sure what we could do about it, but it was something I needed to think about, because the more we excluded men from our churches, the more feminine they would become...