“Worship… is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it.” – Eugene Peterson
Almost every time I read an article or social media post on masculinity and the church, I am struck by the narrowness of the popular Christian prescription for “biblical manhood.” Many articles on the subject conclude that “men stay away from church” because worship music, services, and messages have been “feminized” and do not appeal to the majority of men. We have “stopped relating to and speaking to real men,” one post stated. I disagree, and I’d like to share my thoughts on men, worship, and the church.
Statistics do show that only one out of five husbands attend church with their wives, so this is a real concern. But whose definition of ‘real men’ are we talking about? And, should we change the church to make it more “masculine” or should we challenge the gendered status quo?
There are a lot of men like me who enjoy and appreciate worship elements and church practices that some have labelled too feminine, such as passionate worship and singing, creative programs, and emotive sermons.
Some men, as well as some women, cringe when singing songs with lyrics such as: “You are more, You are more, Than my words will ever say… I’m running to Your arms. The riches of Your love will always be enough. Nothing compares to Your embrace!” But I love those lyrics. The song reminds me that, though I missed out on that closeness with my earthly father, God yearns to embrace me. And I know that I am not the only man who yearns for genuine intimacy with God.
We have accepted and perpetuated a cultural stereotype of what men like and how they ought to live. But in doing so, we’ve missed out on the biblical affirmation of our unique masculine personalities, gifts, and inclinations. In cultures abroad (and even within some cultures in the United States), it is acceptable for men to worship openly and embrace one another. But many churches have restricted this type of male expression.
Making the church more stereotypically “masculine” will not encourage men to challenge their perceptions of themselves and each other. The church has a unique responsibility to expose the flaws in our learned cultural norms. We must preach a faith that bucks all restraints on our new life in Christ, including gender stereotypes. We need to fight the very things the world embraces, the lies that keep us from a closer relationship with God and others.
A hyper-masculine, “boys-will-be-boys” attitude is preventing Christian men from experiencing true healing and freedom in Christ. If we the church insist that men are “more apt to keep their emotions inside and not share,” we encourage them to remain silent and suffer alone.
And since we’ve assumed that all men dislike public singing, should we just skip it all together? Or should we choose only the “manly” songs that don’t express emotion, tenderness, or loving sacrifice? Should we disregard these same themes in the story and character of Christ?
And we don’t need close relationships with other men, right? I mean, who wants to tell another guy that you feel like a failure? “Loser.”
No, no, no! The world is full of competition and fighting to pull ahead. The church must be a place where we can sit across from each other and ask for help, prayer, or even a hug because we can’t do it all on our own. Isn’t it biblical to bear one another’s burdens? Isn’t it Christ-like to help a brother in need?
And as for men singing in worship—it doesn’t have to sound beautiful nor does it have to be loud, but the Bible does challenge us to “make a joyful noise” and to not be ashamed to proclaim our love for Christ. There is nothing masculine or feminine about passionately pursuing Christ. All Christians are called to be vulnerable and intimate with God. We should not shame men for their God-given instincts.
Yes, the church must address the issues that hinder men from church and worship participation. But is the resolution as simple as changing the music and the message?
We must challenge our stereotypes and expectations of Christian men. Church programming is not the root of the problem—gender stereotypes are. Men and women are judged according to an unfair, gendered standard, and the whole church suffers for it.
We should not exclude emotion, tenderness, and vulnerability from our definition of masculinity any more than we should exclude strength, leadership, and rationality from our definition of femininity. There is room for all in Christ.
This is my challenge to men. Be what God wants you to be. Drop the “I’m a guy, so I don’t” clichés and excuses and fully embrace who you are in Christ. Don’t let gendered expectations stand in the way of the vibrant life you’ve been given. Worship God beyond the stereotypes!