Promise Keepers held a Media Day in March where they discussed the problem of why men don't go to church as much as women. I heard about this event from my friend Dave Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. His book is worth your time. I'm glad Promise Keepers took this issue head on because the facts are staggering. More women attend church throughout the world than men, with the possible exception of Eastern Orthodox. The discrepancy is greatest in African American churches in the United States. Attendance is more equal in Judaism and Islam.
Many of my readers have told me why they stopped going to church and what they would like to see in order to want to attend again. So here are the "Top 10 Reasons Why Some Men Don't Go to Church," and when they do go they spend more time checking their watches and working on their To Do lists than partaking in soul work.
1. Men are told over and over to be innocent as doves, but are not shown or encouraged to be wise as serpents. This has handcuffed men in all major aspects of life, robbing them of power and strength. Jesus never said that personal piety alone will get us to the abundant he has for us, but you wouldn't know this from a typical church service. The same word for 'wise" that Jesus used can also be translated as shrewd and cunning. Jesus commendsshrewd behavior as found in the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16). We largely condemn shrewdness and think it's synonymous with criminal behavior. The church wants nice men. Jesus, according to his own words, wants shrewd ones.
2. We preach from the NGB: Nice Guy Bible (Retail Price: Your Soul). We emphasize the sweet stuff and let the tougher stuff go right on by. That sweet stuff won't save a man (or woman) from the Dark Night of The Soul, a highly mentioned phrase first written by St. John of the Cross. But the more rugged Scriptures can and do. For example, it was the book of Ecclesiastes that brought President Abraham Lincoln more solace during the Civil War than another other writing. Unfortunately the meatier and more penetrating scriptures aren't emphasized much today. As a result, much of what we label as spiritual living just isn't "real" to your average guy.
3. We contend that the ideal Christian man is unemotional and if married, sacrifices everything for his wife. But Jesus was anything but stoic. If we were honest, we would say that Jesus was a bad Christian man because he got angry so much. According to the latest study from the University of Virginia, this false expectation toward stoicism sets men up for divorce from women who want an emotionally engaged husband (Our upcoming book Married But Not Engaged takes this issue head on by showing wives of passive and unemotional husbands what they should and shouldn't do to help.) And men who sacrifice all their wants and needs for their spouse eventually bore their spouse. Following such advice increases their chances of divorce.
4. Men have been told to avoid anger at all costs, which isn't what the Bible says. They have not been shown a better way: how to properly handle this primary emotion for guys since unresolved anger can lead to depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and even impotency.
5. We promote a dangerous caricature of "gentle Jesus meek and mild," an infamous and ludicrous term penned by the late John Wesley. This dangerous caricature is as fictitious as anything you'll find in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. We can't blame Hollywood or the mainstream media. We can blame ourselves. This caricature has encouraged Christian men to be nice to a fault, damaging their lives and those who are under their timid care.
6. Men, compared to women, are a problem to be fixed instead of a gender to be appreciated at church. This is mighty unattractive and unbiblical. Some of these churches have also given men the unbiblical belief that women are more moral and spiritual, an intrinsically shame-filled message that is also a form of gender bigotry.
7. The church and Christian radio have failed to support a married man's need for regular sexual intimacy with his wife, which is an insult and a betrayal. We are men, not eunuchs.
8. Christian men are unintentionally encouraged to become the plaything of other men in a misguided attempt to bolster their "Christian witness." We have been turned into doormats and anvils, instead of bold hammers like the fathers of our faith. We are encouraged to worship at the altar of other people's approval. Proverbs 28:1 says that the righteous are as bold as lions. Bold men are both rare and not really welcomed at church.
9. We unintentionally create spiritual veal: overprotected children who are taught to embrace false humility and false meekness. Kids who rarely, if ever, disagree with authority, even when it's corrupt. Mild children afraid of the world because they are not shown how to live in the real world (See February's Dispatch and the story, "Suicide and the 'Nice' Christian Teen. All previous newsletters can be found on the Free Newsletter portion of our website). Sons and daughters who don't possess a powerful opinion or functioning will because they are deemed unChristian, which sets them up for destructive peer pressure (I deal with this tragic problem in next year's release of Raising Good Kids in a 'Nice' World). This list goes on. Men sense this and do not want this transformation to occur in their children. So they stay away. Sunday School too often creates nice and passive kids instead of good ones.
10. Worship music is often too sentimental for guy tastes.
Let me share a recent church service experience that highlights Reason #7.
I heard yet another sermon telling me that I need to be sexually pure. It was a good and right message that included the usual remedies: More daily Bible reading and prayer; flee temptation the way Joseph fled from Potiphar's wife (Gen 39); and strict accountability among others.
This minister was preaching to a group of largely married men. And like many messages designed to help men, it wasn't so much wrong as it was incomplete. Most of these men were sitting next to their wives, who according to the Bible are to help create a monogamous relationship. But he did not include them in his matrix of sexual purity. I, like usual, was treated like a problem to be fixed outside of the real context of my marital union.
After the sermon I talked with another married guy, a former missionary who told me that his wife leaned over to him and asked during the homily, "Are you attracted to other women?" He bravely answered, "I find other women attractive when I'm not sexually satisfied at home." These may be tough words to hear, but they are true for many men. To pretend like they are not is to deny reality and the real heart and struggle of many men. We ignore them at the expense of healthy families.
My goal isn't to beat anyone up. It's to make a difficult situation better by pointing out the real problem and then offering solutions that speak to a man's life. So here's a sample script of what I wish the good minister would have added to his homily in order to help fix this problem we face.
"Now ladies, I want to help you as well. As we both know, your husband's sexual desires don't exist in a vacuum. They are tied to you as well. You can help your husband in his battle for sexual purity by doing what you can to become the object of his sexual desires.
I know that sexuality is a complicated and combustible topic. So an admonition to one couple may not apply for another. I also know that when men get grumpy and rough around the edges that they can be as attractive as an IRS payment.
"But at the same time, I know that many Christian men want to be more attracted to their wives and yet their wives don't sense the gravity of their situation. Let me tell you about an excellent resource and see if it might apply to your marriage. It's called Intimate Issues: 21 Questions Christian Women Ask About Sex. You can pick it up at most any bookstore. Women who read it say it really helped them put their husband's sexual needs in perspective. Let's close in prayer."
Why isn't this real, truthful, and gracious addendum added to most church services when we discuss a married man's sexual temptations, a man who is usually sitting next to his wife at the time? Because it's outside the box. It's not part of the official script. It doesn't sound "Christian," and it runs the risk of offending a minority of prudish women who desperately need to be offended for their own good and the good of their families. The only minister who I have heard who has worked such thinking into a sermon is T.D. Jakes. I'm sure there's more, but it's safe to say that this important message is not as common as it needs to be--that is if we're serious about men attending church, which I'm not convinced we are.
Spiraling church attendance is what happens when you do not speak to who men really are and what men really need in order to mature spiritually. Perhaps this decline is what happens before a better direction is forged. A Good Guy Rebellion direction.
Let's blaze this new path, each of us in our own way using whatever gifts and resources we have before us today. Be warned that you may gain a few enemies. But unlike in years past when Christian Nice Guys made people mad because they were weak and passive, they will be ruffling feathers because they are good and strong. Jesus said to pray for our enemies. He never said we couldn't (or wouldn't) have any.
Paul Coughlin is the author of No More Christian Nice Guy and a soon to be released companion Study Guide. He and his wife Sandy are the authors of Married But Not Engaged: Why Men Check Out and What You Can Do to Create The Intimacy You Desire, due out in July from Bethany House. Visit him online at www.christianniceguy.com