Calling all men (to church!)

Rob Slane  ·  Apr 01, 2015

That far fewer men than women attend church regularly is beyond dispute, with no shortage of commentary on it. Why has this happened and how do we need to address it?

A friend recently drew my attention to an article suggesting that the church has placed too much emphasis on emotion, and the solution was engaging men on the intellectual side.

While I agree that a more intellectual approach might form part of the answer for some men, this solution seems to me to fall short of what is needed. Although the “intellectual approach” will appeal to a certain type of male (and a certain type of female for that matter), the fact is it just won’t appeal to all. Nor should it.

God clearly created some people with a disposition to want to think and talk about intellectual issues, but He also created others to whom this sort of thing will never appeal. Shifting our emphasis to intellectual issues may well be as much a turnoff for some men as the overemphasis on emotion is for others.

So where does the answer lie? I think it is much broader than an “intellectual” answer, and will, if rightly understood and applied, accommodate both intellectual and non-intellectual types of men.

There are some basic questions that every man needs answers to if he is to have true direction and fulfillment in life. These are: Who am I? What am I here for? What is my role? What does this look like in practice? I would suggest that any solution that seeks to engage men must begin with some basic answers to these questions. Furthermore, I would suggest that if the Church is to begin to answer these questions, it needs to do so in two ways:

  1. The Church needs to teach what true masculinity looks like.
  2. The Church needs to stop misrepresenting Jesus and instead show how He is the epitome of true masculinity.

So how do we teach what true masculinity looks like? As with so many philosophical questions about ourselves, we go back to the book of origins—to the opening pages of the book of Genesis. There we have a man who is given a series of highly connected tasks. Be fruitful. Multiply. Replenish. Take dominion. Or to sum it up, through him and his offspring, he is tasked with spreading the rule of God throughout the world in his capacity as God’s vice regent.

He cannot do this alone, so God makes a woman and joins them together in intimate union. Now his role is not just an offensive role—taking dominion and subduing the earth—but is also defensive—protecting, cherishing, and loving his wife.

And so we have all the ingredients for true masculinity: Dominion, Fruitfulness, Protection, Responsibility, Care, Love—the perfect mix of toughness and gentleness. But what happened instead?

Faced with an invader and a usurper, the man not only fails to protect his wife and therefore his progeny from evil, he also gives into it himself, and then has the audacity to blame his wife. Thus we end up with all the ingredients of non-masculinity: failure to protect, dereliction of responsibility, cowardice, blame-shifting, fruitlessness (i.e., death comes upon all mankind), absconding the role of dominion-taker, plus a whole bunch of other evils added to the mix.

The modern world has taken these failures and run with them, to the point that men are almost expected to be hopeless, unfaithful, irresponsible losers. Unfortunately, the Church has imbibed (or perhaps even initiated) some of this same spirit, so it should come as no surprise that men have drifted from the church. For the most part, the modern Church has not given men a proper view of masculinity.

Any church seeking to address the issue of lack of men in the congregation must therefore look for ways of reaching out to men and presenting them with a radically different view of masculinity than the one they have been getting, not only in the world, but also in the Church of late. This doesn’t mean that we take a reactionary approach, where we simply condemn unbiblical views of manhood. Rather, the task given us is to find ways of applying the themes of Biblical masculinity, as set out in Genesis 1-2, to modern man with all his issues and needs, presenting him with a model of what true masculinity looks like in ways that challenge him and meet his innate desire for answers to the questions previously mentioned: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my role?

Part of this obviously requires that churches have some good examples of true masculinity in their midst—positive male role models with lives that testify to what the Spirit can do in producing true masculinity. Men who love their wives, nurture and admonish their children, work hard, and are faithful, honest, meek, kind, gracious, and tough.

Which brings us to the second point, which is related to Jesus Himself. When reading through the Gospel narratives, it is striking how Jesus and His antagonists often seem to talk past each other. The fault, of course, is not with Jesus; He tells the truth, and they just don’t want to hear it. But part of the misunderstanding is their constant propensity to willfully misrepresent Him.

In our own day, the form of misrepresentation has changed, but is nonetheless as dangerous, so once again men don’t really hear Jesus. The Pharisees saw Him as a disturber of the peace and a threat to their plans to purify the nation, which they seemed to believe was a necessary precondition for God to send them the promised Messiah. Jesus messed up their plans. In our day, Jesus is so far from being a disturber of the peace as to be almost perfectly harmless. Both the modern world and, sadly, the modern Church, have wrenched much of His masculinity from Him and turned Him into a sort of impotent hippy milksop who goes around just being nice to people.

This is far from the Jesus of the Gospels. Jesus is the Man. He is the Man that Adam was meant to be, but failed to be. Yes, He is meek, lowly and gentle, but He is also the Man of courage, the Man who stands up to abuse of authority, the Man who loves righteousness and hates wickedness.

Among all the other things He does, Jesus teaches us what true masculinity looks like. He teaches us how to take dominion. He teaches us what true responsibility looks like. When He sacrifices Himself for the church, He teaches us how to love, cherish, and protect our wife. He teaches us how to love our children by laying down His life for His disciples. He teaches us what true authority is by washing the feet of His disciples. And much more.

In short, aside from all the other things He teaches us, the Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus of history, the real Jesus teaches men how to be men. Together with finding ways of reaching out to men with the message of what true masculinity is, the church needs to consistently and courageously preach the real Jesus, Who is the embodiment of what true masculinity looks like.

By seeking to present modern men with a proper understanding of masculinity, together with consistently preaching the real Jesus, churches would be giving men answers to their most pressing needs—the need to know who they are and what their role is. While this cannot guarantee a sudden influx of men in the congregations, it would go a long way to helping men see the point and the worth of joining a body of believers and worshipping the true and living God.


Rob Slane lives with his wife and five home-educated children in Salisbury, England. He is the author of The God Reality: A Critique of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, contributes to the Canadian magazine Reformed Perspective, and blogs on cultural issues from a Biblical perspective at www.theblogmire.com.