Is My Church Feminized?

by Dorcas George | December 05, 2006

My favorite hymn is Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Something must be wrong, because according to an article I recently found on the internet, that is a “manly” song. 

As a female pastor, I became concerned when I started hearing reports about the decreasing number of men in church. Some speculated that this decrease was a result of the “feminization of the church” and the solution was for men to be “manly.” I love the men in my congregation, and I want them to be strong and righteous people of faith. 

So I wondered, was the worship in my own congregation somehow too feminine to attract men? Had my rural church’s culture been damaged when I answered the call to serve as their pastor six years ago? Was there truth to the claim of “feminization”? 

Even though I believe the Bible supports women’s ministry, I seriously considered whether the Holy Spirit might be trying to teach me something.  

Findings at the local Christian book store

I decided to investigate the issue. At my local Christian book store I browsed through titles like: Why Men Hate Going to Church, Wild at Heart, Heart of a Tender Warrior, and Jesus Mean and Wild

A look inside the cover of Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow revealed some suggestions that I thought the church might do well to at least consider. But then I read this statement: “The growth of Islam is due to its stronger moral content.” Sweeping generalizations like this caused me to doubt the credibility of his claims. Here are some examples of generalizations Murrow makes about men and women: “Deep in his heart, every man has a desire to expend himself for a great cause,” “Men are not as studious as women,” “Men have always done the dangerous jobs,” and “Women buy romance novels; men buy pornographic magazines.” 

On the first page of the first chapter, readers are informed that men are dissatisfied with the church, but women remain unaffected. Murrow doesn’t consider whether this dissatisfaction might extend to women as well as men. 

Findings from the internet

A subsequent internet search left me overwhelmed by the number of results, but I ploughed in with determination. I recognized the names of some of the authors as pastors of large churches and leaders of nationally-known organizations. If the opinions and warnings I read are correct, we need a total worship overhaul. Pictures, music, worship forms, sermons—all must change in order to effectively appeal to men. 

According to article after article, one of the most alarming present-day problems threatening the church of Jesus Christ is—women. Dire predictions were made of what is going to happen to the church if we do not turn this alarming trend of feminization around, and soon. I read that the church’s worship has become “girly,” “silly,” “wimpy,” and “simpering.” I read that the “priests of the home must take their stand” in both home and church and stop letting the women take over.

Contemporary praise songs are “feminine” said one writer, and anthems and hymns are “masculine.” Pastors were urged to increase the number of masculine songs featured in worship. On the list of manly songs? My favorite, Martin Luther’s stirring anthem, “A Mighty Fortress.”

There were also admonitions to remove feminine art and decorations from church classrooms and sanctuaries and to replace them with reproductions of manly paintings by artists like Rembrandt. I can agree with that if it means replacing pictures of Jesus that present him as pink-cheeked and pretty, but I’m not convinced that only men find these sorts of portrayals to be less than inspiring. 

Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations were chastised along with mainline denominations for allowing women to teach and preach. Charismatic worship was characterized as “hysterically feminine and emotional,” and mainline churches were urged to make their liturgy more “meaty and masculine.” 

The tone of most of the articles I managed to read was, at best, mildly derogatory and, at worst, deeply offensive. The primary insult was to women, but men were included as well. For example, in response to the obvious question about how centuries of male clergy could result in a feminized church, I read that while we know men have dominated the clergy, male members of the clergy are usually effeminate, and psychological tests and studies proved this (though none were cited)!  

Several articles asserted that we have emasculated Jesus by referring to him with terms such as “gentle.” Pastors were exhorted to stop “preaching like girls” and instead to call the men of the congregations to decisive action. One pastor-writer went so far as to assert, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild is repugnant to men.” 

It didn’t take me long to become discouraged and disgusted, but when I came across a satiric piece titled, “Dirty Harry Goes to Church” by columnist Doug Giles, I decided I had read enough. 

Findings close to home

Yet, I was still trying to learn something. Was there any truth to be found in the warnings and suggestions? I spent several days pondering the issue and praying for wisdom. I observed the churches and Christians around me in light of this alleged threat of feminization. I consulted the pastors I know (both male and female) and the people of my own congregation and considered the demographics of the churches in our area. I do not claim to have conducted a scientifically accurate survey, but I hope my observations will merit some thought and discussion. 

The churches in my area have either a slightly greater number of women than men, or the genders are approximately equal. There is no difference in gender demographics in churches that have a female pastor as opposed to those who have a male pastor. 

One Sunday I asked a member of my own congregation to note the percentages of adult men and women in our church’s worship service. It turned out that my church was actually composed of 54% men and 46% women. I looked over the congregation as we stood together to pray. I saw a group of young men. I saw families and single men and women. I saw worshippers.

Findings from Scripture

Where are the Scriptures about how to become more masculine or more feminine? The Bible nowhere attempts to define those words at all. While we do have a portrait of a virtuous woman (Proverbs 31), she is far from simpering, weak, or silly. She is strong and courageous and hard-working and kind. I do not find Scripture about the “wild” Jesus. On the contrary, he appears focused, self-controlled, and calm. I do not see Scripture that says women all love to relate and men all love to take action. I do not see one list of spiritual gifts and talents for men and another for women. I see no Scripture about methods to ensure the church is sufficiently masculine. 

I do see where Scripture talks about the priesthood of all believers, with no specifications about gender. I do see where spiritual gifts are given to members of the Body of Christ for the edification of all. No specifications about manliness there either. I read that both men and women prophesy and preach and teach and learn and sing and worship. I see that prayer makes a difference whether offered by a woman or a man. I see Scripture about war and victory and putting on the armor of God so that we can stand strong. All of us.

I believe in a gentle, meek Jesus. (If some of these manly men would study Greek they’d see that meekness is not weakness, but is strength under control.) I don’t think Jesus was “wild” but I do think he was not afraid to take on evil or to speak strong words. I want to be like Him. 

A few more questions

What does it mean to be “masculine”? What does it mean to be “feminine”? Popular Christian media often suggest that women and men have completely different needs, attributes, emotions, desires, and goals. However, as I looked at the Christians in my world, I saw that both men and women could be strong, meek, gentle, relational, talkative, dominant, frightened, intense, active, kind, etc. I saw men sitting and talking together and I saw women who would rather work than chat. 

What, I wondered, is causing this current fad in the evangelical church with policing masculinity and femininity? And if a “feminized” man is automatically whining, weak, and simpering, what does that say about what women are like? If men want battles to fight, do women just sit on the sidelines and cheer them on? Is that their place in the Army of God?

Are there gender-related differences or tendencies? Certainly there are. Might we also have gender-related preferences when  it comes to worship forms, songs, preaching style, or artwork? Perhaps. I admit we avoid pink in my church’s décor. We also tend to avoid worship songs that sound more like love songs than songs of praise and adoration to a Holy God. I am a woman, but I love anthems and strong hymns and metaphors of action and struggle and victory, while our male worship leader prefers more introspective contemporary choruses. When I read the Psalms of David, I see both kinds of worship.

Does the Church need an overhaul? Do we need to be stronger, more focused, more dynamic, and more active? Absolutely! But I agree with United Methodist minister and educator, Rev. Elaine Heath who says, “We have far too many churches that feature insipid music and programs that lost vitality years ago. We have gender-specific programs that ought to embarrass us with their lack of robust spirituality. Men are attracted [to church] not because there are masculine activities and emphases, but because the church is alive, vital and dynamic—because God is there.” 

Results of my study

The more I considered the “buzz” about the so-called feminization of the church, the more I realized the concern was misguided. What we need are mature Christians, not manly Christians. The church may indeed be weak. This has nothing to do to do with femininity or masculinity. It has to do with the need for strength, conviction, boldness, and giving our lives for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. It has to do with growing up—with becoming mature disciples. We must die to self and forsake sin, count the cost, and follow the Lord with all our hearts. 

“Stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the Cross!” I loved those words as a child, and I love them still. According to what I’ve just been reading, men are looking for a cause to give their lives to. 

So am I. 

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