The Feminization of Jesus' Message
Matthew 10:34-38

Wow. Quite a Gospel reading! And on Father's Day yet! "Turn a man against his father…anyone who loves his father more than me…anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me isn't worthy of me."

That's pretty heavy duty. It's hard for lots of folks to understand.

When Jesus says, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." And then follows that with turning family members against one another-good grief.

Think of the edge of a sword. It divides. Jesus is saying that there will be no peace in families when family members have to decide to follow Jesus or not - believe in him or not. That will divide families. Remember, now, that at the time Jesus said this, he was speaking to families that were followers of Judaism, or who were Gentiles. If they left the family religious tradition, they were ostracized from the family-disowned. So, making a choice to follow Jesus was very difficult, and it turned family member against family member.

But, what Jesus is saying is that we can't put family before Jesus. They had to make hard choices back then. But many people have to make hard choices now, too. The excuse many people give for not coming to church is that Sunday is the only time they have to spend time with their family doing something-something other than church of course.

There are a lot of Sunday morning widows - wives and children are here but not husbands.

Why do so many men hate going to church? Just about everything I have to say this morning is taken from a book written by David Murrow, entitled, WHY MEN HATE GOING TO CHURCH. I suggest you get a copy and read it. If I stick a thought of my own in, I will make note of it by italicizing it.

More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christian. But only 2 out of 6 attend church on any given Sunday.

The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in attending church. Men who show up regularly for church have been able to strike a balance within them. There's stuff they put up with so they can involve themselves particularly in 3 areas of church involvement---the building or property board or committee (as it's called in some churches), the stewardship board (or finance committee as it's called in some churches) or the choir because they really like to sing. Or maybe adult Sunday School because they like to teach. So, those men who come find their niche and then they can put up with the rest of the stuff.

Men's disinterest in Christianity is so consistent around the world it can't be explained by pride, father issues, sin or distraction. Neither can we say, "Well, men are just less religious," because this is untrue. Male and female participation are roughly equal in Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. In the Islamic world men are publicly and unashamedly religious-often so more than women. Of the world's great religions, only Christianity has a consistent, nagging shortage of male practitioners. What is it about modern Christianity that is driving men away?

Well, it's not what the clergy leadership of the congregation imposes, but what the laity demands that causes the church to repel men. The people in the pews hold the steering wheel on this one. It's not a matter of calling the men back to church, but a matter of calling the church back to men.

There are millions of men who attend services under duress, dragged by a mother, wife, or girlfriend. Today's churchgoing man is humble, tidy, dutiful, and above all, nice.

What a contrast to the men of the Bible! Think of Moses and Elijah, David and Daniel, Peter and Paul. They were lions, not lambs-take charge men who risked everything in service to God. They spoke their minds and stepped on the toes of religious people. They were true leaders, tough guys who were feared and respected by the community. All of these men had two things in common: they had an intense commitment to God, and they weren't what you'd call saintly.

Such men seldom go to church today. And the men who DO attend don't really invest themselves in the Christian life at church the way their wives and mothers do.

Women must play a key role if men are to return. Because women dominate in attendance, leadership and volunteerism they hold the great sway in the congregation (even if they don't recognize it).

The church is a peculiar organization, led by males, but dominated by women and their values. Dr. Leon Podles says it well: "Modern churches are women's clubs with a few male officers."

Lots of times in homes there can be differences of opinions about where the thermostat should be set. Women tend to like it set it at a different number than men. When mom's home and dad isn't, she set's it at what she likes. When dad gets home, he turns it to what he likes.

Well, there's something termed "spiritual thermostat". And in most churches men have been absent or anemic for so long that the 'spiritual thermostat' in almost every church is set to accommodate the people who actually show up and participate: women, children, and older folks. But most men suffocate in this environment, so they leave.

The culture of today's churches is a culture that values safety over risk, stability over change, preservation over expansion, and predictability over adventure. Never mind what's preached from the pulpit; look at what actually happens on Sunday morning. Almost everything about today's church-its teaching style, its ministries, the way people are expected to behave, even today's popular images of Jesus-is designed to meet the needs and expectations of a largely female audience. Church is sweet and sentimental, nurturing and NICE. Women thrive in this environment. In modern language, women are the target audience of today's church.

Why? Because they show up! Adult women outnumber adult men by almost 2 to 1 in a typical congregation. Women are much more likely to volunteer, and more often show up for church events. Without the superhuman commitment of women, the church's programs would grind to a halt.

Let me [the author] take another example to further explain this 'spiritual thermostat.' Every movie has a thermostat that's set for a certain kind of audience. If a film maker is trying to attract a male audience, he will pack his movie with the things men like: buildings exploding, cars crashing, guns blazing, and bodies flying. There will be tension, intrigue, and a hero who saves the world against impossible odds. (Those are my favorites!)

If a filmmaker wants to se the thermostat for women, he'll include lots of clever dialogue, beautiful costumes, flowers, and scenery. The movie will star a handsome couple who, after a series of misadventures, ends up in a happy relationship.

Movies reflect our fantasies. Men fantasize about saving the world against impossible odds (As I said, those are my favorites, although I like Steven Segal movies and Sylvester Stallone movies and the adventure movies of Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis). Women fantasize about having a RELATIONSHIP with a wonderful person. (There are lots of 'chick flicks' that guys get dragged to on dates. Sometimes guys like them, but it's not their first choice.)

So what does today's church emphasize? RELATIONSHIPS: a personal relationship with Jesus and healthy relationships with others. But few churches model men's values: risk and reward, accomplishment, heroic sacrifice, action and adventure. Any man who tries to live out these values in a typical congregation will find himself in trouble with the church council in no time. This happens to pastors a lot. It doesn't happen to me much because as soon as I start catching flack, I back off. Up till now, that is.

So, for most men, as far as the church goes, the deck is stacked against them. Most men don't possess the natural gifts that make a good churchgoer in today's terms. They are not very expressive, verbal, or sensitive. Most men don't find their skills lie in teaching or singing and they're uncomfortable praying aloud unless part of a big group praying together, but certainly not leading a prayer or offering a petition on his own (although that seems to be most Lutherans, male of female) and men are not comfortable holding hands with strangers.

I don't believe I've ever asked you to do that except in shaking hands in "passing the peace." Many of our Boards and the Council end their meeting by holding hands and praying the Lord's Prayer. It just sort of happens and men have to do it whether they like it or not. I'll bet you it was a woman who started that 'holding hands to pray' business.

If only Christianity today required risk taking, boldness, aggression, and heroic sacrifice. We'd see more men I'm sure. For most men, to their liking are things like sports, career, hobbies, outdoor recreation, wealth building, even video games reflect men's core values. Competitive environments allow men to reach for greatness. Church does not.

But men aren't the only ones missing from church. Research shows that young adults of both genders (18-34) are the generation least likely to attend church on a given weekend. Christianity has a bumper crop of women and older adults. Church speaks to their hearts; it's built around their values.

Studies show that men and young adults tend to be CHALLENGE ORIENTED. Some of their key values are adventure, risk, daring independence, change, conflict, variety, pleasure, and reward. Individuals in these groups are more likely to seek thrills, take chances, and accept dares.

On the other hand, studies demonstrate that women and older adults tend to be SECURITY ORIENTED. Some of their key values are safety, stability, support, and tradition. Individuals in these groups are more likely to play it safe, seek security and avoid risk.

Of course there are exceptions to these generalizations. There are teens who play it safe and seniors who go bungee jumping. There are practical young men and dangerous middle-aged women.

But today's church is all about safety. What's our top prayer request? "God, keep us safe. Keep our kids safe. Watch over us and protect us." God's job is to keep our well-ordered lives flowing smoothly.

There are wise churches that are taking risks, dreaming big, and bringing a measure of adventure back to the Christian life. These churches are built on values that men and young people can relate to. They set high standards and ask much of their members. Their people are encouraged to rock the boat, challenge one another, and take risks. In short, these churches have guts.

The biblical translation of the words "guts" is "faith." Read any book on church growth: the congregations that are reaching the men and young adults and unchurched are sticking their necks out and accomplishing great things. Men and young adults are drawn to churches with guts. When it comes to men, the modern church is dangling the wrong bait. There just aren't as many security-oriented men as there are challenge-oriented ones. So the church catches fewer men.

The church should embrace both feminine and masculine values and gifts. Today, in Christianity, feminine gifts have become synonymous with Christian goodness. Early Christians were known for risk taking, power, aggression, and heroic sacrifice. But somewhere in church history, somebody monkeyed with the definition of Christian! Today, a 'good Christian' is known mostly for meekness, sensitivity, passivity and sweetness. This standard of Christian behavior is very tough on men (even the ones who show up and try to strike some sort of balance within themselves) - but this standard is easier for women to achieve. Men have gotten this message (and it is sure repeated in the media-in commercials and in sitcoms): 'you're flawed the way God made you. You need an extreme makeover." And we wonder why men hate going to church!

I'll continue more about this next week. But I'll close by saying that Jesus was a risk taker. Must we compromise the Gospel in order to attract more men? Certainly not. Jesus had no problem attracting men as followers. Fishermen dropped nets full of fish to follow him, but today's church can't convince men to drop their remote controls for a couple hours a week. The good news is: Jesus is alive today. He wants to speak to men. If only the church will let him.


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