A Lover’s Quarrel: Women and Men

Garrett’s tenth wish for the Churches of Christ is —

Let us bring women into the church as equals; let us cease being male-dominated.

I’m on record on this one. The Bible does not teach male domination of women. Rather, the Bible teaches that male domination of women is part of the Genesis 3 curse on the Creation that Jesus came to reverse. I’ll not repeat the scriptural arguments here. They are laid out in detail at Buried Talents.

It is not an easy task to reverse our long-standing discrimination against women. Any church with a woman in a leadership role has to contend with at least two serious problems —

First, so many of us have grown up in the churches where women could not be leaders that we instinctively recoil at the thought — even when we intellectually know we shouldn’t. Even some women struggle in this area.

Second, there have been some studies that suggest that one reason churches tend to be largely female, despite the largely male leadership, is that we’ve unconsciously feminized our churches, centering our spirituality on practices that are very un-male in contemporary culture. Having more women in leadership can, if we’re not careful, deepen this problem.

Now, the solution isn’t to deprive women of the opportunity to use their God-given talents. Rather, it’s to think long and hard about how to make church a place that men can feel useful and fulfilled. In other words, how can we best use the talents God tends to give to men? I’m not speaking of the pulpit. I’m speaking of the men in the pews, the guys who have no interest in classes on relationships or such.

And so, I think, to move to greater egalitarianism in church, we have to first re-create a more manly church. And it just happens that what God wants from our churches is much more along the lines of masculine preferences than what we often have. You see, most churches are actually social clubs. They are great places to make friends. And women are all about relationships. (Yes, I’m generalizing, maybe even stereotyping, but it’s true.) And preachers teach relationship-evangelism, and most men are pretty weak in this area.

I’ve seen men’s groups that figure the solution is to go out and shoot guns and cook red meat over fire. And this is fine. But it’s not really what being a man is all about. And it’s not the solution (although I’m all about the red meat).

Why do men volunteer to join the army, knowing they’ll likely be killed? Why do men gladly work to support their families, seeing nearly all their paychecks go to benefit their wives and children? Why do men so enjoy team sports?

Men, I think, need a mission. They want a larger purpose and a task. Men find fulfillment in their work — not necessarily their 8 to 5 job, but in what they do. This is one reason men enjoy hunting and fishing and competitive sports. They like striving to accomplish something. They like killing their own supper. They like competition. They like being part of a team trying to achieve a goal.

And what the church is desperately needing today is a sense of mission.

Now, when most people hear “mission” they think “missionary” and “evangelism.” And these are relational things that most men find uncomfortable. They really don’t want to talk to their neighbors about Jesus. Or about anything other than football or such like. It’s not what men do well (as a whole. And, yes, I’m stereotyping.)

But if the mission were building affordable houses for people who really deserve it, well, men can get into that. Or if it’s digging wells in Africa. Or if it’s coordinating all the churches in town to take the community for Jesus. Or to start night basketball for kids at risk of joining gangs. You see, men love to strategize and work together toward a common goal — a tangible, achievable goal.

Ironically enough, if the church were more faithful to God’s mission, it would be far more attractive to men. 

And in a more masculine church, tasks would be assigned based on talents — because getting the job done is far more important than some preacher’s persnickety preferences over whether a woman oversee the work crew that paints the house. (Men understand well that the best player starts.) Nobody worries about women’s authority when it comes to actual mission. And if we were about the actual mission, the worship service would no longer be central to our vision of what church is.

And when we finally push the assembly from the middle of Christianity and replace it with the mission, well, our attitudes toward women will change. As will men’s attitude toward church.

You see, it all fits together.

By the way, once you see this, it changes your understanding of what preachers should be trained to do.

Historically, we’ve trained preachers to defeat false teachers through powerful arguments. This has made doctrine a replacement for war, and has made the church down the road the enemy rather than Satan. And men can really get into war-substitutes. This has been a huge distraction for our male church leadership.

More recently, we’ve trained preachers to be counselors — and they preach sermons about relationships because that’s what they studied in school. Christmas sermons tend to be about the members who are miserable because of lost loved ones. And men hate these sermons. (And Father’s Day sermons that tell men how sorry they are at being fathers.) We need good counselors, for sure, but it’s a mistake to define Christianity in terms of healing broken relationships. It’s bigger than that. It is that. But it’s more.

And so, if we would just train our leadership — elders and ministers both — to be equippers to do good works (as God told us to do in Eph 4), well, that would change everything. Not surprisingly, what the church needs is what the Bible prescribes.

And, ironically enough, it would naturally and easily allow women to assume their proper roles.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in A Lover's Quarrel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Lover’s Quarrel: Women and Men

  1. Kristen says:

    Dr. Guin, I liked this message and think you make some very good points. But couching it in "manly" vs. "feminized" terms tends to cloak the real issues in stereotypes that may not be helpful.

    The church does indeed need a balance between relationships and mission. But– both women and men need both. Both need to work not just on what comes naturally to them (even though not all men are all about goals and not all women are all about relationships), but on areas where they need to develop their strengths.

    I think more focus on good works, on service to the community, would be very good for churches that are overbalanced in terms of relationships. And vice-versa.

    The fact is that, I as a woman find great fulfillment in being involved in a mission– in a work that's greater than myself. I also find fulfillment in relationships– and so do men; otherwise they wouldn't become husbands and fathers.

    So why couch it in these gender-specific terms, when it seems to me what you're really saying is that, like Christ Himself, His church needs to be balanced in both relationships and mission?

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Kristen, my name is "Jay."

    I knew I'd catch some heat on this one, but the reality is that men and women are different. There's a reason nearly every American church in the last 200 years has had many more women members than male. Some say women are more naturally "spiritual." I don't agree. Some say we should specifically attract men through male-focused activities — shooting guns, rappelling, etc. Nothing wrong with visiting a shooting house, but that's not the cure. The cure is to be truer to Jesus.

    I don't see it as balance because I don't see mission and relationships competing. Rather, mission, properly done, will be very relational.

    It's just that when we got off course (largely due to weak male leadership), the women kept coming and the men quit. Therefore, the cure will bring in more men than women, not because it's about men, but because the women are already coming.

    And, ironically enough, as the church becomes truer to Jesus, it will be easier to break the gender barrier and give women freer use of their talents.

    As always, the mission drives everything. Get that right, and the rest follows.

  3. Kristen says:

    Jay,

    I don't think I meant to say that mission and relationships were in competition. I simply meant that the church needs both– and that both can be embraced by men and women alike. In fact, as you said– the mission Jesus gave the church is very relational!

    I don't deny that men and women are different– I just don't see why "relationships" has to be seen as a feminine thing and "mission" as a male thing, when you yourself said the men and women should both be involved in the mission, and that the mission is relational.

  4. Kristen says:

    This is said not to challenge, but to clarify what I'm trying to get at– I'm sure you're not intending to say that it's more "manly" to be truer to Christ. Men and women alike are called to imitate Christ, as I'm sure you'll agree.

    But saying the problem is the "feminization" of the church makes it seem that women by nature are less capable of being true imitators of Christ than men. . .

    Since that can't be what you meant, I'm calling into question the use of the word "feminization" as a description of the problem.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Kristen,

    It's a well-documented fact that most church goers in the US are women. It's been this way for a long time. There are lots of theories out there as to why.

    There is plainly something about the church as we do church that is more attractive to women than to men. I think we'd agree that God designed the church to be equally attractive — as God is no respecter of persons.

    This I call the feminization of the church — the fact that we practice church in a way that attracts more women than men. That hardly implies that women are less capable of being imitators of Christ than men. It is, after all, men who overwhelmingly dominate church leadership and so men who are leading the church poorly.

    It's hugely ironic that men have led the church in a way that's unattractive to men, but it's obviously true. Somehow or other, the church has become largely female. It's been feminized.

    "Feminized" is not an insult. It's a statement of relative ratios of males to females. It would be just as unfortunate for the church to be masculinized. We need a church that's equally attractive to men and women. It needs to be Jesus-ized.

  6. Kristen says:

    Thank you so much for clarifying that, Jay. I can honestly say that what you mean when you speak of the "feminization of the church" is NOT what most preachers I have heard mean by the expression.

  7. Kristen says:

    You know, however– there are a number of reasons I can think of why a church might have more women attending, which have nothing to do with whether more women are "attracted" to it.

    First, women are more likely to go to church for their children's sake, even if they themselves are not getting much out of the services. They are more likely to volunteer for the same reason.

    Second, women, much more than men, tend to be raised with the idea that they should disregard their own needs and endure personal hardship for the good of the group. So if a church has stopped "attracting" them, they aren't necessarily going to stop attending or volunteering, while men are much more likely to just ditch the unpleasant duty.

    So the question is– is it really that every church with higher female attendance is more attractive to women? Or is it sometimes that the women are the ones who aren't going to desert something, even if it isn't manifesting Christ or meeting anyone's needs at all?

    I looked over the "Why Men Hate Going to Church" blog. Unlike you, Jay, that blog tends to blame the women for the problem, even though the women have only subordinate roles. Perhaps, though, if women actually had a voice in the leadership of churches, male leaders might gain some wisdom as to what is really going wrong– straight from the horses mouths, as it were.

Leave a Reply