Men and Women in Church

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Baldilocks gives an interesting theory for why many Christian congregations are overwhelmingly female in composition. [Hat tip: Sam] She thinks it has much to do with how much time and attention is devoted to what's often called the worship time and how much is devoted to the sermon. She says a too high percentage of women might be a sign that "the pastor has likely has [sic] too much 'praise and worship' in his service and not enough teaching of the word and some of its less 'uplifting' aspects. There might be something to this.

My father-in-law complains that many of the people in his congregation prefer a very long time of singing (which, as it happens, consists of three songs with a few lines of text each, spread out over about 45 minutes) and a short sermon that has little content but lots of emotional manipulation on the part of an excellent emotional communicator. It turns out their sermons are a lot longer than they'd like, but the preacher's intonations and songlike delivery make it entertaining, regardless of whether he's saying anything.

I'd rather have 15 minutes of songs that take part in the rich history of Christian worship over the last 2000 years (including the good stuff of contemporary worship music), with special focus on expressing specific statements about God. After all, it's worship of God. You have to say something about him to be worshiping him, with a 45-minute sermon prepared by someone who spent many hours in the passage and in the work of those specially gifted with an ability to understand and clarify the meaning of the text, who have spent many months or years in careful study of the book in question. I prefer actually about 45 minutes of each (rather than 15 and 45) as my congregation does it, but if you have to limit it to an hour I think the balance is way off if the singing takes priority.

For most men the sermon is the most uplifting part of the service, at least if it's done responsibly, which is why it's ironic that Baldilocks chooses that word to describe the other things (from the perspective of many women). A responsible sermon teaches the text and explains what it meant in its original context before moving to its significance for Christians in our day. It's not so much how much time is spent on it but how carefully it's done, which is usually directly proportional to how much time is spent understanding the text and how much time is spent thinking through its implications for the different sorts of people who might be in the congregation. Very few preachers are good at doing every aspect of that well, though it's a skill that can develop over time, but what's sad is that some don't even try.

I like good music as much as anyone, but worship is more than singing. It's acknowledgement of who God is, which only happens if you're experiencing good teaching of who God is in a way that accords with what the scriptures say, the whole counsel of God, not just the gospel, the nice passages in the epistles, and some of the fun stories in the Old Testamtent. The teaching time is part of worship, and the living out of what is taught is also part of worship. I could give a biblical argument for this and for some of my other undefended claims in this post, but I already have.

Unfortunately, many churches don't have this kind of preaching at all. If you wonder why some congregations, particularly black ones (she doesn't get into that issue, but it is relevant, and that's much of her experience, as it's also much of Sam's), are so predominantly female. The result is that black men simply aren't in church, and it has an impact on their lives. The ones that are there are often not as willing to take responsibility to lead their families in any sense. I'm not saying this to beat up on black people. I'm married to one! I'm saying it because people I know very well have observed this over and over, and it's tragic. If Baldilocks is right that one major cause of this is how "church is done", as they say, in black churches, then how much better off would the black community be if they simply focused more on teaching the word and less on having an entertainment fest.

Now predominantly white churches can also have the same problem, particularly in circles where contemporary musical styles are emphasized. Charismatic and Pentecostal churches tend to have similar issues simply because the sort of person naturally attracted to that sort of church is also more likely to be attracted to the sort of worship style that often attracts people with these tendencies. Natural tendencies aren't the only thing at work, but they do have some effect. There's also a higher concentration of this mindset among people my age and younger, thinking of worship as a time to "connect with God" as if one has failed to worship if one hasn't had some deep experience of intimacy. Isn't it worship if one simply takes time to acknowledge who God is and commit oneself to live a holy life? Why the need for a certain kind of experience? And yes, women tend to be more motivated in these directions than men, which is what's driving the Baldilocks post to begin with. I'm just making some sociological observations about other groups that are relevant.

I don't mean by any of this that there's nothing to such preferences. A sermon that's very good at explaining the text along with people who sing songs that say a lot of great things about God will not amount to worship if it's mere ritual. It isn't necessarily mere ritual just because it's old hymns, a monotone preacher, and a congregation who can't sing in tune. What makes it not ritual is the attitude of the people doing it and their relationship with God, not how visibly excited they are, how good or upbeat (or recent!) the music is, or how entertaining the preacher's style is.

I think we're often inculcated with a certain worship style as how genuine worship should be done, and we can't get around that. We need to, or we're going to look down on our brothers and sisters' worship as inappropriate. We should insist on some things, and we should strive toward others, and we need to distinguish between those things, but the one essential is that we recognize God and seek to serve him, and our worship should be geared toward that, which requires some careful teaching and some time spent simply appreciating who God is and what he's done. Anything beyond that might be really good but isn't the point. As a congregation realizes this, imbalances among whatever groups might be likely to worship among them will gradually correct themselves, and this includes gaps in gender, race/ethnicty, age, denominational origin(or lack thereof), and anything else that artificially divides the people of God who are spiritually speaking seated all together with Christ in heaven.

2 Comments

Perhaps these women should pay attention to their husbands' lack of interest and find a church that inspires both of them. The church I'm currently attending is about 50/50.

Have you read Total Truth? Pearcey thinks the problem is partly due to the two-story split she talks about there: Because men have historically worked outside the home more, she argues, they tend to have a worse problem with viewing religion as separate from reality. She also thinks that Evangelicals have sort of bought into this, at least in the past, and seen women as more spiritual. She gives some quotes to back this up. I'm not sure if I buy into it, but it's an interesting idea.

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