Rules of Engagement
My old parish priest, and friend, from when I was a member of Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church, Abington, PA is Father K. Brewster Hastings. A few days ago, Fr. Hastings sent me an email with an excellent essay by Fr. Tom Monnat regarding the dire need, no, more like necessity, for men to be in, and involved with, the Church.
I thought the essay was very insightful and worth sharing. The essay is posted below. I hope you find it as worth reading as much as I did.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
The non-Super Bowl is behind us. After the Sea Hawks [at least in Philly we are grateful that they are
named after some birds] built the lead to three touchdowns I turned off the tube. Any chance of getting
engaged with this dud of a championship was over.
It is like that for many guys. Whatever the event may be, if it fails to engage our male minds and
emotions, men will pull the “off” switch. This appears to be especially true of religion and church going.
Too often church services leave many males wondering whether they should have stayed in bed and let
the wife and kids do the “church” thing. This presumes that the guy was there in the first place, which is
less and less the case. There is nothing new about the disparity between male and female church
It is, however, getting more lopsided, like last night’s score. There are encouraging exceptions but the
The book Why Men Hate Going to Church has been revised and updated since its original publication in
2005. Author David Murrow says that “new research reveals the importance of men to congregational
vitality and growth. Almost without exception, growing churches draw healthy numbers of men, while
declining congregations lack male presence and participation.”
Murrow offers both diagnoses and prescriptions for the absence of men from both traditional and
contemporary churches. While I don’t cotton to everything he lays out, I can certainly support an overall
theme of the
book- the non-engagement of average guys from the “culture” of many parishes
– a culture which has become largely feminized. Having been in that culture for more than thirty years, I
can attest to the truth of his claim. Without women parishes would not exist. Without men parishes are
weak and ineffective, and tend to be inwardly focused.
The good news is that men will happily attend a church which signals that it knows what they need. You
don’t have to change the church in radical ways, yet certain signs must be present; call it the scent of
manliness. Here are a few components [both my own and the book’s]:
1. The pastor is a real guy and acts like it. He leads without begging or acting “girlie.” He means what he
says and says what he means. Men can trust him because he is willing to confess his struggles and not
appear to be above the fray. In St. Luke’s description of the call of the first disciples, it is clear that those
men saw an authenticity and courage in Jesus that demanded an immediate response. When a military
commander issues an order, the troops don’t sit around in a group and “share” about it. Too much
church time is spent “sharing” and not enough acting.Turn that around and you will have more men in
2. The sermon is short and to the point, with solid illustrations and often containing visual images or
objects. The usual attention span of adults [both men and women] today is somewhere around 5-10
minutes. “What about the mega churches,” you might ask. After all, Rick Warren preaches for thirty or
forty minutes. With all due respect, Father X, you are no Rick Warren. The source of his success was in
building a church for men who didn’t like going to church. Far better that you spend more time
preparing an engaging ten minute sermon than trying to show off your immense knowledge of Holy
Scripture, theology and church history. What is the rule – an hour of prep for every minute in the pulpit?
Your men will thank you for keeping them engaged. Less is more for a man – less talk and more action.
As for bible “study” [a threatening concept for many guys] the teachers who reach men usually begin
with a real life situation or challenge, and then bring Holy Scripture into the matter to show how God
acts. Good teachers do not begin with questions nobody is asking.
3. The hymns or praise songs are not always syrupy sweet “love songs” to Jesus. The wise music leader
will insert some strong hymns of faith and manly courage into the mix. The call of the first disciples was
to “follow me,” not “fall in love with me.” To follow Christ suggests a band of brothers marching off to
battle with their captain in the lead, rather than a small group holding hands and gushing about their
love affair with the Lord. Is this a stereotype? Of course, but it needs to be said. Murrow points to an
almost exclusive emphasis on a sentimentalized Christ the “Lamb of God,” in many congregations, to the
exclusion of Christ the “Lion of Judah.” There is a long history to this which I won’t get into. One of the
best lines in Murrow’s book has well meaning church leaders apologizing for Our Lord’s violence in
throwing the money changers out of the Temple. “Don’t worry – he’s not always like this!” Yet there are
far more Lion of Judah sayings and actions of Christ in the gospels than there are Lamb of God ones.
4. On Father’s Day, how about praising the men as much as you do the women on Mother’s Day? Too
often the guys get a critical earful about how they are not living up to the standards of husbands and
fathers, while the mothers hear how terrific they are for their sacrificial life styles. This often comes out
of the mouths of feminized pastors who may have “father” issues themselves. Murrow points to just
such a pastor who, because he was afraid of other men’s power and strength, turned to bullying them
from the pulpit.
He wisely got counseling for his problem.
An argument can be made for the other side of much that I have written above. I get that! The church
needs both men and women in order to be whole; but that is the point. We will not be whole as long as
men are missing or marginalized. A predominantly female congregation led by a male minister is not the
balance we need. It is who occupies the pews that counts. Churches must learn how to get men off the
bench and into the game.
God bless you this week,
Fr. Tom Monnat