Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Men and the Church

Special guest blog with Sorted publisher and editor Steve Legg

Being a real bloke in the 21st century is difficult. We suffer with man flu and many of us cried when England were knocked out of Euro 2012. Some men use moisturiser and eat fancy sandwiches with rocket in them. 

My dad knows how to tinker around under a car bonnet and change a wheel on the car. I don’t. I call out the RAC. I’m a disaster at DIY.
But being a Christian bloke is even harder. It seems to me that church these days is mainly geared for a particular type of person. I used to say women, but my wife assures me it's not her cup of tea either. Whoever it's aimed at, men don’t come and that’s a tragedy; because most men don’t want anything to do with the Church.
I think part of the problem is that we run meetings in buildings with embroidered banners and nice flower arrangements. Many men just don’t feel comfortable in that sort of environment with lots of singing, sitting down for ages and listening to long talks in a building that looks like something out of a Laura Ashley showroom. They feel uncomfortable with hugging, holding hands and sitting in circles discussing their feelings in a church context.
We also seem to have turned Jesus into a wimp with a beard. You know the sort of thing: gentle Jesus meek and mild, long flowing hair, blue eyes and wearing a white M&S negligee and sandals. He’d be nice enough to present Songs of Praise alongside Aled Jones, but he wouldn’t turn the world upside-down.
Statistically we’re told that the Church is made up of 70% women and 30% men, with 90% of boys leaving by the time they hit their late teens. I guess church didn’t quite match up to their spirit of adventure and turned out to be less Bruce Willis and more Bruce Forsyth. Men are looking for a challenge; they need the gauntlet to be laid down before them with a strong, motivating message that relates to their everyday life.
Jesus was a man’s man – a powerful, amazing, revolutionary bloke – and the first thing he did when he started his public ministry was to choose a bunch of lads. They weren’t professional, well-spoken good boys; they were a bunch of working class, down-to-earth blokes who constantly put their foot in it. But he chose them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Around 150 years ago, the Industrial Revolution meant many men went off to find work in mills, mines and factories leaving mainly women, older people and children in church, so ministers adapted services to suit the new congregations and church began to change. Add in a bit of Victorian respectability, send the men away again to a couple of World Wars and Bob’s your uncle, but church is no longer a place geared up to meet Bob’s needs!
The wars are over but the men have come back to find a church they don't feel at home in, so they choose to opt out altogether. It’s like going shopping with my wife – I just don’t want to do it.
To get men back and involved, we need to change the way we run church. Men often struggle in a classroom environment so that’s why Jesus didn’t sit them behind desks or hand out study guides. They did stuff together and learned along the way.
Jesus taught Peter how to step out in faith by getting out of a boat and walking on water – not by listening to a CD series, hearing a sermon or watching a documentary on God TV. That should be a valuable lesson for starters.
When it comes to reaching men for Christ, men love doing stuff together – team sports, fishing, pub quizzes, paintballing, DIY projects, curry nights, bowling, clay pigeon shooting and going out for a beer. 

If we build genuine relationships with men through active events we’ll put ourselves in a position to introduce them to a God who never sits still and who is relational to the core.
But I don’t think it’s about trying to create a masculinity that’s more to do with John Rambo than Jesus Christ, because we’re all different and that’s where some churches and men’s groups get it wrong; they forget that although Jesus sat round fires with fishermen, he cried with them too.  
The thing we do have in common is that all men crave warmth, honesty and authenticity. Most are genuinely interested in spirituality, meaning and asking deep questions. They want to know how to become better dads and husbands.
Sorted surveyed hundreds of Christian men and asked them what subjects they’d most like to see tackled in church. Family issues were top, followed by money, anger, sexual purity, addictions, pornography and gambling.
It shows men are looking for answers to important questions, but this doesn’t have to be on a Sunday at 11am in a cold building with a tall steeple. It’s a case of connecting with men where they’re at and showing them that Christianity is worth following, has real answers to tough questions and isn’t just for girls.


  1. This is a really exceptionally good post and relates to me as a Christian man very well. The Church, or churches, are just not reaching out to men, men who like beer, curries, blokey things, men who get grumpy and pissed off at times, men who don't fit the Christian stereotype, the stereotype that means we're supposed to have it all together and be rather gentle and rather nice all the time in that cloying English way that makes so many of us cringe to be honest! What's the answer? Do we want a religion, a faith, that speaks to us, speaks to our hearts and is about a real lived experience, or do we want fluffiness, cosiness and a faith that doesn't challenge us but keeps all the old cliches going? Perhaps we don't know what we want, but I think many Christian men know what they don't want.

    Christianity lived out is radical, is revolutionary, is life changing, life affirming and turns your world upside down; church on the other hand seems cosy, traditional, a bit nice and of little interest to real men in a hard world. Jesus was a real man in a hard and unyielding world; we can relate to Him because He was honest, in a world that is often filled with nice platitudes and comfortable lies. To follow Jesus is to learn to love your enemies; how radical is that! Yet traditional belief and worship seems boring and not relevant to many men, Christian men like myself who do want to serve the Lord, but who don't feel comfortable with what passes for much church life. Again, what is the answer? We need, as always, to get back to the Gospel and understand that Christian faith is less about cosy falsehoods and nice platitudes and far more about a lived reality, a radical changing of perceptions and a walk with a Creator who isn't too proud to walk with us providing we're not too proud to walk with Him.

  2. That's the problem, churches are increasingly reaching out to blokes who like beer and curries, leaving out the blokes who don't and the women who do. I totally agree, that church should be about doing as well as believing and worshipping.Get it right for all and stop putting people in boxes along gender lines. Jesus came to free us from all that!

    1. You know, I don't feel churches are reaching out to ordinary blokes at all, I have always felt that churches are a little rarified, for some reason. You're certainly spot on when you say that Jesus came along to free us from all kinds of stereotyping.