Church Is For Girls
by Todd Wilken
I watched Oprah over vacation. Ordinarily, I don’t watch Oprah. You see, I’m a man.The Oprah Winfrey Show is for women. Just watch it. Oprah herself is
the iconic modern woman —sexy, spiritual and successful. Oprah’s guests and
topics are always female favorites. Oprah’s advertisers are aimed at women.
Most of all, Oprah’s audience is almost entirely women.
The few men in Oprah’s audience look out of place. When Oprah is
introduced, the women in the audience howl with joy, embrace and weep. The
men clap politely. Oprah talks with housewives about how clean their kitchens
and bathrooms are. The women in the audience nod knowingly. The men try to
look interested. Oprah hands out quilted Burberry jackets, home spas and
handbags. Again, the women in the audience explode in ecstasy. The men seem
unsure what to do. I can almost hear one poor guy thinking, “What in the
world am I going to do with a Eileen Fisher waffle-weave Merino stretch zip
cardigan and pant?”
Oprah plugs an upcoming episode, “Special Experiment: Men Turn Into
Women, eleven "manly" men must live as women.” I suspect that the men in her
audience feel like subjects in that experiment already.
As I watch these men, it dawns on me: I know exactly what they are
going through. I too have found myself surrounded by women, awkwardly out of
place as a man —in church.
It was one Sunday about a year ago. I visited a church while traveling.
The congregation that day was mostly women.
As the obligatory twenty-minute medley of praise songs began, the
women started to clap, sing along and sway. The music was the kind you’d hear
on any soft rock station. The lyrics weren’t just sentimental, they were sappy.
There was a woman in the pew directly in front of me. She was dancing —
full-bodied, hip-swinging, dancing. She was obviously loving it. She was the
pastor’s wife. The pastor, standing next to her, did his best to keep up;
doing what looked like the white man’s version of the Electric Slide.
But most of the men stood still and silent. They looked like they would
rather be someplace else. It occurred to me that these men were performing
the spiritual equivalent of waiting outside the fitting room while their
wives tried on a dress.
I felt the urge to leave —not in anger or protest, but in visceral,
awkward discomfort. Call me uptight. Call me insecure. All I know is that at
that moment I felt like I had stumbled into a Barry Manilow concert.
Church is for girls. That is what many men think. Columnist Doug Giles
refers to the typical American church as “Wussville.” He writes:
So why do most men avoid church? Here’s the veneer stripped-away
answer: going to church for the majority of men is an exercise in
unwanted effeminacy. Church, for most men, has not only become
irrelevant; it has also become effeminate. Hanging out in church for
most extra-Y chromosomes [sic] seems unmanly… (Doug Giles, “Where Are
God’s Warriors and Wild Men?” April 17, 2004, www.townhall.com)
Leon Podles, author of The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity,
puts it more diplomatically,
You may have noticed that, in general, men are not as interested in
religion as women are. There are usually more women than men at Sunday
mass, and there are far more women than men at devotions, retreats, and
prayer groups. The men who do come are often there because wives or
girlfriends have put pressure on them to attend. In fact, if men speak
honestly, they will tell you that men have a general feeling that the
Church is for women. (Leon J. Podles, “Missing Fathers of the Church:
The Feminization of the Church & the Need for Christian Fatherhood,
Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity, January/February, 2001.)
Here are just a few facts. According to a March 2000 Barna survey,
women are 100% more likely than men to be involved in discipleship, 57% more
likely than men to participate in adult Sunday school, 56% more likely than
men to hold a leadership position at a church, 54% more likely than men to
participate in a small group, 33% more likely to volunteer for a church, 29%
more likely to attend church. On any given Sunday in America, women make up
60% of those sitting in church. That percentage is steadily rising. (The
Barna Group of Ventura California, “Women Are the Backbone of the Christian
Congregations in America,” March 6, 2000.)
The same ratio prevails among the professional clergy. Podles predicts,
“...the Protestant clergy will be a characteristically female occupation,
like nursing, within a generation.” (Leon J. Podles, The Church Impotent: The
Feminization of Christianity, Dallas, Spence Publishing, 1999, p. xiii.) He
writes, “The situation in the mainline churches is far worse. The seminaries
have a female majority, and shortly the ministry will be a female occupation.
One will have to say male minister as one now has to say male
nurse.” (Podles, “Missing Fathers of the Church.”) But its not just the
mainline liberal churches. Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago is
widely considered “conservative.” Yet Willow Creek has female elders, and
has had a female pastor on staff since 1996. Members of Willow Creek are
required “minimally [to] be able to affirm with integrity the following: that
they can joyfully sit under the teaching of women teachers ... that they can
joyfully submit to the leadership of women in various leadership positions at
Willow Creek." (See Susan Olasky, “Femme Fatale,” World Magazine, March 29,
Are women more spiritual than men? While that is one possible
explanation for the data, there is no Scriptural support for such a
conclusion. Men and women are equally fallen, equally sinful, equally
forgiven in Christ, and equally endowed with the Holy Spirit. (Genesis
3:16-19; Romans 3:21-24; Joel 2:29; Acts 8:12; 1 Peter 3:3-4; Galatians 3:28)
So, why do many men think that Church is for girls? Is the Church
Not Feminized; Emasculated
First, I am not saying that Church really is for girls. What’s
happening in the Church is no more suitable for women than it is for men. Dr.
Michael Horton writes:
What we’re talking about here isn’t worthy even of …the feminization of
the Faith. It certainly isn’t worthy of the women in our churches, to
say that it’s OK for women to be characterized by sentimentalism. …It’s
a distortion of femininity, of genuine complements that women bring to
the table. It’s a distortion of that, and then a reduction of
everything, including “masculine aspects.” (Issues, Etc. “The
Feminization of Christianity I,” guest: Dr. Michael Horton. August 22,
Second, with all due respect to Podels and others, the Church has not become
more feminine. The Church has become less masculine. The result is not a
feminized church, but rather an emasculated church.
We recently did a program on Issues, Etc. discussing the feminization
of the Church. When we opened the phone lines, most of the callers agreed
that the church was being emasculated. To my surprise, most of those callers
were women. One caller said,
I go into the churches and I either see the wives entirely domineering
—as though it’s a feminist movement— of their husbands, and the single
Christian men that I meet… are wimps. There’s no decisiveness in them,
they’re very soft, simple, almost like boys, as though they want to be
taken care of. …And I loathe that. I will not marry a man who isn’t a
strong Christian man. I won’t do it. I won’t marry some nice guy that’s
like my little son. I don’t want a son; I want a man who is a Christian
man of God. (Issues, Etc. “The Feminization of Christianity II,” guest:
Dr. Kim Riddlebarger. August 22, 2004.)
The emasculated church presents a distorted picture of the Christian,
whether man or woman. More importantly, the emasculated church presents a
distorted picture of Christ.
Not only does the emasculated church have little place for real men,
the emasculated church has little place for the real Jesus.
Romancing the Deity
For a long time now, Sunday morning has been about our feelings.
Instead of focusing on how God deals with us in Christ, we focus on how we
feel about God in our hearts. We pray, sing and preach about our feelings. It
is now commonplace to hear Christians talk about an atmosphere of worship,
the mood of worship or a feeling of worship. Worship is now described in
blatantly emotional terms: moving, stimulating, stirring, exciting,
inspiring, exhilarating and even intoxicating.
A man might get impression that in order to really participate in
worship, he needs to get in touch with his feminine side. Men are typically
uncomfortable with this emotional emphasis. S.M. Hutchens has observed:
“Christianity in the West (Catholic and Protestant, conservative and liberal)
has come to be regarded by a great many men, and not without reason, as an
almost exclusively affective domain —something for women, children, and
unmanly men.” (S. M. Hutchens, “Please Me, O Lord,” Touchstone, A Journal of
Mere Christianity, May 2004.)
But the problem isn’t emotion per se. There’s nothing wrong with
emotion in worship, but that emotion ought to be appropriate to one’s gender.
Moreover, that emotion ought to be appropriate to its object. The object of
Christian worship is supposed to be the man Jesus Christ. However, the Sunday
morning experience in the emasculated church requires a man to express
emotions toward Jesus he should not have. Horton writes, “most men I know
would feel somewhat uncomfortable singing ‘love songs’ to another man, even
if he is Jesus Christ.” (Michael Horton, “Are Your Hymns Too Spiritual?”
Modern Reformation, July/August, 1995.) Hutchens writes about what he calls
“the increasingly erotic overtones of the ‘personal relationship with Jesus’”
and his own awkward experience one Sunday:
A handsome young woman, attractively dressed, stood before the
congregation with an eight-inch microphone, the head of which she held
gently to her lips while she writhed and cooed a song in which she,
with closed eyes and beckoning gestures, begged Jesus, as she worked
her way toward its climax, to come fill her emptiness…. It was the “In
the Garden” tryst of the old hymnbooks carried to the next phase of
intimacy and excitement. Jesus has been walking and talking with the
revivalists and telling them they are his own for many years now, and
it is not surprising that, given his romantic propensities, they should
be expecting him to move to the next phase of the courtship ritual.
(Hutchens, “Please Me, O Lord.”)
It’s not just the songs. In the emasculated church, the Sunday sermon
sometimes sounds like a personals’ ad posted by Jesus: Sensitive male seeks
personal relationship. Dislikes negativity and intolerance. Likes listening
while you talk, long walks on the beach, sunsets and backrubs. I have so much
to offer. I promise I will change your life!
The “Jesus” in these sermons comes off as a little lonely and a little
needy. He’s willing to overlook your sin if you will just be his friend.
These sermons portray Jesus as forever standing at the door, corsage in hand,
waiting for his date to answer the doorbell.
Needless to say, the “Jesus” who is the subject of such sermons and the
object of such worship in the emasculated church is not the Jesus of
Scripture. “The Jesus whom Scripture reveals isn't user-friendly. He is too
harsh with sinners and too determined to die for them. He can't stop talking
about His Cross, and why He must endure it. He is too human, too divine, too
bloody, too dead, and too alive.” (Todd Wilken, “Everybody Loves Jesus: The
Culture Cherishes a Counterfeit Christ,” For the Life of the World, October
2004, vol. 8, no. 4.) The emasculated church has traded the Jesus of
Scripture for the “Jesus in my heart.”
I’m Your Handy-Man
Not every emasculated church repels men. Some attract men by the
Joel Osteen is pastor of the largest mega-church in America. The growth
of Lakewood Church has eclipsed even mini-denominations like Willow Creek and
Saddleback. Lakewood will soon move into Houston’s 18,000-seat Compaq Center
after a 70 million dollar renovation. Joel’s secret? A simple message,
typical of the emasculated church:
We’re all about building people up. We’re all about helping people
reach their full potential. …I believe that’s the message this
generation needs to hear. We’ve heard a lot about the judgment of God
and what we can’t do and what’s going to keep us out of heaven. But
it’s time people start hearing about the goodness of God, about a God
that loves them. A God that believes in them. A God that wants to help
them. That’s our message here at Lakewood. (www.lakewood.cc/index.htm)
Combining his Word-Faith roots with his seeker-sensitive savvy, Osteen
has produced a message that is overtly therapeutic. Osteen presents this
self-help message in a winsome and non-confrontational style. His sermons
read like long lists of suggestions —advice on how to be nice. As a result,
the subjects of sin and the Cross seldom come up. When they do, these
subjects are milked for maximum emotional, rather than theological, impact.
According to Osteen, sin is essentially self-doubt. Rather than being
moral and spiritual depravity, sin is a failure to live up to your innate
goodness and potential. Sin is bad because it makes you or others unhappy.
The solution, according to Osteen, is realizing your potential with God’s
…God wants to make your life easier. He wants to assist you, to promote
you, to give you advantages. He wants you to have preferential
treatment. But if we’re going to experience more of God’s favor, we
must live more “favor-minded.” To be favor minded simply means that we
expect God’s special help… (Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now, New York,
Warner Faith, 2004, p. 38.)
Lakewood is also typical of the emasculated church in another way.
Osteen himself functions not only as pastor to Lakewood’s thousands, but also
as the model modern male.
To the women in his audience Joel Osteen is the man they wish their
husband could be: young, good looking and sensitive. Osteen routinely tells
the women in his congregation that they are under-appreciated by their
husbands. Likewise, Osteen regularly regales the congregation with stories
from his own marriage and family, in which he invariably emerges as an
exemplary husband and father. For the women in his congregation, Osteen is
James Taylor’s Handy Man:
If your broken heart should need repair,
Then I am the man to see.
I whisper sweet things, you tell all your friends,
They'll come runnin' to me. (Otis Blackwell, Jimmy Jones, “Handy Man,”
For the men, Osteen has long lists of how they are single-handedly
ruining their marriages and families. As a remedy, Joel dispenses advice on
how to be… more like Joel. It’s Christian Eye for the Straight Guy. After
all, something must be working for Osteen. As often as the camera pans to his
beautiful wife, Victoria, she looks blissfully satisfied. She is the
spiritual version of the smiling wife at the end of the Enzyte Male
Enhancement Pill commercial.
Doubtless, some men in Osteen’s audience are there against their will,
at their wives’ insistence, but not every one of them. One wonders how men
could be attracted to Osteen’s message, but many obviously are. Apparently,
the emasculated church is also the emasculating church.
Few other pastors are able to position themselves between men and their
wives as successfully as Osteen does. However, even if he lacks Osteen’s
total package, the pastor in the emasculated church tends to become the
object of adoration for the women and of emulation for the men. In his
message and his method, Joel Osteen is the shape of things to come in the
Jesus Didn’t Come to Give You a Backrub.
The attrition of men from the Church, and the emasculating of men in
the Church are just symptoms. The emasculated church has little place for
real men because the emasculated church has little place for the real Jesus.
Long before the term “metrosexual” was coined, Jesus was made over into
one by the Church. Today, the popular picture of Jesus, especially among
Christians, is of a polite, affirming and obsequious wimp.
This is a Jesus shaped by 21st century postmodern sensibilities. This
Jesus helps you find your purpose, reach your potential, realize your
innate goodness, and achieve self-fulfillment. He was sent by a sugar-
daddy god from a country club heaven to help us be all we can be. He
said nice things, did nice things, and never hurt a fly. He lived to
show us that we are better than we think we are. He died to show us
that you can accomplish anything if you just apply yourself. His
message fits neatly on a bumper sticker. His spirit is the spirit of
the age. (Wilken, “Everybody Loves Jesus.”)
In an emasculated church, the Judge Who will pronounce His verdict over
all mankind has been reduced to a therapist who just listens. He gives
sinners affirmation when they need absolution. In the emasculated church, the
Good Shepherd Who faces the wolf and lays down His life for the sheep has
become the shepherd who sits safely in the pen, petting the sheep and
stroking their wool. He’s there to sympathize rather than save, to feel your
pain rather than bear your sin.
The real man Jesus isn’t interested in affirming sinners or making them
feel better about themselves; He’s only interested in saving them. The real
man Jesus doesn’t have time to groom the sheep; He’s too busy fighting and
dying for them.
Yes, the church has been emasculated and therefore left unmanned. Many
men think that Church is for girls because, frankly, many churches are.
So, should the Church start sponsoring arm-wrestling contests and
Monday night football? No. Should the Church tailor its message to real men?
The Church should tailor its message to real sinners —both men and
women. That means preaching the message of the real Jesus. That means calling
real sinners —men and women, unbelievers and believers— to repent. That means
presenting the real Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as the only hope for
real sinners —men and women.
The real Church isn’t for girls. The real Church isn’t for boys either.
The real Church is for sinners because the real Jesus is for sinners.
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