Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review Friday: Why Men Hate Going to Church

A female friend of mine summarized Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow this way: “Love to hate that book.”  Having just read the revised 2011 version, I think this perfectly encapsulates what it is like as a woman to read this book.  There is no question that its message is deeply needed in the Christian church, where in nearly every congregation women outnumber men, where men (particularly younger, masculine men) look at church as irrelevant and boring, and where the undeniable feminizing influence on the church (and even on the perception of Jesus) has been felt for decades—maybe even a couple centuries.  As Murrow points out, statistically fathers have the largest influence on whether or not their children will continue in the Christian faith in which they were raised.  So, in the need for the message of this book, I love it.  However, it is difficult to hear (as a woman) that the way I have been doing ministry is sometimes counter-productive to men’s growth in faith, and therefore to the growth of the whole church. 

Murrow does not criticize women in leadership per se (although he does suggest that too many women up front in a church communicates to men that there is no place for them).  I did appreciate that in his final chapter, he gives a great example of how a female pastor has created a church culture that reaches men perhaps better than any other church he has witnessed.  Women can do this, but it takes more effort and it takes sometimes being willing to step out of the spot-light in order that a brother in Christ may have the opportunity to grow in leadership and as a role model to other men.

In college, I took an intensely interesting class in cultural anthropology in which I studied how a group or culture operates as a holistic system.  Reading this book reminded me of that class.  Like it or not, the way Murrow describes how men think and act is reality.  Can men be challenged in many areas?  Yes, of course they can, just as women can.  But you have to start with where they are.  This is no different really from the growth of seeker-sensitive ministries that seek to “become all things to all men that they might in all ways save some.”  Still, just as seeker-sensitive ministries can do, I found myself wondering if orienting ourselves to the way men think and act simply because it is reality can at times sacrifice some of the message.  For example, if a church focuses overly on numbers, achievement, power, glory as oftentimes appeals to men, then where is the word of the Apostle Paul, who reminds us that Christ’s power is present in our weakness?  Where is the power of the cross?  Where is the surrender of self that the Lordship of Christ to which we are called?

Still, with that said, sensitivity to and understanding of the culture of men is important.  Only if we understand how a man thinks and operates can we decide intentionally when to depart from their culture.  Instead of departing from a man’s culture by default and concluding that Christianity is fundamentally feminine, we can analyze our assumptions and better communicate with the men for whom Christ also died.

Murrow begins his book with this insight:
One Sunday I was sitting in church, half-listening to the sermon, when my wandering mind recalled a quote from a business guru: “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.”
Like the business guru, Murrow contends that the Church has been setting itself up for failure in its attempts to reach men.  It covers its walls with quilting and its tables with doilies, sings emotional songs, puts women up front, emphasizes touchy-feely stuff and academics (skills in which women excel) instead of doing (in which men excel), wastes time, fails to take risks, doesn’t get things accomplished.  It is set up to be a field of frustration for men.  Murrow goes on to say,
Men don’t hate God or Christ or the Bible or Christianity.  They hate a system that’s perfectly designed to reach someone else.  A system that makes them feel unneeded.  A system that exalts the gifts they simply do not possess.

One of the most helpful insights in the book for me related to the language used of our relationship with Jesus.  Murrow helpfully points out that terms like “personal relationship with Jesus,” “Jesus, I’m so in love with you,” “passion for Christ,” “passion for other men,” and the like are squirm-worthy for men.  They enter church convinced that it is a feminine place anyway and then we (unintentionally) throw homo-erotic imagery at them.  Murrow rightly states that this language is not in fact Biblical.  It is a construct that we place on the Scriptures.  We are nowhere told to fall in love with Jesus.  Yes, the Church is called the Bride of Christ, but this is as a whole, not in terms of individuals.  Murrow rightly criticizes the “Jesus is my Boyfriend” praise songs that have been circulating throughout the Church for years.  He points out that men are often more drawn to hymns with a driving, marching beat.  And he adds that while women may be drawn to the immanence of God, men are more often drawn to the transcendence of God. 

Also helpful was Murrow’s contrasting of Lion-Jesus with Lamb-Jesus.  He says the latter image has become dominant in the church of today, but that in Scripture “Lion-Jesus isn’t the exception; he’s the rule.”  Murrow also helpfully distinguishes from the terminology Jesus used for believers—Kingdom of God—and the default language the Church has taken on—Family of God.  He points out that once the dominant and only image we use for the Church is Family, we become hesitant to risk, confront or change.  Instead of God’s will and mission being the goal, harmony at all cost becomes the goal.  Finally, very helpful were Murrow’s suggestions for how to make small changes in the worship service in order that it might communicate better with men (such as using humor or remembering that men are visual learners).

In summary, this is a really important book and I think every person in ministry (including lay leaders) should read it.  Will I accept every statement the author makes wholesale?  No, but he has given me a lot to think about and digest.  He has changed my perspective on what it is like to be a man in the Church.  And because of that, I highly recommend this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


  1. Very insightful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Looking at numbers and stats doesn't mean one is prideful or unaware of God's power. The glory is still God's not man's. I think that focusing on numbers is one small way to quantify how God is good. Also, the power is in faithfully preaching the Gospel, so it becomes more awesome and joyfully hilarious when people have the miracle of responding in Faith by God using such frail creatures.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Keith. I don't think numbers are necessarily bad. Unlike many seminary colleague, I don't assume that just because a church is large it is doing something WRONG (honestly, many of these colleagues are merely suffering from the sin of covetousness). I like your comment about how numbers can "quantify how God is good." Certainly, if people are coming to Christ en masse, as in the book of Acts, we should rejoice and praise God!

      But there is also the element of "wide is the way that leads to destruction, and narrow is the way that leads to life." Will the Gospel, truly told, normally be POPULAR? I think that is what I'm trying to say. As well as the fact that a church may be faithfully following God and actually see numbers dip because it challenges the sinful nature. Numbers can be a blessing but they can't be the end-all or be-all. Faithfulness should be the measure of success.

  3. Hi Rebecca,
    This was a thought-provoking post. I haven't read the book, but it got me thinking about what it is that I appreciate most when it comes to hymnody. Now I admit that I am not the most manly man, but my favorite hymns include "Thy Strong Word," "A Mighty Fortress," anything set to Gustav Holst's Jupiter tune, "Earth and all Stars," and "At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing." The themes of these hymns seem to follow in line with the driving, marching beat idea. When I went to reinvestigate the text of "At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing" I realized that though the primary image is a lamb, the text has a strong, perhaps "manly" tone as it portrays the Lamb having conquering death and the devil. The third verse and fifth verse (LSB) are especially significant.

    Where the paschal blood is poured,
    Death's dread angel sheathes the sword;
    Israel's hosts triumphant go
    Through the wave that drowns the foe. Alleluia!

    Mighty Victim from the sky,
    Hell's fierce pow'rs beneath You lie;
    You have conquered in the fight,
    You have brought us life and light. Alleluia!

    I hope you are doing well and are enjoying the new year. Enjoy the snow, I am sadly missing it in TN this winter.

    John Fretham

    1. Thanks for the comment, John! Nice to hear from you! It's weird how I never noticed before that guys really like the military-type imagery in hymns and the driving beat. I still remember when we were in praise band together and your exasperation with some of the praise songs...wonder if some of that was a masculine rejection of all of the "Jesus, I'm in love with You" songs?

  4. This book makes a perfect companion piece to John Eldredge's powerful "Wild at Heart." Highly recommended!

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