Where is the Line?
One quick note: I missed it when it happened, but yesterday's post was number #500. How about that?
Where is the line between evangelism and marketing? Is there a time when we shouldn’t worry about that particular line and just use any tools available to bring people into the church? Is there a point at which that kind of activity becomes "bait and switch?" When does it become a lie – a misrepresentation of what Christianity is all about?
Yes, I know we’ve talked about this topic before, and I know I’ve written about it before, but I read another post this week about the “feminization of the church” and feel like I must respond or explode. Thanks to the Methoblog for directing me to Vicki’s blog, and her post about “Muscular Christianity.” Vicki highlights a newspaper article from the Orlando Sentinel which described the first monthly meeting of the Church for Men.
Let’s start with some quotes from the article (written by Mark Pinsky, a staff writer) – I’m not sure that I could state any of this better than it comes from the “horse’s mouth” so to speak:
- The worship services for the Church for Men are held in the gymnasium of the YMCA. The sermon is timed by the scoreboard. Says the minister, “If you can’t tell it in 15 minutes, you might as well go home.”
- One man attended the service because he didn’t like the leadership of a female pastor. “Men can be real men and real Christians.” I don’t doubt that, but I wonder how he defines a “real man.” I imagine his definition is a little bit different from mine.
- The organizer of the event, Mike Ellis, who is a direct-marketing consultant from Port Orange, said, “It gives men an opportunity to get out of their caves and connect with other men.” Out of their caves?
- The “movement” doesn’t like music its organizers define as “dreamy songs with lovey-dovey words,” sermons (which are boring) or the “image of a sweet, loving Jesus.” They “complain about the sanctuaries’ décor, which reminds them of Martha Stewart.”
- To combat the décor problem, they hang swords and battle axes on the walls. I am not making this stuff up.
- At one church, the minister has Sunday evening cook-outs for the men (which is fine). At these cookouts, manliness is displayed at times by the lack of utensils, a fish filleting demonstration in which the leader pulled the bones out of the fish with his teeth, and the presentation of a fresh deer head.
- Non-muscular Christianity is discussed using terms such as emasculation, homoerotic, machodeficit, impotence, and checking your manhood at the door. Wow.
My question is whether this kind of presentation of the gospel is true to the gospel itself? Is it a true depiction of what Christianity is like as presented in our mainline churches?
It’s always hard for me to approach this issue from a personal standpoint, because the lack of male attendees is not a problem that my church is facing. Thankfully, men are involved in every aspect of ministry – from building habitat house, going on mission trips, to leading Children’s church. They sing in the choir, they present liturgy, and they teach Sunday school. At my church, they even cook, more often than the women do. Are they emasculated? Absolutely not.
Can any of them fillet a fish with his teeth? I wouldn’t know. I imagine one or two of them might be willing to try, but most of them would think it was a very odd thing to do. That’s what a good, sharp filleting knife is for. The right tool for the right job.
The men at my church aren’t worried about the “feminization” of the church. They are too busy building a stage for the middle aged elementary school students for their Sunday school room, cleaning up the parking lot, pouring sidewalks, fixing dinner for the Youth luncheon, taking care of the infant nursery and teaching classes.
All of that aside, why do I have problems with the Church for Men? Why do I ask if it is a type of “bait and switch.”
I agree that the Jesus presented in the Bible is not a “sweet” man, like an Easter bunny. Was he loving? Yes, he was. Love defined him, and any attempt to ignore that denigrates him. He doesn’t offer the Valentine’s Day type love that one finds on Hallmark cards. He offers agape – unconditional, never-ending, grace filled love. It isn’t sugary, like maple syrup. It is living water.
Should we be so focused on the effects of décor that we hang battle axes? Aren’t swords a misrepresentation of what the Bible offers? If it isn’t the “stuff of war” is it necessarily feminine? Why are some people so convinced that if the struggle doesn’t involve guns and knives, that it is easy? Christianity isn’t easy – it’s hard. It isn’t stuffed teddy bears and lace dresses, but it also isn’t pick axes and orange blaze vests. It’s more difficult than any of that. When we try to make our faith simple, we fail to rise to the challenge laid before us. When we try to mold it into what we want it to be, we are creating God in our own image, rather than attempting to live up to true God-image that we are created to be.
At the heart of it, when we talk about men "coming out of their caves," being emasculated or threatened by decor, when we describe them as having a short attention span, or being bored by all sermons, when we stereotype them in this manner, we are selling them short. That bothers me. I hope it bothers them.
Are sermons so boring that we need a shot clock to designate the amount of time we will spend in worship? Are the songs so annoying that we will refuse to lift our voices in praise? I read a post the other day on a blog called soulgardener (thanks to Lorna for pointing it out) that discussed the 1 Corinthians 13 “love” chapter. The author lives in South Africa, and he said that in his church they were endeavoring to avoiding asking “How was the service today?” Instead, they were going to ask, “How was my service today?” Amen.
Image: Obviously, a snowy leaf. Not so obviously, at the VA this morning.