The Spiritual Landscape
Missing in Action? Men and Church
Here is my guess.
One, a substantial number of men are not interested in any spirituality or religion that doesn't answer the question, "So what?" Whatever the reasons—social or genetic—no small number of men (and women as well) are wired to solve problems. And if you can't explain why you should believe something, if you can't name the outcome, then it is not going to command serious attention.
You can label that impulse "Neanderthal" or unenlightened, but—in fact—much of the Christian and biblical tradition is wired to do just that. Paul regularly moves from describing the facts of the faith to outlining what his readers ought to do. It would be easy to defend the notion that Scripture describes a Gospel that requires engagement with life. It would be almost impossible to make the argument that either the Old or the New Testament is interested in a purely speculative conversation about God.
Two, the men who climb on a plane to fly across the country at their own expense also want to know what they can believe. Here, again, it is easy to dismiss the spirituality of men like this by arguing that they want to be told what to believe or to infer that they don't think for themselves. But, in fact, I found that the guy sitting next to me was framing what he heard preached in his own categories and, in his own way, he was thinking about what he was told.
It would also be hard to make the argument that Scripture celebrates doubt. Even the tough, pointed questions asked by a prophet like Habakkuk are—as Abraham Heschel once noted—about the passion to understand what God is doing, not about the celebration of doubt.
Finally, I think that the reason a community of prayer warriors attracts men is because it is the first time they have been told that they belong. It is difficult, if not impossible to reconcile what many men hear—and don't hear—on Sunday with the demands that life makes of them on Monday. What do you do with the need to compete? How do you act like a man, a husband, and a father? What about strength?
Courage, for example, is the ability to act on our convictions in spite of our fears. It is deeply rooted in our capacity for faith and trust. It is even possible to argue that faith often manifests itself in the form of courage. It is also a virtue that women can and do need to cultivate. But, because, we associate courage with bravado, we never preach about it.
So, what am I arguing? Do churches need to sponsor monster truck competitions and parachute drops? No, not necessarily. But we need to find a means of engaging men in their faith that says, "Your life is not an embarrassment."
There is a healthy balance to be found between Robert Bly's Iron John and a pale androgyny. What it will look like from congregation to congregation will no doubt take a different form. But we had better find it soon. If we don't, the men will be missing in action.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/