Male Problem is a Church Problem

Tim Krueger is on staff at CBE. He came to love Scripture and culture while growing up in the Philippines, where his parents served as missionaries. He graduated from Bethel University, and enjoys tropical weather, sports, learning new things, and spending time with his wife, Naomi.

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New York Times columnist David Brooks spoke last year at the Aspen Ideas Festival about the narcissism of American culture in a talk called “The Modesty Manifesto.” Lamenting the loss of humility in American culture, he points out a number of social trends. For instance, our math scores have been steadily declining in relation to the rest of the world. Yet, we are persistent in believing we are the best.

In another striking example, executives in the “computer industry” (not sure what that means, exactly) were given a test that asked questions about their own profession. They were also asked how well they thought they did. They believed they got 95% of the questions correct. In fact, they answered 20% of the questions correctly. We’re performing worse than ever, but we’re more and more confident in our own infallibility.

Brooks also mentions that this tendency exhibits much more strongly in men. That’s why men are also twice as likely to drown (apparently by getting drunk, then going for a swim). Maybe this is just the way men are, and maybe it’s not. That’s a question for another time. For now, let’s just look at some implications. Does this matter for the church? What about for men and women?

Christianity ought to model an alternative to the world’s obsession with self. Yet, the male-only leadership of many churches and Christian homes does the opposite, providing a breeding ground for these very same problems.

Non-religious audiences recognize that Christianity has historically had something healing to say about pride and humility. Indeed, Brooks praises CS Lewis’ thoughts on humility. This has changed in contemporary society, in part because the church has plunged into the same behavior as everyone else. One area this holds true is the insistence by many churches that male-only leadership is God’s ideal.

If there is one lesson to be learned from current social trends, it is that more voices are better than one—or in church terms, a body is better than a single organ. Yet, many churches are led exclusively by one gender, and it’s the gender most vulnerable to (at least some of) these disturbing patterns. And it goes beyond the local church. Seminaries and Christian families are often exclusively male-led. This should not be. Men and women both bring a lot of qualities as leaders. But just like I don’t trust myself to always be right, I don’t trust men alone (or women alone, for that matter) to do what’s right. We need balance.

Brooks states that we used to believe we needed people with different opinions to temper our passions, rein in our extremes, and minimize our follies. Of course, for most of our history, this did not extend across the gender divide, though the Bible clearly indicates that it should. Joint leadership of men and women in the church and home would go a long way toward cultivating an ethos of mutuality in the church and in our culture. Maybe I’m just enamored with my own ideas, but mutual leadership is, I believe, indispensable to a biblical alternative to the prevailing culture of self.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://seldomwrong.blogspot.com SWNID

    Could the way we go about this–attaining mutual leadership–in fact simply induce women to adopt the same self-centered patterns of leadership as men?

  • sara vanscoy

    unfortunately, Lewis may have some good thoughts on humility, but his thoughts on women – and their inferiority to men in almost all ways, are very, very, very insulting to most modern women

  • Peter B Hayward

    Brook’s statement about the necessity and not simply value of incorporating the female gender is full of wisdom and not simply meaning. (I think too often we skim across the surface of statement without delving into the depth or the wisdom of the statement).

    And while I appreciate the humor in SWNID’s question, delving into the wisdom (sophia), the answer, of course, is that by nature the female psyche is more inclusive than the male psyche and less likely to “adopt the same self-centered patterns of leadership [of] men.

  • Joshua Wooden

    Sara,

    I’ve read a great deal of Lewis, including Chronicles of Narnia, his classics, and then some. What exactly are you referring to when you talk about Lewis’ view on women, because I don’t remember reading anything that stood out to me?

  • Tom Schuessler

    Most of the churches I’ve been in have been run by women maybe not from a position standpoint but the women do all the work. The men are absent. That’s why boys have n9o interest in spiritual matters.

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    My husband was raised in a patriarcal environment and the thing which keeps him committed to breaking that particular curse is family holiday gatherings. The men in his family are so stunted that it’s repellant. The reality is that when your word is law and no one questions you or pushes back or even has a right to, you stop growing and maturing. The last time we were there, I had a bit of fun at the expense of my FIL who kept insisting that coffee was an old person’s drink while he went back for another cup of kool-aid. He’s in his late 50s, still drinking kiddie drinks. There’s nothing good about a middle aged man who still thinks the way he did at 22.

    God gave Adam dominion in the garden and then said “it is not good for the man to be alone.” It is unfortunate that when it comes to church leadership there are still those who insist on going back to a state which God himself declared to be not good.

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    It seems to me quite extraordinary that women are so widely sidelined in church life. It’s by no means true everywhere, but the overall feeling is that women should serve as coffee makers and child minders while we men manage and control everything and make all the rules.

    As I say, it’s not universally the case. One man who has taken some pains to reinvestigate the oft-quoted Bible passages used to support male-dominance is Jon Zens.

    More on Jon and some of his writing – http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/2009/12/putting-women-in-their-place.html

  • Debbie

    Tom,

    Respectfully the reason boys have no spiritual interest is a complex issue and not limited to just boys or young men. Many girls and young women have no interest in spiritual matters.

    David Kinnaman and The Barna Group have published several books and articles regarding the lack of spiritual interest in teenagers and the Millennials. While there are a number of cultural reasons, one in particular seems to be that of relevance. Churches must be relevant in the life of the community.

    A healthy church, doing relevant work in the community with women and men serving and leading in the gifts God has given them is the type of community children and teens can learn and mature in their spiritual lives.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    I really appreciate Krueger’s words, here, that the church is called to model other ways than the world’s. From my POV, he’s not just enamored w/ his own ideas. I hope Brooks is correct, that there was a time – other than in our imaginations – that people valued others of differing opinions, perspectives and method. May we seek to live out 1 Cor. 12 in our churches!

    Brooks states that we used to believe we needed people with different opinions to temper our passions, rein in our extremes, and minimize our follies. Of course, for most of our history, this did not extend across the gender divide, though the Bible clearly indicates that it should. Joint leadership of men and women in the church and home would go a long way toward cultivating an ethos of mutuality in the church and in our culture. … mutual leadership is, I believe, indispensable to a biblical alternative to the prevailing culture of self.

  • Mike M

    Rebecca; amen Sister. I have to endure that type of pain at every family get-together on my wife’s side of the family. Mainly, I hold my tongue while the men express their political (NeoCon Republican) and religious (fundamentalist) beliefs. Actually, it’s just them repeating Rush Linbaugh quotes and denouncing scientists who hold to evolution and fertile women who work outside the home. Good job with the subtle poke, too.

  • Rod

    I find the concept that the church’s problem concerning relevance in the world, would be solved if more women were included in leadership to be an incredible oversimplification of the issue. If it wasn’t so pathetic it would be laughable that the Egalitarian movement has reduced Christianity to this. The Church has problems, whether led my males or females or both, because it is in a spiritual battle. Let’s not lose sight of that by minimizing our problems with this drivel.

  • Michael T

    I have yet to find a man or women who isn’t manipulative, controlling, or overbearing in their leadership I doubt that adding women to church leadership would solve this (as if the sin of pride in leadership is confined to one gender).

  • James Rednour

    Okay, I’m going to go there. Most of the admonitions against women in church leadership come from the pastoral epistles. Modern biblical scholars almost universally agree that the pastorals were written by someone other that Paul (they read more like second-century Greek than fist century) and that person(s) wrote them in the name of Paul. If that is true, then whose admonition against women in leadership are churches supporting? Is it some heretic? Is it someone who simply hated the idea of sitting under a woman? Most of Paul’s references to gender issues in the epistles that scholars are certain he wrote are far more egalitarian that anything in the pastorals.

  • Jamieson

    Scot
    “Maybe I’m just enamored with my own ideas,”

    This is one of the most refreshing thoughts I have read in a long time. Pass this along to your students.

  • http://www.simplyshalom.com Naomi

    Rod,

    I don’t think the egalitarian movement believes that Christianity’s problems are as simple as the gender issue. BUT, if half the church is women and these women aren’t being treated as co-heirs and co-ministers of the Gospel, this is a huge problem. To focus on gender isn’t to disregard the other systemic and individual sins and disparities in our church community. I don’t think this article is saying that allowing women in leadership in the church will solve everything, but it will help. Shouldn’t we take steps to healing brokenness in the church even if each step won’t necessarily solve every problem?

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    Rod (11) – If anyone was claiming that poor treatment of women was the ONLY problem in church life I would want to explain that there are others. But that in no way alters the fact that gender issues exist and that they affect the world’s opinions about church as well as our ability to fully function as Jesus intended.

    Dismissing discussions on an issue as ‘drivel’ simply because there are other issues is not helpful.

    Yes, we are fighting spiritual battles; don’t you think some of them might have to do with the freedom for women to respond to the Spirit’s promptings?

  • Debbie

    Rod (#11)
    Agreed…. The church is in a spiritual battle. On many different issues. The divorce rate among “churched” couples equals the divorce rate among couples who do not identify themselves as spiritual. Drug and alcohol abuse can be found in the church. Bullying, pornography and spousal abuses are also serious issues pastors consistently face within their congregations. As Naomi (#15) wisely pointed out, there are many “individual sins and systemic disparities within the body.”

    One issue that saddens many is the inability of Christians to disagree in a civil manner. One of the reasons I enjoy reading Jesus Creed is because of the respectful “online culture” Scot and Kris have established. People on this blog have demonstrated time and again it is possible for Christians to disagree and still be respectful. Regrettably your post includes divisive and dismissive language. The key to moving this issue forward is careful consideration of one’s language in order to build up the body.

  • Denver Todd

    Mr. Krueger has nothing to worry about. Most churches don’t preach patriarchy, and what little is left in society is being done away with and repaced by government-as-father.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    I found David Brooks’ talk quite helpful for me. Yes, humility is needed, and for me in terms of simply fulfilling what is before me, or fitting in to what I am to do, instead of wishing for something else. I’d rather find God’s peace in a lowly place so to speak, than be lost in a higher place and therefore being out of place.


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