Real Boys Don’t “Fall in Love” with Jesus

Imagine dropping your son off at football practice and as he’s walking toward the field you yell out: Son, one of my hopes for you this season is that you fall in love with your coach!

Or imagine saying to your son: Son, my greatest desire, as your dad/mom, is that you fall in love with me.

Creepy!  Ick!  Yuck!

Yet that’s precisely what much of Christianity says today to boys (and to girls) about Jesus.  I’m reading an absolutely exceptional book on parenting that starts out with this flawed premise: our primary purpose as parents is to help our kids fall more deeply in love with Jesus. 

The use of romantic language in talking about “our relationship” with Jesus has been permeating the Christian church for decades now.  Most recently it began to creep into the church through well-intentioned worship leaders looking for a way to personalize worship and make it more “heart-felt,” experiential, and relational…Jesus, I am so in love with you.  (My parent’s generation grew up with Gospel Songs that used similar language: My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine...)  People like David Murrow have been calling us on it, pointing out that these “top 40 love songs to Jesus” feminize and romanticize the Gospel.

Jesus, however, never ever called us to fall in love with him.  He calls us to love him, which is a far different call.  It’s a call to follow him.  To commit to him.  To pledge, allegiance, obedience and loyalty to him.  To serve him.  We’re not called to muster up deep, romantic, love-feelings for Jesus.  He’s not a boyfriend.  He’s our King.  Our Lord.  Our leader.  Our Savior.  We’re called to love him by following him.

That’s language a boy can understand.  His action-driven, testosterone-energized life resonates with the kind of love Jesus is talking about—love that acts, serves, sacrifices, goes somewhere; a love that has the other’s back.

Real boys (and real girls) don’t fall in love with Jesus.  Real boys (and real girls) love Jesus.  They follow him.  They pledge their lives to him.  They go where Jesus goes.


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About Tim Wright

I've been a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 1984, currently serving as the founding pastor of Community of Grace in Peoria, AZ. My wife, Jan and I, were married in 1979. We raised two kids and currently have 3 grandkids. I love to ride my bike, travel, read British Mysteries, and Disneyland. I have written 6 books, including my newest--Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys From Church. My website:

  • thunder250

    You are fighting a straw man. Few, if any, are telling others to have a romantic relationship with Jesus. What they ARE saying is that love includes not only commitment and action but also emotion and desire. even passion. “Falling in love with Jesus” is a metaphor not a description.
    This metaphor of romantic love for “relationship with God” however, does not begin with praise leaders or even gospel era music as you imply. It goes all the way back to the OT where God is depicted as a jealous lover. The metaphor is a central device in both the Song of Solomon and in Hosea. It’s found in the Psalms as well. The word used when the prophets (et al) speak of “knowing God” is the one that is used for couples intimacy. God “marries” and “divorces” Israel. In the NT the church is described as a bride and Jesus’ own parables about the marriage and wedding often depend on the understanding that there is desire included in the union of man and wife, as there is between God and his people. A student of church history will find it in many of the writings of the “Fathers”. You can also find it in others, for example, John Donne’s Sonnet “Batter My Heart Three Personed God” which ends:Take me to you, imprison me, for I,Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
    As a male I have no difficulty saying I “love Jesus” or am even “In love” with Jesus. When I say that I mean what most others mean, that my commitment to him and actions for him are accompanied by passion and desire. My faith is not simply intellectual or active, it is also a matter of the heart. For it not to be would be to withold something quite important.

    • RevTim

      thunder250…thanks for the response and insights. I obviously disagree with you on this because I think words matter. Our culture uses “falling in love” in erotic/romantic/sexual terms. That’s how our boys understand it. So to encourage them to “fall in love” with Jesus comes with all of those connotations. And again…never once did Jesus say, fall in love with me. He said, “follow me!” Loving God with heart soul mind and strength is about passion, but not about romance or sex or eroticism. As church guys raised in the church, you and I can make the mental gymnastics to understand what it means to fall in love with Jesus. Our boys, growing up in a culture that has falling in love hammered at them from romantic, erotic, and sexual perspectives can’t make that leap. Why confuse the issue? And why not use the language Jesus uses: Follow me. Love me with heart soul mind and strength? And to my other point…falling in love with Jesus continues to feminize an already overly feminized Gospel. What the church needs today is more Godly testosterone, not less of it.

      • thunder250

        Thank you. I think I get it and I certainly agree that words matter. Where we disagree is on three accounts:

        1) We disagree because while you say “Our culture uses ‘falling in love’ in erotic/romantic/sexual terms, it is ALSO true is that the phrase is an idiom that is used for MANY things – often NOT with the e/r/s connotation.
        In fact, a brief look at a dictionary shows that it is used to speak of places; “I fell in love with Tallahassee,” things; “I’ve fallen in love with my new car,” and activities; “I’ve fallen in love with ice skating.” It can even be used in a non-e/r/s way with people, though the meaning may have to be further clarified, as in “the children have simply fallen in love with their new stepmom.” The phrase then, is not always e/r/s. Instead, the common denominator in the phrase’ use is not an e/r/s one, but what I would call a deeply felt attraction to and appreciation of the place, thing, activity or person being spoken about. In that sense it is quite appropriate to “fall in love” with Jesus. The problem with your objection to this phrase when it comes to Jesus is that doing so limits (and misinterprets) the meaning of the phrase as an e/r/s one when, in fact, the speakers seldom mean this at all. Most would deny and even be offended if you suggested that they had any erotic content to the phrase. It would be comparable to objecting to a Christian saying they should not say they have “fallen in love” with their car because this would be a fetish.

        2) You write that Jesus did not say “fall in love with me” and, of course, you are correct. I also agree that there is no encouragement to love God or Jesus in an e/r/s way. Still, you didn’t respond to my major point – that scripture repeatedly uses romance, marriage (and perhaps, even sexuality) as a metaphor to speak of our relationship with God. Moreover, it is a
        part of Christian teaching (as well as Jewish) to use the romantic love to speak of our relationship with God. That is because (IMO) because passion is a vital part of Christian faith. Since one of the most powerful passions we experience as humans is to be united with a marriage partner, it is an apt one to express a desire for and union with God. Rather than challenge a powerful metaphor that scripture teaches because our cultures broken sexuality, shouldn’t we challenge our culture?
        In much the same way, I remember asking if we should not use the term “Father” to refer to God with those who have been abused by their father, thinking that they would identify God with abuse. A wise Pastor corrected me. He said that this was even MORE of a reason to use the term “Father” since it was essential that these women know that there was another way to understand “fatherhood.” Only through knowing God as Father, he told me, could they re-think its meaning and come to find healing from their distorted image. The point is, that our culture does not need less of “falling in love” but more of it – a passion and desire that is consuming, but unlike it’s preoccupation with genital love, one that leaves one deeply satisfied, is authentic, pure and holy. Our boys especially need to know that one can be passionate, desirous, enamored, emotionally connected, etc. WITHOUT it being erotic. Our culture is on the fast track to sexualize everything. We resist not by ignoring their perversions but by showing them true love that engages the heart, mind, soul and lives not for self-gratification but for the benefit of the one loved.

        3) Your premise that men are turned off by “falling in love” (because they see it in e/r/s terms and need “mental gymnastics” to see it otherwise) is pure conjecture. Have you done any research on this? I certainly don’t understand the phrase that way. Perhaps some do – but the scripture “to the pure, all things are pure” comes to mind.

        • RevTim


          I recommend you read David Murrow’s book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. He has great insights into how men hear the Gospel.

          As to the use of marriage by God in referencing a relationship with him, this is not used to refer to a romantic, passionate love. God uses that metaphor to talk about ultimate loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment. There is no other relationship that best captures that kind of faith. He is not using those metaphors to say we should be in love with him…but to be loyal, faithful, and committed to him as he is to us…that’s the kind of love God looks for.

          As to passion, there is a passion that is without any sexual, romantic, or erotic connotations. We see it lived out all the time…a passion for sports, a passion for doing things well, a passion to help those in need. That’s the passion that most boys/men understand in terms of faith.

          70-90% of all boys leave the Christian church in their teens and 20′s and most don’t return. The overwhelming majority of churches today are made up of more females than males, some as high as 75% women in worship. These seemingly insignificant phrases like “falling in love” with Jesus add up and it’s not long before guys start to think that church is only for girls.

          My point…whether “falling in love” with Jesus says this or that…there is far better, more Biblical language to use that will capture the spirit and imagination of a boy. So why not use that?

          • thunder250

            With all due respect Tim, I think you are missing my point. I understand that you believe that men are leaving the church because of its feminization and that “falling in I’ll try one more time:
            The Bible uses METAPHORS that are romantic, erotic and sexual to speak of our relationship with GOD. These express faithfulness as you say, as well as non-sexual passion and desire. The songs you object to also use METAPHORS to express these same things. NEITHER are talking about romance, sex, eroticism or sexual passion. In the same way, when I say I “am in love with Jesus” it is not an erotic, romantic or sexual reference. In all these examples these references are METAPHORS.

            My main point is that if scripture uses these metaphors in the Bible (see below for more examples) then it is not only ok to use them, but important to use them. They capture as no other picture does quite as well a craving for God, passion for God, the emotional dimension of faith as well as faithfulness. Though NONE of these are romantic in nature, the METAPHOR is both a picture of these things AND a contrast with lesser cravings, passions, emotions, and fickleness found in the world.

            That some minds are so sexually orientated that they cannot see that these are metaphors and not statements about sex, romance, sexual passion or eroticism, means not that we should change the time honored metaphor, but that we should change minds that have been corrupted by the world.

            Here are just some of the references:

            Ezekiel 16 describes the problem of Israel’s sin in sexual and romantic terms…. adultery and prostitution, in fact. In Ezekiel Jerusalem is compared to a woman who has had children by her husband (YHWH) who then because of lust goes after other men (other gods). The passage is quite explicit speaking of her lust for these other men (representing other nations gods) in very graphic terms. God is described as jealous and He even goes so far as to say complain that they “sacrifice their children who they bore to me”

            The Song of Solomon is quite erotic and certainly romantic (“I am my beloved and he is mine”) in its description of the relationship of God to his people.

            The book of Hosea is founded on the idea that God has “married” Israel and now she has been unfaithful. It is quite clear that this is both sexual infidelity as well as unfaithfulness of heart.

            Isaiah 62 has several references to God’s love for His people in terms of the husband/wife relationship. For instance it speaks of the Lord seeing Israel like a “bridegroom delighting over
            his bride.”

            Add to this the use of the word “to know” God by the prophets, the multiple images throughout the gospels of the wedding feast and the continual image of the bride of Christ and we see how central this metaphor is throughout scripture.

            (As for reading Murrow’s book, I’ve read it).

          • RevTim

            Well, my friend, I think we have gone as far as we can go in this discussion. I agree that the metaphors you’ve mentioned are important and give compelling insights into God’s relationship with us. But I disagree that “falling in love” is OK language for the reasons I’ve already articulated. Our task as communicators of the Gospel is to not only use Biblical language, but also language that resonates with a modern culture. How we do that, particularly for men, is crucial if we want to stem the loss of men from church. Thanks again for chiming in! I really do appreciate your input and hope to hear from you on other posts in the future.

          • thunder250

            Yep, I agree. Thanks for your charitable attitude and taking the time to respond. If it did nothing else it gave us both a chance to “sharpen our ax.” (Now THERE’s a male metaphor for ya,,, though, of course, some would argue that the warrior imagry in the Bible is way to violent for our culture and sends the wrong message :)) Blessings

          • RevTim