Why don’t men come to church?

41L02RYY9BLFollowing from the discussion about God and gender earlier this week, and whether it has an implication for mission, a friend drew my attention to this post which I wrote five years ago and have not returned to. I think I might write it differently now—but it retains its relevance.

I am feeling very nervous about posting on this particular gender-related issue. I know I will get lots of flak from all corners for making gross generalisations and such. But here’s the thing: a religious movement, started by a man, with a predominance of male leaders from the beginning, and in which some groups are struggling very hard to let go of male hegemony, has, for at least 600 years (in the West at least) been dominated as a movement by the presence of women. I’m not suggesting that this is a Bad Thing, but, by any measure, it is a Big Thing. For a start, it is a real paradox. For another, it is just very odd in the context of thinking about religious movements. I don’t think any other global religious movement exhibits the same phenomenon. Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam are all controlled by men and appeal to men. Not so with Christian faith. So anyone interested or involved in Christian ministry, in whatever form, needs to consider it.

A basic observation about this relates to what might be called the ‘offer’ of Christian faith. From the first century and across the Roman Empire, Christian faith was very attractive to those who were oppressed and longed for hope and liberation, and so (by most estimates) had a disproportionate appeal amongst the poor and the underclass. (We can see a first hint of this in 1 Cor 1.26, though clearly the body of believers in Corinth also included the wealthy.) And there is no doubt that it is women, much more than men, who as a gender have felt in need of hope and liberation. If you don’t believe me, just listen to the last edition of Woman’s Hour from Radio 4. Men might well be in need of liberation and hope; it is just that they don’t realise it, or don’t see the relevance of the Christian ‘offer’ in the way that women appear to.

But, in the Western church, there is also a large number of other, circumstantial and cultural, issues at play. For one thing, the public profile of male Christian leaders hasn’t been exactly inspiring. Men wearing dresses, whose leaders wear daft hats that make them look dafter, and even (until fairly recently) gaiters, together contribute to identifying clergy as a kind of middle sex. It is not the kind of thing the inspires men, certainly not working men. You might want to protest that this is superficial, but in our media age impressions count. It still seems almost impossible for the media to depict bishops in anything other than pointy hats and wearing carpets. How else could you tell they were bishops?

51YMBRMXZ8LPerhaps a deeper issue behind the impression is a deep-seated aspect of Christian spirituality. Generally speaking, the Christian response to external events is to reflect and contemplate, rather than to respond and act. When I think about my dealings with the working men (in business, building, gardening and printing industries) this seems like a very difficult way of thinking for them to relate to. Allied to this is something profound in the way we construe our relation to God. Leon Podles in his fascinating The Church Impotent: the feminization of Christianity traces this back to Bernard of Clairvaux, whose bridal imagery in mysticism had a profound effect on Western spirituality.

Come and join us for the second Festival of Theology on Wednesday October 17th!

At a more immediate level, there are numerous aspects of practical issues which make men feel less comfortable than women in your typical Western church. Men’s fat fingers don’t cope well with fiddly service books, points out my friend John Leach. Most patterns of Christian discipleship expect a level of verbal fluency at which women excel over men. Family churches are often adorned with artefacts produced by women, notes David Murrow in his popular Why Men Hate Going to ChurchAnd the jobs on offer in most churches again are geared to things that have traditionally been the domain of women—arranging flowers, sorting rotas, looking after children and the like. One good reason for putting a new projection and sound system into your church building is that it typically creates a lot of jobs for the men in your congregation—and even some jobs for men you would like to draw in.

My reason for writing this post is the large number of animated responses to Murrow’s own blog post on men and singing in church. The move away from familiar, rhythmic, structure songs to more unpredictable, emotive and interiorising songs again appears to have a differentiated appeal to men and women, and Murrow does not think this is helpful. One of the first comments was from Mark Broomhead, who leads a fresh expression called The Order of the Black Sheep, which is aimed at those involved in heavy metal music:

We don’t have congregational sung worship at all at the moment, and have a fast growing congregation with a higher than usual proportion of men. Not to say that we will not in the future, but in a mission/seeker orientated setting it appears appropriate at the moment.

Another early commentator, Jennie, questions:

This should be titled ‘The secret that keeps US from singing in worship.’ It doesn’t answer the question why, when faced with an unknown song, do women attempt to sing and men don’t?

I think the simple answer is that, whilst men enjoy taking risks and adventure, what they do not like is risking looking foolish in front of others, and attempting to sing something you don’t know does just this.

My own view is that another major issue relates to preaching in our churches. By and large, the preaching style in most churches assumes that the congregation is happy to learn passively, by sitting and listening. As Murrow points out in his chapter on boys and faith, boys and men are much more often kinaesthetic learners—they need to be actively involved in their learning. A long, verbal monologue is often just the wrong thing for them—though this can be considerably helped by the use of images in preaching, since men remember what they see more than what they read or hear. When leading all-age services in church, I have always been struck by the response of men, and often older men—they have really engaged in the interactive, kinaesthetic style of good all-age communication, which has made me wonder why we ever do anything else!

I also wonder whether what we preach on makes a difference. I suspect men are much more engaged by preaching which has specific, practical outcomes, and perhaps therefore enjoy hearing preaching on Old Testament narratives, with their ‘action heroes.’ It might be that focussing on the conceptual complexities of Pauline theology does not suit men’s learning styles. Although conservative, ‘reformed’ churches that focus on Paul do attract men, my observation is that they are often highly educated professionals. The more earthy spirituality and preaching of the (so-called) New Churches appears to be more suited to working men.

All this touches on key questions about the shape of our theology. In his chapter on ‘Getting the Big Story Right’, Murrow contrasts the two kinds of film plot.

Men’s movies: a hero saves the world against impossible odds

Women’s movies: a woman finds a relationship with a wonderful man.

In today’s church, the gospel is no longer about saving the world against impossible odds. It’s about finding a happy relationship with a wonderful man.

If the point of going to church is to pursue a relationship, you will draw more women than men. The End. Roll credits.

Murrow’s book has the distinct disadvantage that it carries a commendation from Mark ‘muscular Jesus’ Driscoll. But he asks some important questions, and in fact is not uncritical of the megachurch agenda, even though they are clearly doing some things which attract men—including telling the story more along the ‘men’s movies’ line.

We are now moving from the ‘offer’ of Christian faith to the ‘ask.’ I have been struck that one of the central pieces of teaching in the OT, the Ten Commandments (properly, ‘The Ten Words’) does not include the command to ‘love God’ but to act in certain ways. Although the command to ‘love’ in Deut 6.5 uses a quite general word ahav for love, elsewhere (for example in Hosea 6.6) the term is the rather different hesed (from which we get the term ‘Hasidim’). This is more often translated ‘loving faithfulness’ and has much more of a sense of a gritty determination to stick with God, possibly against the odds. This kind of practical grittiness is much more evident in the language of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew than the reflective/affective understanding of ‘loving God’ that we read out of John’s gospel. I wonder what difference it would make if we understood the central demand of faith in terms of gritty determination rather than the affective, emotive sense that ‘love’ carries in our contemporary world.

I am quite sure that some of you reading this will have spent the last couple of minutes screaming to your screen ‘These generalisations are absurd! I am a man/woman and I don’t think like that!’ But these generalisations are just that—generalisations. There are certain things that appear to work well for many women, and other things that appear to work better for many men. And all the evidence points to the fact that in the West, the church is doing more of the former and not enough of the latter. The supreme irony of this is in our ‘mission aware’ context is that there is further evidence to consider: draw in women, and the men often do not come. But draw in men, and the whole family often follows.

I’ve stuck my head above the parapet. Please take careful aim before you pull your trigger!

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124 thoughts on “Why don’t men come to church?”

  1. -Good post. Important topic.
    -I like chesed as “gritty determination”
    -do you think they’ll come
    if bishops start calling God she!?
    -The two main student churches in Oxford where I am both have a roughly 50/50 male female split and about 700 males at both.
    – spent yesterday with inspiring military special forces soldier and devout chrtistian – he finds plenty of themes to identify with in scripture: courage, vision, mission, sacrifice, kingdom warfare, character, taking up your cross, etc

    • ‘courage, vision, mission, sacrifice, kingdom warfare, character, taking up your cross’ = do you mean these are particularly male qualities?

        • Simon,
          Was at a talk by Lord Richard Dannatt, who is a Christian, after he retired. His autobio “Leading from the Front” is well worth a read. Amazingly, he went onto high office after, a severe stroke in his twenties.
          You’ll be aware that Sandhurst’s motto is, Serve to Lead.

          • Funny enough my SAS pal and I were discussing Lord Dannatt yesterday. He was a decorated soldier, a great leader, and yes, a committed christian; very involved with the excellent AFCU & Help for Heroes. He stood up for his troops against the government/MOD over the fiasco over poor equipment for Iraq troops and pushed for higher pay. A credit to Armed forces and the Church.

      • I think is an interesting formulation and an interesting question.

        My observation would be: No, they are not exclusively male qualities. But they are qualities which are not usually the ones put at the front of church teaching, and without them we will fail to engage an important section of male culture.

        But, interestingly, where they are prioritised, women also find them attractive. I hint above at an observation from ministry: if you aim to attract women, then women you will attract. Very often, if you aim to attract men, you will find the women come too.

    • Not sure it has to do with what ministers wear. The Orthodox. have a healthy proportion of men and they wear all kinds of fancy stuff. I Like the mission part though. Maybe we ought more emphasize the flesh warring against the spirit? You know, not just external mission but the internal mission of Christ-like-ness. Thanks for the post.

    • Great article but the hour is later than one thinks. Most men in western countries view western churches as a female environment akin to a hairdresser or a nail shop. i don’t believe church leaders are that bothered to evangelise men at all. Because the shop turns a fair profit.

  2. Interesting- and definately a conversation needing to be had.
    I was reflecting the other day on the fact that whilst there is a lot
    of ‘positive’ output atm for young women about widening stereotypes of what they can be (women can be brave, strong etc) I’ve not seen a similar conversation for men around what it means to be a Man that doesn’t lean strong on a hard complementarian theology. I wonder if that would be a good place to start. I actually came
    back to faith in Driscolls church and gained a lot through it, but my sense was there was a lot
    of unhealthy consequences to
    defining too heavily on the ‘Action man saving narrative.’. That being said I think some more good research and application on the theme
    of modern masculinity would be really helpful for the church to do- particularly as you say thinking through the class dynamics as well.

    • Thanks Sarah

      clearly Driscoll increasingly stepped into his own caricature of machismo and the culture became toxic – nevertheless, early on he had huge appeal and influence for good.
      The first time I heard his name was 10yrs ago at a wedding I did in California, and a woman at my table raved about how amazing he was, the church was and the importance of promoting & celebrating the masculine in church.

  3. What I take from this is how CAREFUL you are having to be as you tiptoe around those who can’t grasp what a generalisation is. It’s something that’s hard to avoid in churches yet many men have jobs and lives in which they needn’t risk sharing their opinions with others (except when forced to by their wives!)- especially among the manual workers. They are aware that they are far less likely than women to be comforted by others if they were upset (“blokes don’t cry!”) by those who challenge them or their opinions. So the simplest way to avoid such confrontation (and why wouldn’t you?!) is to avoid the church and just get on with your life.

    • ‘What I take from this is how CAREFUL you are having to be as you tiptoe around those who can’t grasp what a generalisation is.’ Indeed!

      But my observation is that this all explains why e.g. Islam and more formal expressions of faith like Orthodoxy appeal to such men. You are not expected to articulate a view; you are expected to get on with doing what is asked of you.

  4. I wonder what happened to the organisations that were formed in order to reach men? Walk of a Thousand Men became Through Faith Missions – I wonder whether something was lost in the move?

    I also wonder whether some of the points you make might not apply equally to working people on estates, where non-book cultures and concrete thinking are much more in evidence. It’s a really interesting bible study to look at what and how Jesus did, that men left everything to follow him. Something to do with challenge and purpose? (women find these appealing too!!)

    • Agreed Gill,
      Was part of Walk Kent 20 years ago, at Tunbridge Wells and at Gravesend. Marvellous men of God, CoE Ministers, Daniel Cousins, Peter Adams, and John Hibbert, and all the other team leaders. Marvellous times. Was recruited by a sister in the Lord, now with the Lord, as is Peter Adams. Daniel Cousins retired and Jonh Hibberd moved to minitry in Shefield . TFM has had a change of leadership and were looking to appoint a new leader. They still have a website.

  5. Why don’t men come to church?
    For the same reason they don’t go to films (about 70% of filmgoers are female) or read fiction (the great majority of fiction – admittedly not very good fiction – is geared to the female market). Essentially: women love a story in which the woman finds a good man who proves himself worthy of her love and her body and able to protect her and sire children from her.
    Men like stories in which the man overcomes his problems and his fears, comes through with honour and wins the girl. Really, it’s all there in ‘The Lion King’.
    For the same reason that two-thirds of the youtube audience is male: science, debate argument, war – the conquest of the world is the male obsession. Becoming a hero.
    For the same reason that 90% of engineers are men and 90% of primary teachers are female and no amount of social engineering will change that.
    Because the psychology, aesthetics and language of western Christendom has been out of sync with the majority of men for 600 years.
    And the emergence of women in church leadership as well as homosexual clergy (in Britain mainly in cathedral settings) will do nothing to bring men in – quite the reverse. Men, in all their selfish chaos, need other men to be their captains.

    • “For the same reason that 90% of engineers are men and 90% of primary teachers are female and no amount of social engineering will change that.”
      In the nineteenth century the majority of primary school teachers were male (apparently true both in the US and UK). Change happened – suggesting that future changes can happen (whether you can plan for them is another matter).

      • In the 19th century most children didn’t go to school. There were plenty of governesses for the children of the rich. Women didn’t have higher education. And women left the workforce when they married.
        So you’re not comparing like with like. When you take away all those restraints – you get 90% (perhaps even more) of primary teachers being female, and nurses being majority female too – and social workers. It’s biological and not really susceptible to social engineering efforts.

      • This is all fascinating.

        Quite a pragmatic question then follows: how might ‘church’ look more like an engineering business (designing and building things) and less like either a cinema (passively sitting and watching other people doing things) or primary teaching?

  6. It might be that focussing on the conceptual complexities of Pauline theology does not suit men’s learning styles. Although conservative, ‘reformed’ churches that focus on Paul do attract men, my observation is that they are often highly educated professionals.

    How much is this a class rather than gender thing? One classical male trait is a love of abstract ideas, and whether or not this bears out in studies (I believe there is some evidence it is true, with women preferring studying living things), it is surely true that educated men often like thinking things through.

  7. Perhaps if we were to produce some Heavy Metal Hymns rather than the ‘Jesus is my Boyfriend ‘ variety which is all too prevalent in today’s church – this might help?

    A ‘Hymns Ancient and Heavy Metal ‘ hymnbook perhaps?

  8. I recall meeting the former AYPA Group Leader of a church which had closed a few years previously due to urban redevelopment. He said that the strength of the men’s group has been it’s practical nature – rehanging gates, clearing downspouts and gutters etc. as opposed to study groups that were often on offer in other churches.

  9. The New Zealand Anglican Church has become quite strongly feminised in a society where the clear majority is now self-declared ‘non-religious’, i.e. not even nominally Christian. In this respect it is following Sweden, although NZ doesn’t (yet) have a significant immigration Muslim population which no doubt ‘birthed’ the Swedish Democrats. The evangelical orthodox element in the NZ church was not enough to prevent the adoption of ‘same sex blessings’ and now the largest churches in Christchurch diocese have left the denomination – meaning it will become ever more liberal and unable to staunch the revisionist tide. Feminist nature religion – as is common in the Swedish Lutheran Church (where a lesbian bishop had a cross removed from a sailors’ chapel so as not to upset Muslims) – is evident in the NZ Prayer Book, which contains this bizarre “version” of the Lord’s Prayer:

    Eternal Spirit,
    and Earth-Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver
    Source of all that is and all that shall be,
    Father and Mother of us all,
    Loving God who is in heaven:

    The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
    The way of your justice be followed by people of the world!
    Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
    Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

    With bread we need for today, feed us.
    In the hurts we absorb from one another forgive us.
    In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
    From trials too great to endure, spare us.
    From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

    For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever.
    May it be so.

    It’s pretty dreadful and right-on in so many ways – but not so different from the mush you can hear in many ‘orthodox’ parishes in England – a lot of it in ‘Common Worship’. It’s a long, long way from the prayers of the New Testament and even further from the Psalms.

    • There is a fascinating disconnect here: if the NZ church is becoming more ‘feminised’, it is certainly the case the NZ (like Australian) culture is very macho. And the NZ Anglican Church appears to be on the bring of terminal decline…

      • The largest parishes in Christchurch diocese are leaving the Anglican Church over same sex “blessing “. The feminist and gay influence is strong in that church but the country is now deeply secular, with a majority now describing itself as non-religious. Only Nelson diocese seems to be resisting decline.

  10. Men like a target, like an outcome, like a project to work on and see results from.

    With many people, if you get them involved and give them something to do, they will buy into it.

    If they see what others (the needy) will get out of a project, same applies.

    Caveat: families are the main building block. We have only started hearing about women-only ministry and meetings, men-only ditto, since families have been less the main building-block. Caution!

    • “Men like a target….” I think implies that women don’t. We’re forgetting it’s a spectrum not a binary code.

      I’d suggest ( as my generalisation ) that many men and women might want to see purpose beyond the (as above) ‘Jesus as boyfriend’. I dare say at risk of exaggerating that its can feel more about creating an emotional response than responding to God…. Whirling Devish anybody?

      Maybe we’ve gone from the over-cerebral to the over concentration on my feeling that “God is here” and will be “more here” if we sing it again, again… Educational backgrounds vary but I don’t think intelligence is given by education, more that it’s mapped and, maybe, shaped by it. Minds always need to engaged. Universities don’t grow IQs.

      Preaching? I think it’s hard to make generalisations about what suits who (preacher and listener). But if it’s badly done the style or method is secondary.

      Recentky I was helping out for 12 months in a church of 150+ , with loads of kids women and (to emphasise) loads of men. It has planted 2 other churches from its growth. The worship itself is reliably organised, mentally involving. Evangelism and practical mission are at work. The preaching is varied in method but overwhelmingly biblical, intelligent and emotionally sensitive. The music covers a wide range (new and old). There’s nothing startlingly different. It’s basic stuff done reasonably well and reliably.

      Sometimes, maybe, we think constant experiment will grow a congregation. I’m convinced only God can do that. Is a lack of confidence in “the word preached” behind some of our experiments?

    • Not sure. I think it is more often true of women than of men that (for example) talking is an end in itself not a means to an end, whereas men are looking for solutions more often.

      I am a great fan of the John Eldredge view of things – such a positive view of masculine-feminine complementarity, and one with a long pedigree.

  11. Please permit me to made just a few point observations from my non-UK based perspective:

    1) I agree with the comment that suggestion that a good number of the classifications/genealisation in the article are as much a class-driven thing as a man/woman thing

    2) We are in an English-speaking ex-pat church in a non-English speaking country. Of those ex-Pats, the men are still overwhelmingly the larger proportion of those who have moved for work, which has an effect on the type of people who come. We have an untypically high number of well-educated, profession people in senior roles. For some of those men, they have seen colleagues promoted who are seen, probably unfairly, to have benefited in terms of career advancement because firms have been keen to promote women, and they feel resentment. The thought that the CofE is following that trend, where it seems a surprise if a new bishop appointed is a man (as I have had said to me by a number of people) is a further disincentive for men to attend

    3) A further feature of our ex-pat community is that often a (working) man’s ‘best friend’ is the husband of his (non-employed) wife’s best friend. Establishing good friendships with other men is more difficult than back home, where there are a wider range of non-work related activities. We have tried to use our men’s fellowship to provide another possibility to make friends (and to know Jesus better)

    4) Many men don’t want to turn up at church and be forced to share personal details with (near) strangers. They are not asked to do this when going to watch football, but often are in churches. I am often asked when trying to bring people along to our services whether they will be put on the spot. Even sharing the peace or being asked to say hello to someone near you while the children go out for their groups can be too much

    5) Is it a coincidence that this article appears immediately after one on using female pronouns for God? Diverting the church from proclaiming Jesus and Him crucified to be part of the world’s current march of feminism seems wrong on so many levels, and will only drive men further away from following Jesus

    6) We have enjoyed a wonderful ministry for men in our church for over 15 years, which has allowed men to study the word and pray together regularly, where men can say things they daren’t tell their wives, work colleagues and bosses for fear of losing face or respect or worse, and yet which has been fully encouraged and welcomed by the women in the church (although there has been some opposition from some), who have seen the benefit it has that their husbands are walking more closely with Jesus – at home, in the office and in the life of the church as a whole. As an ex-pat church, we have a high turn over, but the experience of the fellowship with other men within the life of the church has been one of significant blessing, which has borne fruit as they has moved on to their next place

    7) Our experience has been a result of prayerfully engaging in our situation and realising there is no off-the-shelf approach that would wok for us. But that is the beauty of the body of Christ. Though we are many, we are one body, because we belong to the same Lord.

    • Thanks Adam–some fascinating observations. I was particularly struck by this one:

      ‘Many men don’t want to turn up at church and be forced to share personal details with (near) strangers. They are not asked to do this when going to watch football, but often are in churches. I am often asked when trying to bring people along to our services whether they will be put on the spot. Even sharing the peace or being asked to say hello to someone near you while the children go out for their groups can be too much’

  12. Ian, apologies, you wont want to turn this into a twitter feed, but I’m not on twitter, don’t want to be, but this seems to be little more than twitter appreciation:
    Enjoyed your description of CoE dress code as identification as a “kind of middle -sex.”
    To push it beyond its limits, perhaps, men in frocks -perhaps a kind of scholastic lady-boyos, from the pink district in town., with a kind of old fashioned (how about calling it
    classic for the sake of pedigree enhancement) but famillar saturday pm local football, communal football bath or upmarket tepid, verging on cold shower, with a sodden or snow covered ground outside, unheated inside, male banter.
    Anyway but Essex.
    Two well known local convicted gangland, one who had used weapons with links to London underworld who were radically converted to Christ, one through a a JJohn , unsurprisingly spoke robustly without fear or favour openly on the streets, (after all they had nothing to lose and had been to prison) but had difficulty fitting in any local church, one convert A, going on to lead his own church through the support and encouragement of a local New Wine CoE vicar. A was/became married, had children, his wife prominent in Women Aglow. Both men, while fearless in preaching, when meeting them as individuals were gentle and humble of spirit.
    Can recall being on the same table as A and A’s guest, the police senior officer, who had known him well and been responsible for A’s incarceration, at a Full Gospel Businessmen’s Christmas meeting, when JJohn was guest speaker. JJohn hadn’t known till then about A’s radical conversion.
    Have we lost confidence in the supernatural life, transforming power of the Gospel? One of the clincherS was God speaking, personally, to A through JJohn, unknowingly to JJohn.
    Bily Graham is cited as saying : Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of othersare stiffened.
    And more. 19th Century, Methosist preacher Peter Cartwright waspreparing a sermon when he was warned that President Andrew Jackson would be in the congregation
    and his remarks should be inoffensive. During the service he said, ” I have been told that ASndrew Jackson is in this congregation and I have been asked to guard my remarks, What I must say is that Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he doesn’t repent of his sin” Afterwards Jackson strode up to Catwright and said, Sir if I had a regiment of men like yo, i could whip the world”. Can’t remember where I got that, but it’s preaching without fear or favour. But it’s the sort of no offence taken, that would not be seen today, ranging from high office to those on the lowest rung, the whole spectrum of people and people groups.

  13. Ian, I’m just rather puzzled by your claim that the church “for at least 600 years (in the West at least) been dominated as a movement by the presence of women.” Surely the phenomenon is much more recent than that?

    • I think he is referring to Leo Podles’ thesis about the feminisation of western Christendom by Bernard of Clairvaux. The High Middle Ages also saw an influx of Marianism into western theology.

  14. I think it would be good if we deep-sixed this notion that Christianity is about “having a personal relationship with Jesus”. Gag me with a rag. Christianity should be about kicking the devil’s butt.

  15. Brian: That doesn’t sound at all plausible to me. Bernard of Clairvaux also preached the Crusade, and was very fond of military imagery for Christian discipleship as well as of romantic love imagery. He used both to attract men whose secular ideals were military glory and romantic love. As for Mary, she was a mother figure for men. Is there any evidence that more women than men went to church in the high middle ages? Did more men than women join the religious orders? And if we’re really talking about modern Protestant Britain, is any of that relevant? Were English churches full of women rather than men in the 16th and 17th centuries?

    • I take your points, Richard – this is just my recollection of reviews I read of Podles’ book. Yes, Bernard promoted the Crusade – as well as promoting a spiritualised understanding of the Song of Solomon as the love between Christ and his church (but you will know more on that than I). Marianism did, I think, introduce a heavily female mysticism into western Catholicism and I’m sure courtly love features in there somewhere, along with all those medieval rose windows and the exaltation of Mary as perpetual virgin, immaculately conceived etc. I have no idea what church attendance was like in the high middle ages, but I wouldn’t be surprised if women were more pious than rough-living soldiers, sailors and knights-at-arms.
      As for Protestant Britain, it is certainly the case that low churchmen thought Anglo-Catholicism was effete sexually suspect. Kingsley said as much about J H Newman.

      • Brian – I commend clairveaux’s aermons allegorising of Song of Songs. Devotionally rich. Shame he also wrote vile antisemitic material.

        The Jewish community also spiritualise Song of Songs and read it every sabbath as an invocation for Messiah their lover to come.

        The Puritans wrote more commentaries on songs of songs ‘spiritualised’ than on Romans

        SOS is a lovely celebration of heterosexual intimacy, a less good guide to sexual intimacy, but a wonderful celebration of Jesus the Bridegroom and his Church.

    • And I thought of the tough Scott’s confessor, Samuel Rutherford, who was a warrior and a preacher and in jail wrote letters that displayed deep intimate experiences of Jesus his lover.

  16. Maybe we should take account of more sociological factors in recent history. In post-war “middle England,” a man’s world was typically work (away from home) and home (limited time with family and DIY), while a woman’s world was home (much more time there, and typically more time to spare than her predecessors had) and local community (near home). It was housewives who entertained the vicar to tea! Women were the backbone not only of church activities but of all kinds of voluntary work in the community (contrast the decline in volunteering in the community since women’s liberation). Women’s church activities flourished for the same reasons as Women’s Institutes did.

    • As well as the Mothers’ Union, a very influential organisation in its time. What did men have? There was a Church of England Men’s Society but that is no more. Catholic churches used to sponsor football but I don’t know if the C of E did.

      • The C of E also founded football clubs. I think I am right in saying that a good number of Premiership clubs can trace their roots to church football teams.

        (Btw Arsenal’s ground was originally the playing field of the London College of Divinity, which became st John’s Nottingham. Until the recent rebuild, one of the stands was called the College Stand for that reason.)

        • Ian,

          And lots of cricket clubs … Hadfield St Andrews, Dinting Holy Trinity, Hollinsend Methodists, Derby Congs (Congregational), etc … the church often encouraged the playing of sport on Saturday ( or on the half day of Wednesday) so that men could be in church on Sunday!

    • Richard, thanks for the question–which in the end can only be answered by some statistical evidence.

      Interestingly, I more often get the opposition observation: Christianity has always had a female bias, since the second century. I *think* it is Rodney Stark who notices this in The Rise of Christianity.

  17. Ian, I wonder why you offered your plainly sensible thoughts with trepidation – perhaps that in itself is a major clue as to why we in the churches are in this self-created mess with men? I’d suggest that, once again, it’s a Cultural Marxist tactic of using faux accusations of ‘stereotyping’ that purposely inhibit objective discussion; far too often serious points are dismissed as ‘generalisations’ (now a pejorative) in order to avoid the issue.

    This exodus of men from the CofE is far too widespread and obvious for it to be an unremarkable spike in random variation over time. There clearly have to be identifiable reasons.

    Most of us men are irretrievably attracted to women and awestruck by their amazing qualities; yet we instinctively do not want to be feminised ourselves nor perceived as effeminate. We know that we have something different to offer and that, together, women and men make a wonderful team – and if we’re Christians we believe it’s thanks to Him who planned and made it so for our benefit.

    However we’re living at a time when the culture is seriously intent on feminising us men. To an extent we are going along with it simply to avoid the aggro of getting into a dispute which we know we’re not going to win. Every public institution seems to be fully signed up to feminism and ready to pursue transgressors of that ideology with relish and vigour. (Perhaps it explains a lot of men’s escape into computer games, a pretty passive occupation, where, alone and undisturbed, they can pretend to be masculine again!)

    And who could dispute that we in our churches are signed up to the feminising process? There are some pretty indisputable examples in how we present ourselves in: music, dress, hugs and kisses, ideas, restrictions on what you can and cannot say; and I’d suggest it’s most particularly in language that we subtly give out the signals that turn men off and drive them away. Alongside this (with apparently disproportionate support from women clergy?) is the push towards celebration of homosexuality – something else which sits uneasily with masculinity.

    But churches are almost unique in being avoidable if you don’t appreciate what goes on in them. So it’s no surprise that men in general have voted with their feet, perhaps with the exception of some who are naturally more studious or bookish or artistic in nature.

    Yet, far from addressing whether the loss of men has anything to do with these PC trends, the churches are pushing ever further along the feminist and LGBT trajectory. If I had not been literally born into the CofE and a committed Christian, I have to say that I would now avoid it with a bargepole. And that’s a major problem because, if I feel like that, how can I feel comfortable with a mission which intends to draw others in to something with which I now feel uncomfortable? OK that’s a pretty stark way of putting it; it wouldn’t apply to every parish church. But it’s probably an unspoken problem with men’s evangelism – there’s too much to apologise for and explain away before we get to the glorious substance of what we have to offer but so readily conceal by unthinking or unimaginative nonsense.

    • Don, it is unfortunately as you say – and I am reminded of what I saw in Toronto a good few years ago: an Anglican church heavily influenced by feminism and the homosexual movement. Totally off-putting for the average heterosexual male. And does it need to be underlined again that boys are more likely to grow up Christians if their fathers are churchgoers?

  18. My sense is that this is all part of a much larger Christian, cultural and social shift that still needs time to work through. For some decades now women have been on their own journey entering and exploring their place in parts of life, relating, work, society and church that for much of history they have been excluded from. That continues. As that has been happening, and women prove as able and gifted in areas of life once reserved for men, it leaves men with a loss of identity. The language of ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ no longer expresses ‘universal human experience’ (which it never did actually). ‘Man’ means ‘men’. So men are now on a reciprocal journey into their own identity which will include exploring aspects of relating, work , society and with that have traditionally been assumed to be the domain of women and the ‘feminine’. I think the search for a redeemed and renewed understanding of man and manhood requires much more than simply offering more ‘male’/manly things in church. How does that sound?

    • How does that sound? Pretty much at variance with biology and psychology. The Nordic societies have operated with the idea that men and women are basically the same, just socialised differently. But it hasn’t worked, while those societies have become increasingly feminised and their churches ever more under feminine and, yes, lesbian influence. Men are deserting them.

      And exactly the same thing us happening in the C of E. Like it or not, men are not willing to be led by women in their spiritual lives, and not by lesbian clergy either. Yet the C of E has two bishops in same-sex partnerships and an outspoken lesbian in charge of the ministry division. Since religious observance in purely voluntary, I don’t think this will do any more than continue the disastrous decline of the past generation. Sorry, David – that’s the way it is.

      • Brian
        I might suggest that if men are not prepared to be led by women (and I cannot see the problem, being married to a man whose best boss was a woman) nor (God forbid!) by a lesbian then there is something deeply troubling about the figuring of masculinity in our culture, which needs addressing before looking at Church attendance. The response to the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh confirm this.

        • Your employer isn’t your spiritual head and your spiritual head isn’t your boss. A bishop or pastor is in a covenantal relationship with his congregation. It is spiritual fatherhood. That is why men instinctively resist the modern protestant innovation of women as their spiritual heads. What is ‘deeply troubling’ isn’t ‘the figuring of masculinity in our culture’ but the deterioration of the Christian Church in the UK. And the C of E’s lesbian clergy and its partnered lesbian bishop will do NOTHING to draw men, including the fathers of families, into the C of E. That way lies madness.

          • Brian
            True that your secular boss is not your head, but then, I would argue that my priest isn’t my spiritual head either. Despite being, ecclesiologically, a Catholic I struggle with Father language. That is, priest as father, not God.
            Where is your evidence that men resist women as spiritual leaders?
            I disagree about what is more troubling. Dwindling Church attendance is troubling, but far more troubling is the figuring of masculinity in western culture (which, of course, impinges upon the culture of the Church). A pastor who endorses a man accused of sexual assault, the church’s response to rape culture, the everyday use of porn, #metoo and #churchtoo, clerical abuse, all need serious attention before we even think of why churches are failing men. The failures are systemic, and we need more than a sticking plaster.

          • Oh, I forgot, you are obviously much better informed than I. I had no idea that there is a partnered lesbisn bisop.

          • Excuse me butting in here, Penelope and Brian:

            ‘Dwindling Church attendance is troubling, but far more troubling is the figuring of masculinity in western culture (which, of course, impinges upon the culture of the Church).’

            Penelope, I think this sentence is a pretty stark revelation of what divides the church at present. It’s true that church attendance cannot be exactly equated with saved souls, but it seems from what you say here that the eternal future of people is of less importance to you than our earthbound (temporary) issues of sexual politics.

            However, it may be a tad discourteous of me to put words into your mouth in this way, so please forgive me if I’ve misunderstood your comment, and you may of course give me a smacked wrist for doing so.

          • Hello Don
            Not discourteous in the least. I think you make a good point, though I think eschatology is more concerned with redeemed bodies than with saved souls.
            However, I wasn’t, I hope, talking about sexual politics. Nor with merely temporal matters. I think the bigger question about redemption here is not simply how the Church appeals to men, but how it, as part of the wider culture, addresses the problems which men face in western culture and which commentators such as Jordan Peterson try (and in my opinion) fail to address. These include widespread use of porn and rape culture. The church can even be part of the problem when US evangelicals like Franklin Graham argue that Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault is unimportant. I think these are bigger questions than why aren’t (some) men attracted to Church. Especially when so many churches are still male led.
            This isn’t an attack on men or masculinity. I wish both men and women inhabited a healthier culture in which spirituality wasn’t seen as weak and feminine

      • Brian
        That is a very interesting point – in the Scandinavian Lutheran churches where they have undeniably become more feminised, they have also become more prominently lesbian in their leadership, and of course, liberal in their theology. And largely irrelevant in their culture which is the most secular in the world after Japan I believe.

        • That’s because truth is systemic and so is error. Homosexuality is broken sexuality, it is not God’s good intention for his creation, as if he intended men to penetrate each other or women to be sexually intimate with each other. When this is denied, it is hard to deny other parts of biblical doctrine that one finds offensive. It is no accident that the lesbian archbishop in Sweden had the cross removed form the sailors’ chapel – allegedly not to offend (!) Muslim sailors, in reality because, like unbelievers, she cannot make sense of the Cross. David tells me to get with the programme because young people are not “bothered” by these moral changes. But in reality, they couldn’t care less about the Church either. The Swedish Church, which seems to be the model for David, is a dead museum, while its “theology” is increasingly into a kind of nature religion (now very Nordic!). I was told this by a Swede I know who did a PhD in currents in modern Swedish theology and who decided not to proceed with ordination in the Swedish Church. Meanwhile, Islam grows rapidly among Swedish youth, because of immigration from the Middle East and Afghanistan. This is the background to the recent shock elections there.

          • Young people? This cliché we have all heard many times, and it is ill thought through. This is not the first time I have had to make these points:

            (1) If young people are wiser than old, life must be a process of becoming progressively more foolish and less knowledgeable.

            (2) The same young people you are lauding are right now beginning that supposed process of becoming ever more foolish. Why? Because they are doing the unforgiveable every minute – namely, ageing.

            (3) I did a challenge in CEN about 4-5 years ago to find one young person in the UK who was even familiar with the counter-arguments, let alone able to address them, let alone able to best them. Not a single one was found. They just repeat the one-eyed message they hear from the media and peers and schools. They are scarcely aware that there is any other, because it has been skilfully hidden from them. Not their fault.

          • Strong points David and Brian.

            The Swedish Lutheran model is a warning to us here – as indeed the Episcopalian and Canadian and united Methodist etc.
            Liberal churches don’t grow. Their Scriptural rejection for cultural accommodation wins No friends in the world.

            In the 2015 survey of the largest CofE churches – there were 117 over 300 attending at the given set service for collating data.
            Of the 117 none were led by a woman and only 4 were not Evangelical- conservative of charismatic. Of the 4 non evangelical large churches, one was Southwark cathedral – 1 Of the 4 liberal churches had an openly gay leader.

            What can we deduce from this – liberal churches bending to prevailing moods and accomodating scripture to cultural moral norms do not attract wider culture to church. Those evangelical churches faithful to the gospel and scripture are flourishing. The notion that if we dont compromise our ethics and tone down our doctrine and let the world set the agenda for the church that we will disconnect with the young is nonsense believed by the gullible.

  19. I was chatting to a man from another church on a Diocesan organised walk. His wife was clearly more committed than him. What he “enjoyed” was practical things like mending the fence. He was quite open that he had been put off by uninspiring sermons. I directed him to tom Wright’s commentaries and trust that might help him draw closer to the Kingdom.

  20. Brian, you say: “I wouldn’t be surprised if women were more pious than rough-living soldiers, sailors and knights-at-arms.” But most men worked the land and farming communities tend naturally to be religious. But no such speculations are substitutes for historical facts. The danger is of just projecting our own experience and prejudices onto history. Why should “rough-living soldiers” be less pious? Living closely with death makes God very relevant for many people.
    On Mariology I am sure you are wrong. Macho Italian men revere their mothers and their heavenly Mother alike. The key thing about growing devotion to Mary in the Middle Ages is not that she was a model of discipleship (that’s a more recent Catholic emphasis), but that she was the sympathetic recipient of prayers who could work miracles for you and could persuade her Son to be forgiving and kind to you. Typically men respect their fathers and want to be like them, but for sympathy when they need something they find mothers more congenial.

    • All fair points – but is it not the case that church attendance was legally compelled in the Middle Ages (which communicating was rare), so I don’t know what we can conclude from this question. My impression is that the Middle Ages were a fairly violent time generally and I’m sure village life wasn’t exempt in the struggle to survive. You can be religious AND violent, as we know too well today. The idea of Christian knighthood was of course devised to channel a lot of this violence in a spiritual direction. Not forgetting the Knights Templar and like orders – that would no doubt embarrass us today.
      Podles asserts that mysticism was almost entirely female in the Middle Ages. It was also then that Western Catholicism began imposing clerical celibacy (in name), so I wonder if this impacted perceptions as well.

  21. Why O why do we always think the truth of and for humanity is out there, still waiting to be found, discovered progressed towards through philosophy and process theology and frequent scatty-logical, utopian, perfection-seeking, sociological -focussed -pressure- group normalisation of outliers,
    The Christian church is unique only in being the depository of the better than Good News of Jesus Christ and nothing else, yet like Israel who did not casscade, fill the earth, we are becoming self absorded, navel gazers, not going out to bring in, not gathering in, cow-towed in the West. Anything else can be done , is being done possibly better by anyone else.
    In the NHS I managed a community volunteer project. The idea was to use local people speak , have events, be inventive with the message, to local people, to raise awareness of the early symtoms of breast, bowel and lung cancer so that people would present themselves early to GP’s. What a marvellous, inventive, committed group of volunteers, roughly 50/50 adult male/female split. Beer mats, targeted at men ,with a football theme were created , a humourous Superman sketch written and performed by men and women, with a Coronation Street-like setting, again targetted particulary , but not only at stoical- brush- it -off men. Local public response : some it was too close to home and didn’t want to know, some opening up one to one. (A bit like the Gospel message). The team was trained and the message spread with gratifying results and testimonies from people pleased to give them in public and a higher uptake in targetted areas, particulary of the newly introduce bowel screening.
    Interestingly, professional health staff, were not only wary and resistant at times as it diminished any idea that they could communicate well to their patients. Much to ponder, think through here perhaps, for Church professionals. Many of the project volunteers at links to different churches, but they had a vested interest, usually family/friend based life change and death, that bought out and maintained commitment.
    Any transferable, principles here for committed changed- by -Christ lives in Church. Anything for the Church? We have a life changing, death defining, death defying? critical message to casscade. GP’s were particularly concerned that this would stimulate the worried well. We were concerned to reach the ignorantly ill. Church, the patient is terminal sick, but doesn’t know it? And Yes, perhaps for the benefit of Brian and other, it the patient is dead and the doctor/ curate, curer of souls, doesn’t know it. Can the doctor church, heal its self?

    Any ideas Church? This was something that Walk of 1000 Men (TFM)was very good at, and it was their influence on me that enabled me to bring anything of use to the table in my role, primarily as a catalyst for the volunteers, to serve them. TFM trained and released converted, committed Christians from all walks of life, all denominations, basicall using the 4 Spiritual laws, Agape, booklet as a guide, which is likely to be seen as so out of date it is defunct now, Their Personal Beliefs Survey was used to open up discussions with people leading to going through the Agape tract, if and only if there was interest in doing so.
    But maybe in the internet age all this is not progressive enough, is old hat.

    • Thanks Geoff. On Twitter and Facebook there have also been comments from those involved in Christian Vision for Men as well.

      I am trying to work out why these men-specific engagements don’t appeal to me. I can only think of two things. First, they inevitably focus on stereotypically male activities, like hiking and mending cars. Now, I enjoy those, but there is always a niggling sense that they are a bit forced.

      The second thing that occurs to me is that I don’t really want to engage in ‘men’s activities’ as some kind of special interest group. I guess I’d like the normal business of church to be more men-friendly.

      Both these thoughts are a bit inchoate, and I am still pondering…

      • I get exactly what you’re saying here, Ian. All boys together macho stuff doesn’t appeal to me either but probably because, although I like outdoor and mechanical stuff a lot, I prefer to do it solo or with one other person rather than a group (I’m a bit of a maverick!) And I too like church to focus on God and ideas rather than emphasis on group bonding etc. – but if the group stuff arises naturally (unforced, as you say) that’s fine.

        I’m sure it’s not controversial to say that women are naturally more social and, for me at least, their absence from groups can make for a rather unrelaxed experience. So we have to be careful not to confuse what masculinity is about with what is more to do with personality types..

      • Ian<
        TFM was n't male specific (it may have started that way but I don't know) but I think I'm correct that it was a vision of Daniel Cousins to engage men as he didn't think men in churches were sufficiently active, perhaps neglected overlooked (my words) but were enthusiasts for and committed to the spread of the Gospel. Again I think I am correct that Michael Green was a supporter.
        There was a methodology, seeking out invitations from churches to work alongside churches, in my experience, mostly Anglican, some Baptist in my limited experience (2 weeks), so it wasn't a hit and run ministry, with follow up processes for local church, Alpha and the like. They often recruited recognised evangelist to speak at public events. Teams went into pubs , with the ground being laid beforehand by the local churches. Went into schools, again by invitation, school assembilies, often with a performed sketch involving the children and ending with a gospel message, Often great conversations were had with school teacher staff. Sometimes, Schools werte seen as key, as the children would go home and talk aboutthe assembly. The locals therfore would know who we were, before we were seen, all with the same coloured sweatshirts and scripture writ large across the front "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good News: on the back "the Bible."
        Sometimes the would be celebrities England footballer Alan Mullery was one. Mens breakfasts held, street theater. Ian Smails also took part at times.
        There would be two teams at each village Town: the men who would walk between places, with fully loaded kit packs, who would sleep on Church Hall floors and the like , and women who would but put up by the homes of inviting church members. Arrangements would be made for men not able to walk. be There would be prayers and some bible study before going out each day, and men and women would work together. At times, hymn sing as we walked.Encouraged to always help the public, carry shopping to cars etc, always open to offering prayers, if deemed appropriate.
        And it was by faith, relying on the Lord's provision for food and accomodation,and was based on Luke 10. The rule was that each team member could have an allowance of no more than £2 per day, with an wise encouragement to phone home each day (no mobiles I think). Certainly there was no one was glued to screens.
        Daniel Cousins lived in the Cambridge area, and a wonderful communicator of the Gospel, a Canterbury Six Preacher. He retired. A marvellous man. I'm sure he'd be traceable and would be willing to say more. Rev John Hibbert is still an Anglican Minister in Sheffield, something to do with Dios Evangelism I think and continues to have some involvement. He's just a hop, skip and a jump from you and you could find out more from him if so minded. He's very approachable as well.
        Local churches, it seems. were almost invariably enthused and the local spiritual atmosphere raised. The training was so well done that the few, if any complaints from the public, so far as I'm aware But such high energery, activity, itinerant ministry can take it's toll.
        Hope that helps to allay any concerns. But society seems to have changed rapidily in the intervening years. And I get the impression that there was general lukewarm, apathy in a lot of the higher echelons of the CoE, though some Bishops were supportive such as Bishop Nazir-Ali.
        Hope that fleshes it out a bit.
        Typing spelling and grammar in all my comments, is rubbish and paint dryingly slow. Many apologies. Wouldn't pass any exams now. Have used dictation software in past. Jesus was always interpreted as "Cheeses". It must have been liberal post-modern identity, shot-through with holes.

  22. Ian,
    If I’m not mistaken TFM tried to get a school of evangelism off the ground, through Peter Adams and with St John’s Nottingham . Again John Hibbert would be able to fill in the blanks and more.

  23. Men don’t sing because the pitch that hymns are played at is wrong for men. Almost all hymn tunes are written with a Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass (SATB) harmony. The pianist / organist then plays this, expecting everyone to sing in unison, because most of us don’t have the skill to sing 4-part harmony. In this context unison means either the Soprano part (women) or Soprano-down-an-octave (men). Typically the notes range from middle-C to E (octave+2-tones up from middle-C). This suits the women with higher-pitched voices. It’s less good for the women with lower-pitched voices and even worse for almost all of the men, whose natural range is most often from F-sharp (octave+3-tones below middle-C) to middle-C.

    And the solution is so simple. Just get the organist / pianist to transpose the tune down 3 tones (half an octave) before they play it. If they haven’t the skill to do that impromptu, there is plenty of software out there that will do it for them.

    • Hi Jamie, I have been transposing the clavinova down three semitones for years, and that seems to keep most people happy – but some still struggle with ‘How Great Thou Art’, no matter what I do 🙂

    • On this one I’ve a different view.

      (1) I agree that the pitches are clearly too high for men’s natural range.

      (2) Very few men are tenors, which they’d need to be in order for the pitch to be natural to them. 90% of men are basses and baritones. Actually some choirs resort to female tenors and some new anthem books resort to 3-part, leaving out the tenor.

      (3) Church choirs I am a firm believer in:
      -Camaraderie and social life like in a sports team.
      -Sense of achievement; aiming at excellence.
      -Precipitate drop in youngsters in church during the post-choir era.
      -Music (which most people like) being an excellent early schooling that can lead to later appreciation of both theology and the things of the Spirit.

      (4) Dropping the pitch just makes the sound more stodgy, and it cannot soar. Part of the idea is to lift the spirit.

      (5) Many people’ voices are of a sort that they can only sing more loudly on the higher notes. So: include higher notes and you will get a fuller, more committed noise. It encourages people to give themselves emotionally to the singing.

      (6) In order to get a natural range of notes for men you will end up getting an unnatural range for women. Yet it is more the women than the men who would be expected to sing the melody.

      (7) Men who can’t sing the melody (and actually hymns normally don’t have too many high notes) can do one of two things: sing it an octave lower (or a mixture) or sing bass harmonies. Many people are familiar with harmony-singing.

  24. What makes this discussion difficult to join is that the language of masculine and feminine is not being defined very clearly. When it is claimed the church is ‘feminised’ – do we simply mean it is more full of women than men? Or that the men who are attending are also unmanly in some way? What is the measure of this? It would be a make of maturity if we men could explore this important issue without ending up insulting or demanding women. And the attempt to blame gay men is hopelessly stereotyped. Men who happen to be gay are not, by definition, ‘more feminine’ actually. And women are gay are not more masculine. Or are we measuring masculine and feminine by social behaviour? Well it is not just Saudi Arabia where strange gender boundaries are found. That women should not drive cars or even ride bicycles was once a firmly British (male) assumption. This all feels woodenly binary.

    • Church attendance and membership is voluntary. Heterosexual men do not want to be led by women or by homosexual men as their spiritual heads. It’s there in the Pastoral Epistles as well as human nature. Further, as homosexuality becomes more evident in the ministry – as it is among cathedral staff and now among the bishops of the C of E, two of whom are in same-sex partnerships, heterosexual men will vote with their feet. And the C of E will become smaller and introverted – like the dying Swedish Church and the minuscule Anglican churches in Wales and Scotland. As for ‘woodenly binary’: ‘male and female he created them.’ God’s idea.

      • Brian ‘Heterosexual men do not want to be led by women or by homosexual men as their spiritual heads. It’s there in the Pastoral Epistles as well as human nature.’ Let’s leave ‘human nature’ to one side for a moment. Where do you find any lists of what heterosexual men do or do not want stated in the Pastoral Epistles?

        • In the clear statement 0f what an episkopos should be – the husband of one wife and the example to men. I realise you have a personal stake in this but I can’t help that. Women’s ordination has not led to a revival of the Church of England but has fractured it even more and alienated men as heads of families. Added to this has been the steady growth of partnered homosexuals in the clergy, chiefly in cathedrals as canons and deans but also among suffragan bishops, including a woman bishop and a male bishop. The hierarchy is proceeding by stealth to create “facts on the ground ” while the orthodox are leaving. You know about this because you were with Jayne Ozanne in Salisbury making the case for revision of the Church’s tradition.

          • Brian Thanks for engaging. A few comments.
            I find no one clear expression or pattern of leadership in the NT churches. In new and missional churches there were clearly local variations. So I am wary of assuming universal principles from one text or context.
            I assume from your approach to this text you think Christian leaders should not be single either? In my early years of ministry, while single, I ran into exactly that belief based on this text. And I wondered then how this such a reading sits alongside Paul’s stated preference that people remind single.
            ‘You have a personal stake in this’. If you mean I come to this discussion with a particular viewpoint – well that is no secret. But so do you of course. No mistaking that either.
            The Salisbury day went really well. Publically advertised, all viewpoints present, welcomed and expressed in honest, courteous, bible-centred debate. Felt honoured to be there.
            Finally the CofE did not ordain women to ‘lead a revival of the church’. It really is rather tough to dump on them a task that men have signally failed to achieve over the few hundred years and then blame them for failing after barely 20 – all this in a church that continues to allow actual discrimination against women in its employment practice. Women were ordained simply because the church came (at last) to believe women and men are called to full partnership in the kingdom. And yes, I have a personal stake in that too.

          • “Finally the CofE did not ordain women to ‘lead a revival of the church’. It really is rather tough to dump on them a task that men have signally failed to achieve over the few hundred years and then blame them for failing after barely 20”

            Thank you for responding, David. I should say first that I never had strong views either way on women’s ordination, but neither did I think it was a “justice issue” as Roy Williamson put it or that the C of E’s orders had been “defective” for not ordaining women – in which case the whole of Christendom had been disobeying the Holy Spirit for nigh on 2000 years in this matter, which seemed pretty absurd to me. But we *were told that WO would unleash new life into the C of E, bringing gifts that hitherto been denied etc. I heard this line from everyone from George Carey down. 24 years later we have thousands of ordained women and the C of E clergy are more theologically liberal and liberal on sexual ethics than ever before (precisely because of the influx of female clergy into diocesan and General Synods), while attendance has continued to decline, congregations have aged, a few thousand Catholic-minded have left for the Ordinariate, and Co-Mission and AMiE are doing an end-run around ‘official’ Anglicanism. Only 2% of the English population identifies with the C of E – among the under 25 the figure even less. Carey thought he would lead the C of E into a new spring. It hasn’t worked and it won’t for the basic fact that I come back to: that men are constituted (by God) to be spiritually led by men so that they will become the husbands and fathers God wants them to be. That’s what the Pastoral Epistles are in large measure about. A woman bishop in a same-sex partnership isn’t going to succeed in that task, and neither are post-evangelicals who have absorbed the liberal mindset. Rachel Treweek’s attacks on biblical language for God and the proliferating ‘gay eucharists’ in cathedrals are all signs of a church cracking up. Family men are not interested in such a thing.

          • Goodness Brian I have no idea where your idea that heterosexual men don’t want to ‘led’ by women or gay men comes from. What evidence have you? Or that ‘family men’ are not interested on female leadership or ‘gay’ leadership, whatever the latter might be. Again, on what evidence? Straight working-class men appeared to be happy to be led by ‘queer’ male clergy in the Anglo Catholic revival in the 19thC.
            I woul also ask for evidence of an increase of ‘homosexuality’ in the episcopate. Gore and Lang were both ‘queer’. Perhaps it is spoken about more openly these days.
            I was there in Salisbury. David and Jayne were making a case for developing Church tradition in a context of careful listening, robust engagement and respect. I understand that organisations, such as Living Out, hold conferences in which the case is made for marriage remaining an other-sex institution. People in the Church are, surely, free to argue for their own readings of the gospel and interpretations of Christian doctrine.
            We do not know whether Jesus or Paul were always single. Silence is a fragile basis for doctrine.
            It is interesting, I think, that large evangelical churches are overwhelming male led (despite the number of women clergy). Headship evangelicals even have their own bishop. So, why are those churches (steeped in muscular Christianity) failing to attract men?

          • Chris
            Are revisionists invited to Living Out conferences? No.
            I would like to attend because I am interested in some of their narratives. But I cannot because you have to sign up to the EA statement of faith and I could not do that. So, anyone could go to the gathering in Salisbury, but not everyone can go to an exclusive LO event.

          • Hi Chris again
            To attend LO local courses you have to sign up to the EA Pastoral statement on homosexuality (now an archived page since they have updated their website). It states something along the lines of marriage being properly between a man and a woman and homoerotic activity being outside God’s will.
            And no I don’t agree with that.
            But this probably isn’t a requirement for their conferences.

          • Penelope,
            Thank you for your reply.

            It was conferences I meant. Not courses – there’s no point in going on a course you don’t agree with even if you were allowed to sign up for it – I wouldn’t! I really can’t believe that LO would stop you going to one of their conferences.

            However LO are different in as much that those speaking from it are gay themselves and take a completely different line from the dominant revisionist view of SS issues. They are arguing their case from a gay standpoint rather than that of a orthodox heterosexual one. From what I observe from sexuality debates in many Anglican forums then expressions of disagreement of SS issues in the CofE from gay Christians are generally marginalised, onsidered an embarrassment and often met with strong hostility from revisionists -more so than their heterosexual opponents.

            Certainly it seems to me that groups like LO don’t seem to have the same measure of ‘airtime’ and representation as revisionists.

            So I think to me, a much more interesting and productive conference debate would have been had if LO were invited rather than revisionists giving their own views of what their opponents believe.

            Regarding the EA basis of faith, If you do not consider the Bible as the ‘Word of God ‘ then may I ask what you do consider it as and how your view fits in with historic Anglican formularies? To you, is it simply a human document that needs to be adapted to modern cultural trends as thought fit in the light of so-called modern knowledge? To what extent would you think your views coincide with historic Anglican teaching and where do they depart?

          • Hello Chris
            I don’t think LO are marginalised. They seem to have a significant presence on Synod and Sam Allberry was selected for the steering group for the Teaching document.
            I guess the reason no one from LO was invited to Salisbury is the same as no revisionists being invited to speak at LO conferences.
            As for scripture being the written Word of God. I believe that Christ is the living Word of God. Scripture is the word of God, or words written about God, which are divinely inspired but mediated through fallible men. I do not believe the Bible to be inerrant.

        • David writes: “I assume from your approach to this text you think Christian leaders should not be single either?”

          Do you *really assume that or is this a red herring? It is obvious that Paul, a single man (a category which *did exist in the ancient world – some uninformed commentators are given to hyperbole on this matter and know nothing of ancient asceticism – since both Jesus and John the Baptist were single, and Bannus before them) was saying that an episcopos should not be much-married man or a polygamist.
          I cannot help your general scepticism about church order in the apostolic era, but if you were to read Lightfoot on the Apostolic Ministry or even Beckwith, ‘Elders in Every City’, you would find NT scholars with more confidence than you seem to have in interpreting and using the NT, including the Pastoral Epistles. In any case, church ministry did settle into a fairly uniform shape by the end of the first century and the catholic and orthodox argument has always been that bishops like Irenaeus and Clement were following the example of St John and the other apostles.

          • Contra Brian, I as a heterosexual would have no problem whatsoever being led by a minister who was a woman or who was homosexual (SSA if celibate). The issue is not the gender or sexuality of the leader but their clarity on the gospel and faithfulness to the faith as once delivered.

          • Brian When the text says – ‘Bishops should be married …’ the question about whether a single man should be in Christian leadership is hardly a red herring. Doesn’t it mean what it says? Leadership is male, heterosexual and married.
            ‘Settle into a fairly uniform shape’ also suggests precisely my point – that patterns of ministry were not initially uniform and took time to evolve.

            And thanks Simon – my position on leadership too.

          • Simon writes: “Contra Brian, I as a heterosexual would have no problem whatsoever being led by a minister who was a woman or who was homosexual (SSA if celibate). The issue is not the gender or sexuality of the leader but their clarity on the gospel and faithfulness to the faith as once delivered.”
            A man with SSA who makes no issue of his sexual feelings and lives a celibate life and teaches traditional sexual morality is not what I am talking about here, as I’m sure both David and Simon know. I am talking about people like Andrew Foreshew-Cain and others challenging traditional morality. When a man or woman is in a same-sex partnership, as two suffragan bishops are in the C of E, it is hrd to think they are committed to that morality. After all, it doesn’t really work for them – and a bishop is supposed to be a model of Christian living according to the C of E.
            Whether women clergy will continue to teach fidelity to “the faith once delivered” is a little less clear. The fact that Rachel Treweek and Jo Bailey Wells have attacked the exclusive use of male pronouns and language for God indicates how far modern secular feminism has affected female clergy. “Inclusivity” is the name of the game and Sarah Mullaly sends out those signals as well.

        • Look at this as well, David – it’s from The Guardian so it must be true! 🙂 Only 2% of young people in Britain identity (however loosely) with the C of E, while the proportion of middle-aged adults has crashed from 35% to 11% in the past 15 years. Limping after society’s liberalism and secularism – the basic remedy proposed by theological liberalism – hasn’t worked.

          • Brian
            Are you arguing that people don’t go to church because they see it as being too liberal? Most surveys seem to suggest that people regard the church as rather illiberal, young people in particular regard it as a toxic brand.

          • Brian Research shows that the views held by you about people being put off gay people and by women’s leadership are generally held by folk who are 55yrs+. By contrast the younger generations seem to have no such difficulty with gender or sexuality and are baffled at debates like these. So your claim that these are key causes for churches emptying/declining seems specific to one age group. The younger/future generations still need reaching for Christ but whether their church leader is gay and/or a women is of not an issue to them. That’s good news I think.

          • David writes: “Brian Research shows that the views held by you about people being put off gay people and by women’s leadership are generally held by folk who are 55yrs+. By contrast the younger generations seem to have no such difficulty with gender or sexuality and are baffled at debates like these. So your claim that these are key causes for churches emptying/declining seems specific to one age group. The younger/future generations still need reaching for Christ but whether their church leader is gay and/or a women is of not an issue to them. That’s good news I think.”
            David, those millennials who profess liberal views aren’t interested in the Church at all – and the churches which do attract young people are overwhelmingly male in their leadership. I’m thinking of course of the HTB network and the evangelical churches in university cities, as well as the Co-Mission network. You need to distinguish what a secular person says in answer to a question (‘No, it doesn’t bother me at all’) and what they actually do. As I noted above, only 2% of British young people identify (in any sense) with the C of E – TWO PER CENT. The decline in the past fifteen years among Anglicans has been catastrophic. The *religious future of Britain is either Muslim or Catholic, whatever secular young people say in answer to surveys. You will recall that George Carey said the C of E was only one generation away from extinction. That was half a generation ago. Across England there are hundreds and hundreds of congregations where the average age is in the late 60s. I do not see them turning around – do you? To be a Christian today – especially a young Christian – you need to be counter-cultural. And that means believing in biblical marriage and married men taking the lead in bringing their children to church and to Christ. That’s what the young women flocking the HTB churches and New Wine actually want.

          • Yes, Brian – I think the biggest Rubicon was the disastrous capitulation to the culture on divorce nigh on 50 years ago.

          • Brian
            The young evangelicals who go to churches, especially in university cities, are the already churched. Often they hold views on sexual morality which are very different from those of their leaders.
            However, the vast majority of young people who have no interest in Church often regard it as positively harmful.
            They are more likely to be attracted by the radical Christian inclusivity of Treweek, Bailey Wells, and Mullaly because, morally, that is where they are, hungering for a radical gospel.

          • ‘The young evangelicals who go to churches, especially in university cities, are the already churched. Often they hold views on sexual morality which are very different from those of their leaders. However, the vast majority of young people who have no interest in Church often regard it as positively harmful. They are more likely to be attracted by the radical Christian inclusivity of Treweek, Bailey Wells, and Mullaly because, morally, that is where they are, hungering for a radical gospel.’

            Penelope –
            1. 20 years as a chaplain and priest in a university town leads me to rather different conclusions. Young evangelicals become young evangelicals after being born again not brought up in it. Many of those brought up young evangelicals go up to university & shrug off their christian upbringing & quickly embrace the new freedoms and explore the new options. They dont want a radical gospel – they dont want any gospel – they want to try out the new sexual morality. Many return a few years later, weary, bored, ashamed. I would say the majority of those 18-30’s that we baptise in groups many times a year, are evenly divided between those who came from no faith background, those who came from evangelical background but spent a few years away, and then those brought up within it and now owning it fully for themselves.

            2. What evidence have you that young people are more likely to embrace a gospel of radical christian inclusivity (by which I take you here to mean not evangelical/conservative). Again, here in my university town the two major liberal churches have ageing congregations and a mere handful of students; the college chapels, where I have preached in numerous on several dozen occasions generally have small numbers attending made up of the odd organ scholar, modest choir, a handful of students and a handful of dons. The rare exception, in my experience, have been when the chaplain was evangelical (a rare appointment) or a godly, pastorally minded Anglo Catholic.

            3. Bps Treweek, Bailey Wells, and Mullally are all gifted and have served notably in their former roles in the academy, civil service, as archdeacon etc but is there any indication, as you rather suggest, that young people have been or now are being attracted to the radical inclusivity of their radical gospel? (by which I take you to mean liberal not conservative in articulation)

            Penelope – you are by training a theologian, a scholar who examines evidence. I have observed you here as someone of great integrity and tenacity who wont back off and lay down when you disagree or disapprove. I love that. But sometimes your comments about evangelicalism seem alien to my experience as one. and your confidence in the effects of Liberalism betrayed by reality. Follow the evidence: is there any evidence, from anywhere, in any country, that a liberal theology produces church growth especially among the young? Where in the world is the Church growing and why?

            If I may be personal, I sometimes think you have no actual experience though of that which you criticise or demarcate yourself from – namely evangelical/charismatic church. I’d love you to visit some of these churches whose ministry & theology at times you appear to disdain. You might be surprised 🙂

          • Simon
            Thank you. Of course I defer here to your much greater experience. My response was much more about my own perception and a little bit of reading which suggests that most people come to faith before the age of 22 or not at all. I think this was presented at Synod some years ago, but I don’t have a source.
            Many of the conservative evangelicals I know at university were brought up as such and continued throughout their university careers. I say many, but I mean several. I thought there was also research showing that many young conservative evangelicals loved the worship but sat much more lightly to the teachings on sexuality in their churches. I also saw some research recently (again no source, I’m afraid) which suggested that young people are more attracted by incense and choral music! Perhaps this explains growing congregations for evensong.
            I agree that many liberal churches are dwindling. Which is sad. I am, by ‘tribe’ a liberal catholic. However, Cathedrals are bucking this trend. I understand also that not all liberal churches are declining or evangelical one’s growing, the narrative is more nuanced than that.
            My assumption that young people would be attracted by radical Christian inclusivity rests on the fact that many see the church as a toxic brand, particularly in its perceived stance on sexuality. It is an irony that many see the secular as having greater moral probity than the sacred, and that both evangelical and catholic.
            It is also the case that some churches in the Anglican communion exaggerate their membership, including all or most of the inhabitants of the country. If we did that the CoE would be huge.
            I find your reflection on young people leaving the church and the returning very interesting. That has been my experience and I have seen people return, or even come for the first time, when they have children. Perhaps this is a modern rite of passage.
            You are right that I have little experience of evangelical or charismatic worship. There is a Catholic charismatic thing, perhaps I should experience that. One thing I don’t find comfortable in evangelical churches is the music, the long sermons and, ironically, the lack of public reading of the Bible and following the lectionary. Sorry, that’s three things. So, perhaps, I don’t tend to go to churches because they are ‘libersl’, though they probably are, but because they are Eucharistic, have, if possible, choral music, and at least three readings from scripture.

          • Simon I have followed this exchange with with Penny with interest. May I start by saying I always rejoice in the ministry that is yours. But I do think it has had a quite specific context in terms of this discussion.
            Some responses from a fellow evangelical.
            In the evangelical world I still rejoice to roam in I do not find this issue is for separating out in terms of ‘liberal’ or ‘evangelical’. I know many Christians whose evangelical convictions are clear and important to them but who on this issue you would call liberal. I am one. There is well known as a concern amongst conservative leaders of evangelical churches that many of their younger folk or interns – passionate and full of faith – are simply more open and including on the question of sexuality. They don’t get the problem. It is also true in my own wide experience of teaching at several evangelical theological colleges over many years – where a significant percentage of the students (and not a few faculty) are equally open on this.

          • Thankyou David

            1. Yes, I do agree my ministry in Oxford has had quite a specific context although not irrelevant to the discussion here – especially when speaking of whether men or young people come to Church and whether the latter are put off by a more conservative theology. Not my experience in Oxford.

            But I have also 3 years church planting ministry in south of England suburbia, and 3 years in a a middle church northern city UPA – and had the amazing privilege to be invited to preach and teach over the past few years in some 200 different church contexts/conferences: of different traditions, denominations and nations and so that too, besides Oxford’s rare if not rarified church life, also shapes my perspective.

            2. Yes, I do make a divide between liberal and evangelical and place an affirming same sex marriage position in the former. I know you reject what you see as my false polarity on this- and still hold that one can be evangelical and SSM affirming. For me the SSM issue is a rubicon that divides between liberal and evangelical as I do not regard the approach to Scripture and conclusions inferred to be consistent with faithful evangelical hermeneutics. I know that irks you, it is never my intention to do so, nor insult you. But you must also accept that equally it irks some of us evangelicals when people claim to be evangelical whilst SSM affirming – that seems like an oxymoron. It strikes me this is an argument made by those who once were evangelical, changed their evangelical theology, yet still think they’re evangelical. If I’m honest, I see evangelical as essentially ‘conservative’ -whilst to be ‘open’ is to be liberal, or as the 1990’s term, ‘post’ evangelical.

            I nevertheless regard you and others with whom I disagree, with great respect and know that you are of good faith, and not, as I have sometimes suggested in the heat of rhetorical flourish, ‘sold out to prevailing culture’. You are right to check me on that. I am aware your theology & process is far more sophisticated, with more integrity, more scrutiny of scripture, and generally driven by compassion.

            3. Yes, I am aware there will be some ordinands and even some tutors at evangelical colleges who hold SSM affirming views. Ordinands are free to choose whatever college they wish so may attend a college for other factors than wholly endorsing their theological traditions. This can be healthy for them and especially the college community. Many self professing evangelical ordinands are there to learn and be formed theologically, and it is to be expected that some will have not yet even worked through the theological issues relating to SSM – here they have been formed by the wider cultural milieu and not scripture. Yes, it is also the case that some tutors change their mind whilst in the job, perhaps one or two take a job at an evangelical college and the SSM issues were not on the table when they took the job so the question never arose. It is to be expected that there will be a spectrum of views within the staff and student body – this makes for a healthy theological experience – though that doesn’t preclude the college taking a position in line with its particular theological/spiritual confession.

            Grateful as always for this theological community and for your engagement and contribution

          • Simon You honour me again by your gracious affirmation of me – even where we disagree. I certainly did not suggest your ministry experience was irrelevant. But I am sorry if I narrowed its evident width.
            I am not irked by your views or where we differ. It is not, for me, a deal breaker in church or evangelical terms. But I am aware it really is the rubicon for you. So I hear the sheer anguish in your engagement at times.
            And I too am grateful for our exchanges here. Thank you – even in the wounds of serious difference.

      • On another note, I just had a look at one of Living Out’s conferences (now ended) it doesn’t say you could not attend unless you sign up to the EA’s basis of faith. Clearly they will promote views that you don’t agree with, but I would have thought you would still have been able to attend and put your point of view.

    • David

      ‘When it is claimed the church is ‘feminised’ – do we simply mean it is more full of women than men?’

      Not necessarily. By ‘feminised’ I would be thinking of things like doctrine, interest in theology, attitudes, choices, management style, practicalities. In each case women will tend to do things differently from the way men would do them. (Yes, of course that’s a generalisation!) That in itself should not be a reason for men to take offence and leave. But where the sum of those differences is such that it excludes both what men need and what they have to offer, there is little point in denying that we have a problem.

      It is not the presence of women that repels men (most well balanced men will have the greatest respect and love for women), it’s more that a woman’s way of thinking and doing things is more exclusive to women’s taste than the masculine way of doing things is exclusive to men’s taste. And that seems to be an observation (Ian has made that point) which we may just have to accept as reality?

      PS I’ve not noticed any demeaning or insulting of women here – none of us should be happy with that.

      • Don I don’t doubt your sincerity but I am still struggling with the language. The word ‘feminised’ always appears in these debates and it is used without any positive, redeeming content whatsoever. It is ‘The Problem’. And since it refers to a quality of contribution, presence and influence traditionally associated with women and is blamed here as a cause of church decline I find it demeaning and judging of women. Others here make very clear their view that the major reason for the decline of the church and its avoidance by men is the presence of gay men and/or women in leadership. Women leaders, we are also told, are all more theologically liberal. Well that depends where you start from of course. Given that in a conservative church they would not be leaders at all they are automatically more liberal here just by existing!
        All in all I think we men will not come to a proper maturity and selfhood in life and faith until we take responsibility for our own growing and stop blaming others for our struggles.

  25. Brian and Ian: If Mariology made Christianity more appealing to women than to men, then the worship of the male Jesus ought to make Christianity without Mariology more appealing to men than to women (as indeed feminist opponents of Christianity say is the case for them). I cannot see that history bears out either of these facile claims. Maybe mediaeval mysticism did appeal more to women than to men, but it was a specialist practice that had nothing much to do with what Christianity meant to most ordinary people. One easy way to get a glimpse of the latter is the medieval mystery plays, which seem to me rather robustly masculine.

    • I was really only relaying Podles’ claim, which I can’t assess. I think there are a lot of other planks to his thesis but I haven’t read his book, only articles about it. I suppose he is stronger on the dynamics of Christian instruction of the young which has long been a more female than male thing (female Sunday school teachers, mothers taking children to church etc). Catholic Spain was very Marian in expression but also aggressively masculine in its conquests.

  26. My only contribution to this post will be a word I’m not sure has been mentioned yet.


    Churches ask you to give, expect it even, and men can find this particularly hard, especially if the requirement is overt. Money is an expression of wealth and power, and asking people to give it away will be met with resistance, and men tend to be more cynical about how it’s used (at least in my observation). Men, and women don’t like talking about money in general either, it’s still a social taboo.

    I think this could be unpacked more by someone with a better arsenal of psychology and statistics, but I figured I should throw it out there.

    Related question: what’s the male/female ratio like in ‘prosperity gospel’ churches, or the American megachurches?

    • In prosperity gospel churches and American megachurches one will find a goodly number and proportion of men, in my experience. I think the thing about men and money which you mentioned may not apply across the cultures – not even across the Atlantic or Mediterranean.

    • This man (at least) prefers overt requests for money to those who live not so much by faith as by feelers.

      But if he has decent earnings a church can reasonably expect 100 pounds a month, or 200, or even 500. And he wants to know if it’s going to be responsibly spent, if he (or at least somebody) is going to get value for his money. A plain statement of the financial relationship between Head Office and the branches, PCC Minutes on the noticeboard (what have they got to hide?), Annual Reports uploaded to the Charities Commission website long in advance of the 10-month deadline, auditors’ statement, expenditure shown in crystal clarity on pie charts.

  27. you’re comment about men’s and women’s films got me thinking. in the 50s films like Casablanca managed to combine both heros and love stories in one film, can’t the church manage to do both too?

  28. As a woman who leans more analytical, I think your generalizations are accurate and would enjoy changes that would make the church lean more masculine to correct the imbalance. Enough of love song after flowery love song to Jesus (which ironically are primarily written by men) and passively listening to a man. We need more music about us banding together and fighting evil and our own flesh. Let’s debate theology instead of trying to tiptoe around our issues and have a beer together. Let’s help the poor by building housing (something I lack the physical strength to do well given my female body), not just clothes and cans of food.


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