David Murrow popped up on my radar again and since he put out a new edition of Why Men Hate Going to Church I found a copy and went down the Youtube hole catching up. I haven’t paid too much attention to him since I first read his book back in the Mars Hill era. And it is interesting to see what has changed in the interim and how I have changed.
Murrow deserves some revisiting but not, in my estimation, to be taken as an authority. A sociologist by training, and media producer by trade he brings many important observations and suggests some interesting points of action. A good example is his thinking on church decor. Which is ironic because it almost seems feminine to think about such things. But He is not wrong in that an aesthetic communicates. Opinions are formed immediately and if the first thing a man sees is a large flower arrangement in front of a pulpit it makes the pastors job an uphill battle to break through being dismissed. And flowers are a decidedly superficial thing, but add to that pink carpet, Thomas Kinkade paintings, soft seats, and a therapeutic sermon, the sum is not one that is a positive for men. Churches put a lot of thought into their aesthetic and have no problem with the result being feminine, and then they wonder where all the men are. Murrow has a point aesthetics matter.
However, this line of thinking also points to the problem I have with Murrow’s thinking. He wants men in church, good; but all of his strategies operate on the old seeker sensitive model. Build it and they will come, as it were. And the primary flaw in this strategy is that while some men may show up that does not mean they are going to be Christian men. I have written many times that I am convinced that we have church buildings full of non christians who think that they are, but their fruit is rotten to it’s core. And Murrow’s seeker sensitive approach is particularly dangerous in that there is a growing number of young men who are interesting in church, and could easily join and never meet Christ due to a toxic blend of our current non-denominational Gospel light preaching with a masculine centric aesthetic.
The bigger problem is the ecumenism Murrow holds is far too broad. In the updated edition he tells the story of a Methodist lady pastor who wondered why there were no men in her church. She read the book and did everything Murrow suggested, lo and behold men actually came. Murrow sees this as a great success. He has even made a short documentary on this one example. But the problem is that this is not a church and not a pastor that has such large numbers of men in attendance. A sermon is not an exegesis of a movie clip that applies to life. Murrow’s strategies may work to gather men but they are Christ-less gatherings. What you win them with is what you win them to.
The Harvest is Plenty
The point is the current moment is one in which increasing numbers of young single men are primed for the Gospel. As much as he scares me Jordan Peterson is sending them our way. Or consider this quote from a recent National Review article:
“Mason had been in an abusive relationship in high school. When he asked for support from his friends, Mason was told to “man up” and get over it. The self-help community became his “gateway” to the movement. Jordan Peterson became a source of new confidence, and he eventually ditched his “firm” atheism in favor of Christianity.” – Ari Blaff, The Unseen Faces of the Men’s Rights Movement
It should not be beyond the pale to make new Christians aware of the church. In the past decade we made the shift to being a welcoming place to “hurting” people with “felt needs” well these young men have an actual need for Christ, and they are not welcome in our churches because they don’t want to be feminized in order to be accepted. Muslims are more than happy to welcome and convert them, Andrew Tate a large voice in the manosphere recently converted to Islam. And his comments on why Christians were unconvincing to him are damning.
The Rubber Meets the Road
So Murrow should not be seen as an authority, but he deserves to be wrestled with. In fact he is one of the voices we need to wrestle with. If for no other reason than he is one of the few people who is actually putting forward a clear map of where we went wrong and is offering practical suggestions for how to get back to where we need to be. If for no other reason then for us to bring solid reformed ecclesiology to bear on his thinking and perhaps work out a better way. Not just to critique but to consider actual ways, things to do, that welcome men into churches without selling out the gospel. For us to know why we do the things we do.
For example, Murrow advocates for shorter sermons. And if I may double down on then maxims that hold true and hold true for a reason: sermonettes make christianettes. the ecclesiology behind how long we preach is important. Sermon length should be based on the answer to why we preach not average attention spans. It is the job of pastors and elders to to teach, this includes expanding attention spans. Active listening, and note taking exist. Puritan husbands and fathers would outline the sermon as they listened to reread to their families during the week to discuss and apply. That is a masculine activity.
Or to end where I began the look and decor of a building is something that has to be thought through at some point. The pews and carpet didn’t magically become turn to a spectrum of mauve to pink. Flowers arrangements do not spontaneously manifest around sanctuaries and lobbies. Decisions are made at some point. Now again I would not go so far as Murrow recommends by spending a ton of money on rough hewn cedar walls and mounted deer heads in the lobby and flagstone walls in the sanctuary. I am partial to an austere Plymouth Brethren look myself. But when the time comes to consider the look of the church it is not a sin to go for an aesthetic that is neutral or even masculine in feel.
I think the Reformed space is headed into a, for lack of a better word, reformation. The old guard is on its way out and then up and coming voices are distinctly more manful that the outgoing winsomers. This is an area that needs to be considered as this shift is taking place. Murrow has his problems, but deserves to be listened to and evaluated. Unless someone wants to take the very manly route and think through all of the things Driscoll did right that attracted men, then find ways to update and apply those lessons… No? No takers? Ok Murrow it is then, discuss.