This is going to be something of a more personal post than any other, and one in which I can't help but leave myself open to some criticism. Nevertheless, taking a deep breath, I plunge in with an illustration; several, actually.
My family was at church this last Sunday, previewing worship clips the church will use in this summer's Vacation Bible School. There were two clips, bouncy melodies about worshiping and praising God--not what I'd call memorable, but after two or three nights I'd probably catch on to them. The singers were a kids' ensemble, and a minute into the second clip something struck me: There are no boys. The ensemble members are all girls.
Okay, no big deal. Typically, more girls than boys go to church. Why not? After all, there are more girls than boys in the US now anyway. I myself am the one boy of three children; I have one son out of four children; our best friends have three girls and no boys; my wife grew up with one brother and one sister. Girls outnumber boys in my world now.
But I watched this video and wondered: What is my son going to take from this? That church is for smiling, perky, bouncy girls and not much of a place for rowdy, roaring, rough-and-tumble boys? After all, when you get down to it, the whole church service tends to be something women relate to better than men. There's not a lot of action; the typical evangelical service is usually a monologue, a shortened and less-formal version of a college lecture. At least Jesus told stories--some of them quite violent, all of them fitting into the real world.
About a year ago I came across a book with the intriguing title Why Men Hate Going to Church.
Gotta love the cover:
Murrow's book stirred some controversy, but I found myself with him far more often than against him. I want my son, and the troubled young men I'm coming across, to know that there is a place for them in the church. I want them to know that church isn't a Girls Only (or Mostly) hide-out that neuters any male who comes into its doors. And unfortunately a lot of men are beginning to think that way.
This is strange, when you realize that the main point of the New Testament is that a new kingdom has invaded the world. A mighty Sovereign has claimed the world as His and is taking it through warfare. Granted, it's a new kind of warfare; no one in the new kingdom is ever told to wield a sword against other men. Still, it's warfare. It calls for men to be disciplined and committed to our Captain. It calls for us to endure hardship not just with patience but with exuberant praise. It calls for us to leave the places where we feel safe and to batter down the gates of Satan's own stronghold. It calls for us to take a sword against demons, wield a shield against burning darts flung from Hell itself. This is a gospel for men.
Men want to be challenged. Men want leaders who will stop pampering them and who will tell them: "Be on guard. Be strong. Play the man. Hold your place in the line of battle, and don't back down." Most of all, men in the thick of battle need to be told over and over: "The battle is not your own. Your God has won the victory." We need to hear it again and again because the real battle isn't the romantic thing we thought it would be. People get weary in the front lines. People get wounded. People back down in fear.
God has won the victory. That's the key message that leads us to victory in every part of the Christian life. It leads us to holiness, to worship, to service. It leads us to overcome the enemy in our communities, our families, ourselves. God has won the victory. So we fight on.
In a sense, yes, the church really isn't a place for boys. It's a place for men. And a place where boys can be turned into men.