Thursday, January 24, 2013

Catching up... why don't men come to church?

Rod Dreher has written a piece on why men don't come to church.  It is worth a read.  There is some mention of the usual suspects:  women (even lesbian) clergy, feeling oriented focus of message and music, soft identity, etc...  But it seems that one of the primary reasons is that contemporary Christianity spends too much of its time adapted to the person instead of adapted the person to God.  Another way of looking at this is that much of contemporary Christianity seems focused on getting the person in touch with himself or herself instead of getting in touch with or having union with God.  Now there is something to think about.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of Dreher's essay is making available to us links to some of the more in depth work done by others, in one case more than a dozen years ago.  I am referring to Leon Podles monumental work in 1999 which you can access here in PDF form.  It is worth the read.  The other is more recent.  Called Men and the Church, it is a particular look at the place of men in Orthodox churches.  Doug LeBlanc puts us in touch with the comments of men who describe what it is that attracts them to Orthodoxy.  Again, it is worth the read.

I am not going to go through either work or Dreher's article in detail.  You can do this.  What I do want to do is focus some comments in response.  In my own District of the LCMS there are missions begun with a view toward the inclusion of men.  They have focused their outreach in ways designed to attract men -- including mixed martial arts demonstrations in the worship space.  The great danger of this is not that they work but that they have merely repackaged what is inherently the weakness of churches that attempt to grow by adapting to the person, in this case, a male, by using gimmicks presumed to be attractive to males, particularly young and single males.

They may have scanned some of the work on why men don't go to church but they did not read it in depth.  They missed the part about being asked to adapt to the church, adapt to God, adapt to the worship life of the church, etc.  They missed the part about demanding piety that expects sacrifice and deference. 

In Lutheran terms, we have a problem with this.  We are knee jerk antinomians when it comes to piety.  God forbid that we should have rules about liturgy, lectionary, prayer, posture, piety or practice.  We cannot say "no" to anything and so we find it hard to say "yes" to something.  We are too darned quick to say that fasting cannot be legislated and so fasting is a lost art among us.  We jump on anyone who suggests that we should kneel for some parts of the liturgy or stand for others; we prefer sitting and watching as a whole.  So, we end up allowing people to do as they please.  Those who cannot kneel or stand for long have given way to those who do not want to -- wants and desires have replaced physical limitations on the postures of the Divine Service.  We insist that chanting has to go if folks don't like it or vestments or whatever else seems offensive.

One thing I like about the Orthodox is that they are offensive.  They don't shorten the service.  They have no seeker services or user friendly styles of worship.  They expect male voices to predominate in the service and the music of the Divine Liturgy seems tailor made for the basso profundo. They stand for long periods.  They use archaic and unknown languages in the liturgy.  They have art that seems out of another time (icons) and vestments that seem more like dresses than even the vesture known by the West.  They have ornate and elaborate sanctuaries -- almost to the point of kitsch.  Yet they seem to attract and keep men more than the typical Protestant barn with its screens and carefully quaffed clergy.  Their music has no beat or percussion or even guitars and yet more often than not men sing in their choirs.

Lutherans were once that kind of church.  We had a culture of worship that was, for all intents and purposes, out of step with the culture of the moment.  Read about the liturgical life of Leipzig at the time of Bach.  Read of the elaborate schedules of daily offices, catechetical services, and Divine Services of those eras.  They fasted and prayed and knelt and smelled incense.  Their clergy were not there to get them in touch with their feelings but to call them to repentance and absolve their guilty consciences with the powerful Word of life.

I would suspect that men are in higher levels of participation in those churches of our Synod which are served by Pastors in the same mold, by worship which retains its heavenly and other worldly character, and in which the preaching is still marked the by the powerful call to repentance.  I would suspect that the percentage of men participating in worship is highest among the congregations of our church body where the person is called to adapt and not the church adapting to them, where there is clear and high expectation of piety and practice.

Note that I am not suggesting that Pastors be SS officers and congregants into recruits at boot camp.  I am talking about the church simply being what the church is to be -- the body of Christ.  When Lutherans regain this sense and show it forth in their worship, then we may find that men respond more... and women, too... and children retained...

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