I was thinking some more about contemporary evangelical tactics to spread the good news and concluded that there is a lot of “Jesus is your boyfriend” language in outreach jargon these days. I’m pretty sure everyone has heard variations of the following at church or similar:
- God wants to have a personal relationship with you.
- God wants to know you intimately.
- God is passionately pursuing you.
- God has a plan for your life and is the Ultimate Provider.
- God gave up everything just to reach special ol’ you.
Basically: Jesus has oneitis for you, and He’s got it baaaad.
I understand that the “personal God” emphasis is just the pendulum swing to the opposite end of the unpopular hellfire and brimstone approach, but when you look at it objectively, it makes it sound like God is writing your spiritual Harlequin novel. If you were to substitute “Joe Alpha” for God, the above sound like they could be the M.O. of the hero of this month’s iteration of The Flame and the Jewel or whatever romance novels get named. Unsurprisingly, this God-as-supernatural-suitor approach has worked quite well in recruiting women, because women want to be eternally pursued. Who better to know you intimately than the Supreme Being of the Universe who, by the way, forgives you of everything you have ever done wrong and still wants you to be His?
Given this approach, you’d think it would be equally unsurprising that it’s much harder to get men into church, but no: evangelicals are mostly still scratching their heads about this troubling phenomenon. (Well, scratching their heads when they’re not screeching at men to put down the XBox, stop having unrealistic standards of beauty, and man up, anyway.) It apparently has not occurred to the evangelical brain trust that men do not respond to passionate pursuit for an intimate relationship, nor are most men interested in having tear-filled meltdowns as they are overwhelmed by their emotions in light of receiving the truth. Men are not drawn to guys because they have good haircuts and wear “regular, accessible guy” Hawaiian shirts and eschew pulpits and drop the word “awesome” a lot. It’s just…men thirst for leadership, for fraternity, and for purpose, and what churches are offering up is not that but “Talk intimately to Jesus, He wants to KNOW YOUR SOUUUUUL” messages accentuated by easy-listening keyboarding from a Korg that has a spider web of wires protruding from it as everyone holds hands across the aisle. For a lot of men, this is like applying spiritual Nair to the spiritual hairs on their chests.
I think if churches want to get men back in the pews, they need to inspire men. They need to give men reasons, not emotions, to walk with God. They need to know that in knowing God, they will discover purpose for their lives, that God permits challenges in life to spur growth, that God is just and fair and disciplines out of love, not spite, that He is the wind at their backs and the leader of their battalions, and that he is the Almighty and we enter into His presence by His grace. A church that can harness the stout hearts of men can change the world. Attracting women would not be a problem, because women are drawn to men with purpose and passion.
I mean, if churches are going to cater in outreach to the inner princess of every woman, then they should at least give equal opportunity to the men by appealing to their inner comic book superhero.