It could be said that each of us incaranate the message of the gospel whether we intend to or not. Our thoughts and actions become a hermeneutic for our understanding of the work of God in Christ. This is particularly true for those in leadership; we bring to our teaching and leadership a worldview that shaped by our beliefs.
The problem is that this relationship, between the incarnation and our worldview, is also affected by other factors that might not seem obvious. Such things as often revealed in the culture wars that take place when our way of life seems threatened. What we are then presented with is a message that has all of the outward appearance of being connected with the gospel but is more a push back against the pace of change.
For example, in his book 'Why Men Hate Going to Church', David Murrow (23) sets out a view that has gained popularity in many aspirational churches. He uses statistics and stories to suggest that the over feminisation of the church has meant that men are not interested in attending. He lands the ultimate blow in his thesis with the phrase, “The religion that wins men, wins”.
There are so many things that I could say about the damage that this book, and others like it, have done, but I will focus on a few aspects that I think are useful to us here.
Firstly, I object to the idea that is created by such books that men are defined as male by 'not' being women; or at least by not displaying characteristics typically associated with being female. This places women in the position of the 'other', that men are to not be. There is a tendency in both the media, and by implication the church, to over genderise issues of personhood. This is the 'Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus' effect that I see so often in the management training sessions I run. The concepts that women can multitask and men can't; women love detail and men don't; and women are emotional and men are not, all present ideas about the differences in the gender that are open to question.
Even if we sometimes see representations of such things, it is highly likely that they are culturally conditioned and not an ontological predisposition. I challenge you, as I do in the training sessions, to consider you own group of friends and you will likely find men who cry and love detail, and women who are more stoical and straight to the point. The gender stereotypes might offer a bit of amusement among family members, but they are not something on which to build a belief system.
Men are not more male if they show fewer seemingly female characteristics: the cultural loading here is almost palpable but Murrow, and those who have used his material, are falling into the trap of not seeing the 'wood for the trees' when it comes to understanding humanity. I would suggest that human beings, both women and men, share a very high proportion of common characteristics.
Gender differences do exist, but that we should not allow popular culture to be the loudest voice in influencing our view; thus leading us towards an over simplified position. We certainly should not stoop to producing our own version of the call for people to 'man up' as if maleness was a call to some kind of bravado or aggression.
Second, as stated earlier, ideas that are based on revisionist views of history simply will not do. There has not been a time when, en masse, men have been so distinctly excited about church attendance. Murrow's idea only works if such a time had existed. Only in this context can he assign the cause of the downfall to the over feminisation of the church. Of more importance, particularly given the vastly out weighted statistics of male leadership compared with female leadership within the church, is Murrow's over simplification of what it means to be a man.
I heard a keynote speaker referencing Murrow's work at a men's conference a few years ago, I was staggered that intelligent people allowed such ideas to go unchallenged, let alone that such conferences have testosterone invoking names such as: Brotherhood, Brave, Xcel, Mighty Men, Courageous Men, Iron Sharpens Iron, Call to Arms, and Act Like Men.
I am just waiting for someone like Mark Driscoll to bring out the 'Grow a Pair' men's conference and I think we will have had all the various shades of culturally laden names available. It is worth noting that in popular culture males are encouraged to become more 'manly' with phrases like 'grow a pair', 'man up', and 'don't be such a girl'. The fact that some parts of the church not only do not see these are offensive but mimic popular culture by using them is more than worrying.
During the above mentioned conference, the one in which Murrow's book was lauded, I looked down the row at the group of men with whom I had attended and saw in that small picture why such teaching is wrong. None of us fitted the stereotype. I don't even think the speaker fitted the stereotype. I didn't fit it either. I am a six foot, eighteen stone, ex rugby playing Northerner, who likes meat from a barbecue: yes, I would fit the stereotype here. But I also cry at sad films, like art and poetry, hate fighting, and don't like Harley Davidson motorcycles. I probably need to grow a pair.
As I said, the rest of the men on my row failed to fit the brief. They were a fine collection of what it means to be men; complex and different. They may have laughed at the funny stories of how men like to shoot, ride, fight, eat road kill, and give firm handshakes (never hugs) but the truth is that the oversimplification was not our experience. As a mark of our male solidarity we had a group hug at the end and went off to a salad bar, it seemed only right.
Our understanding of gender is important when considering the incarnation as a model for the church. God did not come primarily to be a man but to be a human being. Churches, and authors, that present well defined parameters for what it means to be female or male, without acknowledging the cultural conditioning that our views are laden with, will have a tendency to create an incarnation in their own image.
Add to this, if you will, the idea that evangelical churches have typically followed a one ‘man’ ministry model of church leadership. In addition we might say that larger churches have tended to adopt the 'senior person as the CEO' model, we can see how Murrow's words become both dangerous and misleading. If the 'religion that wins men, wins' is in any way true, it is probably because the conditions that allow men to be in positions of power over women have not been sufficiently challenged.
So we have a high proportion of male leaders heading up congregations that generally contain more female members. At the same time the world is changing and male leadership as the norm is being questioned. It's no wonder that we have a tendency to highlight the male stereotypes; even if Murrow and conference leaders think the opposite.
Again the incarnation is not about God becoming male; it is about God becoming human. Once we have cleared this in our minds we can consider what the model might mean for us. Now before you think that this overemphasising of maleness only affects men it is worth noting that many women, in business, church, and politics, feel they have to demonstrate characteristics associated with being male in order to succeed.
It also places in the minds of our congregations ideas that suggest that maleness is more associated with God than attributes traditionally associated with being female.
Our goal in Christ is to become fully human; not to look for ways to display our masculinity or femininity