Thursday, March 04, 2010

blokes in church? growing petrol heads and art lovers

A really thoughtful post on blokes and church here, from Dr Richard Beck here. The whole piece is fascinating, using Mark Driscoll’s views on masculinity as a starting point for the suggestion that we have an educated/uneducated split that creates deep fissures in our church communities.

The educated [men] teach, preach, and have the public leadership roles. The uneducated [men] are marginalized. Worse, if you are an uneducated male, you are force-fed those feminine metaphors. Educated males, being chickified, don’t mind or even notice the feminine metaphors. But Joe Six Pack notices the metaphors. All this creates a disjoint in the church. Two groups of males who find each other alien and weird.

Which is further clarified here.

people tend to focus on four big issues when it comes to church life: Gender, socioeconomic status, race, and sexual orientation. But I think one of the most pernicious fissures is the education issue. This problem is particularly acute in Christian churches as Christianity has been, from its earliest days, unapologeticly cerebral and intellectual.

He names something that is pretty real and was certainly my experience at Opawa, the challenge to form men spiritually, whether petrol head or art lover. And why I found the Opawa men’s camp last year so moving, the way that the repeated use of lecto divina (of which this is an outcome), inviting men to use their diverse hobbies, their relationships and life experience, their “caves”, as ways into sharing faith and life.  People were asked to bring something from their shed, which equalised and normalised everyone, from petrol head to art lover. And that became the starting point “going to your favorite spot in your “shed”” for engaging the Biblical text. Which is such a long way from cerebral and intellectual.

The most helpful book I’ve found in framing this for me is Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality (Book. Educated. Yep, I see the educated irony.) I love the way it explores Biblical texts as they relate to males

  • Abraham struggling to connect with his son from his first “marriage”;
  • David, and whether can we let him enjoy a deep male friendship with Jonathan without it becoming homosexualised in innuendo;
  • David who hides behind his work desk when his family comes crashing in

The author (and friend), Phil Culbertson, comes back to Jesus, who he explores from the angle of a person who enjoys deep male friendships, with working class fishermen and with budding intellectuals and poets (like John).

“Jesus appears to have modeled a style of male-male friendship that was committed, intimate, honest, open and even dependent … But there is no record that Jesus and his male followers did “men’s things” together. They did not go hunting together … nor did they share off-color jokes. They did not compete with each other … Christians can recognize the new Adam in Jesus insofar as he was willing to cherish his own human nature, in all its vulnerability, and yet to turn his face bravely toward an unknown future in which he and the world that he knew would be very different.” (105, 106).

It’s such a missionary challenge and we desperately need some working-class missional churches working in and around these issues.

Posted by steve at 09:20 AM


  1. I agree that it is huge challenge.

    Somehow we need to challenge the negative things about middle-class and working-class culture, while celebrating the good things and allowing for difference.

    From firsthand experience I can say that working-class culture is as conforming, if not more so, than middle-class culture, only differently and more overtly.

    Comment by Paul — March 4, 2010 @ 10:10 am

  2. thanks Paul. I agree that both middle and working have -ve dimensions. the point that Richard Beck is making is that by and large, the males who have leadership in churches tend to be middle-class, and they have constructed a different form of masculinity. that is less likely to connect with the working-class AND it is highly possible that that are offering a critique based on a middle-class masculinity rather than a redemption-formed masculinity,

    man, I find it hard to about this stuff, cos it goes to the core of identity


    Comment by steve — March 4, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

  3. Good blog, Steve. I grew up in a solid working-class environment – Dad was a plumber. The schools I went to were all working-class. My mates and I didn’t think much of going to Uni. It wasn’t, in those days, presented as real option for me, anyway. Getting a trade was the go and so I did, but who would have guessed then that being a cook would be such a glamourous thing these days(another story). But when I went to train for ordained ministry that is when the middle-class-ification started. The model for ordained leadership, then and now, is middle-class and well educated with accompanying tastes and values. To get on involved self-denial. Cars, pubs, bands and mates gave way to trips over seas, restaurants or posh dinner parties with polite, but often shallow, conversation.

    Comment by Chris McLeod — March 4, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

  4. I have for an incredibly long time struggled with the ‘forced-feed feminine metaphors’, but more so I have struggled more with the desire to once again claim the ‘masculine metaphors’. But every time I have tried, I have been shut down by people thinking that I am trying to return to the old ‘patriarchal, chauvinistic, women-in-the-kitchen, seen-and-not-heard’ model of Christianity.
    It took me a very long time to feel comfortable in claiming the ‘masculine metaphors’ of Christianity, and I still get many people that look at me strangely. It is something I desire, and struggle with as I can see that I have been somewhat formed into a ‘middle-class masculinity’, to be able to express the good news to those I minister to in the ‘working-class’.
    Thank you for this blog Steve. It has re-ignited my passion to be proud of who I am, and claim my masculinity in my ministry.

    Comment by Matthew Stuart — March 4, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

  5. It’s not that I disagree with Beck at all, I think he’s right on the money, but that I think it cuts both ways back and forth.

    It is indeed very hard talking and writing about this stuff, but you’re good at it Steve and the Church needs to deal with this stuff.

    In the late nineteenth century in NZ workers banded together to educate themselves, forming libraries and debating societies etc. – I don’t think the anti-intellectualism that is common amongst working-class people (as in where I grew up) is a simple as educated middle-class vs un(der)-educated working-class. There is bound to be a variety of interrelating factors…

    I’ve found recently that fishing is something that is pretty easy to talk to men from most backgrounds about, and it’s something that bridges into the biblical narrative quite easily. In NZ at least, most of us seem get what it is like to fish. It’s one of the few common masculine experiences that is not exclusively male and doesn’t seem to carry the same baggage as something like Rugby or hunting – you might go fishing with your Dad but your sister and Mum might come too, and so forth (generalising here, of course).

    Anyway, good to be thinking about this stuff 🙂

    Comment by Paul — March 4, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

  6. Paul, thanks. I think your point about 19th century workers is absolutely fascinating and certainly adds a whole nuance to the working:middle-class dualism. Just to break the stereotypes, I’m a male, but I hate fishing.

    Matthew, Thanks. Are you able to unpack the metaphors you do find helpful?

    Chris, I really appreciated hearing about some of your story. We really must connect – at a pub with a band! (but NOT, for me! the Clipsal 500 I’m afraid)


    Comment by steve — March 4, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  7. In Oz, AFL is popular with men & women. When I catch the crows my 18 year old daughter always comes, she loves it (my wife hates it, but I live in hope). Cooking, I reckon, is a good cross-over these days. What man – working & middle – isn’t proud of their B.B.Q. And it is over the barbie with a cold beer that the conversation between men happens. Last B.B.Q with some old ‘working’ mates we spoke about failed dreams, middle-life, marital breakdown (mate went through a tough divorce), children, careers, God, tertiary education & the meaning of life. Not bad; neither of them go to Church but pretty deep conversation.

    Yeah, thanks Steve you have raised a number of things that have been sitting at the bottom of my ‘soul’ for some time. I’ll see you in the pub Monday night to hear Jonny Baker.

    Comment by Chris McLeod — March 5, 2010 @ 8:06 am

  8. Chris, that’s what struck me about AFL/Crows last time – the inter-generational mix.

    Not sure about bbq’s – they can be a bit of male-up-man-ship around size, type etc. But yes, the give us something to do, and we can stand side-by-side, rather than facing each other.

    c u Monday. Jonny’s just arrived and we’ve shown him around the chapel, given him his fringe “artists” badge and he’s now being taken to the Landscape of desire space at Pilgrim.


    Comment by steve — March 5, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

  9. I guess for me, in the church, I go to the images and metaphors in Scripture. The strongest for me is that of “Jesus the Bloke” – especially the story of the cleansing the Temple. The story of Jesus who got angry, went away to make a whip (so many people seem to forget it takes some time to make a whip), came back and was still angry. Along side that is the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ response is to squat and draw in the sand, doesn’t acknowledge the woman until the end with “Where is everyone?”
    These two images for me, it feels like, gives me permission to be passionate and creative – when usually in church I am encouraged to sit quietly, listen and do as I am told.

    I have often wondered what it would be like to have church with a beer in my hand?

    Running with the footy (AFL/Rugby) metaphor, I have often gotten disappointed that people are happy to scream and cheer for their football team but can’t do the same for God. I have often wondered what morning tea would be like with instead of ‘proper’ biscuits and ‘portioned generic’ tea and coffee – what about a good meat pie and a pint of beer?

    Comment by Matthew Stuart — March 6, 2010 @ 9:26 am

  10. Appreciate you coming back Matthew and those 2 images you share are certainly challenging.

    In terms of energy at footy cf church, there’s a fascinating chapter on this is in “Praying for England” which wrestles with sport’s participation cf church, looking at the upsides and the downsides of sport and how ministers can be “incarnationally present” in that context. perhaps worth a look.


    Comment by steve taylor — March 6, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  11. Matt,

    Here’s the conclusion: “Football is a challenge to the Church. But the challenge is not ‘Why can’t church be more like football?’ Its ‘What can church learn from football?’ A church that aspires to flourish in the poorer communities of our nation and which aspires to engage working-class men effectively will embrace the question gladly.” Peter Wilcox, in Praying for England. Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture, 2008, 64.

    Comment by steve taylor — March 6, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  12. Thanks Steve, I think I will definitely have to have a read. And the question raised by Peter Wilcox – “What can church learn from football?” – is very much the question I want to explore.
    I have recently begun a ‘Bloke’s Breaky’ in my current placement. It has become a place of story, were the men who have attended are sharing deeply with each other. Dare I say, ‘out of the watchful eyes of their wives’. The speakers range from leadership to practical things, including an Army officer recently returned from a deployment.
    I had an experience just recently, this Sunday just passed, where there was one of the men up front with the singers (this guy can’t stand it, it does it because his wife volunteered him – he’s our sound guy) during the entire service his wife (who was beside me) was giving him direction with her hands (to sing louder, to look up, etc). My heart broke, and felt like screaming “let him do what he wants”.
    I guess I am struggling with this idea in church that everything has got to be ‘perfect’ and look ‘professional’. I think men, well in honesty I, get frustrated and feel like I am being controlled rather then encouraged. In Church it almost feels, a lot of the time, we are really teaching that passion and rareness are inappropriate, that anger and honesty are not what Jesus would do. As a result why would anyone, any ‘bloke’ want to spend their time there.

    Comment by Matthew Stuart — March 8, 2010 @ 6:42 am

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