|‘Abraham, Martin and Groucho.... ’
I think I should declare my hand right off, and this might seem strange for a Christian, but I believe many men are justified in turning away from ‘the church’. To paraphrase Groucho Marx - ‘The church is a great institution - but who wants to be in an institution...’ Martin Luther may have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg in 1517, but it would take a lot more than a couple of sheets of A4 to describe the ways in which many churches these days have lost the plot. The statistics show in some places, rapidly declining attendances, and those who are there, are mainly older women. Why is it that men, and young men in particular, are not packing the pews as they used to?
‘The man is the message.... ’
Mind you, this decline in attendances is not across the board. The churches that are growing, the protestant evangelicals, must be doing something right. My own church has total attendance across all of its meetings, of more than 1500 a week, and men are well represented. So why the drift elsewhere? I think one of the problems is that some churches have been trying to attract people to an institution, rather than a person. By that I mean they want people to join an organisation, rather than working from first principles, and introducing people to the person of Jesus Christ. If you lose sight of the historical Jesus, you end up with a play-dough God - if you don’t like him this way...shape him to suit yourself. Today’s cynical men see right through such jelly theology - they can spot the inconsistencies a mile away. The message has often been watered down so much, it turns into hollow platitudes. Gone is the sharp edge of Jesus of Nazareth, who sliced through the religious clap-trap of his day. After all, you’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.
‘Welcome to the nineties.... ’
We live in a post-Christian era, and some people fail to grasp that. Gone are the 1950’s, when Sunday Schools were packed, and church leaders were respected and listened to, by the community. Today we hear only of them, when they fall. So the child abuse cases, or the financial scandals of certain televangelists, take the place of debate on religious and moral issues.(Don’t get me wrong. I in no way support or condone those involved in those crimes, but neither do I tar all Christian workers with that brush.) It ends up that church-going is no longer an ‘acceptable’ thing in mainstream Australia. So the churches are not packed anymore with people who are there because it is the ‘socially correct’ thing to do.And that is not a bad thing. Better the churches be half full with people who want to be there, than overflowing with people who don’t believe it anyway, but are there to be respectable. Jesus, after all, ate with the tax collectors and sinners, and it was the ‘respectable’ religious leaders who put him to death. So a decline in attendances has to be seen in perspective.
Give me a child until he is ten....
As I have spoken at various Churches, I meet men who have been turned off religious things, by being dragged along as children, often to meetings that were not kid-friendly. So their overall impression is one of boredom and irrelevance.
(Even our mock-Gothic church architecture speaks volumes about being out of touch with the modern world). The tragedy is, that these men set their face against Christianity early, and never examine the claims of Jesus as an adult. They then go on to raise their children , in what they believe is a ‘neutral’ environment. That is, they will allow them to make up their minds as adults. That ends up not being ‘neutral’, but ‘anti’, because if it’s not important enough to be mentioned at home, then it’s not important. The children too, never consider the historical Jesus, they never read about his life for themselves. The solution lies not in the bone-crushing boredom of Spanish inquisition-style religious instruction, but in exposing kids to real, enthusiastic Christians, who are willing to share their faith.
Swim against the tide....
A friend of mine is a thirty-something graphic designer, who struggles with balancing a small business, and family life. He doesn’t have a moment to spare, but he thinks the next generation of Christian men is so important, he lays down his graphics tablet for one morning a week, to teach scripture in his local school. The message he wants those kids to take away, is that a personal relationship with Jesus matters. Not just to kindly grandmothers, but to men in the prime of their lives. Guys like him are the unknown soldiers, and the reason some churches are bucking the trend.
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