Sunday, April 30, 2006

Church Ladies

From the Wall Street Journal:

Women dominate America's pews. Is that a problem?

Friday, October 21, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

This fall, the entering class of rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative institution, is 34% female. At Hebrew Union College, a Reform seminary, women are nearly half the student body. At many Protestant seminaries, women pastoral students now outnumber men, and between 1983 and 2000 the number of women who identified themselves as clergy tripled. It seems that Catholic scholar Leon Podles's prediction of a few years ago, that "the Protestant clergy will be a characteristically female occupation, like nursing, within a generation," may soon prove true.

Pulpits aren't the only places that women dominate. According to a recent survey, the typical U.S. congregation is 61% female. Women are also the force behind most lay organizations and volunteer activities and make up the majority of church employees.

This lopsided picture is not a new development. Women have dominated American churches since the nation's founding; church records from the early colonial period document largely female congregations. Lamentations about the lack of men in the pews are similarly longstanding. In the 1830s, the Rev. Sebastian Streeter observed: "Christian churches are composed of a great disproportion of females." As historian Ann Douglas notes in "The Feminization of American Culture," the "19th-century minister moved in a world of women," and concerns about whether a feminized church could retain its men were a recurrent theme in the spiritual literature of the era. By the 1920s, the 60-40 gender split that is today the norm was firmly entrenched (the 1950s and 1960s saw a brief return of men to churches, but by the 1970s it had again eroded).

What is behind these ratios and what, if anything, should church leaders do about it? The most recent diagnosis of the feminization problem comes from David Murrow, whose book "Why Men Hate Going to Church" indicts contemporary Christian culture for "driving men away" from organized worship.

"Church is sweet and sentimental, nurturing and nice," Mr. Murrow writes. "Women thrive in this environment." Men do not. Everything from the compulsion to participate in singing to the pastel tones and frilly accoutrements of the modern sanctuary spell trouble for the church's ability to keep men in the fold, he argues. Charlotte Allen, the author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus," explains, "The problem is that men love ritual and solemnity and women, influenced by our all-pervasive therapeutic culture, bring a therapeutic style to the liturgy.

Among the earlier responses to feminization of the church was the "muscular Christianity" campaign of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. In the 1990s, the evangelical "Promise Keepers" filled stadiums with men eager to devote themselves to the "manly challenge" of pursuing a Christian life (which oddly included frequent displays of emotion and the occasional group hug).

Mr. Murrow crafts a very 21st-century solution to the feminization problem, with a message that seems more like a PowerPoint presentation than a masculine manifesto. He is keen to revive some of the prescriptions of the old muscular Christianity--emphasizing Jesus' manliness rather than his meekness, for example--but Mr. Murrow infuses them with the modern vocabularies of marketing and self-help: focus less on relationships and more on risk and reward; less "have a love affair with Jesus" and more "build the kingdom of God."

Interestingly, Mr. Murrow notes that, among the major Christian denominations, it is the mainline churches that suffer the largest gender gaps in church attendance. These churches, still pilloried by feminists for their patriarchal pretensions, have in fact become spiritual sorority houses. It is the more conservative denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, that have the most even ratios. In these more traditional churches, many of which do not have female clergy, parishioners hear less about cooperation and feel-good spirituality and more about spiritual rigor and the competition to win souls. Churches that embrace male leadership, including the Roman Catholic Church, remain the largest in the country, and the Mormon Church, which also does not have female clergy, is the fastest-growing.

Although Mr. Morrow offers a useful diagnosis of the feminization problem, he overlooks a simple answer to the question of why church is more appealing to women than to men: its domesticating influence. Why else did pioneer women who helped settle the West make one of their first priorities the erection of churches? This leads to another observation, albeit an unpopular one in our age of gender egalitarianism: For as long as women have tried to tame and domesticate men, men have resisted. Understood this way, perhaps the lack of men in the pews is not so much cause for alarm as it is an affirmation of that unspeakable truth--men and women are different.

Ms. Rosen's "My Fundamentalist Education" will be published by PublicAffairs in January.

Monday, April 24, 2006

America's Coolest Churches

Mark Rhoades from Monday Morning Insight links to an article and picture expose' from Life Magazine on what they call America's Coolest Churches.

Mark posts a lot of items to help church leaders each day what is going on in the world and the church community to make church more relevant whether it is innovative ideas, marketing or spiritual topics that resonate with people. But not every post is dry and dull - lots of humor as well! Balance - what a concept.

Some recent posts include: Why Volunteers Quit, Looking for the Perfect Church That Doesn't Exist, What to Do During a Dull Sermon, Debunking the Myths About MegaChurches and Top Ten Reasons Americans Find Themselves in Debt. Check out Monday Morning Insight

Friday, April 21, 2006

You're Thanking Me?

It happened at the end of the conference, just one of 20 such gatherings held in 2004. We had assembled on this particular October weekend at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. The conference had been rescheduled from its original date due to the hurricanes in Florida, but it still came at the end of a long conference season.

It should be noted that Seattle is a beautiful place and Safeco Field is a state-of-the-art baseball stadium, including a retractable roof over the natural grass playing surface. Still, it is an “open air” venue and the weather in late October in Seattle is predictably wet and cold. The temperature hovered at about 45 degrees throughout the weekend, and the wind coming off the Sound whipped through the concourse making it feel much colder. While the attendees shivered in their seats on the field and in the stands, the vast majority of our exhibitors and volunteers worked on this concourse level dealing with these adverse conditions. It was especially tough for those who were assigned to the retail outlets placed next to the large open air entrances.

It was my privilege to serve as the Event Volunteer Director for this conference. As is my custom, I like to get to know as many of the volunteers as possible during the course of the event. Among the first volunteers I met this weekend were two young ladies who attended a local Christian college. They showed up to help set up the retail area on Thursday, then worked from 8 AM to 10 PM on Friday in one of the coldest locations on the concourse. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had decided not to return on Saturday, but they were there when we opened up Volunteer Check-In at 6:30 AM, and stayed until the close of the conference.

As it turned out, these college girls were two of the last volunteers I encountered that weekend. I ran into them one last time on the concourse as they were preparing to leave the stadium and head back to school, after helping us pack up and load the retail area. They approached me with huge smiles on their faces and gave me a warm hug! Then they “thanked” me for allowing them to serve, and asked if I would let them come back the next year!! I’m not sure what the expression was on my face at that particular moment, but I can assure you I was “shocked”. I told them, “You’ve been here working in the cold and the wind for the past 3 days from morning until night! We’ve done everything but give you IV’s of hot coffee to keep you alive. Yet you’ve served with a smile on your face and an upbeat attitude throughout the ordeal. And now you’re thanking me? You must be kidding!”

I’ve thought about those two young ladies many times since that encounter. I’ve told their story to volunteer groups in each of my conference cities in 2005 and 2006. To me they epitomize the type of volunteers who serve at each of our Promise Keepers events. The level of sacrifice and service rendered by our volunteer leaders and their teams never ceases to amaze me. Over 700 volunteers band together with a handful of staff members to make these incredible, life-changing conferences a reality. Without them Promise Keepers would not exist!

I’m not sure I understand all the reasons why so many men, women, and teenagers will commit themselves to this weekend of volunteer labor, but I think I’ve got a idea -- Promise Keepers allows them the opportunity to do that which God created them to do…..SERVE OTHERS! Whether theirs is a big job or a little job, they are serving from their heart, and God always honors that type of sacrifice. Perhaps this is your year to experience the joy of being a volunteer at a conference near you!! You can sign-up online or call the National Volunteer Hotline at 1-800-417-1878. We’ll look forward to seeing you proudly wearing that Volunteer T-Shirt in 2006!!

Larry Whittlesey is an Event Volunteer Director for Promise Keepers. He resides in Portland, OR.

Friday, April 14, 2006

When He Was On The Cross, You Were On His Mind

This is Good Friday and it is the moment that the entire Universe watched its Creator being Crucified. As a child I was confused as to why someone would call the day that Jesus died a "Good Friday." It wasn’t until years later that I fully understood just how Good this day was.

That Cross that He picked up was really made for me. Jesus Christ loved me so much that He willingly died in my place and freed me from the Eternal Death Grip of Sin. Why would He do this? He saw some value in me that I obviously cannot see in my own self. No one would die for something worthless. This true story drives that truth home.

A gem dealer was strolling the aisles at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show when he noticed a blue-violet stone the size and shape of a potato. He looked it over, then, as calmly as possible, asked the vendor, "You want $15 for this?" The seller, realizing the rock wasn't as pretty as others in the bin, lowered the price to $10. The stone has since been certified as a 1,905-carat natural star sapphire, about 800 carats larger than the largest stone of its kind. It was appraised at $2.28 million.

It took a lover of stones to recognize the sapphire's worth. It took the Lover of Souls to recognize the true value of ordinary-looking people like us. This is what makes this Friday so GOOD! We are reminded of how valuable we are to God. The only difference is that He wanted to pay the premium price of His only begotten Son to purchase us.

Thank God! You and I were worth more than $10.00 to Him!!! Today I hope that you'll reflect on the obvious worth that you are to God the Father. Rejoice in that amazing love that was displayed on the Cross to redeem your life from eternal death and destruction.

You are one of a kind, and I heard the Father saying to me this morning to tell you that He is preparing to put you on display. He has had to grind you down a little, knock some things off of you that didn't look like Him, and oh that buffing process, lots of friction has been required to get His Shine on you! But you are nearing the moment that you've been Dreaming about for and that He has been waiting patiently for!

- Pastor Danny Chambers, Oasis Worship Centre

May the above e-Word encourage you as it did for me on this Good Friday -
Blessings - Kerry

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Unkept Promises

We live in an era of unkept promises. Nations sign important treaties and then break them at will. And many couples show little regard for their wedding vows. In this kind of society, we who are God’s people should be known for keeping our promises.

The brilliant Christian scholar and writer C. S. Lewis took that truth seriously. He was determined to pay what he had vowed. His biography tells of the suffering he endured because he kept a promise he had made to a buddy during World War I. This friend was worried about the care of his wife and small daughter if he should be killed in battle, so Lewis assured him that if that were to happen he would look after them. As the war dragged on, the man was killed. True to his word, Lewis took care of his friend’s family. Yet no matter how helpful he tried to be, the woman was ungrateful, rude, arrogant, and domineering. Through it all, Lewis kept forgiving her. He refused to let her actions become an excuse to renege on his promise. -H.V.L.

Source Unknown

Is the Church Feminizing Men?

By Lee Webb
CBN News Anchor – (CBN News) - A year ago, Greg Martin says he could not have led a devotional with his teenage daughters. The reason: he was playing in a Sunday baseball league that took priority over going to church.

As a result, Martin was feeling disconnected to a place where, in the past, he had felt at home. And he found himself unable to be the father he wanted to be.

“You start to see compromises take place when you're not sitting under good teaching, good preaching, and perennial fellowship with believers…,” Martin said. “If I'm not setting a good, godly example to my children by being in church, and I'm out playing baseball, that was a pretty poor example for my children to see.”

For Martin, the desire to play baseball became more important than the desire to be in church. While he did not intend to leave the church, Martin just found less and less time for worship, a problem not uncommon for many men.

And a recent study shows many Christian men feel the same way.

Read the rest here

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

King of the Hill: Church Hopping

Nice article from Adam Finley from TV Squad (reprinted here in its entirety)

Just because a place is big doesn't mean it's bad. The Pentagon's good. --Hank Hill

I wouldn't have though I could ever become nostalgic for those days when I was forced to wake up early, don uncomfortable garments and too-tight shoes, get shuttled off to church, and then try to stay awake through some boring sermon. I don't recall ever actually enjoying church, but it was part of our routine, and last night's episode managed to touch on all the ups and downs of attending church in a small town.

The episode begins with the Hills arriving late for church, only to find a new family has taken their seats. Hank tries to get them to move, but they refuse. He confronts the reverend about it, but she refuses to assign seats. Upset, Hank leaves the church for another church, which is more like a gigantic worship complex, complete with a coffee bar and a movie theater. Hank is wooed right away by the promise of assigned seats, but eventually grows tired of the fanfare and goes back to his old church, though not before trying out Luanne's boyfriend's worship approach, which involves getting drunk at the bar and singing along to the jukebox.

The episode showed that religious people each have their own way of worshiping and communing with God, and that no way is necessarily worse than the other. It also brought out a major part of Hank's character, which is that he does not accept change very easily. In fact, he's willing to make his life vastly more complicated rather than accept the fact his family has to sit in the back of the church.

I lamented in my last review of a lack of Peggy, so I was happy to see her back in full force this time, offering her unsolicited suggestions to the reverend of their new church, and at one point addressing the congregation to see if anyone had taped The Amazing Race. Yet another great episode, and another funny and poignant look at small town America. Having King of the Hill lead into the rest of the Sunday night lineup and shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy is like having a folk singer open for a punk band. It's different, the styles aren't even the same, but it's the perfect respite for those of us who don't mind a show that's willing to slow down and let us soak everything in.

In paperless age, paper letters let dads leave legacy of love

As one of 70 million baby boomers, Greg Vaughn says he’s not alone when it comes to the hurt he felt when his dad died. And the worst part was the absence of any written document of his father's love for his son. Vaughn didn’t have any cards or notes from his dad -- not even a signature.

“It shook my world,” Vaughn told Associated Baptist Press. “It made me angry. I was angry at God, at my father and at myself.”

Raised in a small Southern Baptist church in West Texas, Vaughn lost his father to Alzheimer’s disease several years ago. Though they were never close, Vaughn said, he felt cheated and hurt at the silence his father left behind.

Read the rest here

Too Few Good Men

Why church is a turnoff for guys, and how to recover a spirit that attracts them.

David Murrow doesn't buy the idea that church is a men's club. While church leadership has remained dominated by males, he says that has done little to attract men to the larger church body. Murrow is the author of Why Men Hate Going to Church (Nelson, 2005).

Why are men turned off by the church?
Men don't do church very well. You have to be able to speak, read, and pray out loud in church culture, and the average man is not going to be as good at that as most women.

Secondly, we do almost nothing to try to attract men. We're constantly putting books in the hands of Christians telling them that the way to Christ is through a classroom experience and Bible studies. This whole idea of church as a "learning process" is going to attract more women than men.

On top of that, so much of the imagery used in the church is feminine. In the last fifty years, the dominant metaphor used to describe the Christian life has been "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Jesus' command was not to "have a personal relationship with me," but to "follow me." Men can handle that.

Read the rest here

The Perfect Pastor

Ben Lee made this clip to introduce a sermon he preached about the impossibility of finding "the perfect pastor." It is a humerous attempt at looking at the different types of preachers that exist in the world: some funny, some serious, some emotional, and some just outright weird!

Easter proclaims a beginning...

Here's the flip side of a gift from a friend who went home to the Lord two years ago. Carved from a bar of Dial soap while he was in prison, it is one of our most prized possessions.

Holy Week
Quotations to stir heart and mind.
Compiled by Richard A. Kauffman

IN THE CROSS IS SALVATION, in the Cross is life, in the Cross is protection from our enemies, in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the Cross is strength of mind, in the Cross is joy of spirit, in the Cross is the height of virtue, in the Cross is perfection of sanctity. There is no salvation of the soul, nor hope of everlasting life, but in the Cross.
Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

HE DIED, but he vanquished death; in himself, he put an end to what we feared; he took it upon himself, and he vanquished it; as a mighty hunter, he captured and slew the lion.

Where is death? Seek it in Christ, for it exists no longer; but it did exist, and now it is dead. O life, O death of death! Be of good heart; it will die in us also. What has taken place in our head will take place in his members; death will die in us also. But when? At the end of the world, at the resurrection of the dead in which we believe and concerning which we do not doubt.
Augustine, Sermon 233

THERE IS WONDERFUL POWER in the Cross of Christ. It has power to wake the dullest conscience and melt the hardest heart, to cleanse the unclean, to reconcile him who is afar off and restore him to fellowship with God, to redeem the prisoner from his bondage and lift the pauper from the dunghill, to break down the barriers which divide [people] from one another, to transform our wayward characters into the image of Christ and finally make us fit to stand in white robes before the throne of God.
John Stott, The Preacher's Portrait

EASTER is not the celebration of a past event. The alleluia is not for what was; Easter proclaims a beginning which has already decided the remotest future. The Resurrection means that the beginning of glory has already started.
Karl Rahner, Everyday Faith

Copyright 2006 Christianity Today

How Jesus must have cried in the garden

The above is a gift from a friend who went home to the Lord two years ago. Carved from a bar of Dial soap while he was in prison, it is one of our most prized possessions.

I'D ALWAYS KNOWN, in one place in my throat, how Jesus must have cried in the garden--crying not to die, because there was no fear of death, and not to leave his friends, because he walked alone, and not to suffer, because the blood and bruises and thorns were part of his perfection--but crying because he could not find his Father's face, because when he would suffer all that he could bear, the pain of every person, living and dead, in that dark moment, there was really nobody there.

Paul Shepherd, More Like Not Running Away: A Novel