Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Men and Contemporary Worship

Via Dale Tedder comes this article by Dave Murrow, asserting that American Protestant men tend to reject contemporary worship music (which he calls the Praise and Worship Movement or 'PWN') because it feminizes them:

I believe PNW is having the unintended result of feminizing the worship experience – and making it harder for men to connect with God in church...As a result, women are worshipping robustly while most men stand for 20 minutes with their hands in their pockets, dutifully mouthing words that fail to resonate with their hearts.

His arguments:

1. Worship is now led by musicians instead of by priests. "Musicians are often right-brained, which makes them more sensitive and outwardly emotive than your average guy...But most musicians bring a certain softness – even flamboyance to their leadership."

2. Worship leaders tend to encourage a feminine response to a masculine God. "Great worship results in sensation, passion and good feelings. The worship leader’s job is to help the people generate a warm, gooey feeling in their hearts about Jesus. Tears are the best gauge of God’s presence...I’m merely pointing out the fact that if ooey-gooey feelings are what we’re shooting for, worship will be much easier for women than men. Women are much less inhibited about showing emotion in public. They can access their emotions more easily than men. So a worship leader who’s trying to get the congregation to feel something will subconsciously target women, because gals are more likely to respond emotionally."

3. Worship leaders notice the men at the front of the sanctuary embracing contemporary worship instead of men at the back expressing discomfort with it in their body language. "Every church has one or two guys who are totally into musical worship. They usually sit up front...Worship leaders look out at these two guys and think, 'The guys are totally into this. Look at Lenny and Steve!' But due to the bright lights in their eyes, worship leaders can’t see the row-upon-row of men who are standing with knees locked, hands in pockets."

Murrow then follows with several suggestions, most of which are sound for encouraging variety in worship, such as singing classic 'manly' hymns like A Mighty Fortress is Our God and worshipping in non-musical ways. I don't object to any of these recommendations. But I do think that he has largely misdiagnosed the problem.

He is describing an image of masculinity in which a man is tall, strong, tough, and proud. He engages God intellectually, not emotionally because that would be totally gay (yes, Murrow says that). He doesn't raise his hands or cry out to God because he is an equal of God and speaks to him man-to-man. He's not some frightened wuss who is dependent upon someone else -- like that sissy David who wrote the Pslams. A real man takes care of himself.

Needless to say, Murrow's arguments are premised on a flawed anthropology. If men in your church have trouble humbling themselves before God and feeling dependent upon him, you have bigger problems than the worship style.


John Meunier said...


I think your diagnosis is excellent.

It is a fact that women tend to me more involved in church than men, but I don't think it is because we aren't singing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God enough.

It is in God that we find out what it means to be men.

The church is not meant to reflect our self-image.

Nate Loucks said...

Am I allowed to say that this is crap? If crap isn't permissable, I'm going to go ahead and say that this is "bad". But, if crap is permissable on John's blog, then I'm going to stick with that... the whole premise is crap.

gavin richardson said...

why does this guy and his book get so much play!

john, i think you are very close to this when you say it has more to do with anthropology and sociology of the male than it does church that we are to be a man's man in church. if we (men) are not humble before God in worship and life then we have bigger issues than the music or right/left brain crap.. did we agree that we could say crap on your blog? nate got to do it

Dan Trabue said...

I agree with y'all. A flawed premise.

Also, I question his statement:

"Worship leaders tend to encourage a feminine response to a masculine God."

God is "masculine?" Says who?

God is God, 'twould seem to me, and as such, beyond male and female designations, although we can certainly use male and female traits to describe God, as the Bible does, since that is what we know.

larry said...


Yep, I think this is total crap. Too much pop-psychology in the same vein as "Wild at Heart" crap. However, I think Murrow would respond that he is describing men as they really are, not how we wish them to be.

To my way of thinking, his argument assumes that most men who are in church really do not have a personal understanding of Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. They might be church members, attend regularly, serve on committees and help out in other ways, but they really have never received Christ and been saved. While I don't think we are capable of judging someone else's faith, Murrow may be correct in pointing out that some contemporary praise music would not appeal to some unsaved men, both lyrically and musically.

Anonymous said...

To defend Murrow (and hope I don't get stoned), I believe that he his trying to study the anthropology of the male species in general when it comes to worship. He is not studying submission to God or what that involves. He is only studying how men respond to worship styles. To be fair he admits that there are a few men who are willing to take on this style of worship, but I challenge you to find men willing to engage in liturgical dance. (What Murrow would term a feminine style of worship)

John said...

Dan -- do your research first. Every time that God has appeared on The Simpsons, he was depicted as male.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you, John. Murrow is not talking about men being unwilling to humble themselves before God or be dependent on Him (pardon the gender). Those are words you put in his mouth.

He's talking about a particular emotive style of worship that works better for some people than for others. For better or worse, he uses gender as a shorthand for personality type in the same way someone like John Gray does, but my guess is there are a fair number of women in the back with their hands in their pockets as well.

I don't understand why lack of enthusiasm for PWN has to mean lack of humility before God any more than enthusiasm for PWN has to mean lack of seriousness about worship. You can be a good Christian with OR without throwing your hands in the air or being emotionally demonstrative. Can't you?

Dan Trabue said...

"Every time that God has appeared on The Simpsons, he was depicted as male."

Wrong, bucko. Sometimes God has been portrayed as a disembodied hand...

John said...

But he has always had a male voice.

natalie said...

I originally wasn't going to post a comment becuase I don't really have anything too original to say.

But, then I noticed that not a single woman had posted a comment. I figure I'll be the token female.


I agree with John's analyses of Murrow's stuff.

A while back, the website had an article about Murrow's book.
If anyone cares to take a gander, my response to that article is here:

My only other reaction to Murrow's article is this: Imagine an article in 1906 saying that churches are too masculinized.

That sort of puts things into perspective (or at least it does for me)for a while!

Dan Trabue said...

"But he has always had a male voice."

Think, Kathleen Turner...

Dana said...

I'm tired, so I'm going to be blunt and blundery, but oh well.

I'm with Murrow on this. Have any of you read his book? I don't recall anything about "a feminine response to a masculine God." I think his issue is that SO MUCH of the praise & worship music is touchy-feely and seems designed for an emotional appeal, which women tend to be more attuned to.

I don't think he's wrong about any of this. Some Sundays I feel like I'm about to drown in bathos. And I wind up feeling guilty because I'm singing a song that could be a Top 40 love-ballad and thinking about my husband instead of about God.

John B said...

We had a male liturgical dancer at AC last June. I thought it was pretty bizarre. I can't image any guy being attracted to a church where his pastor fluttered around like butterfly. It was just one more example of the feminization of the church, ie. it's only when a man gets in touch with his "feminine side" that he's really spiritually & emotionally free. Now that's a bunch of crap!

John Meunier said...

I went back and read the article in the link.

It seems to me that Mr. Murrow is attacking a beast I've never seen. I attend both our traditional and contemporary services. Our contemporary band does not play the repetitive, dreamy love songs that he is attacking.

They play all kinds of songs/hymns, including a couple of really good upbeat versions of some old standards. I love their calypso version of How Great Thou Art.

So, maybe there is a syrupy, messy worship experience out there that I am missing.

I still think all the talk in his article of "real men" and the need to couch worship in terms of "taking that hill" is a way to let men off the hook for actually being open to a spiritual experience.

Worship is not about emotion. It is about the spirit. You don't have to cry to worship God, but you can't sit in the back with your hands in your pockets, either. God is calling you to stand in the front row. You have to be willing to be a bit foolish.

If your church is killing you with sweetness, tell someone, suggest a change, or take part in starting a service that speaks to your experience of God's presence.

The church is not supposed to be giving people a reflection of "who they really are." Who we really are is exactly what Christ died to change.

John Meunier said...

It was just one more example of the feminization of the church, ie. it's only when a man gets in touch with his "feminine side" that he's really spiritually & emotionally free. Now that's a bunch of crap!

I guess I have been attending the wrong churches. I've not noticed a runaway rampage of feminization at any church I have attended.

I get the feeling I've walked into the middle of a heated debate that started a long time before I got to the room.

Why aren't the people who are so upset about this getting on worship committees or setting up new services? Seems like this is not an unsolvable problem.

the reverend mommy said...

You had me until the "Masculine God" thing.

Mitch said...

I'm a man who doesn't particularly like "praise" worship or "contemporary" worship or whatever you want to call it.

Resistance to raising my hands in the air and singing emotional love songs to God doesn't have anything to do with humbling myself before God; it has to do with resistance to turning my life over to folks who think their style of worship is more spiritual than mine.

I never feel more humbled and dependent before God - sometimes to the point of tears - than when singing "A Mighty Fortress." Luther's words hardly encourage spiritual pride.

Some people are more emotion-focused, and some are more thought-focused. That is not a sin to be overcome, but simply a description of our varied natures. If I'm a "thinking" person at heart, it might be good for me to develop some flexibility by exercising my "feeling" side a bit (and the converse if I'm a "feeling" person), but that's a simply a matter of personal maturity, not a matter of Christian essentials. (And to call it a matter of gender misses the point. It's personality type, not gender, that is significant.)

I know that Christians can develop idolatrous devotion to particular styles of worship, but that's just as true for "praise" folks as it is for "hymn" folks.

It's good that we have different styles of worship that that fit our differing personalities. When I am responsible for "praise" worship, I put my all into making it work, but I can't hide who I am at heart. The congregation is always going to get a cooler, more cognitive sermon than when a "feeling" pastor is in charge. When I simply need to experience God for myself, the style of worship that reaches me most has majestic hymns, intelligent preaching and the historic liturgy of the church.

Blessings ...

PS - How did this comment originally wind up in its own little hidden Haloscan box at the bottom of the post? I guess I clicked the wrong button?

Mitch said...

And just one more note about gender and "manliness" - although it's not my cup of tea, PNW is VERY popular among active Christians in the Army - both officer and enlisted. I wouldn't recommend suggesting they are not strong, tough or proud.

Keith Taylor said...

Heck I'm still mad that you can hardly find a church that will still sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic or Onward Christian Soldiers any more.

We've become worthless and weak!!! Too many folks listening to Twisted Sister albums in the 80s. What do you expect listing to men wearing wigs, eyeliner, makeup and lipstick. :-)

Oloryn said...

Hmmm. My blog isn't set up for trackbacks, and John's isn't set up for backlinks, so you can see my comments on this here

E. Barrett said...

The one thing I would add to this discussion is this - not all worship has to be identical. God has allowed us all to be different, and as long as the worship is centered on God, the differences don’t really matter.

It doesn’t matter whether it's "pop rock" or Gregorian chants, because those are only a means to an end. If "modern" worship helps you get closer to God that's fantastic. If reading the Bible while arm wrestling is what allows God to change your heart, then that's okay too.

Dan Trabue said...

Ya know, I sorta have to wonder what's up with all these assumptions that guys identify with "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," "Onward Christian Soldiers," and "Are You Ready For Some Football," or whatever the name of that Monday Night Football theme music is...

I'm a fella. I don't like any of those ("Onward Christian Soldiers," a bit maybe). My manhood is not contained within a little military green ammo box (which paints an unpleasant picture).

Are we saying that dudes, in general, really that shallow? Really that insecure? Aren't we to the point where we can enjoy a little "Morning Has Broken," or Beethoven without being accused of being effeminate?

david said...

Insecure no, unappreciated yes. Do you consider a women that doesn't like saying "our Father" insecure? Do you feel that a man just has to grin and bear it if the worship is unfulfilling? We have spent a great number of electrons debating "masculine" language as being offensive, or at the very best, limiting. So now a man says, this type of worship is "crap" and the man is insecure. Pretty lame and awfully short-sighted.

Dan Trabue said...

Why can't they just say, "I don't like these particular songs. I do like THESE particular songs..."? instead of suggesting it has something to do with manliness if we don't sing songs that sound like war chants?

I'd suggest it most likely has to do with personal preference, not "manliness," or some macho-flavored version of what it means to be a man.

Jesus the peacemaker, the cheek-turner, the lover of children, who reached out to women, the sick, the foreigner (in a society where doing so was taboo) was hardly effeminate or not "manly."

I just resent, as a man, being told that "manliness" is contained in a bundle of war-songs and butt-slapping football rowdiness. There are as many ways of being a man as there are men.

By all means, don't grin and bear it if you don't like the way your worship goes. Myself, I don't care for litanies (which my church does regularly). I've voiced that position. As it turns out, most people at my church DO like them.

Being the egalitarian that I am, I choose to remain at the church and overlook that one little blip of difference rather than try to force my opinion on the majority.

I suppose if I disliked everything about the worship service and it was that important to me, I'd leave churches. Fortunately that's not the case.

NYCindividual said...

I don't see feminization in the church, but I do believe that in general many men have different worship preferences compared to women because of their personalities and background. I believe that worship is about honoring God, but that doesn't mean we can't try to accomodate those people with different preferences. There are ways to do this that don't involve becoming sexist or ignoring God. You would still filter what you use in a service through the Bible. I would suggest that whats sex you are can affect your personality as well.

By the way, I'm female and I don't like more feely contemporary music very much. I feel pressured in that environment to become emotional. I'd much rather focus on the words of the songs and what they mean and what God is trying to teach to me, but seeing others dance about distracts me from this. I think I would be better off if churches that do have more contemprary music still included a traditional song here and there and liturical elements such as repsonsive readings every once in a while. I think a good church is about balance and most importantly about praising the Lord. It's hard for me to become part of a body and community when I feel like a church is excluding worship that fits my personality type.

ANother note, I used to be more judgmental of contemporary worship and traditional worship, but I'm slowing learning that what type of worship you prefer depends on your personality, not on doctrine.

Frank said...

Dave Murrow has hit the nail right on the head. Every Sunday 6,000,000 married Christian women attend church alone. Why? The feminization of Jesus and the Church.

Jesus was a stand up man who faced challenges and called men to follow Him. When Jesus returns, He will be a Commander in front of a conquering army. Men relate to that, as do boys and teens.

All churches need to wake up and smell the coffee. In the 50's the mix of women to men in church on Sundays was 54% - 46%. It is now 61% - 39%, and the gap is growing every day.

It's not that the men don't love or believe in Jesus. It is that church is no longer man relevant or comfortable for them.

Frank said...

Can all of the arguments and disagreement in the world actually change the facts. One fact is that in the 50's the ratio of women to men in church on Sundays was 54-46. Today it stands at 61-39. Over 6,000,000 married Christian women attend church alone every Sunday. 9 of 10 young men raised in the church will leave by age 20 and fewer than 2 will ever return. Those are facts.

The Jesus of the Bible is very relevant to men. Church is neither relevant nor comfortable. If that is to change, church needs to change.

Jesus in the Bible is a man's man, an action hero. Jesus is a risk taker, He's confrontational, and He faces problems head on. He calls men to follow Him. When Jesus returns it will be as a commander before a conquering army. Men relate to that. Boys and young men will flock to it. All that needs to happen is for the churches to reflect Jesus and invite men to join that Jesus, not have a relationship with a lover.

Our churches need to wake up and smell the coffee. Recognize what is, react to it and address it head on.