What if it’s not men that men are looking for?

I got into a car recently, with another female pastor and an Evangelical man. I asked the guy about his church and he said, “I go to a church where men’s leadership is very important. Men don’t go to church any more. And so our church puts men in leadership so that it will attract more men.”

I was not very quick on my feet… it had been a long day… so I didn’t say anything and just swallowed the insult. After all, it’s not a new theory, I’ve heard it about a thousand times. It’s just one of those indignities that we endure as women clergy.

“Men are attracted to male leadership. We need more men. We will hire a man so that men will attend our church.”

Other than it being a clear affront to me as a female pastor, I also wonder if it’s true. I mean, overall, men have been running the show about 99% of the time. And if you look at the whole of Christianity, then the men have been in charge 99.99% of the time. And still, there are an overwhelming number of women in the pews.

What if these commonly held assumptions are incorrect? What if opposites attract? Maybe I should just start declaring that male leadership attracts female members (I mean, that seems much more historically accurate). And it must follow that female leaders would attract more male members. And so male pastors are really kind of obsolete.

Do I think that male pastors are obsolete? Of course not. But after being a pastor for growing congregations for the last twelve years, I’m really getting tired of the assumption that I’m obsolete, and that men won’t go to a church I pastor.


20 thoughts on “What if it’s not men that men are looking for?

  1. This is all part of the same theory that says that young pastors will attract young families…also not true. The data just don’t back up any of those ridiculous assumptions. Except maybe (MAYBE) racial correlation. But even then it’s tenuous.

    I can’t believe people say that stuff out loud to our faces. Next time you could try “Have you been trying to attract more tacky and rude people lately?” LOL.

  2. Indeed. My church has been growing at a steady 5% a year under its female senior pastor of the last 8 years. The kind of thinking you describe is nonsense.

  3. We’re seeing growth in all age groups right now. I am a middle-aged short woman. Tall people, men included, are coming to church. Also small people, children included. I think that whole theory is crap, designed to make fearful people freak out. Wasn’t Muscular Christianity they same sort of theory? It’s just that we didn’t have feminism as such a large target in those days.
    On an encouraging note, I heard an older person say this recently about a High Episcopal church in my area that is foundering: “What they need is a woman priest to help them get it together.”

  4. I’m a religious professional and married to a female minister. I don’t buy the males want male leadership argument. I think men (and women) want effective leadership. More than anything I hear from men that they don’t attend church because they don’t perceive it as a productive use of their time. In many declining congregations, they are right…

  5. I think Teri raises a good point regarding data.

    Where can we find the data (and not just the anecdotes) to throw at folks who make these assertions?

    (Also, it’s probably worth considering how we will respond if the data does indicate that male leadership attracts more men?)

  6. I never come up with the right response on the spot, either. And not just when I’m tired. I must need a faster processor in my head.

    I wonder, if you got him to unpack that statement a bit, what he might have said. Has he experienced strong, competent women in positions of congregational leadership?

    What’s needed has little to do with gender. It has everything to do with finding leadership that effectively proclaims the Gospel, and both inspires and empowers the women and men of a faith community to do the same.

    Seems so gosh darned straightforward.

  7. I wonder if conservative people want to see men in leadership, and progressive people want to see women in leadership. It would be interesting to do some kind of study on this.

  8. I know progressive female and male pastors. I also know conservative female and male pastors. Some are good, some are — well — not as good. Some are at churches that are growing, others at churches that aren’t. I don’t think across-the-board generalizations can be made.

    What I have heard is men — pastors and non-pastors — making comments such as you quote, Carol. I haven’t heard counterparts about men from female pastors or elders (or from any other women).

  9. Snark!

    I’d just caution you, Carol. You’re risking losing the support of misogynists, and as we all know, they are a powerful group in our country; a much sought-after cultural demographic. Who will minister to the particular needs of misogynists? Who will facilitate misogynist discipleship groups? Who will lead misogynist retreats? Female clergy? Hardly.

    With each passing year, fewer and fewer misogynists are in the pews of our churches. Something must be done to win them back.

  10. The demographics in the church I pastor are definitely changing. When I arrived three years ago, the membership was 60-40 male, and 90% LGBT. We’ve grown at about a 10% rate per year, and the membership is now 55-45 female, and 75% LGBT–plus we now have a Children’s Sunday School program. Believe me, as a middle-aged pastor who is gay, this shift is interesting and actually neat to watch and be part of. I think data are important; in the end, however, I believe there are many factors (including the Holy Spirit, perhaps?) that influence the demographics of our communities of faith.

  11. I got an interesting comment from a conservative HOS. He said I was the first woman pastor he had worked with who appealed to men. So I’ve thought about this off and on over the years. I think there are many more variables than gender at play.

  12. On the one hand, I think you may be on to something. I find that I’m drawn more to women preaching. In men, I’m drawn more to cerebral preachers and those who are not afraid to deal in “feminine” emotions. I’m turned off by those who seem to lead by exhortation and unwavering rules.

    But then I think I’m at the end of the bell curve. The TV shows that I like get canceled. 🙂

    As I’ve worked on this comment more, I wonder if it’s authenticity that folks are looking for – and is it more readily seen in women?

    And as a future seminarian the idea that men pastors may be obsolete just makes me nervous. 🙂

  13. It’s news to me that we get to decide who we shall lead and who we shall follow. These are areas that are under the direction and control of the Lord himself.

    “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

  14. I’m a little nervous about responding, given the thread of comments. I don’t know who you were in a car with, or how he said what he said. I’m guessing from your post that he was talking about paid leadership. On that note, I totally agree with what you’re saying. I know some very gifted young people whose gift is to work with the elderly. It’s limiting on all sides to think we were brought in to attract people in our same demographic.

    Our last class of elders consisted of 4 women and 1 man. But even here, I don’t think the official representation is all that important. Again, old people can think youth ministry is important. We don’t only have to advocate for ourselves.

    At the same time in all of this, I find myself trying to move more men to lead. I don’t care about them taking over the church board, but as someone serving in the PCUSA, there are many times that church work (on the congregatonal level) is viewed as women’s work. When I am asked if I think people of other religions are going to heaven, I tell them I am much more concerned for the soul of the man who has traveled all week and is loading his golf clubs in the car Sunday morning.

    I have been pleased to see in the two years I have held my current position that we are having more men get involved, and again that is with more women serving in official leadership positions.

    I don’t know that I am articulating any of this very clearly, but I hope some coherent thought finds its way through.


  15. It all comes down to this: spiritual gifts. If you have the juice, if God has given you the spiritual power to do a particular ministry, it does not matter whether you are, uh, “Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is no male or female.” But you have to have that spiritual gift and MANY do not. The PCUSA has not been nearly intentional enough about insisting on this.

  16. A fascinating post, a fascinating array of comments. I think Mike R has a great point with GIFTS. You have amazing commenters, so well-versed and well-read. Must be something about your leadership skills.


  17. When I read *Why Men Hate Going to Church* I half wanted to throw the book across the room and I half wanted to give it to my denominational leaders and ask them what an egalitarian, non-stereotyped research effort into the gender gap would reveal… If I am fed up with stereotyped explanations, then why DO more women than men go to church? Has there been any research on this outside of David Murrow’s work?

    I’m with Teri & Sam… where’s the data?

  18. What I’ve heard more often is critique of female pastors being bad pastors because they are women. If a male pastor is poor, its because… he needs continuing education, or needs better training, or lacks certain attributes a congregation is seeking. However, when a female pastor is poor, it is because she is a woman and therefore women do not make good leaders. Or perhaps it is because she leads like a woman and not a man. And perhaps that is just of what the church needs more. This is really a great post, Carol. Thanks for your thoughts… and your continued advocacy for this issue.

  19. I haven’t read all the comments, so forgive me if this is redundant. As a young male pastor I will attest that simply existing and showing up on Sundays does not ensure that men and young families will appear in droves.

    I will say, though, that I have noticed that there are many inactive men in my church. I have very few men who come alone; I have many women that do. I have multiple married women who come regularly, and for some of them, I’ve never met their husbands (at least, not in the context of a church setting). My own thinking is that, among other factors, this has a lot to do with American individualism being crammed down the throats of men moreso than women. Call it the John Wayne/Rambo effect.

    I don’t know necessarily that the solution is more men in leadership roles; I find that suspect. There are better and worse pastors, male and female. If it is unfair that women often need sharper elbows due to the prejudices of the parishioners and/or one’s ecclesiastical system, at least it is no secret. I would think that any mainline female pastor getting into the church through any reasonably informed seminary would know what she’s getting herself into.

    As far as men being in charge “99%” of the time, well, yes and no. This is an unnuanced and unhelpful statistic that is indicative of a most uncritical brand of feminism. While your statement is largely true for positions of direct authority, it fails to account for the various ways that women exercise authority and wield power in unnofficial and non-overt capacities. My church has never had a male pastor, yes, but a majority of the leadership is female.

    The Christian movement has always been more female than male, and if the societies in which Christianity found itself were male dominated, than Christianity can only be blamed so much for being male-dominated. But let us be honest and recognize the important leadership roles that women have had from the beginning and continue to exercise now.

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