A Review by Louis Schieferdecker
Intern, Mirror Labs

“Modern churches are women’s clubs with a few male officers.” David Murrow makes observation after observation like this about the church in his book Why Men Hate Going to Church.

Early on, Murrow lays out how the church has leaned toward the feminine in a variety of ways throughout history and why it keeps trending that way. Then he explores how this trend is impacting men—and ultimately how the church can better reach them.

At first glance, I was immediately curious about this book because of the title, because I, too, hate going to church. As I read this book, over and over again I found myself being “seen” by the author. As he described the issues and pain points of men, it mirrored how I thought or felt about different aspects of church. At several points I found myself deeply moved as the book reoriented different experiences I’d had in the past but couldn’t quantify and heal from at the time. I wouldn’t say this is the book’s goal, but it was definitely an unintended benefit for me reading it.

One of Murrow’s points that stood out to me is how well he addresses the feminine leanings of the narrative of the church’s theology and practical ecclesiology—and how the narrative does so to almost the exclusion of the masculine.

For instance, Murrow describes how the church today by and large wants to operate primarily as the family of God. This is well meaning and good on its own, as it is core to the church’s identity—so much so that it’s the first line of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father.”

However, Christ didn’t come to proclaim the family of God, Murrow argues, but rather the kingdom of God. There is a huge difference between the mentality and culture of the two. Murrow makes the simple point that “Kingdoms are about doing. Families are about being.” In that dichotomy, one immediately senses a split between the masculine and feminine.

That’s not to say that the kingdom can’t or shouldn’t include families—in fact they are what kingdoms are built on and through. We are saved as we are grafted into the family of God to become the kingdom of God. However, looking at the current church culture, it is entirely clear you can have a family of God mentality without a kingdom of God one, and Murrow asserts this is one of many reasons that men are suffering in the church.

Another area in which Murrow talks about a narrative shift to the feminine is what aspects of the gospel are often emphasized. The gospel is now primarily a love story, and not a call to action. So much of the church’s corporate worship is about how much God wants us, our value, and the price he paid for us—or in reverse, about how much we love Him.

When was the last time you felt or saw the greatness of the actions of the kingdom, or stood in awe of the power of God and his work in and through his people? We sing love song after love song, read book after book on God’s love, and talk about religion in romance language as the norm—“Jesus, lover of my soul.”

Consider the motifs of the Lion of Judah and Lamb of God. As the protestant church almost singularly focuses on justification and God paying the price, we have made the Lamb of God the overwhelming motif. This part of the gospel is harder for men to grapple with emotionally than it is for women, simply because in all the stories we’ve been told, we as men are instructed to be the heroes. The man rescues. The man does the saving. And oftentimes, as a result, the man gets the girl. In short, men want the prize, but many men don’t know how to be the prize.

Let me be clear, Murrow is not talking about cherry picking, nor is he saying that these aspects of the gospel are not good and true; rather that, again, we have chosen to emphasize one to the near exclusion of the other. In all of this, Murrow makes no case for changing the gospel at all; rather he is calling for a re-embracing of the masculine parts of the gospel, as he believes that men are desperate for it. 

As I can’t summarize the entirety of the book here, here are some of the other points I found interesting and helpful. First, he discusses how the economics of the church continually drive the church to skew feminine; women are more likely to go to events, read books, do Bible studies, sing in worship, and just attend in general. Therefore, with women driving the demand in the church, it reinforces this trend.

Second, he aptly points out that men won’t play if they don’t have a fair chance to win. That seems a bit obvious, but when you consider what a church needs from its people to operate, you quickly see how some men could feel as if they can’t compete for those roles, such as the church nursery, music, cooking, and event planning. Oftentimes, if men feel inadequate, they simply won’t play. Sadly, other than a church work day, most churches simply don’t need what are typically viewed as more “masculine” skills.

One criticism I have with the book is less about the content that is there and more about what isn’t there.

For example, this book treats masculinity as a bit of a magic bullet to solve the problems in the church as a whole. That is to be expected to a degree, as this book’s main assertion is that masculinity is desperately needed for the church; but while it is an essential ingredient, it is not the only essential ingredient.

Also, I think it’s important to emphasize a healthy process and balance in the church that embraces both masculinity and femininity. The goal should not be to create a hyper masculine or “macho” church, as that is dangerous in a different way. While I don’t think Murrow is asserting anyone should go in that direction, as a reader I can see how someone might fall off the other side of the horse by overcorrecting. It needs to be couched and considered a bit more.

I’d recommend this book to church leaders and men who feel disenfranchised in their experience within the local church. It creates contact points to rationally and emotionally process those experiences and invites everyone to the table. Importantly, it also opens the door to conversations about how we present the gospel, how we create the culture of relationships in the church, and it provides useful data for how men have functioned (or not) in the church in recent history.

I think it would also be beneficial to church development conversations, both in committee and through seminary training, simply because it creates categories for conversations that no one is having but are desperately needed.

While this book seeks to amplify the masculine in churches, I in no way read it as a polemic against the feminine. Instead, Murrow is aiming to bring the masculine and the feminine together for a fuller, deeper, and truer experience.

On the whole, I would highly recommend this book as a great tonic to some of the ills in the modern church and would say it is well worth your time to consider.