I am a bit fed up with the ‘feminisation of the church’ argument. It seems the ‘en vogue’ critique of church – “we’re not fully functional because we’re too feminine……the church needs to ‘man up'”. I am not saying that the way we do church is not currently alienating men, but it is not just men who feel alienated in the current church culture. Do we think the church is too feminine because it still seems to perpetuate this passenger culture, where people attend services to be serviced? (much like many christians attitudes to the role of women – to service and to be serviced) Where passivity and apathy are the norm and the expectation is that leaders, or indeed, everyone else must pander to us. Maybe the feminisation argument has come about because so many church members seem to be ‘looking for a hero’.
One of my close friends is helping put on a christian event where the focus very much on ‘who will be the speaker?’ and ‘who will lead the worship?’ – ‘who will be our hero?’. Like a character from an Austen novel, much of christian culture appears to be searching for an equivalent Mr. Darcy – coming out from the water to sweep us off our feet. We the passive ‘damsel-in distress’ merely swoon and allow ourselves to be taken along. We run our events with a focus on who will lead us, who will save us, but when I last checked that role wasn’t vacant. Christians are romancing each other with flirty events – celebrity christians upheld, I am sure not usually by themselves, as the ‘latest thing’.
When Nick and I started going out (it was a while ago!) he was put in this kind of hero position by some young people involved in a large local youth event. In 1999 I am and partly proud (in a jovial way) and partly ashamed to say, my then husband to be, was rumoured to be the ‘christian-to-know’! It is ludicrous – not that he would be a good person to know, but that people talked about this kind of thing. This attitude does not seem to have ebbed away – it seems to have got worse and is not limited to youth events. A couple of years ago at Spring Harvest I witnessed a large group of people following the main celebration event lining up to get a well-known worship leader’s autograph and pose with him for a photo. I am sure the person in question felt awkward and unsure what to do, but even the fact that those queuing thought it a perfectly normal thing to do speaks volumes. To me it is indicative of this celebrity obsessed culture we have formed.
Christianity, I thought, was transformative and at times absolutely counter-culture. Instead we are in a place where the end of a christian event could easily be the aftermath of an ‘X Factor’ tour. To me this is a danger far greater than ‘feminisation’. It is viral, contagious and crippling. It may mean many gifted people neglect their gifting because they don’t feel as good as the endorsed celebrity. It may mean we continue to see the same faces and same people upheld as leaders and rescuers. It may be we take our eyes off the transformative message of Jesus and instead peddle a pappy, glossy, ‘hello magazine’ equivalent. In my experience the most challenging and Jesus-like people are those on the edge, quietly going about what they are called to do. They are out of the spotlight, not coming out of the water to dazzle others Darcy-style, but still taking the plunge and swimming in the midst of what it is to be human.