BY JAMES YOO
Where are my brothers? Where are all the men in church? When I look around at most churches I’ve attended in the US, congregations are filled with women, husbands who’ve been dragged by their wives, and soft-spoken boys. Sadly, it is the minority of men in the church who are Christian warriors like Stephen, willing to die for Christ and to preach His name all the while; there seem to be too few who, like Paul and Silas, would sing praises to the Almighty when imprisoned, awaiting near-certain doom. Would the current culture’s popular praise model even elicit such a response? When indeed “the music fades,”“The Heart of Worship,” Matt Redman. what words are left in our mouths? When a man is beset on all sides, will he really sing that he will “soar above the storms”?“Still,” Hillsong. When the future is uncertain or when faith is weak, can a man earnestly rely on his own promises to love the Lord always?“I’ll Always Love You,” Tim Hughes. Is the Church today equipping a man with the means necessary to face all trials as our Lord promised us? Truly, both men and women are called to put on the whole armor of God and fight for the Kingdom – albeit in separate roles – but the mainstream approach to worship through song seems to be displacing men from the barracks altogether.
To be fair, neither the ridiculous macho man nor the feminist emasculated man offers a Biblical view of manliness. The “man’s man” does not shed tears in any context the way Jesus wept for Lazarus, and he does not make a fool of himself the way David danced when the ark returned to Israel. The “girly man” does not act out of anger the way Jesus turned tables in the temple; nor does he make a stand for his “close-minded” beliefs the way David stood up to the Philistines’ mockery. Neither man, looking for adventure, challenge, and risk outside of (fantasy) sports, video games, or action movies, looks instead to the frontier that is the missions field. Indeed, in every man is a longing for the vast, the insurmountable, and the unknown. How we pursue this desire is what separates us from the world.
Furthermore, men are called to be leaders: there is significance in the fact that Adam was created first.Consider also that Jesus called both men and women to serve Him, but in different roles. After the resurrection, the first person He appeared to was Mary Magdelene, and one of the first mentioned converts was Lydia. Still, the Apostles, Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, and many other men were the ones to bear the brunt of the work. Perhaps to complement this disposition, men have difficulty (as popular culture readily points out) expressing or even recognizing their emotions. A volatile, emotionally driven leader would be unfit to command others in any context. Some men certainly understand their hearts better than others, but in comparison to women, men are rather stoic on the whole. While both the heart and mind are Biblical sources of worship, and while both sexes are encouraged to use both, men seem to operate first from their logic and women from their emotions.Consider how men and women typically deal with problems. Where most women find solace in talking through their issues and not necessarily in coming to a concrete conclusion, most men would rather move straight to finding a solution.
On the issue of values, Christian artists have all but taken the believer’s responsibility out of the Kingdom. Christ has indeed accomplished everything on our behalf, but James tells us that faith without works is dead. As modern praise songs present the Gospel, life is a stroll through the park as long as I’m held in God’s arms, and I have only to will myself to worship.“From the Inside Out,” Hillsong. When life is thus depicted as though there is nothing left for the believer to do – instead of being illustrated as the oft-beset trek through a miry pit, in the footsteps of the Commander Who went before us – men will find no place in the Church. To make matters worse, Christian artists have stripped worship of reason. Gone are the Psalm-likePsalms 80, 114, and 136. calls to remembrance of God’s faithfulness by recalling His past deeds; the substance of God’s character has been replaced with an abstract.“Lord, I Give You My Heart,” various artists. When I praise my girlfriend for her cooking, I don’t say, “I praise you for your cooking skills!” Instead, I say, “Your lasagna is so good, Italian mothers would be jealous.” Likewise, too many songs today are filled with such empty, self-reliant promises of praise.“Lord You Have My Heart,” Delirious
As if to exacerbate the problem, worship leaders, chosen for their musical talent over their theological training or spiritual maturity, select the hits to which the congregation “responds” best. Leaders of praise teams repeatedly play those songs which produce the most emotional displays as if emotions were the best and truest means of qualifying worship. While playing, even though modern songs have very fluid composition (i.e., verses and choruses can be shifted around and instrumentation interchanged), they present songs in a formulaic and repetitive manner because they know what works.“How Great Is Our God,” Chris Tomlin, and “Mighty to Save,” Reuben Morgan It is also common to pray or comment in short, vapid phrases such as “Thank you, Jesus” or “Close your eyes and meditate” – almost as a way to goad the congregation to act more “spiritual.” In short, many praise leaders, whether they know it or not, are manipulative. Of course, in doing so, they overshadow the reason to worship with a preconceived notion of how worship is supposed to appear.
To these subtle sentimental machinations, many men have a visceral reaction. When men are urged to feel without a reason to feel, what’s left is alienation and distrust. Perhaps women can more easily access their emotions; perhaps men who’ve long been in the church can as well. However, the world will never know how truly great our God is if worship leaders are on the stage mainly to perform and excite. This light treatment of singing will in fact only induce criticism and ridicule.See South Park, Season 7, “Christian Rock Band.”
Considering that the state of worship music rests mainly in the hands of the leaders of the Christian music industry and those of the local church, what are the rest of us to do? Perhaps there is nothing to do. The last couple of years have seen a resurgence in the singing of hymns. Both local churches and big-name Christian artists have been putting out albums of old songs set to new music. The newer generation of evangelicals are reacting against the way of will-driven, self-centered, lyrically weak praise music and turning toward covenant-driven, God-centered, theologically hard-hitting hymns. Indeed, for those in positions of power to change the way their churches approach corporate worship, there is a vast resource of new-old songs. But I say, “More.” There is more to be done, more that can be done. Anne Steele, born in a small English village in the 18th century, she penned some of the most heartfelt hymns I know: indeed, God uses even the meekest of people to pass on some of the greatest of Christian legacies. My brothers, within you too lives a spirit of creativity. In the midst of the world’s burdens and the Enemy’s attacks, may we praise as John Newton did:
Let us sing though fierce temptation
Threatens hard to bear us down,
For the Lord our strong salvation
Holds in view the conqu’ror’s crown.