meeting at the Friend's House: segregated ministry

tim and i have been having a conversation on some comments that i've been making on women in leadership and also about an article from new wine's magazine.

this was his response , and mine, and his again.

so, tim, i guess we've now come to a slightly different issue, crystallised by the article in new wine, in what we do about the whole 'feminisation of the church' thing that seems to be on the tip of people's tongues these days whenever anyone dares to criticise segregated ministry and particular men's curry nights, weekends, breakfasts, or whatever.

so we kinda move away from the new wine issue now - and for what it's worth my particular bugbear with new wine is the same kind of frustration you might have about a much beloved cousin who has so much potential but who keeps getting snagged on the same ol' same ol'. but anyway, we move away from that now as the focus, although it is what is shown by that article which for me begs a question about segregated ministry which needs some deep thought.

i have to admit to always giving a wry smile when i hear the term 'feminisation of the church'. for an institution that has been foundational in preventing women expressing their full humanity and calling, and which perpetuates the myth of the normality of the male by its very language and hierarchical structure, this seems deeply flawed reasoning. however, i get it, there are more women than men in the place, and this is a problem. but it also needs to be recognised that the imbalance is not just in the pews - the women are in the pews and the men are ruling the place, overwhelmingly this is still the case, yes? so if the answer to too many women in the pews is more men, then is the answer to too many men leading, more women?

i just think that this reasoning is coming from the wrong starting place, i rather think that there is a link between the male hierarchy dominating the structures and the lack of men in the congregations. i suspect the problem is not that there are too many women making everything flowery and pink, but that there is a serious problem with how we understand men and women which makes any man looking from the outside simply turn on his heels and run. do you know what, i've actually found that most of the men i encounter outside the church like women, they like being with women, they don't worry that there are too many of them, as a rule. but the middle class stereotypes which they encounter in most churches? a turnoff?

unfortunately i reckon that most segregated ministries simply perpetuate this problem. the irony is that those who are seeing the problem are simply trying to solve it for the right reasons but with the wrong solution. as is evidenced by the new wine article, which only serves to make the point, the setting up of a men's ministry has cemented the archetypes of 'man' is the norm (and climbs mountains apparently according to the photo) and women are nowhere, not even in genesis or jesus. steve clark who writes the article falls into the trap that i see happening over and over again of building good stuff on crappy foundations. because there is some good stuff in what he says, for example the life that he exhorts men to; of submission to God, inclusion in the sonship of Christ and living in nourishing community with each other. but this is not definitive of men's discipleship. of course this kind of life is something that it is good to exhort men to, it is not a problem to have a men's ministry which encourages these things. but it is the basis on which this is done which bothers me so much; that men are the primary norm of humanity, the primary grace receivers.

yes, there is a problem that men do not know who they are anymore, whether it means who they are as men or who they are as fathers. i recognise this anthropological issue. but the answer is not to do bad theology and permanent marker in mistakes that should have been rubbed out long ago. in the end if you build good stuff on the bad stuff then the good stuff will eventually become infected or it will all crumble away.

the truth is that most women don't know who they are either, and for what it's worth, my own experience has been that to know who i am as a woman has best been shown to me by spending time with both men and women, they show me who i am by being distinct from me and by giving me something to identify with. sometimes i even find my friendships with men the most nourishing, especially those men who are so comfortable with themselves that they are just who they are, with no fear of not matching an ideal that probably isn't worth much anyway.

we are called to image God together, and together we image God. i am thoroughly convinced that unless and until we grasp the beauty of this part of our corporate humanity, we will be poorer for it.


Rachel said...

Well written Jody and I agree with you here - I'm beginning to realise that it is very scary for men to be men. This came to me this morning working through the Peter Ould lecture write up - see my blog. I am beginning to think that the very male anatomy has been caught up with language about dominance and abuse. I know that there has been an imagery of our delicate parts and teeth - Freud, if I remember correctly and back to English lit degree days, but I think men are experiencing now the fall-out of this kind of thinking for them-and I think for them, it's an association with something even worse than teeth (quite what exactly, I'm unsure and each time I think of something, I find it doesn't quite work...any suggestions?...) Oten men feel as though they are feared. How fallen we all are! Oh for the day when we truly know how to really love each other as men and women.


Tim Goodbody said...

Thanks Jody,
I think we pretty much agree; I have posted at home a bit of a splurge (too little time as ever to properly think it through)

Are you going to NEAC5?


Anonymous said...

I'm goings to have to agree with Rachel on this. That last line really sums up what I was thinking the whole time. "Oh for the day when we truly know how to really love each other as men and women." We're all human, lets start treating each other like it.