Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Religion & Culture | Boring for brothers? - Christians split over why so few men are in the pews

Published:Sunday | September 10, 2017 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson
Only a handful of men can be seen among worshippers at this church.

The long-running debate about the reasons so few men can be found in the pews of churches across the island and the impact this could have on the churches has reignited.

This time it is Robert Shaw, president of the District Life Builders, a male fellowship in the Rocky Settlement New Testament Church of God in Clarendon, who has fuelled the fire.

Last week, Shaw charged that most churches in Jamaica are facing death as their systems tend to marginalise men, pushing them further and further from the pews.

"If a church has 70 per cent females and 30 per cent males, it means that church is on the brink of dying. It's a dying church. And if a church has no core men in it, then that church cannot be built because the church was originally built by men," argued Shaw.

"We have predominantly dying churches in Jamaica. These contemporary churches ... who have the bulk of the people, they need to understand that they have to be more aware of where they want to go.

"It cannot be just about the spiritual utopia, about just going to heaven. We have to look at what attracts men; the real issues," added Shaw, the holder of a master's degree from the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology and the dean of discipline at the Caribbean Maritime Institute in Jamaica.

"I want to be at a church where my finances can be spoken about, one that speaks to solving problems on a daily basis. It cannot only be about serving God and going to heaven. These are some of the things that make men stay away," added Shaw.

But Pastor Devon Dick, president of the Jamaica Baptist Union, has charged that Shaw needs more data to support his claim.

"An argument could be made that women are marginalised in the sense that predominantly it is a male-dominated church leadership, and it seems as if the males make up the rules also," Dick told The Sunday Gleaner.

Dick noted that the phenomenon of women outnumbering men in congregations is decades old.

"He can always come out with those nice statements, but where is the data to prove it? Many churches have very strong brotherhood movements," said Dick, as he pointed to several social events at the Boulevard Baptist Church, where he ministers, that are specifically tailored for men.

But supporting his claim. Shaw argued that the Rocky Settlement New Testament Church of God which represents five churches in Clarendon has only 40 men among its congregants, with only five actively involved at their churches.

 

Pressured

 

He argued that men feel pressured as they are not given a chance to communicate issues that they are facing openly at church in front of members, who are mostly women.

This, Shaw posited, at times extend to male church leaders, who, after growing up in the marginalised institution, shy away from communicating their vices for fear they will be looked upon as inadequate and unworthy of their positions.

He argued that this may be a contributing factor to the sex scandals involving churchmen in recent months.

In the meantime, the Reverend Dr Carla Dunbar, pastor at the Buff Bay Church of God of Prophecy, came down somewhere in the middle.

"The church is male deficient, there is no question about that. How we do ministry in general does not always appeal to males unless they are brought up in church," said Dunbar.

"Our gospel most of the times is emotional and appeals more to the women. So you won't see a man lifting his hand in praise unless he really grew up in church. You won't see men singing a song about falling in love with Jesus and crying," she said.

"It's not that we don't win men in our churches; we don't keep them. When we win them we don't put them in specific groups and give them things to do. Men are doers.

"I wouldn't take the position to say that because they (men) are outnumbered that they should be silent. They should speak out, and honestly, we look up to men," said Dunbar.

According to Dunbar, while she preaches to her husband in church, she has to still understand herself because when she leaves the church she is not his pastor but his wife.

"I could see a dying church if it were to say that women had no use in the church. But the truth is that God's salvation is for everybody," she argued.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com