Some of King David’s last words were a challenge to his son. To Solomon, who would inherit the throne, he said, “Take courage and be a man” (1 Kings 2:2 nlt).
What was this father saying? What did his son hear? Just as importantly, what do we hear in those words?
Thousands of years later, a book promising to answer Why Men Hate Going to Church sat on my bookshelf, unread. The title seemed too much of a generalization to be taken seriously.
But when I finally decided to take a look, I was surprised by how much sense the author, David Murrow, seemed to make. He says many men don’t attend church because they see it as being for women and children and therefore as a threat to their manhood.
By contrast, Murrow says that the first church, together with pioneering or persecuted churches of later periods, didn’t seem to have a problem attracting men. He also believes many men can identify with Jesus when He is remembered and presented as the teacher who “confronted the religious,” “comforted the needy,” and “challenged everyone else.” Without implying that confrontation is masculine by nature, he maintained that “challenge was the Master’s default setting” (p.29).
Murrow maintains, however, that over time established churches have been inclined to lose sight of the mission for which they were originally founded. He says that all too often a strong and urgent sense of risk and challenge has been slowly replaced with comfort-based conditions of control, conformity, and ceremony.
Along the way, the author makes it clear that he’s describing how things are, rather than how they should be. Readers may sense that he is not given to understatement and, at times, may overstate his case. But it’s not hard to see his point when he says that although men love women, they are inclined to follow other men.
Murrow reminds his readers that, historically, to be accepted as a man, one had to stand up to danger, bear up under suffering, and sacrifice oneself for the good of others. He says that if a man failed to be brave, stoic, or self-sacrificing, he was branded as a coward.
Against this cultural and historical backdrop, Murrow boldly affirms masculine and feminine differences while recognizing that, on occasion, men will follow women who are strong enough to challenge them. For example, he writes about the legacy of Henrietta Mears who “led hundreds to faith in Jesus, including Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.” Murrow points out that, “During her tenure as Christian education director at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, more than four hundred young people entered full-time Christian service, most of whom were males.” The author says, “Men respected her because she spoke their language.” He adds, “She loved people enough to challenge the tar out of them!” (p.174).
As I read, I watched carefully to see whether the author regards strength, challenge, or adventure as the exclusive domains of the masculine spirit. It was clear to me that he does not. Nor does he see relationships built on love, stability, security, gentleness, mercy, or faithfulness as necessarily feminine. Above all, he emphasizes that strong men do not throw their weight around and lord it over women.
So what then is he asking when he calls for a resurgence of the masculine spirit? In the author’s own words, he says, “Let me say this plainly: Christianity based on risk avoidance will never attract men. If our message is full of don’ts, be careful’s, and play it safe’s, men will turn their backs” (p.207).
If Murrow is right, then David was speaking to the heart of a man when he challenged his son to have the courage to follow the words and ways of his God (1 Kings 2:3).
Imagine what Solomon was facing. He had grown up in the shadow of a father who must have seemed bigger than life. David had been a man’s man, a warrior-king, a poet-musician, loved by his people, hated by his enemies, and followed to the death by a renowned band of mighty men.
All of this might help us to understand the sense of weakness and inadequacy that Solomon later expressed in a dream. Faced with the task of leading his people with wisdom and strength, he prayed, “O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around” (1 Kings 3:7 nlt).
That prayer might sound like a sure predictor that Solomon didn’t have what it was going to take to rise to the challenge before him. But, ironically, Solomon was expressing what his own father had learned. Years earlier, David had written, “I have calmed and quieted myself, like a [small] child who no longer cries for its mother . . . . Yes, like a [small] child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—now and always” (Psalm 131:2-3 nlt).
Today, 3,000 years later, David and Solomon both remind us that real men find the strength of God in and through their own weakness. By their example both teach us to pray:
Father in heaven, we don’t have the wisdom, strength, or courage to be the men you made us to be. We need You to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Please enable us to grow in the spirit of Your Son into men after Your own heart. —Mart De Haan