On Preaching “To the Men”

I want you to imagine something with me. Pretend that I have a son and a daughter. They’re very different people, but they’re both amazing. And they both need to hear something important.

son and daughter (550x367)

So every year I sit down with them for a family chat. I know they’ve heard this before, but it’s a big deal. So I emphasize the need to listen, and then I plow right in.

Son, men are important. They matter. They have an important role to play in church, family, and society because God has called them to be godly leaders in the world. So you need to find men who will encourage you toward greater godliness. You have a tremendous responsibility.

And honey, you need to pray for your brother because of the challenges he faces.

I’m sure you see the contrast. You may agree with everything that I said, but you’re still wondering: Why would I take time out to emphasize that my son is important and that God has called him to godliness without saying anything similar to my daughter? What kind of father would do something like that year after year?

I don’t know. But I see it in churches all the time. And it needs to stop.

Theory vs. Practice

I heard basically this same message last Sunday when the pastor preached a sermon that was “for the guys.” For some reason, the pastor felt it was important to spend an entire sermon exhorting the guys, and just the guys, to greater faithfulness.

And, to be honest, I can sympathize. I do think that guys are dropping the ball and we do need to be challenged to greater faithfulness. So there may well have been good reasons for this particular sermon.

For example, it’s entirely possible that the church I attended last Sunday had good reasons for its men’s-only sermon. The sermon coincided with the kickoff of its new men’s ministry, and it’s possible that this important ministry had languished in recent years. So the sermon served to remind everyone of the challenges men face, how the church had failed recently to respond to those challenges, and what it would do differently in the future.

If that’s what was truly happening, I wish it had been made more clear. But that would be a fine reason for a challenging sermon to the men. Done well, I have no problem with sermons “to the men.” My frustration isn’t with the theory, but the practice.

Mind the Balance

At the beginning of the sermon, the pastor raised a question that resonated with me: Why do people get uptight when a sermon is directed toward men like this? After all, he pointed out, men and women are both important. Trying to decide which matters more is like trying to decide which of your legs is more important. Silly, right?

So, he argued, you shouldn’t get upset that I’m “speaking to the guys” this morning, because I’m not saying that they’re more important. Am I?

That depends. When was the last you spent an entire sermon speaking to the women?

To be honest, I have never heard an entire sermon specifically addressed to the women in the church. I’ve heard many sermons that directed specific applications and analogies to women. But an entire sermon? No.

I was going to qualify this to say that I only heard sermons like this on Mother’s Day. And then I realized that every Mother’s Day sermon I’ve ever heard was actually addressed to the men as well:

  • Men, appreciate what your mothers have done for you.
  • Men, honor your wives.
  • Men, man up and own your responsibilities so that the women in your life don’t have it so hard.

In these sermons, only the men or exhorted to do anything. The women are just something to be cherished. Once you get past the fluff, even Mother’s Day sermons focus on the men.

The Pulpit Matters

If you regularly address the importance of men from the pulpit and never women, or even if you address both but in a highly unbalanced fashion, how are you any different from my imaginary father at the beginning of the post? What are the women in your church supposed to think? How could they not walk away wondering if you think they are as important as you claim they are.

The pulpit matters, and the math is simple. If you’re willing to devote a Sunday sermon to something, it must be important. If it never gets pulpit time, it must not be that important. Done.

Godliness Isn’t Just for Men

One of my biggest frustrations with the classic men’s-only sermon is the tendency to take biblical statements intended to apply to all Christians, and address those specifically to the men. I’m sure the pastor doesn’t mean to suggest that these don’t apply to women as well, but if you do this often enough, it’s hard to avoid the implication that they apply more to men than to women.

Last Sunday was a great example. Drawing on 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, the pastor emphasized that Christian men need to do the following:

  • Be on guard.
  • Stand firm in the faith.
  • Be courageous.
  • Be strong.
  • Do everything in love.

I  may have missed something, but why exactly are we addressing these specifically to the men in the congregation? As far as I can tell, these are expectations for all Christians. (Yes, women are supposed to courageous and strong too.)

My favorite example was the time I heard a sermon emphasizing that men need to be godly, but making no effort to connect this to women as well. If there’s any characteristic that should apply to every Christian regardless of gender, godliness would seem to be a good candidate. But this sermon repeatedly called on men only to be godly.

After more than a decade in that church, I never heard women receive a similar exhortation.

Remember that Silence Is Louder Than Words

I’ve raised this concern to pastors before, and the response I usually receive is that they were just exhorting the men. They never said that women shouldn’t be strong, courageous, or godly.

That’s right, they didn’t say that, because they didn’t say anything to the women. They never do. And their silence screams far more loudly than their words ever could.

Explain the Need for Your Focus

I alluded to this earlier, but let me make it clear. If you’re going to focus on either men or women during a particular sermon, make it very clear why you are doing so. What is it about the men/women in your context that requires this exhortation? If you’re going to take characteristics that apply to all Christians and focus them on one specific group, why are you doing so? Do you think that the men or women in your church uniquely neglect those characteristics? If so, explain (and defend) your reasoning. Do you think this group will be uniquely motivated by this exhortation? Great, explain that too.

If you don’t explain, we will connect the dots, but probably not the way you intended. So we may end up with a picture that you never imagined, even though it’s one you helped us draw.

A Tale of Two Jewels

Suppose that I have two jewels, and I tell you that both of them are valuable, but I only ever hold one of them up to the light, relishing the way the sunshine gleams off its many facets, proclaiming to everyone who passes how marvelous it is, displaying it whenever I get the chance. How could you not draw the conclusion that this jewel is the one I value most?

Done poorly, speaking “to the men” tells people what you truly value. Even worse, it tells people what God truly values.

What kind of father would do that? I don’t know. But I hear it in churches all the time, and we need to stop.




  1. Darcyjo says

    Thank you. There’s a lot of us who think this, but you’re the first person I’ve ever really seen that will actually say it. Very much appreciated.

  2. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Your thoughts in this post are so very much appreciated. “I’ve raised this concern to pastors before, and the response I usually receive is that they were just exhorting the men. They never said women that shouldn’t be strong, courageous, or godly. That’s right, they didn’t say that, because they didn’t say anything to the women. They never do. And their silence screams far more loudly than their words ever could.”

    So many evangelical women are tired of being ignored, or tired of “lip service” – the church saying in words they value the contribution of women but then not actually doing anything to encourage women or giving them opportunities.

    • says

      So true! That’s part of why I get upset with the whole, “equal in value, different in role” mantra. To quote Inigo Montoya, “you keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” They keep saying “equal” but nothing about the way that church or family life is practiced or talked about backs that up.

      • says

        It reminds of a church I attended once where the elders specifically decided that they needed to stress how much they valued women in ministry. But someone pointed out that saying this wouldn’t matter if people didn’t actually see any corresponding actions. So they talked about a variety of ways to get women more visibly involved in ministry (including things as simple as having some women serve as ushers on Sunday morning). In the end, though, nothing happened beyond another verbal affirmation.

        To be fair, though, this was partly because many of the women resisted taking on more visible ministry roles (even being an usher). So there was a deeper issue in the culture of the church that needed to be addressed.

  3. says

    Recently, I’ve seen whole sermon series being dedicated to men and certain privileged cultural expressions of manliness. This is a good and timely reminder that the Church consist of more than men alone (which should be obvious, but it isn’t to many).

  4. says

    I don’t think that I have ever heard a sermon addressed just or even primarily to men. I wonder whether this is more of an American phenomenon (we don’t usually celebrate Mother’s Day in church either). For that matter, I have only heard a handful of messages addressed directly to the elderly, the chronically ill, or on the subject of preparing our lives for approaching death. While almost all of us will find some relevance in such sermons at some point in our lives, only about half of us will ever be men. I am not sure that the gathered meeting of the church is the best place to tackle many men’s issues.

    I think that the main reason why men are usually the only ones directly addressed in such messages is because pastors themselves are men and men feel awkward/fear facing a lot of flak/feel that they lack the relevant understanding of women’s lives to tell them directly what to do.

    Also, many pastors don’t truly function as father figures. They see themselves as trained teachers of individual Christians, handling an authoritative word, but don’t have a sense of the character of their relationship with their congregation. Without that sort of sense of one’s relationship, it can be difficult or uncomfortable to address one’s elders or the other sex, so many are tempted to avoid doing so altogether. As a result, the weight of the most direct authoritative teaching can fall upon the youth and younger to middle-aged men.

    • says

      I wondered if how contextual a problem this was. So maybe it is just an American thing.

      And I think you’re right that pastors are generally less comfortable talking about things they haven’t wrestled with personally. I know I’ve found it hard to preach about suffering when I’ve had it pretty easy so far. So I’m sure that plays into the problem with male pastors being less comfortable speaking to the women. Of course, pastors have to do things they’re uncomfortable with all the time. So that’s not a great excuse. But it probably is a factor.

      • says

        One thing that would be interesting is to have some women’s thoughts on how pastors can speak directly to them in a manner corresponding to the way that they address the men without causing offence and other problems. I think that many pastors recognize that sensitivities can understandably be heightened in this area and just don’t deem it wise to walk through a minefield.

        I suspect that, while most pastors believe that women need to be addressed directly as women from Scripture, many do not believe that, as men, they are best situated to do this. They may also suspect that the gathered meeting of the church is not the best time to do so either (I would suggest that it is not the best place to focus so exclusively upon men either).

        Many of us, while willing to discuss the disputed facts of the Bible’s teaching on subjects relating to the vocations of men and women (something for which we will face a lot of flak), for instance, do not believe that we are in the position to enjoin women to act accordingly. And, frankly, I think that this instinct is in the right place. In Titus 2:3-5 it is the task of the older women to teach the younger women about their Christian duties, not Titus’. Titus, however, is called to address the younger men.

        The same words can mean very different things depending upon the way that they are framed and speaker and context are crucial to this. And this is especially important in areas where tensions, sensitivities, or differentials of power exist. When divine commands addressed to a specific group are voiced by someone outside of that group, especially when that person enjoys a measure of privilege relative to that group, that voicing can (often rightly) be experienced as an attempt to bolster a human power relation.

        This is especially important to recognize in some circles where the biblical command for wives to submit to their husbands is experienced as ‘husbands, make your wives submit to you’. Men haven’t been given this authority, just the duty to love their wives. However, when the divine command to women starts to function as a prerogative claimed by men, as they are the ones who enjoin women to obey it, much changes. Framing the divine command by existing power relations between men and women we experience a catastrophic distortion of the actual biblical teaching on the matter.

        • says

          Great comment. I’d like to say that any good pastor would consult godly women before preaching “to the women” in church, but I’m enough of a realist to know that this won’t be obvious to everyone. So you’re suggestion here is good and wise. I may see if I can arrange a follow-up post on that very topic. (Not from me, obviously!)

        • Natasha says

          I do think it’s possible to preach on issues that you don’t have personal experience with- but it requires a good deal of humility and study. Another option would be that the (male) pastor could get someone else (say, a woman) to speak on the topic he doesn’t feel comfortable addressing. After all, the idea of only one individual in an entire church body speaking for/about God isn’t a New Testament idea anyway…

  5. Kelly says

    I agree with your message here wholeheartedly. However, I have heard evangelical pastors preach messages directed toward women, and they literally made me leave church in tears. (I came back, but others didn’t.) My husband and I have wrangled with these questions for over a decade. How can we allow brothers to exhort one another and sisters to do the same, and what does that all look like from the pulpit? We need to be asking the questions surely. But a mist in the pulpit becomes a fog in the pew.

  6. says

    That’s a great point, Kelly. Not having heard a sermon like that, I can’t speak from experience. But I can imagine how carefully that would need to be handled, especially if the pastor has not already invested a lot in relationships with the women of the church.

  7. The Idiot says

    Men are idiots.

    Just thinking out loud here. But it makes sense to me for sermons that deal with “specific” issues to be directed toward the cause of those issues. Simply put, focus the teaching on the trouble. Men are more trouble. The failure of men in self control over nearly all areas of life seems more prevalent than that of women.
    Men’s issues also tend to spread pain further and wider (physically and emotionally) to those around them.
    Those who abuse physically, sexually, mentally & emotionally tend to be male more often than female. There is also abandonment (on any of these levels) that is more common among men.

    Please do not read this as saying that females don’t struggle with the same issues. They do. But males do more. The sins of charged and uncontrolled testosterone have destroyed families/societies/nations throughout history. Men are pigs, jerks and idiots.

    If you are going to preach a sermon admonishing the saints toward “greater godliness” would you not focus it more on those who are less “godly”? (horrible, self-righteous question to ask, I know. But to address the example used)…

    I don’t see the issue as “women are less important to preach to” because they need the gospel daily just as much as men do. I see this as an issue of “men are more trouble and need more admonishment and correction” back to the gospel than women do.

    Both are equally important on every level. Both need a daily reminder of their reliance upon the Gospel, and God’s great love through it. I think men tend to forget it much faster, though. Because they are idiots.

    Preach a hard hitting sermon to the women… and they leave the church in tears, but hopefully they take it to heart.

    Preach a hard hitting sermon to men… and then preach it again, and again and again. Because men are idiots.

    Why are people so offended by this? Women specifically? It’s more of a compliment to them. They complain because they get less of a beat-down than men do? It’s like those people who complain that Christ was spending more time with sinners than with those earnestly trying to apply gospel correctly.

    All that to say, I do agree that whatever is done the preachers need to communicate clearly what they are up to. Because men don’t take subtle hints, and women get offended with poor communication.

    • says

      Men aren’t idiots, but when we perpetrate that myth, they may start to live down to our diminished expectations.

      Denigrating men and their moral duty and capacity is not the best way to honour women. In fact, unreasonable burdens upon women often rely upon this denigration of men. For instance, the idea that men are necessarily incompetent around the house or with children is a sexist myth that justifies the expectation that women should shoulder all of the responsibility in these areas.

      Also the persistent myth that men are naturally less moral justifies men taking less responsibility and holding them to a lower standard. It also leads us to pay less attention to the sorts of issues and sins that may be more pressing in women’s lives, just because they are less likely to express themselves in quite as demonstrative and visible a manner.

      Yes, differences exist between the sexes, but neither sex is stupid or incompetent.

  8. says

    This is so profound and important! Thanks for speaking up about this, especially the thing about “pulpit time” – it’s something most pastors don’t seem to understand. Sometimes their silence speaks louder than words :(

  9. Rachel Heston-Davis says

    And even the Mother’s Day sermons that do focus on women usually focus on her value in relation to other people, not necessarily to God. They don’t speak to a woman’s faith journey as an individual at all, except where that faith journey intersects with her role in raising kids. A sermon to women might talk about how they should develop patience for their husband and children, perseverance to be a good caretaker, joy to model to their families, etc. Sure, any parent and spouse might need those things, but how come men ALSO get to hear about the other parts of their faith journey? The women…well…I guess according to those sermons, women don’t have any other part of their life with God. :/

    • Kristal says

      Sarcasm font begins here. We don’t have brains, just uteruses (or uteri?) and hands to cook and clean with, why would any one ever speak to our personal spiritual lives? End sarcasm. Most of those Mother’s days sermons end up being encouragement to sacrifice literally everything up and including personal well-being to husband/children/church.

      I FEEL this.

  10. says

    Thanks so much for this. I got a little ranty yesterday after reading this, which relates: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/afewgrownmen/2013/09/the-1-idol-christian-women-worship/ which in my view is part of the problem. Women ignored then criticised for getting their value in the things they’re pushed towards. Proverbs 31 is often the main passage used to tell women how they should be, books like ‘Praying for your future husband’ suggest women should be prioritising marriage and family from a young age(there isn’t a male equivalent to that book), 26 year old Christian women are writing articles re-evaluating their lives because they’re not married with children (at 26 most of my non-Christian female friends hadn’t met the men they would marry and have children with), women are often denied other ministry / leadership opportunities unless focused on family but still turn up and volunteer, traditional roles are valued (eg parenting groups / ministries called MOLO – Mums of Little Ones – aren’t particularly welcoming to dads and again, there isn’t male equivalent). Yet somehow women are ignored as you describe or to blame for having wrong priorities. And only married women with children seem to be counted as worthy of an opinion in the article I linked to (though obviously being told they hold the wrong opinion). The old cry the church is being feminised is heard again, yet somehow that’s being achieved by women who aren’t the key decision makers. Even you and Alistair in the comments above have discussed what pastors should do from the perspective that pastors = men! Somehow by just being female, turning up regularly and following what they’re taught/ or pick up through the unspoken values you highlight so well, women hear they’re ruining church for the menfolk. And yet the family focus is often reinforced by pastors like Mark Driscoll whose recent Pastor Dad book puts a lot of emphasis on finding ‘good’ women who want to stay at home with families. It doesn’t add up to a winning outcome for anyone. Thanks for drawing attention to this with sound reasoning. Really appreciated.

  11. Babette du Plessis says

    There is so much to consider in all of these comments, but let me say this, as a Co-Senior pastor with my husband, and(President of my non-profit Organization and CEO of our business), we have been able to speak to many issues from BOTH of our perspectives, and conscientiously we try to not compete against each other, but rather let each other lead by our gifts. Yes, we still work at it daily, even after 27 years. The “Adamic” nature is something we will contend with till we “go home.”
    I know our life style is not a common one, but it should be and is becoming more and more prevalent in the body today (at last – both working side by side – the perfect example of course is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – 3 Leaders in perfect harmony! -Echad.)
    I believe that if more woman were in leadership (or the “Seniors” would release them to be, and the leadership were all working together closely with accountability, there would be a better balance in the way Pastoral and teaching ministry and duties would be performed. If there is a constant “male” hierarchy leadership, one would expect a much more “male” oriented view point. Bring more trained and gifted woman into leadership, or call them in. We see so many wonderful woman that were amazing leaders in the Bible, so why are they not being releases as much today? Look at Deborah, Junia, Pricilla, Jael, Mary, Hannah, Esther, Lois and Eunice and so many more. Woman like these powerful examples walk among us today.
    Having been in the ministry over 30 years as a licensed and ordained minister I am still puzzled as to why we are not ministering in a more biblical way. Here’s to training BOTH men and woman for a more balanced and powerful leadership tool in the hands of a mighty God. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal.3;28

    • says

      I see that we were commenting at the same time — and in the same stream of thought! Yes, bless you and your husband for this godly example. May your tribe increase!

      It was a struggle just for me to be ordained … and I was blessed by a wonderful season of ministry. But I had to step away in order to gain a different perspective. God was gracious enough to give me the desire of my heart — and then kind enough to show me a better thing to desire!

      We will see what God has in store…and I am sure They will continue to let me know what to do day by day. Even if it never again includes teaching from the pulpit.

      Be blessed.

  12. says

    Wow … great post and great conversation!

    We need to have women sitting at the table / preaching from the pulpit along side of the men. Men need to hear about men’s stuff from women as well as men. Women need to hear about women’s stuff from men as well as women. We need to see ourselves and our issues from as many different perspectives as possible because we tend to be blind and stubborn. ;^)

    For me the issue lies in the common perception that God is male. But we see in Scripture over and over that God is not male. God is not female either. Nor are they gender neutral. The Triune God embodies all the subtle characteristics of maleness and femaleness — as shown beautifully in the man, Jesus, who rejected much of what his culture valued as “maleness” in order to show the balance needed for humanity to fully reflect the Image of God as male and female. They call men and women — in their relationships, whether single or married, to build up the Body of Christ — to get past their gender identify issues and move toward the oneness that is Unity in Christ as his Bride.

    This unity only happens when men and women see each other as equals and are committed to serving and submitting to one another, seeking the best interest of the other, as the highest good … as true holiness. As long as men are perceived as speaking down to women (as God-ordained leaders), the women will be wounded. It is the same with women being perceived as speaking down to men (through manipulation): the men are offended.

    But it also happens men to men and women to women. And it needs to stop. Only God is Father. Only Jesus is Lord. We are all joint heirs with Jesus, brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God. Truly free and truly equal — at least in God’s eyes!

    Do we really need to be exhorted in ways that wound and offend? Can we not find ways to encourage and call each other to holiness in ways that inspire instead of shame? I think we can. The questions is whether or not we will.

    But I will be the wrong one to ask … since I believe that the pulpit has become a pathetic substitution for authentic relationships between the brethren and sistren … when what we need is to speak the truth — of God’s love for each of us exactly where we are — to one another in love and grace and mercy out of deep affection without concern for merit in order to lead one another toward greater unity in the Spirit.

    When we love one another as Jesus has loved us, we will begin to journey through life together — helping recognize Jesus in each other and paying closer attention to the whisper of the Spirit than the shout of the preacher.

    End rant! ;^)

    Be blessed, all!

  13. Eleanor Clemons says

    I am simply a member of a church that is struggling to keep growing. They have been working hard to increase in the children’s ministry area at what seems like the expense of the lack of concerns of the rest who are shrinking in attendance. We are presently without choir, without a director and have young people who are doing their best best to lead but the ones remaining struggle to hear music they can aactually sing. I struggle as a choir member without a leader as such, I am not alone .These issues may be addressed but after a year it’s been no director as yet, and efforts made in that direction have been made but with no satisfaction at this pont. Subject has bern made known to those who should be doing something about it but answers are still needed in this area. I really appreciate the subject matter addressed here but wanted to share as well the concernon behalf of others also in my position.

  14. says

    I wonder whether a few underlying issues need to be brought to the surface here.

    1. The pastoral ministry of the Church has become focused upon one individual. This can become problematic when a wide range of pastoral issues and concerns and many different types of persons need to be addressed: few pastors have this degree of pastoral sensitivity or awareness, nor should they necessarily be expected to. A man is often not best situated sensitively to address many pastoral issues for women. However, I really don’t think that Scripture would expect them to.

    Within the New Testament we see elder women/widows and deaconesses appointed in formally acknowledged leadership positions in the Church. Clement of Alexandria remarks, for instance: ‘But the apostles in conformity with their ministry concentrated on undistracted preaching, and took their wives around … to be their fellow-ministers in relation to housewives, through whom the Lord’s teaching penetrated into the women’s quarters without scandal.’ The leadership of women was not exercised over men and functioned under the authority of male Church leaders. However, it would be a lot more prominent, authoritative, and formal than women’s ministry would be in many circles today.

    2. Especially in preaching-focused circles, the pastoral ministry of the Church has become focused upon one event and a particular occasion: the weekly sermon. This, of course, exacerbates the first issue considerably. The importance of the less formal, centralized, or visible aspects of pastoral ministry can become downplayed. Once we assume the notion that being a pastor is primarily exercised through preaching or through the content of teaching, a lot of the other problems with contemporary Protestant and evangelical understanding of pastoral or priestly ministry follow. Women need direct pastoral guidance or oversight, but much of this guidance and oversight does not need to be provided by a man, nor does it need to be provided in front of the whole congregation in a Sunday morning sermon (mutatis mutandis, the same applies to men). This focus on the pastor and the weekly sermon has squeezed out women’s pastoral ministry to women, downgrading its importance considerably.

    3. While it is essential that we sit as equals at the table, it is also important that we recognize just how radical a departure from the practice of former ages of Christian and biblical history our degree of integration and neutralization of the sexes can be. For most ages of the Church, possibly even within the New Testament, men and women didn’t even sit together. The Church was definitely not a realm where gender was neutralized: in fact, it was often highlighted. This is the case even in the New Testament, as we see in such places as 1 Corinthians 11, 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

    We all too easily think of leadership as a generic thing, unconditioned by gender. This cuts both ways in gender debates in the Church. For one side, any reference to women’s leadership is presumed to mean that women can exercise any sort of leadership over both men and women. For the other side, any challenges to women’s leadership are treated as if they disqualify women’s leadership in its entirety, producing churches where women play little of a responsible leading and teaching role at all. It seems to me that the Bible advocates a robust and formally established pastoral ministry exercised by women in every church, albeit under the authority of male Church leaders. The male Church leaders are expected to stand back and to let the women carry out this vocation, as they have not been called to minister in this manner. If this were in place and given its due importance and honour, I doubt that we would be having many of these problems.

  15. Nathan Cozington says

    Great thoughts Marc! I’m sick of going to mens conferences and being told I need to “man up” or I’m not doing enough and hence feeling more battered and bruised than when I first arrived. It seems Christian men or told more about what they do wrong than what they do right. I’m sick of the machismo, “belly scratching”, and “belching” that goes on there.

    Apparently men only know how to be “rough and tough”, but never sensitive, caring, listening, and loving. I get nervous about conferences like these and the message they give: actlikemen.com.


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