Saturday, February 20, 2010

No boys allowed in the Bible studies?

No matter where you stand on the Egalitarian (every person is created equal and can fill all roles) to Complementarian continuum  (men and women were created for specific roles, and there should be no overlap), I would think it would be important to foster Bible studies that involve men in the church.  So why is it that all I see advertised are women's Bible studies?  Why are men excluded from them completely? 

Maybe things are different at your church (and I'd be interested in hearing how), but the most I've seen at any church I've ever attended were monthly men's prayer breakfasts.  Why this odd segregation?

Since I haven't participated in many "women's Bible studies," I can only speculate, but I'm pretty sure men aren't barred from them because of intimate female-only discussions (like sex-segregated health classes).  We just got done with a more-than-mildly embarrassing sequence of messages about sex, and they didn't have us sit in different sanctuaries or put up a wall between us like in the temples of yore.  Since there's no logical reason to segregate, it feels more like that girls club/boys club separation thing.  I'm just not sure that's what it should be.

Why haven't I participated?  Well, some excuses/explanations that come to mind are as follows:
  • 1) Most of the studies don't interest me since they aren't really about the Bible so much as about books that talk about stuff that's in the Bible in practical and applicable ways for the average, modern woman and her peers.
  • 1a) I am not the average, modern woman or her peers. 
  • 2) There has to be a good reason for me to subject myself to the company of others during my free time.
  • 2a) I would either want to be learning some really great stuff from a gifted teacher or interacting with a lot of interesting folks who would discuss deeply and challenge me intellectually.
  • 2b) I don't get on well with most women.  I am very different from them, and bridging that gap results in me donning a mask and/or exhausting myself beyond my limited capacities right now.
  • 3) I don't understand the gender-segregation thing.  I'd rather hear a slew of perspectives from everywhere on the age, life-stage, experience, and gender range.  If the boys aren't allowed to play, too, then I don't want to, either.
What are your thoughts on the subject (and on my thoughts)?  Overreacting?  Too sensitive?


  1. I haven't joined my church's ladies' Bible study because I'm just kind of weirded out by all those hormones in one place, and because I feel like I'm a better fit for the "young professionals" one which includes guys. But I have given it some thought. In our church, at least, there are a lot of women who are either single or whose husbands aren't active in church, and they seem to band together to support one another's faith. To be fair to them, the group doesn't actively exclude men- they had one man come for a while, but eventually he quit. I'm wired to where that kind of thing isn't especially appealing to me, but it more or less makes sense how it works for them.

    I'm more puzzled by the other side of things, why the guys don't get together for Bible studies. To paint with a broad brush, the guys at my church seem more likely to get together for a work day than for fellowship or Bible study. As far as organizing get-togethers goes generally, though, they seem to leave it up to the women, so maybe it just doesn't occur to them.

    I asked Paul for his opinion, and he agrees that there are more single women active in the church, and that of the married folks, the women tend to have more time or inclination to participate in Bible studies.

  2. 3 major reasons for gender-specific bible studies to exist. (but not the only option.

    1) Casual studies that are 'social-groups' as well. Creates opportunities to make friends of one's own gender.

    2) Intimate issues of accountability. Men struggle with a set of different demands that women (cannot or willnot) understand despite being family members, friends, or spouses. And vice-versa also. Men's groups often involve Christian exhortation to sexual fidelity and specific coping skills. Men can't bring up those challenges in an environment with their wife or girlfriend present. (And I'm sure that women have spiritual issues that men couldn't understand or deal with as well.

    3)Common context. Mars and Venus stuff. Less explaining or defending, most study.

    hope this helps.

  3. Austin

    It certainly does help.

    Hadn't really thought of 1). Thanks for pointing that out.

    Wondering how often 2) would come up in a general study.

    3) If one only wants to hear people coming from the same place one is, can one learn anything? If one is not being challenged in some way, what good is it?

  4. Liz, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It's interesting to hear how things work in other places.

    Do you think, for instance, your church should be concerned/do something about the lack of interest among men in the congregation? (And do you know where you stand on the Egalitarian to Complementarian continuum?)

  5. I do think our church needs more active men, and truth be told, we have got some who are doing great things. I'm on the church council, and we've talked/prayed about the lack of involvement from men, but haven't come to any conclusions (the church is small and kind of fighting for stability in terms of numbers and finances, so our attention is spread over a lot of different issues at the moment). We're actually suffering from a lack of discipleship in general.

    As far as the egalitarian/complementarian continuum goes... not entirely sure. We now have a female pastor, and she's been doing just fine- God certainly seems to be blessing her ministry. We also have 4/7 women on council. So, from seeing how God works in our church, I'd say I'm on the egalitarian end of things, at least in the context of the church. I'm pretty sure our setup wouldn't currently work in quite a lot of churches, for cultural reasons, but I'm torn over whether/how that could/should be changed. In the marriage/family context, I think I'm more on the complimentarian side of things, but role-wise (at least stereotypical role-wise) my own marriage would look pretty egalitarian: I do the banking and taxes, Paul is quite capable of chores like cooking and laundry, and who's the main bread-winner or childcare-giver at any given time is pretty flexible.

  6. I was interested in Austin's comments, too, by the way-

    I'm betting the value of #2 depends on how you understand small groups. If your church has groups that are somewhat loosely structured, forming and re-forming as studies are begun and finished, then I'm guessing that level of personal accountability will not be reached. But if the church has long-standing small groups where people get really close and trust one another, then that kind of accountability is more likely to arise.

    Whether or not people should be comfortable talking about sexual accountability, for instance, in mixed company (that's an open question for me), a lot of them aren't. A lot of people really buy into the "It's a girl thing" or "It's a guy thing" excuse when they don't understand the motives/actions of the opposite sex. If I'm being less than entirely generous, I'd be likely to add that it's a learned assumption reinforced by poor interpretation of scripture and a general spirit of laziness/comfortableness with the status quo. But the church has to take people where they're at, and so even if the leadership realizes that the congregation's gender stereotypes and assumptions need to be challenged, gender-segregated groups may have to serve an important role for another generation or two as the general mindset shifts.

  7. Thanks for your comments. They are wonderful, as always, and much appreciated. :) You've given me lots more to contemplate. Thanks, again.

    Let's hope the shift happens soon.

    Also, I'm curious. We talk about meeting people where we're at, but that tends to be the least common denominator (LCD).

    This is something that's constantly being discussed in education circles, too: is it better to work at the LCD or to have classes at different levels/different options so that everyone is being challenged?

    People in my church talk about the sermons being a bit too LCD for their taste, and I wonder if Sunday school/bible study/small group house meetings could be the supplemental class/other, additional, more challenging option.

    What are your thoughts on this discussion (in education but mostly) in the local church?