I was meandering around the internet the other day when I stumbled across this story about a couple in Canada who won’t tell anyone (even the grandparents!) the sex of their third child. It’s an interesting idea, and my head was in just the right space to mull it over after my post on gender stereotypes.
I labelled that post ‘Part One’ because I wanted to think a little more about stereotypes in the church. My thinking about gender stereotypes was reignited after a conversation my husband and I had last week while brainstorming ideas for our beach mission program next January. Each year we run an evangelistic event, and he suggested that maybe this year we could instead run two: one for men, and one for women. I know exactly why my husband’s keen for this idea: Earlier this year he attended (and spoke at) a men’s evangelistic event at which he was fed the best meat he’d ever tried in his life, and he’s since been looking for any excuse to relive that experience.
The women’s events I’ve heard of or been to usually revolve around some form of dessert and caffeinated beverage, whether it’s cake and coffee or a high tea brunch. We sit around elegantly sipping from teacups or eating sponge cakes with splayds while the men meet up for cooked breakfasts and barbecues together. They probably even get to eat with their hands. Are we ladies deemed too dainty for bacon and steak? I tend to believe we women got the short end of the stick with this deal, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who would rather eat a sausage sandwich than a cucumber one. These events are one area in which the church often succumbs to gender stereotyping, and I think we need to get a lot more creative for the sake of the people we’re aiming to reach with them. Is there a need for separate men’s and women’s events?
How about we all go paintballing, and then hear a talk at lunch time about how, though our sins are like scarlet (and our overalls are like a Jackson Pollock creation) Jesus washes us white as snow? Or how about we meet together in a park, church friends and non-church friends, for an afternoon of picnicking and cricket, and before we eat someone can say grace and thank God for His abundant goodness in providing us with food and friends and parks and sunshiney days in which to enjoy all of these things?
I worry that the church misses out when it splits everyone up into little groups of similar-looking people, whether it’s separate events for men and women or the different services many churches now run to cater to various life-stages within their congregations. Take this snapshot of a typical Sunday at St. Example’s in Pretendville for instance:
8am: Traditional service, held in the church building. Organ music. Old people.
10am: Family service with kids’ church, held in the church building. Contemporary music as well as some old hymns - keyboard and guitar, and maybe even drums if Barry’s rostered on! Families with two or more children, a couple of families with just one child and a handful of oldies, plus the occasional trendy single person/married couple who wanders in for an Easter service not realising that the service specifically designed for them is later that night (awkward!).
2pm: Korean church, held in the church building. Korean-speakers, and those interested in Korean ministry.
5pm: Family service, no kids’ church, held in the church hall. Comtemporary music - full band. Some raised hands while singing. Young families with two children or fewer, a smattering of singles, one hip oldie.
7pm: Young people service, held in the church hall. Contemporary music (sometimes even Hillsong songs!) - full band. Dim lighting. Many raised hands while singing. Lots of under-20s, uni students, single people, young workers and childless couples.
Midnight: Service for goths and vampires, held in the cemetery outside... (you get my drift.)
(Of course this is an exaggeration, and I’m certain that you would be joyfully welcomed into any service you wanted to attend, whether or not you fit into the unspoken mold.)
Wouldn’t we get a glimpse of true community if this was the case instead?
4pm: Everyone. Music to keep the majority happy (if that means organs, let them play organs!). Korean speakers, goths, lovers of scrapbooking, surfers, plumbers, professors and vampires (Reader [whispers]: Does she know they're not real?!) together worshipping our great God, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Maybe we should ask ourselves WSWJGT? (Which Service Would Jesus Go To?), stop breaking people off into stereotyped categories for Sundays or big events and start enjoying the rich diversity of the church.
That, dear friends, is all I have to say about stereotypes. For now.