Why I Have Mixed Feelings About Manhood Sermons

Sunday morning my pastor Ricky Jenkins gave a sermon on Biblical Manhood (you can find it here if you’re interested).  As far as I can tell, this is a popular topic in the church at the moment and I’m glad it’s being talked about.  Ricky gave 8 realities of current manhood and four principles of authentic manhood and I think a lot of it is right on target.

8 Realities of Current Manhood (some of this may be paraphrased; he was going fast):

  1. Men are in a state of confusion – they don’t know what manhood is or when it begins
  2. Men are experiencing disappointment – they grow up dreaming of adventure and then find adulthood full of responsibility –> disappointment
  3. Men are experiencing pain, and they don’t know what to do with it
  4. Men are lonely – they do not open up to other men about deep things
  5. Men are drifting – they have no purpose or plan
  6. Men are turning to escapes to numb pain – looking to lust, sports, adrenaline, work, laziness, etc. instead of God
  7. Confused men create major problems – men are at the center of most of the problems in the news – fallen political leaders, fallen pastors, fallen celebrities, crime, etc.
  8. Without a compelling vision, men settle for less – work, make money, pay bills, get married, have kids, retire, die – this is “less than life”

Ricky then used Genesis 1:27 to show that men are made in the image of God and that their ultimate purpose is to be like God and reflect his image to the world.  Adam failed in this, and Jesus succeeded.  Christ provides the outline for what it means to be a man.

4 Marks of Authentic Manhood (illustrated by comparing 1st Adam [Adam] and 2nd Adam [Jesus])

  1. Reject passivity – Adam stood back and retreated in the garden of Eden, which is men’s natural reaction; Jesus was tempted to retreat in the garden of Gethsemane, but obeyed God anyway.
  2. Accept responsibility – Adam blamed Eve; Jesus stepped forward and said “I am the man you seek.”
  3. Invest eternally – Adam was focused on the moment, not the impact his decision would have on the future; Jesus was focused on things of eternal value.
  4. Lead courageously – Jesus faced rejection, shame, and death to be faithful to what God called him to do.

All of this is excellent, excellent stuff and I’m glad the men in my church heard it.  But here’s the thing: all of this applies to women who are seeking to follow Christ whole-heartedly as well.

The problems facing women are incredibly similar to the problems facing men at their root, even though they may manifest differently.

  1. We do not have a solid understanding of what womanhood is and when it begins – is it June Cleaver-style domesticity?  Is it “I am woman, hear me roar”?  Is it embracing our sexuality?  Does it begin when we start wearing a bra?  When we lose our virginity?  When we get married?  When we have children?  There are just as many conflicting messages about what it means to be a woman as there are about what it means to be a man.
  2. Women are also experiencing disappointment – we are told that a man will fall desperately in love with us and solve all our problems at the same time as we are told that we can do everything just as well as men can at the same time as we are told that we can have a career and a family and be great at both.
  3. Women are experiencing pain and don’t know how to deal with it.
  4. Women are lonely – we may seem more open, but most women I know feel like if others saw who they really are, they would be rejected.  Even when we are sharing with each other, we are not always talking about the right things.
  5. Women are drifting – extended adolescence has effected women as well, especially those of us who do not get married during or right after college.  If we don’t have wifely duties to fulfill (and even if we do), many of us do not know what our purpose or plan is.
  6. Women also turn to escapes to numb pain – we turn to pleasure, to food, to romance novels, to work, to relationships, etc., etc., etc.
  7. Confused women create problems – they might not be as visible, but the confusion of what womanhood entails has contributed to emotional pain, bullying, gossip, promiscuity, and many other problems in our culture.
  8. Women will also settle for less without a compelling vision – we can be caught in the same type of “less than life” that men are.

Genesis 1:27 does not say that only men were created in the image of God, but that “male and female he created them” (emphasis added).  Women are also image-bearers, and if that is true, Jesus not only provides an outline for men, but for women as well.  I don’t want to sit idly by and watch men do the work of the kingdom, and I don’t think that women should.  I think the same four marks apply:

  1. Women need to reject passivity, to use their gifts in service of the kingdom and for the sake of the gospel, whether those gifts are hospitality or teaching.  A woman’s highest calling is NOT to be a wife and mother, it is to live a life wholly committed to loving Jesus and sharing the gospel, whatever the context may be.
  2. Women need to accept responsibility for their actions as well.  Adam blamed Eve and never owned up to his mistake, but Eve blamed the serpent and never owned up to hers either.  It is easy for women to sit back and blame men or hormones or a myriad other things for our own shortcomings.
  3. Women need to invest eternally.  It is just as easy for us to caught up in the moment and the day-to-day and lose sight of the things in our life that have eternal value.  Single or married, mother or childless, we all need to be investing in our communities in ways that glorify God and advance His kingdom.
  4. And finally, women need to lead courageously as well.  Please hear me: I am not saying that women should be leaders in their marriage.  However, every woman can be leading someone, whether it is employees, their children, someone else’s children, or other women in the church.  Christ led through love and sacrifice, and women can do that as well.

I am glad the leaders of my church are passionate about biblical manhood.  I am glad they are pushing buttons and exhorting men to be active and courageous and follow Christ passionately and tenaciously.  I just wish we were having the same discussion about biblical womanhood.

If authentic womanhood means being a domestic goddess and caring for a husband and children, then I am screwed.  If it means being put together and looking good, while being quiet and reserved, then I am in trouble.  I may never have a husband or a child, and I will definitely never be a domestic goddess.  I will never be perfectly coiffed and I don’t know anyone who would describe me as quiet.

But if authentic womanhood means actively stepping into conflict to bring peace or into chaos to bring order, accepting responsibility for my failures and relying on the grace of God to overcome them, investing in the eternal glory of God’s kingdom, and courageously leading my students and anyone else God puts in my path, then I’m pretty excited.

That sounds like an abundant life worth living.

Leave a comment


  1. I feel you. How I hope for marriage, but until then I’m stuck in a place where family doesn’t see me as a real adult, or they think like Job’s friends, there’s something wrong with me.
    I don’t think the church wants to define women’s roles as often because it’s not as applicable in a general sense. Some problems are pretty specific to age groups than overall.

    But still, I’d love to have church get nitty gritty with us & not just about wearing less revealing clothes.

    • Thanks for commenting! I’m sorry your family doesn’t see you as a “real” adult (whatever they think that means). I’m very thankful that my parents are so supportive of the way I’m living my life.

      And I get what you’re saying about women’s roles, but I think part of the problem is that we don’t view biblical womanhood as applicable in a general sense, as you put it. Biblical manhood is taught the same way to men who are single, married, and fathers; why is biblical womanhood taught differently? If our identity is found in Christ and not our marital status, marks of biblical womanhood should apply across age groups and life stages.

  2. Love this Rachel! I look at Proverbs 31, and I see a very strong, independent, God-fearing – definitely not June Clever, but also not the picture of a “liberated” feminist.

    • Thanks, Ellie! I’ve recently become convinced that we’ve been missing the boat on Proverbs 31 for a very long time. It’s not about what she’s doing (being a domestic goddess), it’s about how she’s doing it (with wisdom). Also, this: http://rachelheldevans.com/mutuality-women-roles. The whole article is fantastic, but she talks specifically about Proverbs 31 in the section headed “Homemaking.”

  3. Jacob

     /  June 27, 2012

    Rach, well put. It sounds like you only have mixed feelings about the message in that its target audience was only men because you are a lady who has your role as a follower of Christ as a woman on lockdown.

    Because of our unique position as men we are to live out the image of our Creator by bearing the responsibility for our families, resources, etc. It is the dire state of manhood in our society where fathers have been characterized by absenteeism, laziness and passivity in the face of our sin and fallen natures that pursue goals outside God’s blessing; for example riches instead of stewardship, selfish pride instead of building God’s kingdom that men need to hear that message.

    Women certainly have their own struggles that are very worthy of exposition, but if the men of our society would be biblical men, the generational decay of leadership which is causing an epidemic of broken families would give this country a chance to get back on track.

    Thus not to say that your reflections are off track, just that the role of manhood needs special and specific attention in America today.

    • Thanks Jacob! I’m not sure that I have things “on lockdown” as much as you think I do, but thankfully the Lord is gracious with me.

      I agree that manhood needs attention and I am glad it is getting that attention in my church. It’s just difficult when I already often feel marginalized in the church because of my marital status to then hear numerous sermons focusing on manhood. There is so little out there on womanhood that does not focus on the wife-mother-homemaker roles, or paint every female in the history of the world as a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued.

      I think my church plans to do a sermon on biblical womanhood in the near future, and I hope that they do. The lack of understanding of manhood is so visible, but I think many church leaders underestimate just how lost and confused many women feel these days as well.

  4. This is excellent. I wasn’t sure where you were taking it at the beginning, but kudos for steering your (charitable) critique in exactly the right direction. Bravo!

  5. sarah9188

     /  July 28, 2012

    I really hope being a quiet, sweet domestic goddess is not biblical womanhood. Though my hubby says he loves that I am sassy and opinionated…sometimes, I have to keep it in check though. ;) I agree women need more instruction on how to be a woman of God that does not just relate to submission and modesty. There is a bit more to it than that. Trying to study all that out myself.

  6. Rachel. I found your blog article here ironically in a Google search for sermons on manhood. Cleverly titled and well written. I am preaching on manhood in the church I pastor this coming Sunday and this article was very enriching and insightful for some of the thoughts I have on it. Keep abiding in Christ and thank you for your ministry.

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