Missions and Testosterone

I got my hair cut this afternoon. It was an experience in masculinity.

First off, there were two chairs both tended by male barbers. As I entered, a man was leaving. “Hopefully I’ll see ya’ when turkey season comes ‘round,” he called out to one barber. “You betcha,” came the reply. The feng shui of the interior was heavily influenced by the 70’s style paneling that lined the walls, and while there were no mounted deer heads there were several posters of Wisconsin sports teams, and one poster of about twenty “modern haircuts.” All of the pictures were headshots of men, and nearly all sported very short haircuts (with several variations on the “flat top”). There was, however, one long-haired “radical” cut. It was a 90’s style, super-spiked Mohawk.

ESPN blared from the TV. A newsman pontificated over Brett Favre’s retirement as I settled into the chair. Tucked into a corner of the mirror was a photo of my barber holding up a large fish.

We chatted a bit. Small talk mostly, but it felt like gruff, manly small talk.

“You just gettin’ off work?” He asked. I told him that I was, and he asked where I worked. When I told him InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and explained what it was, his whole demeanor seemed to soften. He became gentler.

I was in a meeting this week with thirteen people from different mission or church organizations and different parts of the country. We talked about how various missiological issues relate to the Urbana Student Missions Convention. One of the things we talked about was the fact that so many more women are entering missions compared to men.

Why is it that Christian ministry seems so un-masculine? Is it the strong nurture orientation of the Church? Is caring for widows and orphans unmanly? Does church work in America so lack action, adventure and life-threatening risk that ministry is for pansies? Jesus was anything but a pansy and following him was indeed life threatening for the original followers.

There are probably numerous and diverse reasons the Promise Keepers movement fizzled out, and several different perspectives on why men are not entering into missionary service at the rate women are. But I believe one reason has to do with a perceived femininity in Christian ministry – a view that men in church work are either cowering wimps like Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, or nasally voiced weaklings like Ned Flanders. Where are the profiles of physical strength, aggressive courage, or forceful subjugation of evil in the Church today? Is it possible for men in the church walk out a form of masculinity without patriarchal dominance, seek kingdom advance without triumphalism, or express strength without becoming dictatorial? I have to believe that testosterone has its place in ministry.

When my barber finished cutting my hair he unfolded a single-edged razor, lathered my neck with a brush, and scraped that dangerous blade across my vulnerable neck. It was thrilling - what, with the potential for great blood loss just a slip away. I think if Jesus ever had his neck shaved it was probably like that.

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