Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, March 17, 2006

Where are the male preachers?

In his forthcoming book, Conversations With Barth About Preaching, William H. Willimon (the famous chaplain of Duke University, now a United Methodist bishop) writes that preachers must be prepared to be powerful people. In this morning's New York Times, an article reports that more and more students in the mainline seminaries are declining to go into parish ministry. The reporter describes this with a highly suggestive observation about one male student who "does not want to preach or take up a position of authority in the community."

It has been widely noted that the proportion of women to men in mainline seminaries is rapidly rising. Less well known, perhaps, is the preponderance of gifted female preachers winning preaching awards and publishing sermons. What is going on here, and is it related to the poor academic performance of boys that has been so much in the news lately? I think it is. An article in the Times a few months ago examined the falling-off of male leadership in Reform Judaism. In that article it was noted that there was no similar problem in Orthodox Judaism because boys routinely saw males in leadership.

This is only an introduction to a huge subject, but it is my impression that even as women are striving to step into positions of power in the church (yes, preaching is meant to be powerful), men are no longer seeking to do so in like numbers. If this is the case, we are in serious trouble. If anything is to be changed, it can only be by an intentional, concerted effort on the part of clergy and, especially, lay leaders in the churches to recruit promising young men, not just young women, to enter the ministry. It is demonstrably the case that most men will not consider a vocation that does not offer them significant male fellowship.