Masculine worship: pounding guitars and lots of D minor?

Here's a post sampling the sort of music here being discussed. Check it out, then read this discussion. Or the other way around.

Here's an e-mail exchange between our Pastor for Music and Worship, Jody Killingsworth, and another church musician outside our church. The subject is men leading worship.

Yes, some readers are sceptical of the entire enterprise. The effeminacy of androgyny has taken over our culture whole-hog, leaving even the vows of wedding ceremonies neutered. Tragically, otherwise Biblical churches think and act as if men and women are interchangeable in everything but the Sunday morning pulpit and Thursday evening session meeting. Here, though, we'll assume the worthiness of the work under discussion and leave those unconvinced to argue over it somewhere else.

So, assuming men--not women--should lead the corporate worship of the church; and also that those men should lead from their manliness; what are the steps to be taken? (The e-mail has been redacted to protect the guilty.) (TB)

Dear Jody,

What are the essential elements of "masculine worship?"

When it comes to explaining why we do the things in worship the way that we do them, I am trying to rethink some of my assumptions. Concerning masculine worship, I assumed for a long time that it was simply a matter of guitars, drums, distortion, and 100+ dbs… Oh yeah, and lots of Dm. 

Now, I'm trying to rethink masculine worship and your thoughts would be very helpful to me...


Jarod (we’ll call him)

Dear Jarod,

Yes, masculine worship is a difficult concept for us to grasp, isn't it? And the reason why has to do with a sea change in American culture that took place during the industrial revolution. Prior to that, masculine piety existed and led in the church, whereas feminine piety, its God-given complement, played a necessary but deferential role. Stop for a moment and read this helpful summary of the problem from Doug Wilson's Mother Kirk.

Masculine piety is something we simply don't understand anymore because all our assumptions today of how to be godly are feminine assumptions. Feminine piety is our baseline; our operating system. I’ve heard it said that culture is all that stuff you suck in without noticing. Today, effeminacy is the air we breathe. So as soon as we become convinced that we need to have masculine worship, inevitably we try to get everybody sitting around fire pits, roasting wild boar, and acting like a bunch of un-bathed Viking Neanderthals. Now, I’m exaggerating, but my point is that when what we're trying to recover is as far gone as masculine piety, it's our tendency to overcorrect in the pursuit of it. And this is because we lack any godly frame of reference. Which is to say, we lack wisdom.

Yet, we do so desperately need to recover what has been lost. And that's where your question comes in. What is masculine worship? What are we aiming at, exactly? What do we do?

In the first place, it's crucial to understand that masculine worship is not the absence of femininity. Here it’s important to distinguish between femininity, which is God-given and "very good," and effeminacy, which is a serious sin (1Cor. 6:9). The true failure of most contemporary Christian worship songs (and many Victorian and Revivalistic hymns for that matter) is not that they are too feminine, but that they are effeminate. They force us to posture ourselves as women in relationship to God. Lyrically and musically they teach us to think that we exists in some kind of romantic love relationship with Jesus. This is a misappropriation of an otherwise valid Scriptural analogy, that of the Bride and Bridegroom--a corporate analogy, reserved for describing the relationship between Christ and the Church. This corporate analogy CCM wrongly applies to each individual believer, leading both men and women to sinfully think of themselves as existing in an individual love relationship with Jesus in that “Ooh baby” kind of way.

But this is not how Scripture defines the individual's relationship to God. We do not become brides of Christ by regeneration, but rather "sons of God" (Rom. 8:14) and "fellow heirs with Christ" (vs. 17). If there's any "gender bending" to the gospel, it's that women become sons, and therefore fellow heirs of the grace of life (1Pet 3:7). Mind you, this applies only to their ultimate standing before God, not to the termination of their role as helpmeet. The Gospel at once levels us, "...there is neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28), and re-affirms the created order, "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet" (1Tim. 2:12). So, how does this work itself out in worship?

Here again, Wilson is helpful. In his book Future Men, he demonstrates (read it here) that masculine worship does not exclude women in the way that "feminine" worship excludes men. Men tend to stay away when women lead in the church, but women flourish when men take spiritual responsibility. And that's the key, I think. Masculine worship is that which leads men to understand, feel, and own the weight of their responsibility before God. It's not a men's club. It's not worship for men at the expense of women. It is worship that leads men to take responsibility for their own souls and for those God has put under their care. Turns out women like it when men take responsibility. Who knew?

So, how can you as a musician and liturgist best lead men to take spiritual responsibility? That's a better question to ask, I think. And a good way to process this is to think your way through the fruits of the Spirit. Remembering that all our assumptions about godliness are feminine, think through the fruits (Gal. 5:22-23) asking how each one can be reclaimed for men. Let's start with Joy.

Joy is vital to godliness, and is consistently joined to the worship imperative in Scripture: "Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing" (Ps. 100:1-2);"Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises" (Jas. 5:13). Joy is an essential ingredient to true worship, and vital to a man's authority in the home and world. I mean, what woman wants to submit to and follow an unhappy husband? So you must lead your men in joy. But how?

Women (quite naturally) and effeminate men (quite unnaturally) take delight in relationships more than truth. Put that in a can with a little open tuning, shake it up, and out pours CCM. Godly men, however, delight first in objective principles that are bigger than and outside themselves. Scripture is full of such principles: truth, order, dominion, honor, self-sacrifice, judgment, law, fatherhood, citizenship, duty, truth, war, etc. These are just a few of the Scriptural themes men were made to delight in. Give your men such themes to confess, and make sure the musical accompaniment helps them to rejoice in them. 

Consider this: one of the most disarming things about "When the Man Comes Around,” Johnny Cash’s bold testament to the coming judgment, is that it's in C Major—the epitome of joy as far as keys are concerned. And you've heard how we sing the Ten Commandments at ClearNote—upbeat and in a major key. In other words, with joy! And it doesn’t get any more objective and non-lovey-dovey than the Ten Words, does it? Men and children love to sing our setting of the Law. And I think women love it because of that. My point is this: it's not enough to tremble under God's judgments. It’s not enough to feel threatened by the law (threatening is what heavy distortion and D minor do well, of course). We ought to tremble and we’re right to feel threatened, but it's not enough. We must ultimately teach our people to confess, with King David, that God's judgments and commands are "sweeter also than honey, and the drippings of the honeycomb" (Ps. 19:10), even as they humble us, and just because they do.

But we must use wisdom here! There is a time and a place for sorrow. There's a time and a place for the key of D minor distortion. There's time and place for 100+ decibels. And yes, there's a time and a place for subjective relationship (be sure and read my comment below Daniel's critique), and many other things that we understand to be feminine (remember there are an equal number of women present!). It's our job as shepherds to know the time and the place for all things.

In recovering masculine worship, the goal is not to scrupulously avoid all the feminine elements in music. Otherwise you will have stopped making it. Luther didn't call music the "handmaiden of theology" for nothing! What makes for a godly music is the same principle that makes for a godly home: that which is masculine is to lead and order that which is feminine.

I'm happy for us to keep talking this through. Such questions deserve many, many hours of attention. But I can tell you right now, there are no easy answers; no silver bullets. “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27) And sounding the depths of this little mystery is going to keep you up nights.

Yours in Christ Jesus,



Jody, you're opening more questions than you answer, dear brother--as I'm sure you intended. :^) Suffice it to say that I'm struggling through this one, and while Isaac Watts interventions are wonderful, I think I've got a way to go in this. Should be fun.

Great stuff, Jody. Thanks.

It blows my mind that there aren't 50-60 comments on this post.

We're reluctant to concede that our Creator's bifurcating the sexes could have any meaningful application, I think.

Have you ever read a treatment of the doctrine of sanctification in which male and female godliness were treated separately? They look different.

Here's a few I know off hand:

1. "Female Piety—The Young Woman's Guide through Life to Immortality" by John Angell James (1853)

2. "The Godly Man's Picture" by Thomas Watson (1666)

3. "Thoughts for Young Men" by J. C. Ryle (c. 1860)

By the way, the following blog post is priceless. I stumbled on it by accident. A perfect example of how even the best are compromised on sexuality today (compare the post's title with that of Ryle's book!).

I was just talking over some of this with one of my daughters last night (by the way, it appears we need to do some serious homework on hymns, what they are, which are good/bad and why--any recommendations would be appreciated).

I wish I would have heard these truths 32 years ago when I began as a young teenager playing during corporate worship. Finally, after all this time, It's as if all these weird little worship frustrations that I could never pin down have (mostly) all come home to roost on this one major theme of masculine worship. I will be reading and passing along this post and accompanying links. I praise God for giving me some relief through answers to many questions in this area in the last couple of years (though, as bert perry said, it's creating a whole new set of challenges, but now I have a broader and deeper biblical base from which to work!). Many thanks, brother.

(Re: last comment-- don't forget Hermann Cain, anybody!)
I wondered what men liked (which admittedly is different from what is masculine, especially nowadays). I found this:

"Dean McIntyre
British Christian men's magazine SORTED has listed the following hymns as the top ten favorites of British men. How does the list compare with American men?
- Onward Christian Soldiers
- And Can It Be
- Guide Me O Thy Great Redeemer
- All People That On Earth Do Dwell
- Be Thou My Vision
- How Great Thou Art
- Amazing Grace
- Eternal Father, Strong To Save (Navy Hymn)
- Our God Reigns
- Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind Forgive Our Foolish Ways"

I wonder what the list would be like for women?

> simply a matter of guitars, drums...

What? bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies? Seriously, it's too bad guitars have pretty much eclipsed everything. I'm all for manly music, but why does that necessitate mainly a guitar? Boring!

>>a guitar? Boring!

While we're taking about boring, Michael, let's think about pianos and violins and sopranos and the Gloria Patri...


How on earth is the Gloria Patri boring? The fault would lie in the singer, not the song...

Dear David,

Of course I didn't mean to say or even imply that any of them were boring...

For that matter, neither is the guitar. Just before his death, I heard Segovia in Boston's Symphony Hall and thought he was almost as good as Clapton and Hendrix.


By "boring" I mean the lack of variety, not the not the guitar itself as an instrument. How about an accordion? [Yes, they have electric accordions, and no, they don't all sound like Lawrence Welk.] Or some trumpets?

I'm just kidding you about the idea that to be manly requires guitars. There's nothing inherently manly about them. Why don't men learn to play something else? A sackbut or something...

We use accordion almost as frequently as we use stringed instruments like violin, viola, and cello, which is to say, quite frequently.

If you think that electric guitars are boring, and can only sound one way, you've missed out on alot. They're one of the most versatile instruments ever invented.

>There's nothing inherently manly about them [guitars]

If we're talking electric guitars, then yes, actually, there is. Just like there's something inherently manly about the organ, which is the only instrument I know that can out-do the guitar in power and command. There's an inherent authority with these instruments. Both can be played in feminine ways, sure, but that's not their specialty. The electric guitar, at its best, is a masculine instrument. Have you ever tried watching a woman rock a guitar? It's highly immodest.

> We use accordion almost as frequently as we use stringed instruments like violin, viola, and cello, which is to say, quite frequently.

Neat, Andrew -- good! Haven't ever seen one of those in church. What you mentioned is not boring -- plenty of variety.

> Have you ever tried watching a woman rock a guitar? It's highly immodest.

Ugh, yes, I see your point Jody. [Which begs the question: Are women forbidden from doing something so immodest? Are they permitted to play the drums?] But I'm not that drawn to a man rocking an electric guitar, either. When I think of electric guitars, I imagine a teenager wanting to be a rock star, rock stars, or hippies, and plenty of theatrics. Looks like they're wrestling the thing instead of playing it. I'd rather hear the 1812 Overture or John Philip Sousa than some kid "pounding" an electric guitar. I'm not saying that it isn't masculine, nor that you don't have wonderful worship music on the guitar. I'm not trying to get rid of electric guitars, just questioning the fascination with them as being more manly than practically anything else.

> There's an inherent authority with these instruments.

What about a bagpipe? And you don't have to plug it in to make it loud. Same with horns. Lots of instruments can be played in a manly fashion. That includes a violin, which was singled out as boring.

> The electric guitar, at its best, is a masculine instrument.

I hear what you are saying, but what did "real" men do before electricity and amplification? Nothing against the electric guitar itself, but to me it is a bit annoying to think that manliness rests upon those modern crutches, as if it is all about volume. Poor David was stuck with a lyre or harp, but he played it with all his might!

1 Samuel 16:23

So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand.

1 Chronicles 13:8

David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, even with songs and with lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals and with trumpets.

1 Chronicles 25:1

David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some... who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals.

Thanks for the discussion.

>I'm not trying to get rid of electric guitars, just questioning the fascination with them as being more manly than practically anything else.

But, didn't I say they're not more manly than the organ? Men's fascination with the electric guitar hasn't made it a manly instrument. It IS a manly instrument, and thus men's fascination with it. I hope to write more on this later...

>What about a bagpipe? And you don't have to plug it in to make it loud.

It's loud but limited. A one trick pony. I'd probably use one occasionally if I had a good player, but it's a "special effect" sort of thing. Like a regal stop on an organ. Not at all practical, just kind of "neat."

>what did "real" men do before electricity and amplification?

They worked for a living. But since electricity and amplification are here to stay, the pertinent question is, what are we going to do with them?

Interesting discussion, especially in light of the fact that in past centuries, the guitar was considered the quintessential feminine instrument (its shape resembling a woman's body is no accident). I think that's still true of the acoustic guitar, but I agree that with electric amplification it does somehow become more manly. Excellent post, Jody! My only suggestion is that in your comment "Here it’s important to distinguish between femininity, which is God-given and "very good," and effeminacy, which is a serious sin" you might have explicitly stated what is implied, namely that feminity is good when it is possessed by the sex for which God created it and bad when it is transferred to the other sex, in that it goes against His created order and design.

How is a woman playing an electric guitar "highly immodest"? Is the instrument itself immodest? If so, then a man playing an electric guitar is also being immodest, right? I mean, if we're ascribing masculinity and femininity now to inanimate objects -- which sounds like what you're doing -- and electric guitars are now somehow the "sluts" of the instrument world, then can't we argue that neither Christian men nor Christian women have any business being around them? Can we then argue a woman playing, oh, a clarinet is being immodest because it's a vaguely phallic-shaped instrument? What is it about the very act of a woman playing an electric guitar that makes it highly immodest? Is it what she's wearing when she plays it? Is it that it makes a man who sees it have lustful thoughts? Or are you assuming the existence of some unfavorable condition of her heart makes her interaction with that guitar immodest? I mean, are you assuming that only a naughty woman would want to play an electric guitar?

Or, in ascribing such authority to this "masculine" instrument, are you essentially saying that any woman playing it is overstepping her "feminine" role? Inanimate objects seem masculine or feminine based on subjective measures. It's not an objective measure, like genitalia, like chromosomes, but you're speaking of it as if it IS objective.

Perhaps it would be helpful if you create a list of inherently masculine/feminine instruments so worship leaders can avail themselves of this information, prepare accordingly, and in that way, ensure no one is acting immodestly by playing an instrument that has no business being in their hands.

I'm a woman and I've been on worship teams for over a decade, frequently leading songs too. Besides the keyboard, I play the flute, which, I suppose, is a "feminine" instrument, but also has a bit of a phallic thing going on. So .... immodest? Modest? Or okay because I'm a woman playing a "feminine" instrument? (Then again, isn't that kind of .... gay then? Okay. I'm kidding with that but do you see the absurd levels this idea of "inherently masculine/feminine" instruments can reach?)

I would imagine the perception of "highly immodest" here is highly subjective and therefore debatable.

Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull rocks a mean flute, doesn't he? And Sheila E., a Christian btw, rocks some serious drums for the Lord.

I guess I'm for keeping notions of masculine and feminine in the realm of actual human beings. That's complicated enough, isn't it?

I do thank you for this because it's fueled an idea for a post for MY blog, so thank you. ;-)

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