Calling Out the Super Hero in our Boys

Faster than a speeding bullet. More fidgety than a rabbit with an itch. Able to run circles around mom and dad for hours on end. Look, in your living room...in your classroom...in your church…it’s a boy!  

Where does all that energy come from? In a word: Testosterone. Testosterone in an energy hormone. An action hormone. A get something done hormone. A risk-taking hormone.

Michael Gurian, in his book, The Wonder of Boys, offers these insights into testosterone:

  • Because of their dominance by the hormone testosterone, aggression and physical risk-taking are programmed into boys. It’s important to distinguish between “aggression” and “violence.” As psychologist Aaron Kipnis has put it, “Violence is not hard-wired into boys. Violence is taught. Aggression is hard-wired.”  (p. 6)
  • A little boy (on average) will turn toys into guns or swords more frequently than girls will…He will tend less toward empathic first responses to other’s pain and more toward provocative first-responses. He will generally be more competitive than his sister and especially in the few activities in which he perceives the potential to dominate over or be superior in…He will seek rough-and-tumble play… (pp. 7-8)
  • When a boy hits puberty, the influence of testosterone on his body and brain will increase manifold. His testosterone level itself will increase in quantities ten to twenty times more than girls. (p. 10)

Testosterone is the energy that causes boys to fidget when they sit too long, that demands movement to learn and to bond, and that enables boys to laser focus on a particular item but makes it difficult for them to multi-task. Imagine experiencing a surge of that volcanic energy 7 plus times a day! That’s the story of boys as they begin to move into puberty. And they often leave in their wake frazzled moms, dads, grandparents, and teachers.

That, of course, begs the question: How in the world do we help our boys harness that energy productively?

It begins by giving our sons a vision for their lives.

Testosterone offers us and our boys a powerful insight into the overarching purpose for the boys in your life: To save the world.

Testosterone is the fuel of superheroes. Testosterone is the energy that motivates a boy, when forged in healthy ways, to positively shape life around him. Every boy begins life wanting to be a superhero…to fight the bad guys, to save the world. To make the world a better place. When harnessed for good and noble purposes, testosterone is the power that energizes our boys for greatness.

Managing the force of nature that is the boy in your life can be a daunting task. But it is a noble, sacred call—the opportunity to raise a boy who can change the world.

Here are some things you can do to begin to forge your son into a world-changer:

  • Let him be a boy. If the boy in your life is a testosterone tornado, give him space to exercise his super hero powers. Let him fly. Let him explore. Let him breathe. Let him move. Let him build.
  • Give him boundaries. Boys need strong men and women to harness the energy of boys. While you want to give a boy his head (to use a horse training metaphor) you also need to let him know that you are the boss and that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to use his energy. Boys thrive in hierarchies. As dad and mom, you are at the top. Teachers in the classroom or youth leaders are at the top as well when the boys are with you. Loving, compassionate, safe boundaries will teach a boy how to use his powers for good.
  • Hold up models to emulate. Teach boys about heroic men, men of different temperaments, personalities, race, and religion, to give them a vision of what’s possible. Washington, Lincoln, Patton, MLK Jr., Fredrick Douglass, Jesus, Gandhi, Grandpa, Dad, and so on give our boys insights into men who used their energy for good. To say to a boy—This is the line of men you come from—energizes him with a noble vision for his life.
  • Affirm his super hero actions. Whenever your boy does something honorable, responsible, good, or sacrificial, pat him on the back in a variety of ways. Keep affirming in him his power to do great things and he will live into his purpose for saving the world as a man, a dad, a husband, a brother, a co-worker, a boss, and a citizen.

Imagine a world filled with boys living out their purpose of changing the world!

How to Speak Man: A Brief Tutorial for Church Leaders Who Want to Reach Boys and Men


Men and women are different.    
www.churchformen.com

That’s my starting point.  If you can live with that, then I invite you to continue on.

It’s no secret that men have dropped out of the Christian Church in droves.  It’s no secret that homes without dads face higher rates of poverty, they suffer more emotionally, and are more likely to be held back in school.  It’s no secret that the US prison population is made up of 93% men, 85% of whom grew up with no father figure.

Pastors and other religious leaders called to make disciples of all people, including men, often find themselves at a loss as to how to reach men.  Patrick Morley, author of No Man Left Behind, says that ministry to men is like rocket science, perhaps even harder.

While there are many systemic issues that we need to address in calling men to follow Jesus, a good starting point is to learn how to speak Man. 

Researchers tell us that are at least 100 differences between a woman’s brain and a man’s brain.  This is nature stuff.  This is hard-wired into the brain stuff.  Nurture is a different matter.  As my friend Michael Gurian observes, often the challenge with understanding males and females comes from trying to start the discussion with nurture.  When we do that we tend to impose a more female way of relating to the world onto men.  Instead, Michael says we need to start with nature—how it is that men are wired to relate to the world and build from there.

A few examples:

Men tend to process events and experiences on the left side of the brain—the rational side of the brain.  Women, on the other hand, process events and experiences on both sides of the brain—on the rational and the emotional sides.  As a result, women can almost instantly access an answer to the question: What are you feeling?  It can take a male anywhere from minutes to several hours to grab that answer.  (It often proves easier for a man to answer the question, What are you thinking?  But see the next point.)

Because of the way a woman’s brain is wired, she is generally more verbal-emotive than a man.  She consumes almost twice as many words in a day as does a man.  Men tend to be more spatially oriented—they remember things where movement and action are involved.  Men, generally speaking, use their words sparingly, which can be maddening for highly verbal people.

Because men tend to use only one side of the brain, they are able to focus on a specific task better than women.  Another way of saying it is that men can enter a focus-cave where they can tune out everything else.  Women, on the other hand, take in more with more senses at once.  They are better able to juggle many tasks at once.

Because of testosterone, men tend to bond through activity.  Because of oxytocin and estrogen, women tend to bond via words and emotions.  Men work off stress through physical activity.  Women tend to work off stress through talking.

With that small background, here are a few ways to speak Man:
1)   Men speak action.  Much of church language/discipleship language today is relationship language.  Are you experiencing intimacy with Jesus?  Do you have a vibrant relationship with Jesus?  Jesus wants to live in your heart.  Women tend to gravitate more to this language because of how they are wired brain-wise and hormone-wise.  Men, however, are wired for action.  That’s not to say that they don’t invest in relationships, but men want to be called to do something.  Jesus spoke the language of action: Follow me. 
2)   Men speak problem solving. The default for most men is to move into the fix it mode.  They want to put the pieces back together.  Women focus more on the process and the relationship along with words to bring about a resolution.  Congregations that build disciples only through small (talking) groups with no call to take the mountain and build a better world will not inspire men to follow Jesus.
3)   Men speak competition.  Competition stimulates a man to action.  It energizes him.  It releases his creative juices.  Most churches downplay competition replacing it with a strong emphasis on nurture and getting along with everyone.  While a church needs both, God created men with a competitive spirit for a reason—to stimulate them to get God-stuff done.
4)   Men speak hierarchy.  Men tend to respond best to a leader/follower model.  Again, notice Jesus always called people to follow him.  Hierarchies tend to scare the average church leader because they can create confrontation and competition.  These are often deemed anti-Jesus-like behaviors.  Women tend to seek more egalitarian models, emphasizing equal participation and interaction among all.  But men want to know their place in their organization, they want to know who they follow or who follows them, and they want to go!
5)   Men speak command. Meaning, men tend to get to the point. They don’t use as many words as do women so when they speak they get to the point quickly and directly.  And they want that same kind of communication aimed at them.  Where women tend to be more inviting—What do you think about this?  Would you mind doing such and such…? men prefer a direct word or command that they can hear and respond to.  In a highly relational church, commands and direct speech don’t come easily.  But you may be missing men because of it.  Look at how Jesus often spoke:  Follow me!  Love your enemies!  Turn the other cheek!  Love one another!  Be merciful as your father in heaven is merciful!  Ask anything in my name and you will receive it!  (Note: for you law/Gospel Lutherans—this is a communication style, not a proclamation of law!  J)
6)   Men speak risk.  Testosterone is a risk-taking hormone. On average men take many more risks than do women.  A safe church, often more comfortable for women, repels men.  Men want to be a part of something grand, world-changing.  Jesus is the greatest risk taker of them all.  I will use you to fish for people! Go into all the world…Want to reach men?  Build risk into your ministry.  What’s one thing you can’t do unless God makes it happen?
7)   Men speak sacrifice.  Men are wired to rush into burning buildings, to leap tall buildings in a single bound, to lay their lives on the line.  What’s the great cause that will speak to the men in your congregation? Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Jesus knew how to talk man.   What language does your congregation speak?

(For more on how men and women relate to life and each other, check out my friend Michael Gurian’s excellent book: Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success inBusiness)

Could the Church be the Best Hope for Our Boys?

These are tough days to be a boy!
·      Boys are falling behind girls in virtually every area of education from pre-school to college
·      The average reading skills of a 17 year old boy have declined in the last 20 years
·      17-18 of the top 20 growing professions favor the verbal and relational skills of women over men
·      Boys are growing up in a world without a compelling vision for noble manhood

These are tough days to be the Church:
·      Sex scandals in the Catholic Church
·      The numbers “nones,” those reporting no religious affiliation, are growing
·      Pastors of mega-churches caught in various scandals of their own making
·      Church and denominational splits over gay/lesbian issues
·      Church attendance in decline, especially among young adults
·      70-90% of all boys leaving the church in their teens and early 20’s…and most not returning.

So it may seem cavalier or reckless to suggest that the Christian Church could be the best hope for our boys.

Having spent over 30 years as a pastor, and having worked on the boy crisis for the last 9+ years, I believe the Church could be best positioned to help us solve the boy crisis for the following reasons:

·      The Church is rooted in a deep, rich, sacred view of men and women.  The Bible says that men and women are created in the Image of God.  Both male and female are good.  Both are equal.  But they are also different.  Take off our clothes and we see the difference.  Take the clothes off of our brains and we see the difference (at least 100 differences between the male and female brain have been identified so far).  The male is not better than the female, just different.  The female is not better than the male, just different.  Both are rooted in the sacred view that they are created, male and female, in the Image of God.  Based on that, the Church can rise above political correctness and stereotyping to draw out the best in our boys and our girls.  It can take the lead in reshaping the discussion, moving us from antagonism of one sex toward the other to a comprehensive, sacred appreciation of the equality and uniqueness of both.

·      The Founder of Christianity offers a vision for compelling manhood. Jesus offers boys a vision of what it looks like to be a man: Courageous, compassionate, a warrior against injustice, an advocate for the voiceless, a friend, passionate, committed, a man of his word, a man of action, gracious, humble, gentle, tough, forgiving, purposeful, commanding, strong, fully in tune with who he is, and ultimately a man willing to lay down his life not just for his friends, but for his enemies.  Imagine our boys growing up into that kind of manhood.

·      The Church understands the primal need of every boy for a blessing from his father. Part of what makes a boy a man is the blessing of his father—that moment when dad looks his son in the eyes and tells him he loves him and that he is proud of who his son is becoming.  Sadly, most boys never hear those words from dad.  For some it’s because dad isn’t around.  For others it’s because dad never received that blessing from his father and so has no idea how to give it to his son.  The ministry of Jesus began with the blessing from his Father.  Armed with his father’s love and approval, Jesus had the masculine power he needed to change the world.  The Church stands in a unique position to train men to give that blessing to their sons and to boys in general.

·      The Church has an army of men who can pour masculine energy into our boys.  In a time when our boys have few men investing in them, the Church is loaded with potential male mentors, who, with a bit of training, can begin to pour good masculine energy into our boys who desperately crave men in their lives.

That’s why the Church could be the best hope for our boys.  Why could be? Because the Church has a checkered record, at best, when it comes to raising boys into honorable men.  Too often the Church has raised boys to lord it over women rather than serve them.  Too often the Church has devalued women, treating them as inferior to men.  None of this is Biblical.  None of this is in line with Jesus and his agenda.  Yet sadly, it’s still happening today.


If the Church can get its act together and embrace its deep, sacred understanding of male and female, if the Church can let go of its past sins and truly follow Jesus, the one who is the vision for manhood, and more than that, the vision for humankind, then the Church can take the lead in changing the storyline of our boys.