What I Want My Grandsons to Know About Men

Phoenix (7), Judah (7), and Decker (4),  

You are a bit young to think about manhood but from the perspective of your 60-year-old grandpa, it’s just on the horizon of your life.

Our current culture has developed an allergy to masculinity, either claiming it’s toxic (some going so far as to blame meat eating on male toxicity, who knew?), or that you would be better served to learn to emote and talk more like girls. (Your brain isn’t wired to emote and talk the way a girl’s brain is wired. But you are uniquely wired to emote and communicate in your own masculine way!) Here’s the truth about men:

Men are capable of great good:

  • Good men have laid down their lives for centuries in order to protect their families, their tribes, their countries, and their beliefs.  
  • Good men have put their lives at risk to build the infrastructures of society (92 percent of all work related deaths are male…).
  • Good men have created systems of government with the intent to provide freedom and equality for all.
  • Good men have always been and continue to be caring dads, husbands, employers, employees, and grandparents.

Men are also capable of great destruction:

Though writing about boys, these words from my friend Dr. Michael Gurian, speak directly to this downside of masculinity--

…nearly every social problem we face in our civilization today—unemployment, income inequality, incarceration rates, religious extremism, domestic abuse, mental illness, health care inequalities, and painful violence against women—intersects in some way with the state of boyhood in America. (Saving our Sons, p. vii.)

Yes…some men are destructive. Some men damage the lives of others. Some men seek to harass those of a different race or religion or political persuasion or gender. Some men are bad men.

But many, if not most men, are good men. As your grandpa my hope and prayer is that as you grow into manhood, you number yourselves among the good guys.

To give you some guidance, here’s a picture of what a good man looks like (with special thanks to Dr. Gurian for his great work on this framework for manhood from his book, The Purpose of Boys):

A good man is:

  • Honorable: He does the right thing, even when it’s the harder way.  He treats all people with respect.  
  • Enterprising: He doesn’t give up easily.  He fights for the good of others while at the same time maintaining a core belief in his worth as a good man.
  • Responsible: A good man lives to serve others.  As Martin Luther King Jr. put it: The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.
  • Original: A good man knows who he is.  He’s aware of his strengths and weaknesses.  He knows what his unique gifts and talents are.  And he uses them to help build a better world through his family, his work, his citizenship, and his faith.

Boys, that's the kind of men I want you to be: Heroic men who show the world that good men exist and that good men are essential for building strong families, communities, and a better society.

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)

Can't Girls Be Superheroes, too?

You get the best out of a boy by stimulating his desire for greatness and then telling him he has a long way to go: that he can perhaps achieve something marvelous but he must be humble and work hard for it.
                                    --Roy F. Baumeister, Is There Anything GoodAbout Men?

I receive some occasional pushback on the connection between boys and heroes, and my emphasis on calling boys into heroic manhood. The pushback goes something like this:
            
Why does boy=hero? Girls can be heroes, too!

This kind of thinking is patriarchal.

You are stereotyping!

In Christ there is neither male nor female.

I absolutely agree that girls and women can be and are heroes. (My granddaughter, when she was younger, loved when Grandpa told her stories about Super Clover.   My youngest granddaughter, Mattie, 2, loves to play with super heroes!)  Girls can be and are super heroes!

But that’s not the point when it comes to reaching boys. Hero language is boy language. Heroism—saving the world—is an overarching boy/man theme, which we see again and again throughout history and literature. Heroism calls to a boy differently than it does a girl. It’s not that girls aren’t heroes. It’s that boys resonate deeply with that call and language. Heroism is embedded in their DNA. Testosterone—the primary boy hormone—is the energy of superheroes.

Saving Private Ryan is a prime example of that compelling theme for boys and men. As Private Ryan stands at the gravesite of Captain John Miller, he remembers back to how Captain Miller and his band of soldiers saved him. With his dying breath Captain Miller says to him, James, earn this…Earn it! James Ryan, now an old man, turns to his wife and asks, Have I been a good man?

Do you hear the heart call of every boy and man? Heroism. Being a good man. Saving the world. These are themes woven into the DNA of boys and men by their Creator. 

Girls can be and are heroes. 

But boys live their lives based on that theme.
            
A further challenge to hero language goes like this:

Jesus was the anti-hero. He lived a life of submission, not heroism.

Using hero language may pander to boys and men, but it is not Biblical, Christ-centered language.

I recognize that Jesus was not the Messiah the Jews expected—a conquering Hero-King-Warrior who would overthrow the Roman Empire and establish a new kingdom. He was, indeed, a Messiah who chose servanthood and death in order to save the world. 

But many people today, in my opinion, misinterpret the kind of Savior Jesus came to be. They paint a picture of passivity. A picture of giving up. A picture that in their minds expresses everything that is antithetical to the hero.

I would suggest that Jesus is the ultimate hero, not the anti-hero; that Jesus defines heroism. Jesus was in control of every moment of his life. He chose to lay down his life. He intentionally served. This was no weak man standing passively before Pilate, or Herod, or the soldiers, or even hanging on the cross. This was a man fully in tune with his call to save the world—a man who demonstrated true heroism by the deliberate giving of his life. A man who shows that true heroes serve others sacrificially.

As Jesus battled demons and sickness, he was saying, This is what a hero does. When he washed the feet of his disciples he was saying, This is what a hero looks like. When he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, claiming to be the true Caesar in a country occupied by the Roman Empire—a provocative act of treason—he was saying, This is what a hero does. As he hung on the cross begging his father to forgive those who nailed him there, Jesus was saying, This is what a hero looks like. Jesus poured new meaning into heroism, fulfilling the deepest yearnings of the Image of God-male.

Boys and men aspire to that noble, sacrificial manhood. Jesus not only models it but empowers boys and men to live it.

The plethora of Superhero movies over the last few decades reflects the yearning of culture for heroes and the yearning of boys and men to be heroes. Yes, girls like Superhero movies, too. But why do you think the producers of these films are so concerned that their movies be well-received by “fanboys?” Because they know that heroism is the heart language of boys.

If you want to reach boys, call them into heroic manhood. It’s the language they speak. It’s the call they hear. It’s the call of their Creator to follow the true hero—Jesus—and save the world.