On October 16th, 1555, Hugh Latimer, the Bishop of Wooster and great reformer, and his fellow friend and reformer Nicholas Ridley were arrested and tried for heresy by the Catholic Church and Queen Mary. As they were being tied to the stake Hugh Latimer turned to his friend and said, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.”
Now we ask, “What does it mean to ‘play the man?’ What does it mean to be a man? What are the marks of a great man?” In ancient societies, boys became men only thru ritual and effort, thru the active intervention of older men. But today, manhood is in a state of confusion. As Dr. Robert Lewis says, “Below the surface of American life, is a cauldron of confusion of men who really don’t know what it means to be a man. They know ‘generally’ kind of how a man acts in certain ways; like knowing how to make a living; how to get married; but as far as what it is that’s noble and right about a man—what’s substantive in a man’s soul, he is lost!”
“If we don’t initiate our boys (into manhood), they will burn down the village to feel the heat.” (African Proverb) The result is, most young men catch every wind that comes through culture…thinking maybe that’s what it means to be a man. It’s time we stop being passive and letting culture determine what is manhood is! It is time to recapture what it means to be a Biblical man. To do so, we must turn to the play book on Biblical manhood and that is the Bible.
I say let’s look at the Masculine Identity. In Proverbs 23:26 it says, “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” All the advice and commands found in Proverbs flow from this great passion! So, how do we live out this proverb as fathers, grandfathers, and influencers of young men? I see four pathways to forming a young man's masculine identity.
The first pathway is to be trustworthy. We live in a day where most young men have no one in their lives that are trustworthy. Before your son gives you his heart, you may have to go back and right broken promises. If you want to mentor or work with young men, be very careful about the promises you make. Earn a young man’s trust and he may let his guard down enough for him to hear your heart.
The second pathway is that you must give them your heart freely. (My son, give me your heart…) This one area may be one of the most difficult things you do as a man, because most men live lives very guarded and rarely open up their hearts. To do this, you have to be vulnerable and honest to the core about how life is lived out. You have to take the mask off enough for them to see your heart. Take time to talk about the noble things and the right things. Share your victories and defeats. Do your best to model, integrity, faith and honor.
Young men need our approval, our attention, our involvement and our time. They are very discerning. They can see in our eyes, our body language and our words, whether we really do approve them. Football players may turn to the camera and say, “Hi Mom!” but every time my son had a big play, he turned to the stadium and made eye contact with me. In that moment he knew I approved! Across America, young men are crying out for attention … and they will get it one way or another, even if it is through negative, destructive behavior. We will never turn the tide on broken male culture from the sideline. To make a difference, men will need to get involved in the lives of young men. S. Truett Cathy once said, “It is better to build boys than mend men.” Building boys into men, will take time and effort.
The third pathway is that Biblical manhood must be modeled. (…let your eyes observe my ways.) Men and fathers lay the foundation of a boy’s heart. Femininity can never bestow masculinity. We have to go back to the garden in Genesis, chapter 2, verse 15, to see man’s charge from God. “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” Biblical men cultivate and make everything they are in charge of better. Biblical men watch over everything God entrusts to them. We must walk the walk and not just talk the talk concerning sexual purity and self-discipline. Our actions carry much more weight than our words. We need to be men who seek after God’s heart and live and model our faith before young men in relevant, practical ways. Modeling biblical manhood is a life-time assignment, not just for a season in life. As young men move into their 30’s and beyond, they need to see a continued faithful demonstration of biblical manhood.
The final pathway is that the distinctive of manliness must be celebrated. There has been a recent cultural shift among young men in America to the art of manliness. Shave shops, pocket knives and other cultural artifacts of manhood have become very popular. I believe this is occurring because most young men today are growing up without men in their lives to pass the art of manliness down to them. Teach your son and other young men about grooming and shaving, the art of chivalry – respecting and being courteous towards women - knightliness – the medieval principles governing knighthood and knightly conduct – and physical conditioning.
In Matthew 3:16 and Matthew 17:5 we see God the Father affirm God the Son in three ways. Every young man needs to know the answers to three questions: Do you love me? Am I good at something? Do I have what it takes?
In addition, every young man needs to develop the following disciplines.
- Reading – great men are known by the friends they keep and the books they read.
- Prayer – Some of the greatest attacks in our culture have been on prayer. The discipline of prayer is all but forgotten in the lives of young men.
- Self-Control – Saying “no” to immediate gratification for long-term benefit.
- Work - Of the 112 waking hours a man has each week, he will spend roughly half that time working. Yet most men do not have a good “theology of work.” Teach young men a theology of work. First, every vocation is holy to the Lord. God makes no distinction between sacred and secular. Second, help young men understand their work is what they have been “ordained” to do. Third, work is not just a platform to do ministry; it is ministry. Fourth, to succeed at work but to fail at home is to fail completely.
- Service – The discipline of serving others, stabs selfishness in the back.
- Play – Young men need to rediscover the art of play. Social media and video games have robbed young men of adventurous, creative play.
It will take more than one generation to affect real change in the lives of young men. As change agents we must be determined, yet patient. We need to have a long-term generational plan as we help young men rediscover healthy masculine identity.
Husband, Father, Grandfather, Artist & BGCO Family/Men’s Ministry Specialist
Keith is also a part of the lead team of the Family Fragmentation Circle where the current focus is young men and boys at risk in our city.