By Stuart Briscoe
There was a time, long ago, when my Mother would “kiss better” all minor bumps and bruises that I suffered as a little boy. The kisses were apparently powerful enough to heal all ills and to stem the burning tears that welled up in my eyes. To make sure they did not spill over I was admonished, “Don’t cry now. Be a little man.” Was that “manning up” for little boys?
In my high school days bullying was vicious and normative. It was even characterized as a “right of passage” and failure to “take it” meant ostracism and ridicule. The alternative was to accept it in order to “exit” the land of “kids and wimps” and enter the elite fraternity of real men. Battered into manhood?
In the Royal Marines, years later, I found myself living in a barrack room full of my “band of brothers.” They were rough, tough individuals who liked what they termed “a good time,” which usually consisted of getting drunk and misbehaving. Although we had little in common, they were my friends and we knew the day might come when our lives depended on each other. So I appreciated the fact that night-after-night they invited me to join them on their spells “ashore” although I think “adrift” would have been a better term. More often than not, I would decline because of what they planned to do and they would say, “Come on Lofty, be a man!” Maybe this was manning up in a different dress.
Whatever you call it, it wasn’t easy!
But entering the 21st century, Kay Hymowitz, a Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, surveyed the modern world and wrote a book entitled, Manning Up that declared in its subtitle “How the rise of women has turned men into boys.” To say that her book was controversial is to state the obvious! Calling a 20-to-30-year-old young man “pre-adult” or “man-child,” as she did, is hardly likely to endear him to you and understandably arguments began to rage around the question, “Where have all the good men gone” to be countered by, “Where are all the good women?”
Nevertheless, Ms. Hymowitz did point out that the dramatic changes in U.S. culture had affected young men in specific ways. For example, young men used to follow a pattern of financial independence, marriage, family, and parenthood usually during their 20’s.
But since the economic downturn it has become increasingly difficult for many young men to find a job that will bring them to financial independence as quickly as it happened in previous generations. This has led to delays in marriage, family, and parenthood—all traditional characteristics of adulthood—hence the perception that men were turning into boys! The perception gained credence when the young men used their “pre-adult” days to form “bands” of like-minded friends who, free from responsibility, could spend their time doing less than challenging jobs, hanging out, playing video games, partying and “hooking up” in casual, romantic (and/or sexual) relationships. Men were becoming boys!
Meanwhile as the Western world moved to a knowledge economy, women were given more opportunities to enter a workforce more suited to them than the previous industrial economy. Young women began to move into significant jobs commanding significant incomes and before long not only were more women than men graduating from college, but some segments of the workforce were being dominated by women. And men slipped further behind.
Men were either in no hurry to “settle down” or unable to afford marriage and family, while women advancing beyond the men academically and economically became reluctant to “marry down.” Economists and sociologists staring into their crystal balls began to see dire future problems in the workforce and the structure of families, and the call for men to “man up” gained momentum.
Is being manly a matter of not crying when you’re hurt, taking it on the chin without complaining when life is unfair and brutal, and for relaxation joining the “boys” and behaving badly? Or is it getting a good job, marrying a nice girl, and raising well-behaved children? I’m afraid there’s not a lot of help coming from The Manhattan Institute on this question. Even Ms. Hymowitz admitted in an interview (Forbes interview with Jenna Goudreau), “The culture at large is uncertain what it wants from men.” This sounds like an excellent diagnosis with no known treatment available.
I wonder—does the church have the answer? That depends on who you ask, but there is no question that the role of men and women in the church is a matter of considerable discussion.
In London some time ago, I was invited to talk to a men’s rally on the subject, “The Feminization of the Church.” As my time was limited and the topic is vast, I had to be selective. In addition to other things, I raised the question—without using the term—“Was the church becoming feminized because the men were not “manning up?” An interesting debate developed that at times generated more heat than light! Nevertheless the facts are: more women are studying theology the ever before (and doing it very well!); women outnumber men in world missions, and most congregations are predominantly female.
On a recent tour of ministry on Logos Hope, the Operation Mobilization ship, my wife and I were very much aware that young women significantly outnumbered the men who had volunteered for two years’ tough, challenging sea service in some of the most challenging places in the world. And the InterVarsity group I visited last week in one of our local universities was noticeably led by bright young women and attended primarily by the “fairer sex.” The young men were there, but silent and relatively outnumbered.
But back to the question—does the church have an answer? The short answer is, “the Bible does!” Look in Genesis, the book of beginnings, the book that tells us how things got started in the first place–always a good place to look for clarification!
1. “God created man in his own image….male and female he created them” (Gen. 1: 27). They were both created, both blessed, both commissioned, both part of God’s grand plan for “man.” So males and females should not be getting in a shouting match about who is responsible for the sate of affairs we’re facing. We’re made to complement each other, not to compete against each other.
2. “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). (NOTE: Genesis chapter one paints with a broad brush; Genesis two goes into more detail.) “Being a man” has often meant being the tough all-sufficient, “get out of my way” dude and “being a woman” has for too long meant following him and picking up the bits. Not originally!
God saw that man needed woman and she was created as a “helper fit for him.” This expression has caused problems for us and has often been seen as a mandate for man to run the show with woman acting as the assistant. This looks kind of odd in today’s world to say the least! Notice carefully that the Hebrew word cannot mean assistant because it is used to describe God—“The LORD is on my side as my helper” (Ps. 118: 6-7, quoted in Heb. 13:6). Whatever the term means it shows that male and female are ideally suited to work together to find completeness in each other and unitedly to achieve God’s purposes.
3. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Productive work leading to “filling” the earth and “subduing” it was what God called male and female to undertake (see Gen. 1: 28). The more we discover the wonders of the created order the more we delight in productive activity that applies all that God has prepared for His creatures. This is the fundamental meaning of work. And being human means being busy.
4. “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife” (Gen. 2: 24). Marriage is normative in the economy of God. It involves walking away from the single life and faithfully committing to the new life of intimacy with the wife, leading to establishing a family and raising them in the knowledge of the Lord (see Mal. 2: 14, 15). This should be the goal to which young people aspire.
5. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Gen. 3:7). Both male and female were guilty of contravening God’s laws, their guilt was obvious, they were ashamed and tried to cover up. But God came after them and dealt with both in grace. That is how it still works today and we all need to admit it and embrace it.
So what is “manning up?” It’s all about knowing I’m created and relating rightly to my Creator. It involves recognizing the intentional differences and compatabilities of gender in God’s eyes. It should lead to commitments to marriage and family. It requires an unending curiosity about the created order in which we have been placed and discovering our role in it. It requires a humble acknowledgment of sin and failure and a life of glad dependence on grace.
And women? What should they be doing about the men around them? A good place to start would be to read Genesis again and see how it applies. Ms. Hymowitz makes an excellent diagnosis. Genesis points to the proper treatment.
How to Help Lead Our Young Men to Manhood
As we’ve seen the problem our young men are facing today are complex ones. There are no easy answers or formulas to fight back against a culture that is giving confusing messages to our boys and young men about manhood. Here are some practical things I’ve learned along the way as I’ve come alongside the young men in my life. Take the trouble to learn about the many factors that have led to this phenomenon rather than reacting against the factors of the phenomenon and the subsequent behaviors we disapprove of.
Recognize the need for young men to take responsibility, but realize they are lacking in opportunities. So, take steps to open doors of opportunity for them where possible. (Example: Help them network with people you know, etc.)
Avoid badgering them about what they should be doing. Rather, offer them assistance. For example, we have found it both necessary and a blessing to provide a home for one of our grandsons. In other instances, we have assisted some to get the further training they needed by helping with fees.
Think of ways to take actions you deem necessary. This is sometimes necessary because their motivational juices have run dry after a long arid period of disappointments. (Example: “We can provide you with a home to alleviate some of your costs, but will require you to contribute a nominal fee.” This helps them to develop a sense of responsibility. You could even take a rental fee and put it into a savings account for them.
Help them find a good and godly woman!
Offer them a hand-up not a handout!
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