The Mandate of Masculine Mentoring
In the 1980s as a young Christian and professional footballer (that’s soccer to the uninformed!) I saw older players mentoring younger ones. One experienced star player took an interest in me. He encouraged and corrected my game, and he developed my character.
Premiership manager Tony Pulis spoke on BBC radio about the great need for mentoring in football today. He noted that apprentices nowadays are undisciplined and lack self-control. He put it down to the breakdown of the family and absent father figures in the lives of young men. But he did cite Christian family values as one thing that had a good effect.
One of the great needs in the church today is for men to mentor other men in the things of God—a distinctly masculine mentoring in the face of a culture that does not value manhood. God designs the church to grow under the protection and provision of biblical men. But they will not simply appear. Men of God must cultivate men of God.
Four requirements for masculine mentoring
Mentoring is spiritual fathering (1 Cor. 4:15), and requires not just quality time but quantity time. Jesus, the ultimate mentor, had 12 men constantly in his presence before he sent them out. Paul had thirty different men with him as fellow workers in the gospel, who ended up going out into further ministry. There is value in on the job training. One-to-one time with the mentor is crucial.
A mentor should pray for and seek out men, but he must call them to follow him. The mentee must sacrifice time and convenience to follow the leader, recognizing it is not a right but a privilege to be mentored. Getting the authority structure right at the start saves relationship breakdown over mismatched expectations later.
I usually pray for certain men. Then I ask if they have considered being mentored. If they don’t take up the offer after the third attempt, I back off but still pray. Then I’ll commit myself to be with them regularly. Some of the ways I implement this one-to-one mentoring relationship is by meeting men for lunch at my house in small mentoring groups, and even inviting some to come with me overseas on ministry trips where I can pour into them during concentrated time together.
2. Teaching and testing
Jesus came to preach and teach (Luke 4:43). Doctrine is crucial, and passing on sound teaching to faithful men who can do the same is the key requirement for the health and longevity of the local church (2 Tim. 2:2).
Overall I am looking to teach and then test what kind of conviction men have about what they say. Does it go deep or is it held lightly? We talk on all issues of the gospel, and apply it to marriage, parenting, work, and ministry.
In addition, I am always looking at what this means for them as Christian men in a world that does not value men, whether they are single, married, childless, or have multiple children.
It is always a joy when a man who has been taught and exhorted to pray does so with his wife and experiences blessing in the marriage. The teaching has transformed him and is proven in the testing.
3. Character and example
There is a difference between a guru and a masculine mentor. A guru teaches true things, but a mentor impresses manly character. The truth has transformed the mentor. Therefore mentors are required to practice what they teach. Integrity of life and doctrine is key. Character will always trump competency.
This is why presence is so important. The more time you spend with a mentee the more he will be exposed to your character at home, at church on pastoral visits, and in evangelism. He will see teaching that transforms. I want men to imitate me in the way I lead and love my wife, children, and church. I want to impress godly masculinity upon another man. I don’t think we should be ashamed of this. However, I want men to imitate me inasmuch as I imitate Christ by faith. Paul says, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Christ said, “Follow me”. So a mentor must always be ready to admit his sin and deficiency and turn his apprentice to Christ. A mentor must show he is growing too.
4. Wisdom and patience
Wisdom is the ability to apply biblical truth skillfully at the right time, in the right way, and in the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). Like fathering a son, mentoring men requires wisdom, patience, and time.
There is some impetuousness in youth. Young men should be encouraged, as Paul encouraged Timothy, “let them not despise you for your youth” (1 Tim. 4:12), but also warned, “let them not despise you for your arrogance.” Immature men often think they know a lot more than they do. Their thinking is not well developed. Pride runs high.
There are times to press hard and times to let them learn by their mistakes, always ready to pick them up when they fall. Knowing when to comfort and when to correct is a matter of discernment. Judging the maturity of a man is key in knowing what to expect of him. John Newton’s wisdom on Christian growth, from Mark 4:28, is useful here. The promise of sanctification is that people will grow in godliness over time. Mentoring allows you to walk that road with them, correcting where necessary and extending grace as well.
Two aims in masculine mentorship
Finally, here are two aims of masculine mentorship:
1. Mature not macho
Paul tells the men of Corinth, “Act like men” (1 Cor. 16:13). Men should act in a masculine, not effeminate way. Paul doesn’t coddle men because he knows it produces self-pity. And self-pity is the blight of manhood because it leads to passivity. Abuse gets the headlines, but passivity is the silent killer of manhood. We know this from Adam’s passive indifference that caused the fall of man. In contrast, Jesus’ proactive passion was at the heart of redemption.
Biblical manhood is not about being macho, but mature. A biblical man is humble, gentle and strong, and one who exercises authority for the good of others, no matter what it costs him in time, money, or reputation.
At the heart of masculinity is Christ-like leadership. Men who feel entitled will not be mature men who step toward danger in love to protect and provide for women and children. They will not be considerate of others because they are too concerned about self. I will sometimes test a young man by not giving him what he expects or wants. Usually his response shows whether he has a sense of entitlement or gratitude.
Maturity is also about being sober-minded not somber-minded: not miserable, but a man of serious joy. Men need to be watchmen who can assess things with biblical clarity and wisdom. Their minds must be stable so they can see reality. They know that Satan is a powerful enemy, but their own sin is the killer. They are men of faith in Christ, his Word as their weapon and prayer as their power.
I look to develop men who are sensitive to sin, submit to authority, take responsibility, have an instinct to protect women, and want to sacrifice for the good of others.
2. Divines not dudes
The ultimate aim of masculine mentoring is to produce divines, not dudes. Not lightweight, culturally relevant men, but holy men, who feel the weight of God’s glory and purposes. Divines love God above all and they love people, not themselves. They know his Word and wield it skillfully. They plan much, but pray more. They are courageous men of tough love and tender compassion (1 Cor. 16:14).
The need for masculine mentorship is desperate because a dearth of men is the death of a local church and the family. Men were made to take initiative and cultivate life and godliness in those under their care.
True manhood is cruciform loving leadership, like the true man, Jesus: who took initiative for God’s glory, and despite the shame, overcame sin, Satan, and death on the cross, rising again to give life and redeem masculinity itself.