“Likewise, urge the young men to be sensible”
Men must mentor men. The Master mandates it.
Before the church is called to prop up pretty programs, it must prioritize the training and building up of its men – particularly the younger men. Alongside the preaching of the Word, it is the church’s primary duty. Christ Himself was a preacher and a mentor (hence, He had disciples). Thankfully, just about every church I’ve attended or been a part of has – or is in the process of developing – some kind of a men’s discipleship ministry. Rightly so.
Yet, to say that the majority of America’s churches engage in the endeavor of discipling its men doesn’t equate to saying that men are being discipled biblically in America’s churches. The current state of Christianity in our country isn’t exactly one to rejoice over. Weak Christianity results from weak local churches. And weak local churches result from weak preaching and weak mentoring of men. I’ll discuss the current state of preaching in another entry; in this one, I’m intent on addressing where we’ve gone wayward ministry of discipling men.
So what exactly is wrong with the way men are spiritually mentored today? Over the years, I’ve gained insight from the honest feedback of friends and colleagues – God-loving, scripturally-committed, and ministry-minded men who have expressed their frustrations with regards to discipleship relationships in which they were involved. Sparing the ipsissima verba, several of them have shared the following:
“I would get paired up with a discipler or spiritual mentor from our church. Then, during our meetings, he would ask me about my week and my current struggles. Upon my sharing, he would immediately say, ‘Oh, you need to do this,’ or ‘Oh, you need to do that.’ But he wouldn’t actually help me think through the struggle or even really show me what the Bible had to say about it.”
Think and Bible. Two words mentioned worth munching. So why are mentoring relationships and the overall discipleship of men of America’s churches ineffective? Each generation has its quirks, but my most recent observations with regards to the generation in which I live is that the problem lies in those two words stated above: younger men are simply being told what to do pragmatically more than they are being trained how to think biblically.
For the record, pragmatic counsel is not sinful. There’s a place and time for it, and it can do much good when given appropriately. It just isn’t the priority of the biblical paradigm of discipling young men. Before the scowl gets scowlier, listen to exhortation given by the apostle Paul himself to Titus with regards to his dealings with the younger XY’s of the Cretian church:
“Likewise, urge the young men to be sensible.” (NASB, emphasis added)
Urge, Paul commands. Titus, parakalei! Come alongside them. Encourage them. Exhort them. Disciple them. Train them. Your duty, Titus, is not only to preach the Word, but to disciple the saints.
Urge the young men, Paul specifies. The neoterous – the youthful men, the younger sector, the men in the church full of strength and vigor but perhaps in need of wisdom and guidance. Address all of the affinity groups, Titus, but you are particularly called to disciple the young men.
Urge the young men to be sensible, Paul instructs. Sophronein – to think soundly, soberly, seriously, scriptural.
Titus, disciple the young men of the church by training them how to think!
In discipleship, training trumps telling. Hence, it’s called discipleship, and not dictatorship. Mentoring a young man is primarily the endeavor of training him how to think soundly according to the principles of Scripture. Sound living stems from sound thinking, does it not? According to Hebrews 5:14, the mature are distinguished from the babes in that they have their “senses trained to discern good and evil.” Young men need for their spiritual senses to be trained to discern what is good from evil – or what is fitting from what is not fitting – when it comes to circumstances and life decisions. For the mentors, the ministry is less about passing down a series of pragmatic practices and more about equipping a younger man interpret himself, his life, and everything around him through the lens of Scripture and in light of the glory of Christ and His gospel, then to respond accordingly.
The application flows from the obvious – but often overlooked – principle of individual distinctiveness. God has woven together each individual with his distinct personality (Psalm 139:14), a distinct set of personal convictions (Romans 14:5) and distinct spiritual giftedness (1 Corinthians 12:4). On top of this, individual young men will struggle with a unique set of temptations, setbacks, and sins (Matthew 5:29-30). Thus, the same principal truths to which all God-fearing men will submit will result in a variety of particular courses of action depending on an man’s unique makeup. Mentoring young men involves focusing not primarily on the particular courses of action (though this is important), but first on the principal perspective in which a man learns to encase his modus operandi.
So to get a bit more practical…
- It’s less about telling a student on the brink of graduation, “You need to get a job” and more about showing him Scripture’s perspective on the dignity, purpose, mandate, and design of work – teaching him how to see all of life’s labors in relation to glory of God.
- It’s less about telling a young husband, “You and your wife need to go on a date night once a week,” and more about showing him the necessary consistency between how he nourishes and cherishes his wife and Christ’s love and care for His church, helping him see his marriage in light of the glory of Christ’s sacrificial and sanctifying love for His church.
- It’s less about telling a man, “You need to join the morning set-up team on Sundays” and more about helping him learn the importance of prioritizing the needs of others before one’s personal ambitions as Christ demonstrated, helping him see his ministry and service in light of the humble servanthood of Christ.
- It’s less about telling a man that he should or shouldn’t go to graduate school, and more about training him to think proverbially about acquiring knowledge and sharpening his skills while at the same time refraining from loving the boastful pride of life, thus helping him see his choice in light of the wisdom of God.
It’s less about giving a man a fish so as to feed him for a day, and more about feeing a man to fish so as to feed him for a lifetime!