As mentioned in the previous entry, the discipleship of men is about training men how to think, rather than telling them what to do. Over the last decade or so, I’ve communicated this very thesis to men who have a heart to disciple others in both private meetings and corporate leadership training sessions. And, for the most part, the message was received well. I’ve rarely had a well-meaning Christian genuinely seeking to grow in the effectiveness of his ministry fight me on this issue.
Yet for so many of these men, when the rubber meets the road, they still don’t biblically disciple. So what causes so many well-meaning men to short-circuit in the discipleship process? (I’m assuming that the subjects addressed are indeed well-meaning; Ill-motivated men who seek to disciple others are an entirely different story). I believe that the answer has to do with our history as well as our anthropological tendencies as X-Y chromosomal creatures. When we’re not empowered by the Spirit to engage skillfully and deftly in the Christian ministry of life-on-life discipleship, historical bad habits and tendencies of the flesh take over.
The following is not a comprehensive list, but rather simply four observations I’ve gleaned over the years. Four (of several) common causes that effect men tend to struggle with the implementing the biblically intended design of discipleship in their mentoring of other men are:
1)The lack of training or marred training regarding discipleship
2)The impatience that so often characterizes men
3)The ego-oriented nature that so often characterizes men
4)The tendency of men to immediately trouble-shoot
Cause #1: The lack of or marred training regarding discipleship
I’m aware of the plethora of printed material that is circulated amongst various Christian circles regarding formal methods of mentoring and discipleship – church and para-alike. Para-church campus fellowships such as InterVarsity, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Navigators all circulate their own have their formal systems of discipleship amongst their affiliates. Several local churches that I’m aware of have their unique systems to which their leadership and members subscribe and teach. I’ve seen and read the materials used, and much of the content is good. The problem is when the men who are produced from these discipleship systems try to implement the exact same system when discipling others. Soon, discipleship in the church becomes a cookie-cutter ministry. It’s a problem, because a cookie-cutter ministry is meant for cookies, not people. Not every Christian man should be required to keep Scripture memory flashcards or weekly journals. Not every Christian man will benefit equally from the same set of Christian literature. While formalized discipleship materials can be helpful as compasses, discipleship in the church was never intended by Christ to be standardized to a man-made curriculum. The only authoritative book on Christian discipleship is – you guessed it! – the Bible. And when it comes to one-on-one mentoring, biblical truth was meant to be transported through the vehicle of your own life (1 Thessalonians 2:6, 2 Timothy 3:13ff), not through a written curriculum.
Cause #2: The impatience that often characterizes men
I remember speaking to a godly man in our church once who told me that when his wife found out that he was scheduled to teach a Sunday school class on the topic of patience, she laughed at him. Upon hearing this, I thought to myself, “Wow, I guess all men really are the same!” Men are, by nature, impatient. We’re interested in final products more than growth processes. When I was a school-teacher, I realized that boys generally are lazier about “showing work” than girls because it “took up time.” I’ve found that men generally have more difficulty than women when it comes to the virtue of waiting. Thus, when it comes to mentoring younger bucks, it’s easier for us to say rather than to shape. And the fact of the matter is that it takes a whole lot less hours to tell a guy what to do than to train him how to think. To be a trainer of men, rather than duplicator of self means that a man must refrain from attempting to trouble-shoot every wrong conclusion at once. For a creature given to impatience, this is no easy task.
Cause #3: The ego-oriented nature that so often characterizes men
Women complain that men have big egos. I can’t disagree. Men are indeed ego-oriented. Better yet, we’re imprint-oriented. We like to duplicate ourselves, generally much more strongly than women do. A lot of mothers wanted children because they want to nurture children; a lot of fathers want children because they themselves want to be imprinted after, for their genes to be passed down. Back in the day, it was expected for sons to take up their father’s trade. Fathers thus trained their sons to – you guessed it – become like them. And while it may have been a cultural or historical-sociological construct (most men today in the Western world don’t go into their profession of choice that their dads did), there’s an underlying anthropological reality. Generally speaking, men care much more about being imprinted after than do women. The negative aspects of such sometimes carry over to discipleship relationships.
Cause #4: The tendency of men to immediately trouble-shoot
Men are, by nature, wired to problem-solve. We would rather problem-solve than data-gather. We’d rather solve problems than discern profiles. We’d rather fix what’s on the outside rather than understand what’s on the inside. Men are wired to modify behavior in a formulaic manner. While there are strengths to this, it can also add viscosity to the discipleship process. Desiring to always solve problems can leave a man stranded when mentoring another man because of the sheer fact that people are not problems to be solved by other people. We’re human beings made in the image of God with our own volition and set of emotions, and not robots under the control of human engineers. When discipling a younger man by training him to think, a man must restrain himself from trying to trouble-shoot everything, and embrace the reality that he isn’t going to have all problems solved by the end of the hour. It is God who brings change upon a person’s life, and He does so at His own timing. A man learn that those under his care are under his shepherding care, not his engineering care.
Thankfully, we as ministers are ultimately not products of our own history or natural tendencies, but rather new creation continually transformed into the image of Christ by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Godly mentoring was a ministry of Christ Himself. And that’s Part 3 of this series…