I did the math. I calculated my cumulative service with Worldview Academy. Over the past 5 summers I’ve spent over 3360 hours thinking about, talking about, and doing discipleship with people. If I were to add my hours spent in youth groups, college ministry (two years), and books read on the subject, I think I could legitimately double that number in time spent in discipleship settings.
Since early high school I’ve thought about and watched discipleship play out in various forms. I’ve been to church camps, men’s breakfasts and men’s retreats. I’ve studied leadership and influence (a key part of discipleship) with honors programs and academic societies. I’ve participated in or led dozens of small groups. And, in light of this considerable observation, I can say with confidence that, on the whole, the bridge of wisdom transfer between the older generation of men and younger men my age is in shambles. It’s broken. The road of discipleship is overgrown and the trail is mostly lost to the woods of busyness and shallow discussions at men’s breakfasts.
Without exaggeration, I would say that 90% of the Christian young men I know are bushwalking their way through life’s struggles alone. Humility, conflict resolution, purity struggles, financial decision making - there are thousands of books, but precious few men helping my generation find the paths through these obstacles.
Where did the cycle of wisdom transfer break? Why is it still broken? How can we fix it? These questions are often in my mind when I talk to other young men in counseling settings. The first two questions are too large for the scope of this post, but in regards to the third question, I offer my admittedly young insights for the reader’s consideration.
1. Real discipleship happens in the unplanned moments.
If you’ve ever read anything on discipleship, you’ve likely read something of Jesus that highlighted the time He spent with His disciples. For three years he walked everywhere with them, ate with them, and he fulfilled His calling with them. Proximity can not be substituted. It is in the unexpected that character is revealed and taught. And the unexpected can’t be planned.
To older men, coffee once a week is great, but there is no real life happening around you. Bring young men into your home. Have a regular, no facade, normal dinner with them and your family. Give them the opportunity to do work with you around the home. Create space and bring them inside the day in and day out of your life. Your words about cherishing women are empty until we see you care for your wife when she is tired and stressed. Your words about humility and patience are hallow until we see you demonstrate those things when your kids throw a fit. Invite us into your life, don’t feel like you have to entertain us. Let young men do life with you. Real discipleship happens in the nitty-gritty unplanned moments. Make space for the unplanned to happen.
2. Vulnerability (humility) is not emasculating.
I think one of the biggest reasons men do not pursue other men is that they think they have nothing to offer. Either, they think too little of themselves or they are ashamed of their failure in the home. To this attitude I say, “Sir, you do not believe the Gospel and you ought not be discipling at all.” Failure, ignorance, weakness - we need to see this! We, the young men of this age, know very well the shame of failure - and we would love a hand up.
The foolishness of it all is that when men my age look around to see if any other man knows the sting of defeat - all they see is the plastic wall of collected professionalism. Conversations on golf, sports, hunting - all good things - I fear are often used as a smoke screen for the shame a man feels in his perceived failures to live up to his standard of manhood. Conversations about the latest football game are easy, conversations about your latest fights at home are not. But those conversations are what matter. Let us see you in humility. Teach us how to gracefully rise under the headship of Christ when we fall. Your hiding is perpetuating the cycle. Walk in the light and teach us to do the same.
3. Discipleship is a two way street.
This is perhaps the most critical aspect of discipleship. Every time we see Jesus calling a disciple we see two things. 1) Jesus’ initiation and 2) the disciple’s decision to follow. I think that both sides of the generation gap stand guilty of pride and laziness here. We young men must treasure and passionately desire wisdom (Proverbs 1, 2, 3, and 4). If the would-be disciple does not want to be discipled, it does not matter how available the older generation is. But, if the older generation is not available - where will those who treasure wisdom go? Life-on-life discipleship is a two way street like any human relationship. It takes initiating and reciprocating.
It is interesting to note that Jesus always initiated the call to His disciples. In my 24 years in the church I have had only one older man (aside from my dad) approach me and attempt to initiate a discipleship relationship. Is this not a shame? Phooey on that shame! Rise above and walk in the light with us, your younger brothers and sons. Invite young men in your proximity into the random, messy, humility that is family. Let us see you lead in submission to Jesus and see you live the reality of the Gospel in joy, repentance, and forgiveness.
- Isaac Griffin