Every Christian parent of boys (at least those reading this blog) wants our boys to become strong men, but what makes a great man? Is it that he can fix his own car? Maybe a real man has a great jump shot or can hit a baseball hard. Some of the old farmers I grew up around believed that real men never wear shorts. You get the point. We often have drastically different visions of manhood, and these differing visions shape how we parent.
This is a problem because if we cannot clearly distinguish what is essential to biblical manhood from what is nonessential, we risk raising a cheap imitation. For example, it would be tragic if your boy grows up thinking he is manly because he knows how to fix cars or can dominate the court, but he is ill-equipped and unmotivated to lead his home. We also risk alienating our boys or casting undue pressure on them if they aren’t drawn to the same nonessential marks we are. Your boy may feel defeated and insecure because he isn’t mechanical, athletic, or rugged like dad. Our society feasts on this insecurity by telling them that maybe they aren’t really a man. They use caricatures of manhood based on nonessentials to create terrible confusion.
This doesn’t mean we don’t teach the nonessentials. Every dad has interests, hobbies, and skills. Sharing them with your boys can be a valuable way to connect with them and build strong character. They also help a young man build confidence, social skill, and maybe even the means to provide for his future family. We just have to make sure we clearly distinguish essentials from nonessentials and prioritize the right targets.
What are the right targets? What is essential to biblical manhood? John Piper offers a good summary when he says, “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships” (Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, p. 35). I like that. Godly men are “benevolent” leaders, providers, and protectors. Because God has given men these responsibilities, he has generally wired many of the nonessential qualities of manhood into boys. Men are rugged because leaders are tough. We like to build things because we were made to provide. We like war stories because we were made to protect. All these are great, but they are simply a means of reaching the goal of benevolent leadership, provision, and protection. Parents, remain focused on the primary targets.
Therefore, every boy parent should think carefully about how to raise a benevolent leader. You must equip him to lead his wife (Eph 5:23) and children (Eph 6:4) and to be a leader in the church (1 Tim 2:14–15). So, how can you prepare him well? First, Jesus said that every great Christian leader must first learn how to be servant (Mark 10:42–45). This is what Piper means by benevolent. Our boys must understand that leadership is for service, not self-glory or self-interest. Prepare them to, “Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).
Strong leaders must also have the courage to stand courageously for what is right. Our boys must know where to stand without compromise, and we must find ways to safely stretch their courage without tempting them to sin.
If they are going to be strong leaders, they must also learn how to exercise discernment. Proverbs is largely an inspired training manual for young men, and what does Solomon emphasize above all else? Young men must become wise (Prov 4:7). That only makes sense because leaders are decision makers. Our boys must learn how to gather the facts, weigh their importance, and reach sound conclusions. This skill demands experience. Have a plan to give them safe but increasing decision-making responsibility, and coach them through the process. As well, the last time I read Proverbs, I was struck by the fact that wisdom demands a cool head under pressure. Afterall, we don’t make our most important decisions in a vacuum. A wise leader is not impulsive or explosive. He manages pressure well and remains reasonable and focused (Prov 14:29). Our parental instinct is to protect our children from pressure, but they must learn how press through with a cool head if they are to become great leaders.
How can you build these and other leadership skills? First, put him in positions to gain experience leading. For example, your church youth group is probably a great context for him to get his first experiences as a spiritual leader. I learned a lot about how to speak and lead through 4-H offices and school clubs. As well, the best teen leaders I have ever been around played competitive sports. They learn to be confident, and they learn to handle pressure. And no other context pushes boys to be vocal leaders like team competition.
You also must prepare your boy to provide for his future family. Therefore, think carefully about what qualities will make him a good provider and how you will develop them. For example, Solomon taught his son to be disciplined and responsible (Prov 12:11; 25:13). He wanted his son to be tough and avoid lame excuses (Prov 26:13). He demanded that his son develop a strong work ethic (Prov 26:14). What other qualities will help your son become a good employee or employer and how can you help him develop them?
Of Piper’s 3 qualities, the one we probably most neglect is teaching our boys to protect. Just watch the boys (and sadly even the men) in your church for a few weeks. Are they quick to carrying something for a lady or to open a door, or are they oblivious to their needs? What would they do if they saw a man threatening a lady or talking inappropriately to her? Would they even notice, would they laugh, or would they know to intervene effectively? From a young age, begin ingraining into your boys a sense of duty to protect and honor women. Teach them that they are not allowed to be physical with girls the way they are with boys. As they hit puberty, teach them to honor women as ladies, not as objects of lust. Set clear boundaries and expectations. For example, don’t ever hit a girl, open doors, carry heavy things, take care of the dead mouse, avoid sexual boundaries, etc. Finally, your boy doesn’t need to a black belt or a weapons expert, but he should know how to deescalate conflict and how to confidently handle confrontation as safely as possible.
Obviously, you could add much more to all these categories. I hope you will. Above all, don’t just hope that your boy turns into a godly man. Know what the target is and how you intend to reach it. With God’s help and a good plan, you can raise a godly man who will serve his family well and make an impact in the church.