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Discipleship, age & maturity—how it works #
A reader of It’s Good To Be A Man writes to ask a good question:
In chapter 8: No Father, No Manhood, you argue that, “Sonship is imitative. It is not something learned from afar, but something learned by participating in another man’s life…In other words, sonship requires real life discipling.” While I wholeheartedly agree with this, my question is two-fold.
- Should discipleship mainly be an endeavor of older men (who have matured into manhood) taking younger men under their authority and seeking to grow them into mature manhood? This question is coming from a place where most of our biological fathers were not spiritual leaders in the household, therefore we have turned to the elders in our church for our growth into manhood.
- If the duty of discipleship falls mainly on the shoulders of our elders, what should the role of younger men be? Can younger men engage in discipleship of other younger men? What does discipleship look like amongst men of the same age and/or maturity level? Doug Wilson mentions the idea of a “swimmers-drowning-together club” (paraphrasing) when guys of the same age and maturity level get together to form some sort of accountability group, and I completely agree with his analysis. I think we need mature fathers in order to grow young men into maturity. My question is, what does discipleship look like for younger men? Can we engage in discipleship those younger than us or should that fall mainly on the elders?
There is a kind of pyramid structure to discipleship.
Fundamentally, you have three tiers:
Or, put another way, mentors, peers, and mentees (yes, it’s a real word).
All can be involved in discipleship, but the weight of obligation differs by relationship. Fathers—broadly, a generation above you—should be honored and deferred to far more than brothers, who are broadly your generation. Both can rebuke you, but the rebuke of a father carries more natural weight. Even sons can disciple you, but in the sense of 1 Timothy 5:1: they should appeal to you as a father, rather than rebuking you.
There is some overlap between these categories, depending on age and ability. But that’s the general outline.
Without fathers, as Wilson notes, the whole structure is liable to collapse. Even though fathers are at the top, they are in another sense the foundation—or the central pillar that keeps the structure from flying apart.
But without brothers, the structure can become cloying and stifling. If you are only subject to older men, you lack the kind of fraternity and competition that men are designed to thrive under.
And without sons—even for fairly young men—it is hard to see yourself growing and advancing and being a blessing to those coming up under you. There is, after all, a reason that young men are able to have children! Learning to be a biological father is the first step to being able to mentor younger men.
Everything must be in its proper place, but it is good to have all three for a well-rounded life. Think of the hierarchy of the judges established in Exodus 18. There is a fractal nature to it which applies naturally to all kinds of discipleship and rulership. The head gives order and identity and meaning to the body, and the body gives strength and power and agency to the head—and this pattern repeats at every level, and every group size. You can zoom in and out and see the same pattern, adjusted to the “zoom level.” A mentee in a tribe becomes a peer as you zoom in to the clan level, and then becomes a mentor as you zoom into the household level. And so forth.
Getting better at saying no #
You can’t do everything. Saying yes to one thing is saying no to another.
Because telling people no is hard, we get bogged down doing things that we don’t really want to do—while the things we should be doing get shoved to the side. You must learn to say “no” as you level up through life.
“I didn’t have to—I chose to.”
This is the mindset of someone who takes responsibility for himself.
Here are some tips for this, adapted from Greg Mckeown’s book Essentialism:
- You’re rejecting the decision, not the person. You have to maintain that distinction. You can say no both clearly and kindly. You may even decide to use a different approach than a blunt no. E.g., “I appreciate the offer, but I am booked up at the moment.”
- You must keep the trade-off in mind. By saying no here, you can say yes elsewhere. By the same token, saying yes here means you have to say no elsewhere. Nos allow you to gift yourself time in the future to focus on priorities. Do “future you” a favor. Discern between the trivial many, and the important few. Be choosy.
- In view of tip 2, reframe requests in your mind before deciding. “Can you do X?” becomes “Can you not do Y?” This fundamentally changes the calculus. E.g., when you are viewing your time and tasks holistically, the request, “Can you lead Bible study tonight?” is really another way of saying, “Can you disappoint your wife/kids/client/boss by spending this afternoon preparing instead of what you originally planned?”
- Have your priorities and tasks worked out somewhere objective, outside your head. This serves many purposes. It helps you see what you actually have to do, so you don’t forget things when making decisions and accidentally double-book yourself. It gives you an objective standard to appeal to when telling people no (e.g., “I don’t have any more time in my schedule”). And over time, it helps you get a clearer idea of how much is too much, so you can adjust accordingly.
- You need to be okay with being temporarily unpopular. People like hearing yes. That’s why we like saying it. Nos can disappoint and anger people. This too shall pass. In the short term it can be awkward and put strain on relationships. But in the long term, people come to respect you for respecting yourself and your time, more than being liked.
- You need to give an answer. People would rather hear a blunt no than a noncommittal non-answer. Avoid things like, “I’ll try to be there,” “I’ll see if I can make it,” “Maybe,” etc. If it’s not a definite yes, then it’s no. So tell them that.
Meekness is prerequisite to leadership #
Psalm 38 gives an example of the spiritually meek mindset:
12 Those who seek my life lay their snares;
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
and meditate treachery all day long.
13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.
This is a mind that isn’t easily provoked.
It is at rest with itself, because it knows its position before the Lord.
This is why meekness is key to all spiritual leadership. Non-reactiveness, frame, gravitas—they all are attached to the Anchor of our souls.
A simple way to improve these things #
Our membership group is a place where men can disciple and be discipled without fear of feminized culture. If you want grow in piety, check it out:
Join our membership group
New content this week: #
We have a new article up: a primer on how to support your wife through childbirth . If you have a baby incoming for the first time, you may find this helpful. Bnonn and Smokey wrote it for first-time fathers at their church. The culture of childbirth is pretty different in the states compared to NZ—much more medical—but adjust as needed.
- Ignoring the fanboyism about Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is a buffoon, this thread has some helpful insights on storytelling that can be applied to masculinity more generally.
- A fascinating mini-history of how caffeine contributed to the rise of Western civilization: What Michael Pollan Learned from Quitting Caffeine for 3 Months - YouTube.
- Woman who disguised herself as a man to find out how it is like to live as a man committed suicide due to the psychological scars of how difficult life was for a man.
- And here’s a related video documenting herp project: 2006 Self Made Man: Norah Vincent chooses Female Privilege over Male Privilege - YouTube
Talk again next week,
Bnonn & Michael