The Gospel Coalition published yet another great post from the insightful and provocative Kevin DeYoung. Entitled “Dude, Where’s Your Bride?”, the article addresses what DeYoung considers a paucity of marriagable Christian men. This trend, as DeYoung cites, is part of the larger trend among all men. There is simply a generation of men without “substance” and “plans.” In typical DeYoung fashion, he provides helpful correctives for women-seeking-men and churches suffering anemic Christian manhood.
And by “manhood,” neither DeYoung nor I mean the Bible-thumping, chin-chiseled, cliff-climbing, bungee-jumping, Sahara-trekking, canyon-hiking, snake-choking sort. Rather, we mean “manhood” in the simple sense of men with ambition and vocation. Men with conviction and vocabularies broader than “like,” “you know,” and “LOL.” Men with theological sense about them and biblical maturity. Men with stability and decisive. Men with emotional depth and thoughtful breadth. Men who live real lives among real people, not virtual lives among avatars.
What DeYoung doesn’t discuss, but undoubtedly can and elsewhere does, are the reasons why we suffer from anemic Christian manhood. And certainly those reasons are complex, societal, and categorical. As part of these complex reasons I might offer one reason why the church lacks eligible bachelors: the modern notion of “youth ministry.” What follows is a generalization and summary of typical youth ministry experiences. I realize not all churches, youth ministries and/or youth pastors are just alike.
I’m no youth ministry expert or authority on church history. But, we should at least agree the church’s ministry to youth has evolved from historic family-centered, church-involved, theologically-rich instruction to family-averse, church-averse, experiential religion. In fact, we might argue whether or not Scripture endorses or promotes our modern idea of “youth.” Generally speaking, we consider childhood to end at 12-13 years old and adulthood to begin somewhere between 18-21 years old. In between are those awkward teenage years where you’re neither a child nor adult, but some unpredictable, hybrid creature. You’re too old to be in “children’s church” but much too young to handle “big church.” Besides, your parents need a break from you so they can “worship,” too. So, we steward you through those teenage years in a cocoon filled with pizza, “praise and worship,” and pie-in-the-face props. Hopefully, the day will come when you get too big for the youth group and tear your way out of the cocoon into a biblically-astute, relationally-mature adult.
Now we’ve inherited a generation raised under such a philosophy, which as contributed the paucity of mature-minded Christian men.
Biblically, we find the general trajectory of a boy’s life to be childhood and then manhood. There are certainly varying degrees of manhood and expectations therein. But the expectation is one is either a child or else formally becoming a man. There is no “Well, he’s just a teenager” category, where the expectations of manhood are suspended or relaxed because he has pimples. We’d surprised at how many of our biblical heroes came into their “own” while teenagers (David, Daniel, Mary, etc).
God’s people raise their boys into Christian manhood. After all, subject to God’s providence, our children will be adults five times longer than they were kids. We don’t entertain them to death with silly games. We instill in them gospel vocabulary as surely as we do English vocabulary. We confront them early and often with the gospel and its demands. Like Jesus at twelve, they should have astute questions about the things of God.
I’m not suggesting we rob our boys of all that goes along with boyhood. The Cowboys should always beat the Steelers in the backyard. There need to be some scars on chins, elbows and knees from riding too fast on a bike. There are dragons to slay and baseballs to lose in the neighbor’s yard.
But at the end of day, when scrapes are kissed and fingernails cleaned, our boys are becoming men. And they’re to be guided toward ambition and vocation. They’re to learn, respond to and apply the language of the gospel. They’re to learn the rhythm of church life and a Christianity that is “one anothered,” not whipped cream smothered. After wrestling Dad for the world title on Saturday, our boys should imitate Dad in worship on Sunday.
As we raise our boys into men, our gals will find plenty of brothers worthy of their devotion and submission. God forbid Kevin DeYoung’s grandson write a similar article forty years from now.