Friday, May 18, 2007

The Complex World of Male Friendship: Practical Suggestions

Leave it to guys to keep asking me for suggestions. We're practically minded, many of us, and so we want to know what to do. Of course, this rule will not apply in the following situations: 1) when lost, 2) when putting household appliances together, and so on. My grumpiness is feigned, of course, because I myself love practical application and need it.

Here are some ways to get the men in your church/life to go to coffee and develop meaningful friendships.

1) Model this in your own life. If you're not doing this as a leader, who of those who follow you are going to do it? You need to lead the change.

2) Teach a Sunday School class on friendship. Go through the Bible and highlight men who shared close kinship with another man. Teach explicitly that it is not unbiblical to have a close friend with whom one shares life but that the opposite is true: real men have close friendships. As you do this over several weeks (six? four? You decide), you will see a difference.

3) When the text speaks to manhood, preach wisely. Don't perpetuate male stereotypes for a cheap laugh from the pulpit. Speak honestly and winsomely about male friendship in the Bible and about true manhood in general. For some reason, too many of us revert to jokes about stereotypes when it comes to the subject of men, as if we can't say anything heartfelt or meaningful about men and their relationships. If you do that, stop doing it. Preach a full-orbed picture of manhood, and avoid caricatures and stupid jokes.

4) Actively encourage men to develop friendships. This folds in with the previous two but it needs to be said clearly. As a pastor, you are responsible for overseeing congregational discipleship. Knowing this, challenge your men to find a close friend in whom they can confide. Exhort them not simply to do an activity together but to develop a close friendship. Tell them to talk about things that matter: their spiritual lives, the work of the church, the church's preaching, their families, their love for their wives, their children, their struggles, their sins, their hopes. Again, don't do so in a silly manner. If you treat this subject in a joking way, that's how people will take it. The tone we set for things as leaders often determines the way people will perceive them.

5) Prepare yourself for a flood of female adulation. As you encourage men to open up, you'll find that over time, families will change. Husbands will become more emotionally attuned and concerned. Fathers will care more for their children. Good will come when men allow themselves to express and experience emotion.

6) Encourage the men to meet ritually. Rituals work well for men. I'm guessing many readers can think of a man they know who followed a certain ritual for many years. I recall recently reading about MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who has eaten the same breakfast at the same place for decades. That's how men are (I have no idea why). Use this masculine trait for good in the lives of men--otherwise, friendship won't happen. That's how men are. Pin them down, give them a structure, and good things will come if they invest in the relationship.

7) Allow for activities but encourage men to talk. You don't have to do coffee. Men may bond best over an activity. That's common. But those who do activities together should not allow those activities to prevent them from talking meaningfully about life. I realize that it will take time for many men to make close friends and bond, and so some activities will be necessary. Men should have the goal, however, of becoming close by bearing burdens and sharing sorrows.

8) Remember that the goal of all this is conformity to Christ. You're not doing this to become better men, ultimately, or more whole people. You're doing this in order to grow as a Christian by sharpening your character and enjoying God's goodness in a fuller way. This is not a self-improvement program of the kind being constantly peddled in the media. This is the real, meaningful, old-fashioned, world-changing work of conformity to Christ. By enjoying God's great gift of friendship and grounding that friendship in the Word, you are glorifying God and conforming yourself to Christ. This is the beginning, and the end, of everything male friendship is and will be.

There are some ideas to get started. They're a bit scattered, but I hope they're of some use to you. If you are a man without a close friend, or a group of close friends, pray that the Lord will give you a best friend. Pray for growth in your own life in this area. Challenge yourself to change and to invest in another man. Though you may play the part convincingly, you're not an island. All of us need friends, and I'm not talking about golf buddies--I'm talking about true friends with whom one really connects.

Don't stand alone. Bring another by your side, and stand tall together, each strengthening the other, each leading the other closer to Christ through fellowship, encouragement, confession, and compassion. Become a David, men, and find a Jonathan.


Blogger Ryan Hill said...

good suggestions Owen. I appreciate your thoughtfulness about this subject and for indulging some of your readers with practical suggestions :-)

10:53 PM  
Blogger Dad said...

Owen, I appreciate your responses and encouragement. There seems to be a bit of competitiveness and sinful individuality in many of us that hinders building male friendships. This series has got me thinking more that some you have touched upon.

While not wishing to speak against anything you have said, I hope having male friends will not undermine the role a wife ought to have. I am my wife's lover - not just sexually, but I am to love her as a fellow heir in God's kingdom, and therefore, she ought to be my closes - best - best friend.

Al (Not Owen's dad nor that other "Al".)

3:43 AM  

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