By Chris Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
Pete Mitchell, Tom Cruise’s character in the Top Gun films, goes by the call sign Maverick because he likes doing things his own way and doesn’t care what other people think about him. And he tends to isolate.
Most men, even those who aren’t mavericks, isolate themselves. They maintain an emotional distance from others, especially other men, by putting up what David Dusek calls the “fine” barrier.
“Ask a man how he’s doing, and he’ll tell you he’s fine,” says Dusek, founder of Rough Cut Men. “He’s not fine. He’s got issues. But he doesn’t have anyone to talk to about them because he doesn’t trust anybody.”
The results of a 2021 survey of U.S. adults supports Dusek’s contention. For starters, the typical man has only a handful of close friends; nearly one in six has none. The fewer friends a man has, the more likely he is to feel lonely and isolated. Men are less emotionally connected to their friends than women are and, as a result, men often shy away from confiding in friends. For example, when men under the age of 30 face personal problems, three out of five turn to a parent, wife, or girlfriend; only one in five reaches out to a friend.
To build up the men of your church, you need to get them out of isolation and help them build brotherhood bonds with other Christian men. How? Dusek has five recommendations, all based on tactics that are employed by the military.
1. Remember Where the Battle Is Fought
“War is won and lost at the fire team level. It's not won on the division parade ground with 15,000 of your closest friends in class A uniforms, with the commanding general delivering an amazing speech and not a weapon to be seen. That's Sunday morning. That's where we are listening to our respective commanding generals, our pastors, delivering an inspiring message from God.”
The real battles of life, Dusek continues, take place “outside the wire, away from your headquarters, away from brigade, away from everybody, driving around on enemy ground.” To build up the men of your church, you have to engage with them, and develop strong friendships with them, outside of Sunday morning.
And outside of the typical men’s events, even those that offer “mountaintop experiences.” A man may be inspired at a men’s event, but the inspiration typically fades as he faces the day-to-day challenges of the real world. “He needs real connections with other men. Otherwise, he’s just waiting for the next men’s breakfast.”
2. Rely on Your NCOs
According to Dusek, real connections depend on authenticity and transparency.
“A lot of guys sitting in the church look at their pastor, listen to the men's leader on Saturday at the pancake breakfast, and think that they can’t be like that guy because he’s got it all figured out and they don’t,” he says. In his presentations to men, Dusek starts by talking about his failures, which include a divorce that Dusek “owns.” Through all his missteps, God was there, helping and, in some cases, pulling him through.
When a man is facing a challenge, he relates and responds to other men who have experienced similar challenges and found God there in the midst of the struggle. Those men are like non-commissioned officers, or NCOs, on the battlefield.
“If you want to get the unit lost,” Dusek jokes, “give the compass or the map to the lieutenant who just graduated from West Point. If you want to succeed, go with the battle-hardened NCO, who's been deployed 11 different times, knows everything about the soldiers in the unit, knows everything tactically about their weaponry and equipment. He’s already fought this enemy 11 different cycles. A smart lieutenant relies on the NCO.”
In a typical church, the pastor is the lieutenant. “Pastor, you have battle-hardened NCOs in your church,” says Dusek. “From the time they wake up in the morning to the time they go to sleep at night, they think about the men in your church and how they can lead them. They’ve faced this enemy in 11 different cycles. They’ve lived lives that have put them in a position where they can lead, and they’re ready to fight alongside the other men of your church. Get out of the way and let them lead.”
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/sgolan20
3. Build Your Fire Teams
Like a strong army, a strong church is built not from the top down but from the bottom up. The foundation is small teams of men.
“When you’re in a fire team,” Dusek says, “all that matters is the other members of the team, along with their wives and families. When you dismount, you're always in a two-by-two formation, because the last thing you want to do is get shot in the back while you're doing your job.”
Over time, you get very close with the guys in your fire team, because a brotherhood develops when you're under fire together. But when you start out, you may not know them at all. Or like them.
“I’ve watched guys in the same unit get into fistfights over which college football team is the best,” Dusek says. “But you put them in harm's way, and they're gonna fight for each other.
“We are a remnant of the Most High God. We have been recruited by Him to further His kingdom and to fight for what Jesus died for. You don’t have to get along with everybody in your church to fight for them and with them. That's what we're called to do.”
4. Equip Your Fire Teams
As groups of men begin to meet together regularly, they will begin to have authentic conversations about real life. But only if you ensure that a critical element is in place: confidentiality.
“Prayer gossip is one of the greatest offenses in congregational churches,” says Dusek. “That’s when a private issue ends up in a prayer circle at your church. ‘Did you hear about Mike? He's got a bit of a computer problem, if you know what I mean.’ You walk into church, and everybody's looking at you.”
It’s essential that men have a place where they can feel completely secure. Off the grid. Eyes only.
Men need to be able to confess and share things with other men, Dusek maintains. “Some of the most powerful times I've had with a friend,” he says, “have started with the statement, ‘You know, I've never told anybody else this.’ Then I know we're being real. Until you've got someone in your life where you can start a sentence with that, you’re just playing pancakes at church, and that's not what God has ever intended for us. He wants us engaged.”
That’s because there's an enemy out there trying to get to us. Defeating that enemy requires interdependence.
5. Leave No Man Behind
Older men can be reluctant to engage with younger men, and vice versa. But men of all ages tend to have more in common than they may realize. One thing most men share is a need for encouragement.
“In the first two years of our life,” says Dusek, “we get a great deal of encouragement. Everything is a landmark. We learn to roll over. We crawl. We take our first steps. We say our first words. We use the big boy potty. Each milestone is a reason for celebration. And we learn to clap our hands to mimic the praise.
“By the time a child reaches school age, he’s hearing 15 negative things to every one positive. Now, if you throw social media into that, I would submit to you that it's probably more like 50 negative things to every positive thing. So we go through life, immersed in negativity.”
On top of that, many men have been wounded by the primary man in their life: their father. As a result, nearly every man has a deep need for another man to speak encouragement into his life.
Dusek has a challenge for every churchgoing guy. “There's a guy you have not seen in your small group or in church for a really long time. Grab your phone and send him a text message saying, ‘I haven’t seen you in a while, and I miss you, man.’ You may be the only one that instills value in that guy all week. Those three words – ‘I miss you’ – can shift a guy’s paradigm completely, to the point where he says to himself, ‘I really do matter to somebody. And I'm gonna live to fight another day.’”
Every man needs not just a Barnabas, or encourager, in his life, but also a spiritual mentor. Older men in a church can become spiritual mentors to younger men. Again, a simple text is all it takes to get the ball rolling on what could be a strong friendship.
A real relationship opens the door to discipleship.
The bottom line is that men need other men. “I know I need God,” Dusek says. “But I need another man. Just like David had Jonathan. Moses had Aaron and Hur. Jesus sent those disciples out two-by-two cover formation for a reason. The Creator of the universe knows that a man traveling alone is a viable target for the enemy. Often, the only difference in a combat theater between survival and defeat is having someone providing overwatch.”
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/MivPiv
Chris Bolinger is the author of three men’s devotionals – 52 Weeks of Strength for Men, Daily Strength for Men, and Fuerzas para Cada Día para el Hombre – and the co-host of the Empowered Manhood podcast. He splits his time between northeast Ohio and southwest Florida. Against the advice of medical professionals, he remains a die-hard fan of Cleveland pro sports teams. Find him at mensdevotionals.com.