I don’t remember where he pulled it from but I was taught by John Bryson many years ago about the three types of friendship that bless and encourage a mans life: the Needy Protégé, the Side by Side Friend, and the Admiring Mentor. I have/do have those relationships in my life and they indeed are life giving and spiritually enhancing. The challenge though is finding them. To hear the average pastor preach that difficulty lies in your lack of church attendance. I have heard it sound like you can’t swing a dead cat in a sanctuary without finding a mentor, a disciple, and a mens group for life. The reality though is far from this assumption. Proximity does not a relationship build.
A few years back I spent a generous amount of time discipling an excellent young man and we both grew and deeply enjoyed each others company. It went so well he parents instructed his younger brother to ask me to take him on as well. We gave it the old college try but didn’t click, the discipling relationship petered out. Move to today I rarely see the older brother and am even concerned with a few of his theological stances, the younger brother is a good friend and is smoking cigars with me on a near weekly basis. The point of my tale is that that in any relationship there must be a factor where you click with the other person.
Some people are very driven and their idea of discipleship is waking up at three in the morning for a systematic theology lecture. And more power to them, others need something closer to a mentor who listens, guides, and directs. I have seen many people get burnt out from a rigorous method when what they needed was their affections stirred and interests peaked. And I have seen A type personalities wither under a more relaxed form of teaching. Success is not guaranteed just because a young guy found an older Christian man who was willing to teach them. Friendship is even trickier.
In my current mens group things are tough. We have proximity. We lack a cohesive interest. We are brought together by the gospel, our church, our conservatism, and… that is about it. These are not issues that are binding in a way that builds friendships. On these three issues we are similar in thought so after a few years now we have very little to add that is not simply preaching to the choir. We lack the stuff that friendship is made of, that moment Lewis speaks of, “you too? I thought I was the only one!” We were thrown together by an associate pastor and despite his best effort to create a culturally diverse group (more of which below) has ended up being the most vanilla mens group since four Mormon men decided Salt Lake seemed like a nice place to settle down. Friendship requires more than being thrown together. Friendship may arise but it is not guaranteed.
It has been lamented increasingly that the western evangelical church has a lack of male friendships. And we have been puzzling over this for some time. From my perch the culprits are pretty plain to see but start pointing them out and you start to get that nervous feeling Arius should have had right before Nicholas clenched his fist. Since my nose has already been broken from a melee incident in my youth I will proceed.
The decline of male friendships can be attributed but not limited to the following: Legalism, the feminization of the church, and recently diversity requirements. Any time that Pharisaism or requirements are applied to that which God has given and designed to naturally occur the good he intended withers and dies. Men gather and build friendships in ways that a fallen world increasingly hates. Male friendship,among christians, is spiritual warfare. Why else have we substituted it for, “accountability partners” which has proven to be such a roaring success against porn usage…
Men need to lead the church and that is done in, to borrow from Tolkien, A Fellowship. It has become popular to speak of families as little platoons. Why should we not see mens groups as such. It almost seems obvious. And as mentioned above the church is feeling this loss. The problem is we are not willing to sacrifice our sacred cows to achieve something that would actually be good for us. When men gather as they are driven to do under natural circumstances it is poo poohed. Either because of the fear from a boatload of Vikings*, the thought of real masculinity being antithetical to a soft western mindset, or simply because an infantilizing view of men reduces their friendship needs to the assumption that gathering with light supervision will do nicely.
There is one and one only who can preordain friendships.
In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” – C.S. Lewis – The Four Loves
All that churches or wives can do is try and stack kindling. Too often though when the sparks begin to fly they are tamped down because coals in the grate are more controlled than a roaring bonfire in the field. I mentioned in an Impromptu how I have been blessed with such bonfires of friendships. These can only fit Lewis formulation of the Grand Master of the Ceremonies because outside of that there is no reason any one of us should have had the moment of, “You too? I thought I was the only one.” Yet I must confess, these friendship started and have grown quite outside of my church. And they have been crackling along merrily in large part do to the complete and total lack of interference from my wife. My wonderful N knows that our marriage is stronger because there are strong men deeply involved in my life. They don’t fight for me, they fight for my marriage. It is why they stood next to me when I covenanted with God to marry that woman. This is the end result of male friendship.
Therefore, if friendships are preordained by God what then, if I may stretch the words of Paul in 2 Timothy, “fans the flames of the gift of God.” I think Lewis termed it best as clubableness, today it is, somewhat sterilely, referred to as a third place. It is the idea of a location were friends may gather, but for men more so, a place where they gather on their own terms. First place is the home, second is work. And while those are places where friendship may operate occasionally, both come with some form of supervision (eg, spouse, boss). A third place is untethered, clubs, pubs, cigar lounges, sport venues, cabins, hunting blinds, fishing shacks or in the example of my master Lewis personal rooms at the college.
What is ironic to me is how often I hear pastors get on the case of men to make room in the schedule and budget for their wives to have third places (“Get coffee with the girls” as Matt Chandler has often put is). But I have never heard a pastor tell wives to make sure there is room in the budget and schedule for the husbands to get pints with the lads.
The Friendless American Male
In addition to the general need for third places it is high time that the infantilizing treatment given to men by wives and theologians in general be rebuked. That sort of eye rolling, boys will be boys, I let him have his man cave, nonsense. Doug Wilson has pointed out many times that women are, by nature institutionally friendly. Godly women encourage and exhort one another in calm and often expedient ways. Every school administrator is perfectly happy with a typical christian woman’s correction of another, it involves a conversation and sharing of feelings, it is more than likely to remain contained. Godly young men might communicate a Biblical correction to another with a punch to the back of the head and derogatory comment about his lineage. Yet that may be the best way to get through a thick skull the message of a sin being committed and repentance being required. Yet what institution wants physical altercations taking place in its hallowed halls, no matter how glorifying to god the scuffles are? This principal extends to male friendships. Men make friends slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, and to viewers it merely looks like a waste of time. Wives can start to think of all the other things she would rather have him be doing. Pastors can assume that if these two can shoot the breeze over those corrupting beers they can do the same and get the church nursery repainted while they are at it. Or in observance of more boisterous times it may appear that things have gotten out of hand and really should be reigned in, indoor voices please. Yet these are the ties that bind and interference creates what is lamented as The Friendless American Male.
Everyone sees the crises, but no one likes or wants to act on the solution. Men hate churches because they are run by Mr. Collins’ and Lady Catherine de Bourgh’. Why would they want to be in a place that constantly talks down to and supervises them as if they were a child? I have lost track of how many times I have attended a mens function that was an excuse to try and knock men down. I am nearing the end of my rope with meeting with another Christian man and just as we start to begin where the first buds of friendship begin to form, his wife pops out to send him to bed, hint at my departure by a pointed clean up, or worse, come supervise us with what she thinks is a needed topic change. Ironically I talk to those same pastors or hear from those same wives how they can’t figure out why these men aren’t more involved in the church or have friends.
The real solution lies with the men. First pastors need to recognize their own masculinity and stop indulging the velvet veto. Men should be treated with respect from the pulpit. They should be called up not put down. And Godly men need to take back what is theirs. That spine God has given should be used. The foundation is Knowing God and aligning the will of the man with God’s. If he truly is Gods man he will lead and pursue friendships that he needs. The gears will jam when a wife who is used to having her way finds her will overridden. And before we go further it should be noted that male friendship is not something that she is allowing him to try until her patience runs out. If a man is called to confess and repent for not living with his wife in an understanding way she the church should be equally prepared to call her to confess and repent of nagging, disrespect, and subversion. Men pursuing friendship will not fit into comfortable institutionalized boundaries such as prayer breakfasts, conferences, and politely moderated Bible Studies. This is not a bad thing, but it is a necessary thing. The medicine may be unpleasant to our sensitive tastes but the health that will come is much to be desired.
*There is a genuine fear to be had here. Sadly the escapades cataloged by Michael Kimmel in Guyland are a result of boys who have had no discipline to make them into men. They are idiots who have discovered mens tools for friendship and abused them as toys.