Training for Godliness: Why Telling Men to “Step Up” Without Proficient Training Sets Them Up For Failure.

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“All you gotta do is…”

Don’t we love heroes? In the darkest hour, they shine bright. The history books praise their valor and we shower them with medals and gifts. They “stepped up”.

I can remember one of my high-school football coaches railing on during a halftime pep-talk shouting, “Who is gonna be the hero?” (Because someone needed to single-handedly bring us back from a 30 point deficit.)  Meaning, step up! It’s that simple! Right? “All you gotta do is, be better at something you’ve never done!”

As a men’s group leader, I can remember having the same tone. “You know guys, some of you just need to step up in your families, your jobs, and your churches.” We would watch a video from any men’s devotional series you can think of, and I would spend weeks describing what “stepping up” to the preverbal “life plate” looked like. The message of every video host implied the same message as my football coach, “You guys need to do a better job at things you’ve never been trained to do.”

It would be foolish to tell a toddler, “You just need to walk better and you won’t fall!”  They are completely incapable of physically making their legs work more efficiently. When the modern church calls for men to “step up” we need to be able to precisely define that idea, and recognize that we are responsible for providing the training and equipping they need. It’s heart breaking when beloved brothers in Christ, in a defeated tone tell you, “I can’t lead my wife Biblically. No one has taught me how to use the Bible.” They are trying to walk without the spiritual structure to know how.

Asking men to do things that only God has the power to do will only frustrate, stigmatize, and ultimately discourage true spiritual growth. Encouraging men with the tools and training to align themselves with what God is doing in them will bring their spirit peace, courage, and they will be able to achieve the daily victories so many of us need.

“My Training Took Over.”

I’ve listened to multiple accounts of men who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. They all had multiple character qualities in common. What was striking in each of their testimonies was that in the moment they are now revered for, all of them at some point said, “My training took over.”

This is a sticky scenario. How much of the blame is on a person’s unwillingness to learn? How much is the fault of the local church? It’s case-specific. One man may be a decades old Christian trying everything he can to step up in his respective life arenas, but he’s doing it completely un-biblically. Another, much younger in the faith, may be a new believer and gave up a long time ago on leadership. We need to understand that regardless of who is to blame, both of these men are simply utilizing their existing training to try to work through their respective scenarios.

The principle is simple. If our response to a challenge is to rely to our training, then the quality of our training must be competent enough to rely on. In other words, no one is “stepping up” on anything if there is nothing under him to hold him up. Men in churches need systematic, well-designed, well communicated learning and application opportunities. If churches need Elders, we need to be training elders from scripture about proficient governing and spiritual care. If we want deacons, we need to be training deacons in Biblical pattern of service. This gives those men the tools they need to serve well.

We’ve Made This Bed, But We Don’t Have to Sleep In It.

If we are to train men who are, “Equipped for every good work.” doesn’t it make sense to align our own methods with the methods of God? I believe that a church, because it is the bride of Christ, has the means necessary to train men in a way that prepares them for being a proficient leader in his home, his job, and his church. We don’t have to create a generation of people in the church looking around trying to figure out who the leaders are.

It begins with familiarizing ourselves on how God saves and sanctifies a Christian. Look closely at scripture’s teaching on sanctification, and you will find a dually aligned process. God, by way of the Holy Spirit, begins to shape and knead the individual more into the image of Christ. As this is taking place, the Christian works, by way of the spiritual disciplines, to reach for the same godliness that God is shaping them toward.

Once this is affirmed, the church can design the training necessary to reach across generations. Boys as young as three or four demonstrate leadership qualities that need shaping and encouraging. Senior adult men need continuous instruction and accountability as well.

The Blessing of Repentance

I’m sure it’s not the intent of people using the phrase, but I’m afraid the message that is implied through the catch phrase, “step up” is one of complete self-reliance. It’s like my football coach saying, “Who’s going to be the hero?” while failing to establish a winning game strategy. There’s no power in it. I may have the will-power to read my Bible cover to cover in a year. But without God’s spirit opening my eyes to my need, and revealing the truth of it to me, it’s little more than another good read on my book shelf.

In one of his lectures, Charles Spurgeon reminded his students that the Christian life is a continual process of repentance and faith. This same principle can be applied to the church and her practices. If churches desire men who are not only willing to lead, but are equipped to lead for a lifetime, they need to repent from an unintentional pattern of unbiblical, or non-existent, training. This is especially true for the Biblically mandated offices of Elder and Deacon.

When God’s people turn to his way, He will honor it. It will prosper. He will be glorified.


What are your thoughts? Have you been told to “step-up” without being told how? Leave a comment!



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