The idea of pouring into younger disciples was engrained in me from the very beginning of my Christian life. But in the last two decades, I have seen more specifically the need to focus on training men.
Every follower of Christ, should be taught to obey everything Christ has commanded. Yet God places a special burden of leadership on men, and there is no better way for men to be prepared to shoulder that burden than in the context of a committed mentoring relationship with a godly man in a local church.
Our context: Widespread gender confusion
There is a systematic, Satanic attack on the very concept of gender, and with it, gender-based roles at home and in all society. Leaders in the church need to be very aware of the nature and seriousness of this attack and rise up to meet the challenge with good, biblical ministry to both men and women.
Because of this, boys don’t enter the world knowing how to be godly men; they have to be trained into it. Of course, the primary training role for that formation should be the boy’s father. He is to disciple his son every day in the Word of the Lord and in the pattern of godly living.
But while godly fathers are by far the best disciplers of young men into Christ-like manhood, spiritual fathers can play a vital role as well. This is where a mentor, a pastor, or a discipler can step in and take the young man beyond where his father has left off. In a day of rampant absenteeism among biological fathers, the next generation of spiritual leaders is yearning for godly men to step up and serve as an adoptive spiritual father.
A few basic principles in discipling young men
1) Conform them to the “two patterns.”
The New Testament reveals two “patterns” of discipleship to which every disciple must conform: the pattern of sound teaching (2 Timothy 1:13) and the pattern of godly living (Philippians 3:16). There must be a doctrinal/biblical/bookish side as well as a “life on life,” role-modeling side.
According to the first pattern, we must saturate men’s hearts in scripture and in sound theology. Use the classics from church history: Calvin’s Institutes, the writings of the Puritans, the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and so forth.
The second “pattern” (example of godly living) is worth an extra comment when it comes to manhood. Young men may very well never have seen a godly husband love his wife as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25), or a godly father bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). It would be excellent to have a disciple regularly observing the home life of his mentor, because some things cannot be learned but by example. This is why Paul says, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
When it comes to church leadership, opportunities for this abound:
allow them to watch you meet with a grieving family as you prepare a funeral;
take them with you to conferences at which you may be speaking;
have them with you when writing your sermon;
spend time with them on your knees in praying through the church directory;
take them with you to the hospital;
lead them in outreach activities in the community.
In order to shape the hearts and lives of future leaders, these two patterns must be employed.
2) Impart a vision of godly leadership.
Make this vision of leadership plain: God is raising up men to lead at home and in the church. In both the Old and New Testaments, God establishes men to lead his people in every generation, and that should be a clear goal of your discipleship relationship.
In the context of discipling relationship, your goal is to help a younger brother understand that the church needs wise leaders who will teach sound doctrine and shepherd Christ’s flock in humility and strength (Acts 20:17-38; 1 Peter 5:1-4). God may be raising him up, preparing him to be a part of a godly group of elders who will lead the church. And this leadership must be along biblical lines if we are to achieve the Great Commission Christ entrusted to us.
Finally, a young man should understand that you expect him to be doing this same type of discipling of young men when he is “fully trained” (Luke 6:40).
3) Warn about the two failure modes of male leaders: tyranny and abdication.
Some husbands and church leaders embrace their role as leaders with an ungodly ambition. They make tyrannical decisions that ruin the lives of their families and churches. Such men are abusive, and the people they lead do not flourish under their leadership.
To combat this failure, we must teach young men the principles of servant leadership that Jesus espoused in Matthew 20:25-28. Leaders serve the people they lead, and we must display that.
On the other hand, the far more common error for men is abdication. Adam was put in the Garden of Eden “to serve and protect it” (literal translation of Genesis 2:15). “Protect” implies an encroaching evil, and that manifested itself in Satan’s treacherous attack on the mind of Adam’s wife in the very next chapter. Eve did all the talking. Adam, “who was with her” (Gen 3:6), stood there and did nothing. Far more husbands and fathers, and possible church leaders, abdicate their responsibilities than use their position as tyrants.
Therefore, we must teach young men to step up to embrace the role of leadership with courage and humility. Again, your own role modeling of this cheerful willingness to lead in the pattern of Christ is vital. The young men need to see you leading both at home and in the church, neither as a tyrant, nor as a coward. Your own hospitality plays a critical role in this: have them over frequently to watch your patterns of gentle leadership with your children and the loving way you encourage your wife.
4) Engender godly ambition based on 1 Timothy 3:1.
Paul says, “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a good thing.” This is a godly ambition for the future, and every young man in the church should have it. Even if God does not bless the man with the gift of teaching necessary to the office, the rest of the attributes listed in 1 Timothy 3:2-4 are common to all Christian men: above reproach, husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, managing his family (children) well.
These virtues provide a roadmap for discipling young men. And even if they don’t show themselves as gifted teachers, they can still receive the same training as other future elders, because that doctrinal instruction will serve them well as future husbands and fathers.
So, a mature mentor should wisely implant a burning coal of godly ambition to be a future elder in the young man’s heart, and then fan it into flame as a central goal of his discipleship.
5) Give them opportunities to serve, then evaluate their service.
The discipler should constantly seek specific ministry tasks he can entrust to his disciple, appropriate to his level of development. That might involve opportunities to teach, evangelize, lead prayer meetings, do menial support tasks, plan events or run the audio-visual booth.
Perhaps you can entrust a man with a Wednesday night Bible study, and then take notes on how he did. In general you want to give gentle and loving feedback.
Or allow a man to organize a summer outreach event. He can research what other churches have done to connect with lost people, and let him come up with an idea, organize and run it. Then evaluate the event, emphasizing the positive aspects, but giving clear guidance on ways to grow.
When evaluating performance, it’s vital for the mentor to be super-encouraging as a rule. The disciple truly yearns for the approval of his “spiritual father.” And so consistent words of love and admiration (like Paul does for Timothy) are essential to the relationship. Having said that, good, specific and constructive criticism is also required.
6) Challenge them to memorize Scripture.
No discipline has been more helpful in the process of my spiritual maturity than the memorization of extended portions of scripture. This commitment is quite doable, and will pay back huge interest for the investment made.
Scripture memorization will help a young man in his own personal walk with Christ, in his evangelism, in his (present or future) marriage and parenting, and in his ministry of the Word. This has been a central pillar of my discipleship of young men for decades.
7) Identify a “pipeline” of future leaders in your local church.
Be watching some men who may have the requisite characteristics to be a future disciple: faithful, available, teachable. A healthy local church will have an ongoing pattern of discipling young men as future husbands, fathers and church leaders.
8) Pray daily for their growth.
Follow the patterns of the apostle Paul in praying for spiritual development in your disciples. Pray Ephesians 1:15-19 and 3:14-21 for them. Pray Philippians 1:9-11 and Colossians 1:9-14 as well. Let your disciples hear you praying these things for them, and encourage them to pray them for you as well.
A sweetly rewarding ministry
Discipling eager young men for future leadership in the home and the church is one of the most sweetly rewarding aspects of ministry that I’ve ever encountered. May God richly bless your efforts as you pour into the next generation of leaders of the glorious church of Jesus Christ!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Davis is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina.)