The Bridge Between Generations
By Brett Clemmer
In the 1980s, elephants overcrowded South Africa’s Kruger National Park. In response, the government authorized killing adult elephants and relocating their offspring to other parks. As the orphaned male elephants became teenagers, they were clueless about what “normal” male behavior looked like.
When their testosterone levels spiked, the orphaned males turned aggressive. In one park they savagely killed 36 rhinos. A park ranger watched as a young bull knocked over a rhino, trampled it, and then drove a tusk through its chest. The situation was out of control.
Then rangers brought six adult bull elephants into one park. They mentored the younger bulls so they could see what normal male behavior looked like. No more rhinos were killed once the mature bulls arrived.
The Unreachable Generation?
It’s not easy to become a man. Many young men today have grown up as practical orphans. They’ve been left to guess at what normal male behavior looks like, and young men are paying the price. Many are in chaos, struggling to figure out how to do life.
Reaching younger men in their 20s and 30s is a hot topic and much has been written about it. They grew up in a fundamentally different world than previous generations, never knowing a world without cellphones or the internet. Sometimes it can feel like a great canyon divides generations that can’t be crossed, with “Millennials” and “Gen Zs” on one side and “Boomers” on the other.
But the canyon is a myth. For many of you reading this, these young men are your children, co-workers, or neighbors—not aliens from another planet to be dissected and analyzed.
There is also a growing sense that young men can’t be reached because they don’t want to be reached, but do we really believe that young men don’t have the same dreams and aspirations of other men? Patrick Morley said it best: “Has there been a human nature ‘reboot’ in some secret corner of the cosmos? That’s ridiculous. We all want to love and be loved, to understand and be understood.”
Community of a Different Kind
In recent years, tens of millions of men have participated in fantasy sports games, and while some of these are middle-aged men, the average age is around 32. There are millions of young men spending time, energy, and passion on their fantasy teams.
I was eating lunch with a 20-year-old college student in Jacksonville a few years ago while a Cowboys-Jaguars game was on. The young man cheered a little when the Cowboys scored. “You’re a Cowboys fan?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “I’m rooting for the Jags to win, but I’ve got Tony Romo on my fantasy team.” I have to admit that inwardly, I rolled my eyes. Rooting for individual players over your favorite team was difficult for me to accept as a lifelong Patriots fan.
But as we got to talking about his Fantasy Football league, it hit me. Most of these guys weren’t watching the games alone. They were meeting with a group of other men where they’d rub shoulders together: watching sports, trash-talking, eating, and along the way, sharing about how things were going in their lives or at home with their wives and kids. They were engaging in a community around a common goal.
I remember a similar “aha moment.” We’ve all heard plenty of ranting about kids these days living in their parents’ basement, playing video games all day.
Well, my teenage nephew spends enough time playing Call of Duty that he is ranked in Call of Duty Black Ops 2—in the top five in the world.
I’ve known this young man for his whole life; he’s not some pasty-faced screen zombie with no life. He juggles being an honor student at school, playing violin in several orchestras, and playing catcher on his baseball team with his video game hobby.
His mom only gives him screen time after his homework and violin practice are done and if it doesn’t delay bedtime. Of course, that doesn’t keep him from getting up at 5:30 in the morning sometimes and slipping down to play! He told me that’s the best time to play with kids in Korea and Japan.
And that’s the key, right there. The aha moment. I walked into the basement one day where he was playing, and he was talking on a headset. He wasn’t playing video games in a dark basement in his bathrobe by himself. He was playing with a headset on, sharing his experience with kids not only from his school but from around the world! At times, they’d team up to beat other teams or the computer.
Whether it’s playing video games, texting, engaging in social media, or playing Fantasy Football, we’re all yearning for community.
It’s All About Relationships, Man
The interests and methods of communication may have changed, but the message hasn’t.
Patrick Morley recalls, “That’s what happened to me. Some men who had been discipled themselves and were walking with the Lord took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. Jim Gillean, in particular, made me his project. He gave me a vision for biblical manhood. He spent time with me. He cared. And he inspired me to turn around and disciple others. Reaching younger men is that simple.”
It takes a man to reach a man. All around us are unfathered young men who are yearning to engage in relationships that will help them become the kind of men they know in their hearts they were made to be. The key to it all is building authentic relationships with younger men.
Young men—just like older men—tend toward isolation when they have problems. The burden should fall on more mature men then to be intentional about reaching out. We, the men of the church, must actively seek young men out, engage in life with them, and show them the power of the gospel, for the glory of God.THE BIG IDEA: All around us are young men who are yearning to engage in relationships that will help them become the kind of men they know in their hearts they were made to be.Click To Tweet
Whether you’re 25 or 85, we hope you’ll join us for the next several weeks as we discuss how to disciple men under 40. In the coming weeks, we’ll explore how to cultivate “intentional spiritual friendships” with young men in the way they want and need them—and what older men bring to the table that no one else can! Subscribe today and don’t miss a post.
Portions of this post have appeared in a previous article.