From Retired to Hired: How to Keep Growing as a Disciple
At 55, I’ve spent my entire life learning in church. The danger is if we define discipleship only as intellectual learning, many of us feel spiritually retired. Discipleship goes much deeper, and there’s one role only mature men can play: the role of spiritual fathers.
By Brett Clemmer
President & CEO
I am grateful that I can say I had a fantastic father. Although he had a successful career in the financial industry, he taught me how to follow Christ. But he also made sure that I had other godly men investing in me as well. And I carried that on with my son, Jackson.
Several years ago, when Jackson was a high school senior, I was thinking about ways we could celebrate his birthday. I asked him if he would like to invite over some of the men who had made an impact on his life for a backyard BBQ and campfire.
He gave me a list, and seven guys joined us. From our church, there was his youth pastor and our senior pastor, his small group leader, his guitar teacher, and the guy who mentored him on leading worship. One more man was on his list: his favorite teacher from school.
I had given each of them a heads up to come ready to share something with Jackson—maybe a funny story, and a piece of advice or encouragement as he was about to head off to college, independence, and manhood. As we sat around the fire after dinner, I just happened to turn to my left and ask the first guy to share, which put his teacher last.
As each guy shared, we laughed at the funny anecdotes about Jackson and nodded along with their advice. There was often a hug when a guy finished. And then we got to the end.
When it was his teacher’s turn, he couldn’t talk because he was weeping.
As he collected himself, he looked at the men gathered and then at my son and said, “Jackson, now I understand why you are the young man you are.” Then he paused and said, “I never had that.” And he repeated it several times. “I never had that. I never had that.”
His story isn’t unique. Every day we hear from men who have acutely experienced the damage left by not having had someone to guide them in how to be a man—and particularly, how to be a Christian man.
For instance, one man recently wrote to us: “Thank you for your thoughts and insights on keeping our family as our first ministry—although it’s too late for me. I did eventually see the light, but only after my marriage—with two children at the center—failed because of me. Your resources and training are greatly needed by all of us men.”
One of the things we’ve learned is that the key to keeping men from having to experience the painful lessons of hindsight may very well be older, more mature men. And Man in the Mirror has a lot of these men in our audience from our years of ministry who have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share.The key to keeping men from having to experience the painful lessons of hindsight may very well be older, more mature men.Click To Tweet
Inspired to Engage
I think there are a lot of guys like me around. I’m 55 years old. I’ve been in church pretty much my whole life. It has probably been a decade since I’ve heard a sermon I haven’t already heard before. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book on Christian living or been in a small group study that’s given me some brand new insight.
Here’s the potential problem: if I define discipleship only as things I can learn intellectually, well then, I’m done. Spiritually retired.
So how do you grow if you’ve already acquired 95% of the knowledge you’re ever going to?
You have to start giving yourself away. You have to start hanging out with men who think differently than you do and who have different experiences and perspectives. Who need what you have to offer—and vice versa.
Man in the Mirror has spent 35 years building up a giant constituency of, on average, 45- to 75-year-old men who have been consuming good spiritual food as they raise families, build careers, and are involved in their church. You may be one of those men, and we have been privileged to help you grow in your faith and work alongside you to build the Kingdom.
As we prepare for the coming year as a ministry, we want to inspire these men to engage in new ways that energize and grow them more fully into who God created them to be—lacking in nothing and equipped to disciple the generations behind them.
THE BIG IDEA: Engaging your faith in new ways will energize and grow you more fully into who God created you to be—lacking in nothing and equipped to disciple others.
The Need for Spiritual FathersIf I define discipleship only as things I can learn intellectually, well then, I’m done. Spiritually retired.Click To Tweet
From our work with men, we recognize that younger men, as they navigate some of the most critical years of their lives, are looking for older men whose character and lives are worth imitating.
Recently a pastor shared a story with us about an elder in his church. This elder was a winsome example of a godly man. Three different younger guys had recently approached and asked him to disciple them, but he had turned each one of them down.
When the pastor asked him why, he said, “I just don’t know what to do.” I have heard from many men who feel like this elder.
This is why in the coming weeks and months, we are developing a movement called “10,000 Spiritual Fathers.” This campaign is already in prototype, and we are gathering input from a few dozen “test” spiritual fathers to help us develop this initiative moving forward.
We understand the value of vibrant, relational, inter-generational discipleship and want to see it in churches, neighborhoods, and workplaces everywhere.
While younger men search for guidance from an experienced and trustworthy source, older men hunger for new adventures and ways to be used by God. Through this campaign, we hope to connect these two groups in authentic friendships, while providing them with the relational skills, spiritual depth, and resources they need in order to grow.
Our hope is that 10,000 Spiritual Fathers would be just the beginning of a powerful move of God in the lives of men.
Orphaned Elephants, Mature Bulls, and Christian Men
When I think about the potential impact, I’m reminded of a story from South Africa. Around the year 2000, rhinos started showing up dead in a national park. Upon investigation, they discovered the culprits: young, male elephants.
Twenty years earlier in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, the elephant herds had become too big. They decided they would have to kill the older elephants so that they could then re-locate the younger elephants to other parks.
Now adolescents, these orphaned elephants were out of control. The park rangers realized that with no older elephants around to model adult behavior, they had basically formed into gangs. And as the young elephants’ testosterone levels spiked, they became incredibly aggressive and violent. The rhinos paid the price.
Then rangers brought six adult bull elephants into one park. They mentored the younger elephants so that they could see what normal male behavior looked like. No more rhinos were killed once the mature bulls arrived.
Likewise, today there are young guys who need more experienced men to care enough to help them navigate some of the most pivotal years of their lives, showing them what being a mature Christian man looks like and sharing their own experiences and lessons learned.
The fact is there are too many spiritual orphans out there. And as the number increases—particularly among men in their 20s and 30s—the church’s love and concern for them should also increase, with disciples determined to go to them and build relationships.
I am fully convinced it’s not enough to just disciple the willing. We must train the willing to pursue the lost.It's not enough to just disciple the willing; we must train the willing to pursue the lost.Click To Tweet
If we want to reach and disciple every man, we must inspire men like me—and you—to meet guys where they are and offer to live life with them.
This initiative has captured my imagination with possibility, and as we prepare to launch, we hope it will capture your imagination as a participant.
In next week’s article, we’ll share the stories of two men who know the devastation that comes from living as spiritual orphans—and the incredible freedom that comes from living as spiritual fathers and sons.
Discipleship changes everything.