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How to lead young men
“Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” Titus 2:6–8
The decisions that young Christian men make will ultimately lead to either much fruit or much destruction. The first step toward fruitfulness in a young man’s life is that he needs to realize that he is not meant to live life for himself, but for God. Bringing young men to that place needs to be a priority in church, especially when the world preaches the opposite message. Here are some insights on how to lead young men toward being selfless lovers of God (Eph. 5:1–2).
1. You have to care
Here is an important truth I’ve learned: If a young man truly believes that you care more about him personally than about what he does for you, he will go into battle with you. On the the flip side, if he think you mostly care about what he does for you, then you will lose him, it is just a matter of when.
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thess. 2:8
Young men are not as tough as they would like to appear. They are starving for affirmation from men they respect. This could be rooted in a unloving or absent father, or in that they simply don’t know how to grow up without guidance. And if you don’t actually care, pray that you will. You can’t fake it, and if you are faking it, you are probably doing more harm than good and should not be leading (Phil. 2:3–5; John 13:34).
2. Invite them into your life
If you want to make an impact on a young man, don’t just have a “work relationship.” Invite them into your life to show them you value them, while demonstrating what the next stage of life looks like: how you love your wife, how you love your kids, how you bring faith into the home. These are life-changing lessons, especially for those who have never seen it before. Modeling is very important, many of them had poor models, so model at every opportunity.
Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12
3. Demonstrate repentance
If you are a man worth following, you got there through repentance, which is simply saying to God, “You were right, I was wrong. Your ways lead to life, and my ways to destruction. Thank you for forgiving me, reconciling with me, and saving me from myself” (Is. 55:8–9; Prov. 14:12).
There was a time in my life as a single guy that it became clear to me that everything in my life was in some way always about me. Growth and maturity only started to come as I repented of my selfishness and recognized that God’s call on my life was to put others first. I still have to constantly repent of this and have a long way to go.
Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Sharing these kinds of things with those you lead goes a long way. Young men will start to follow you because of where you currently are, but they will continue to follow you by you humbly demonstrating how you got there, i.e. through constant repentance. Transformation begins by acknowledging that Christ is on the throne, and you are not, and acknowledging God’s way over your own, but it is not a singular event, it is lifestyle of repentance. This is not common in leadership today; it will likely distinguish you from every other leader they’ve known, an utterly unique and a tangible demonstration of being a secure enough person to humbly repent, which is what they want in their insecurity.
It will not be encouraging for them to think you are faultless as they wrestle through their sin. Foster a “we are all in this together” mindset among your team, and be patient, so they won’t be afraid to share their fears and fails.
4. Call them to a purpose, but not their purpose
Every guy wants to be something special, a hero, a man among men. In my experience, I have noticed a similar pattern when young men set out on their own.
First, they pursue happiness, pleasure, and fun. Often this leads to partying, adventure, or a lazy pursuit of comfort in things like video games. When that dries out, they pursue meaning, usually in relationships, achievements, or causes. They let the meaning of their life rest on people and situations that will ultimately fail them.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
2 Timothy 2:22
The point is, man’s purposes are vapid, shallow, and fleeting (Ps. 39:5; Prov. 16:2) Often times leaving a lot of destruction in their wake (1 Tim. 6:9). Man was made for the purposes of God, and this desire is etched in our souls (Gen. 1:26–28). In the words of Pink Floyd, man would rather have a walk-on part in a war than a lead role in a cage. The war is the story of the kingdom of God, from creation to new creation, and it requires sacrifice for God’s glory, not ambition for our own. Invite them into the bigger story of God reconciling all things to himself (Eph. 1:7–10; 2 Cor. 5:11–21).
5. Expect a lot, and don’t apologize for it
Young men need to be challenged, not coddled. They respond to conviction, and desire the same fire in the gut as the men they choose to follow. Call them up to be the men they hoped they would magically turn into. Moreover, call them to be the men whom God created them to be (1 Cor. 16:13–14).
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:13–14
God gave the law to show men their need for a Savior, and clear the way for grace (Rom. 3:20–24). In the same way, when men are stretched, the result is every idol that is in front of Christ is exposed, creating opportunities gracious correction by walking them through what it looks like to repent, fight pride and selfishness, and remember that Christ is on the throne, they are not (Ecc. 5:2). These are lessons they will take with them their entire life, especially as they transition into marriage and fatherhood.
6. Live in the light
Living a double life is exhausting. There is a better way, living in the light and embracing the gift of repentance that leads to joy, freedom, and connection with God and his people (Acts 11:18). That is a pattern that needs to be established in the life of every young man.
While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.
When sin in brought into the light, it is disarmed (John 3:19–21). Kept in the dark, it is powerful. If you are leading a young man, establish early that secrets are the enemy of growth and have no place in this relationship (John 1:5–10; Eph. 5:8–14).
7. Don’t sugarcoat
Young men want a straight answer with conviction. In this day and age, there is more information and ideas than ever before. Young men are being assailed by the world trying to “sell” them some idea of truth that appeals to their innate selfishness. Advertising, marketing, politics, and culture all promoting worldviews that teach men that they deserve what their flesh desires. The truth unfiltered cuts through the noise for those whom God wants to hear it (Is. 55:11).
Call sin sin. Call lies lies. Call lust lust. Call repentance repentance. Most importantly, paint a vivid picture of the magnitude of God’s love and grace, and an accurate picture of the frailty of man.
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
Additionally, always ask direct questions that require direct answers: “When is the last time you looked at porn?” “Did you touch your girlfriend inappropriately?” “Where is your money going?” “How much did you have to drink?” Catch them of guard if possible, which usually results in a more truthful answer or transparent lie. This isn’t to berate them or humiliate them, but without honesty there can’t be real, transformative repentance. If they aren’t transparent, you can keep pushing, but when they respond repentantly with conviction, give them grace and remind them what Jesus has done for them.
8. Be someone worth following
First, a caveat: No one is ever worth following all the time. We are all sinners saved by grace (Eph. 2:1–10). Lead from a place of transparency and as already noted in #3, and model repentance. Often.
I heard of a study once that men decide in the first 90 seconds on whether or not they will attend a church based upon if they see the pastor as a man worth following. This is particularly true for young men. If they do not see you as someone they respect and admire, it doesn’t really matter what you say. To some degree, they need to see in you what they want to aspire to, or simply what kind of person they want to be.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
To start, young men often gravitate toward the superficial, everything from how you dress, how you carry yourself, your family, your interests, and your “gravitas.” Don’t overemphasize these outward qualities—but more importantly, don’t ignore the fact that those will open some doors.
What ultimately matters is to be a man of character, conviction, love for God, and an unwavering identity rooted in Christ. If you reflect God well as his image, a young man will see that.
In leadership, there always has to be a err of “I want to be like him.” Then you point them toward the him that is Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
The church desperately needs more Godly older men pouring into younger men. It is unbelievable how many young men have never guided by a man with a life worth emulating. If you are a man worth following, it means someone has already poured into you, been patient with you, served you, and now it’s time for you to do likewise just like Jesus has done for you. If you are a man worth following, it will be evident to others, your growth will not have happened in a vacuum. If you are a man worth following, please pray that God would use you to impact legacies.
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:2–5