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Manhood and Leadership: Kicking Fear in the Face

Sometimes a church message convicts. And then other times, it takes a handful of your chest hair, rips it out, and says "you're welcome."

This last Sunday, the message at my home church, Lifechurch Livonia, was on overcoming fear (watch the full message or download the podcast on iTunes). We looked at the story of a man named Joshua. You might not be familiar with him, but you have probably heard of his predecessor, Moses. After Moses died, Joshua was responsible for leading the people of Israel into their new land. How the heck do you follow Moses?? That sounds terrifying!

While listening to this sermon, I could see myself in Joshua's position. I didn't realize how scared I was of assuming the responsibility of leadership. Sure, as Drew Dudley talks about in his TED talk, we can embrace the role of every-day leadership and make a difference in the world one small moment at a time. But I'm talking about something different. I'm talking about leaving behind this "I'm in a career transition" phase and stepping into a "I'm financially responsible for my family" and "It's time to increase your capacity to make a difference in the world" phase. Once I complete grad school, I don't get to settle for side kick status. Like Joshua, it now becomes my turn to step up and accept my responsibilities as a man and leader. And like Joshua, I'm scared.

What Makes A Real Man?

People everywhere wrestle with this question, either because they want to be one, or because they are looking for one. And the answers are as diverse as the people asking the question. A REAL man is strong and tough. He has a good job and drives a nice car. He may or may not eat rare steaks. He probably visits northern Michigan during hunting season (he earns extra man points for hunting with only a pocket knife). And most importantly, a REAL man can watch the ending of the movie Armageddon and not cry (Crap, I guess I've been failing since 1999).

So, what does a real man look like? Whether we are 20 or 60, this question is far too important not to have an answer for.

First, lets start with what author Brennan Manning calls, "The Imposter." While he's not directly talking about manhood, the idea of wearing a mask, or false self, definitely applies to our search for manhood. "The imposter demands to be noticed. His craving for compliments energizes his futile quest for carnal satisfaction."

For years, I had no idea what it took to be a "real man." So instead, my imposter took the lead, trying to "fake it till I make it." I watched a TON of sports, 'cause that's what men do, right? I had season tickets to Tigers games, played in multiple fantasy football leagues. I was a math nerd growing up, so naturally I could rattle off ridiculous stats that no one needs to occupy precious brain space with (this might explain why I can't remember normal, practical things - the hard drive space is full!)

I was a man, so naturally, I needed to learn how to enjoy beer. Fruity drinks? Nope. Men don't drink those. But they do buy them for the ladies at the bar. No money? No problem. Just charge it. 'Cause a man needs to buy drinks for people. Did you know that the #1 indicator of a successful dating and/or marriage relationship is the amount of drinks you purchased for the person...

One crucial factor of manhood is the size of a man's TV. So, I went out and "bought" a 50" TV. I put this in quotations because all I did was open up a credit card to pay the $3,000 bill. Missing a few payments quickly turned this $3,000 purchase into a $5,000 purchase. But I'm a man, and men buy things they can't afford to affirm their manhood.

Most importantly, a man needs a nice car to impress the women. After all, they don't see through that, right? Cause I'm a man. So, as a perk of working at a dealership, I drove a loaded up Hummer for a few years. "Hey girl, how about I come pick you up in my sweet off-road vehicle? What do you mean I seem to be overcompensating? Can't you see that this vehicle clearly makes me a man?"

I had quite a few of the manhood essentials in place. The TV, the big off-road vehicle, the girls, the sports. Yet inside, I was a scared little boy trapped inside an adult body.

Pursuing Authentic Manhood

Since 2008, I've been on a journey of transformation, discovering what it looks like to become a real man. I've been fortunate to have several mentors invest in me and help me develop my character.

Last fall, myself and several men went through a 24 week program called Men's Fraternity (learn more about that program). Every Tuesday morning at 6am, we got together to learn and discuss what it means to be a real man. We talked about our past wounds and how they've affected us. We talked about the ideal men and husbands we strive to be. We looked at some examples of manhood found in the Bible (both positive AND negative). And we set goals on how we wanted to live this out.

At the end of the program, we summarized that:

1. A real man rejects passivity: He doesn't hide or shrink back when challenged. He rises to the challenge, demonstrates strength of character, and engages with those around him - his wife, children, friends, family.

2. A real man accepts responsibility: He doesn't make excuses or blame others for mistakes or failures. He takes ownership.

3. A real man leads courageously: He fights through his fear and makes sacrifices for the benefit of his family and those around him. He leads, both with words and actions.

4. A real man expects a greater reward: He doesn't make short sighted decisions based on instant gratification or short-term gain. He sees the eternal perspective of the decisions he makes, and thinks long-term about his family legacy.

At the end of the 24 weeks, we made a commitment as men to live this out. But we felt that it was important not just to make this pledge to each other, but to our wives. Each of the men at my table are young husbands. What better way to start living this out than to stand up and share this commitment before our wives, the other men, and our pastor.

Watching these men stand and be vulnerable in front of our wives and each other was one of the most powerful displays of manhood I've ever witnessed. You think that we could keep it together. After all, we are men - strong, brave, tough. But put us in front of our wives and peers and ask us to share our feelings and make a commitment to living as Godly men? You'd think we were about to tight rope walk across the Grand Canyon or something!

Thats the moment when the scared little boy inside of us begins to rise up. It begins to whisper, "You can't do this. There's no way you can live up to this commitment you're making. You might as well not even say this, because YOU WILL FAIL." At that moment, I watched each of the men make the choice to fight through that fear, look their wives in the eyes, and press forward with their commitment.

And I couldn't have been more proud.

Time To Take The Lead

So I come back to the story of Joshua. He was afraid. But you can see throughout his story that he lived out this definition of manhood. He could have easily shrunk back, overwhelmed with the responsibility of leadership. Instead, he rejected passivity, choosing instead to trust God and accepted the responsibility of leading God's people into their new land. He fought courageously, both physically and mentally, by trusting God's words to him:

"I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail or abandon you."

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go."

Now, like Joshua, I get to choose to reject passivity, accept responsibility, lead courageously, and expect a greater reward. I don't have to shrink back from the responsibility of leadership. I can stand strong and courageous knowing that I am not alone on this journey.

Will you join me?

Join The Conversation

Are you on a journey to discover what it means to be a real man? Have you wrestled with this question? Or has your life been impacted by man on this journey?

Share your comments below, or contact me on Twitter @Rick Guttersohn

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