Brian Tome: From Boys to Men—Part 1

Brian Tome is the lead pastor of Crossroads Church (No. 3 fastest-growing and No. 3 largest in the 2018 Outreach 100)  in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the author of 5 Marks of a Man (Baker) and the upcoming Move, the Man Devotional (Fedd, Dec. 2019). Brian is an outdoorsman, adventure motorcyclist, and his annual Man Camp weekends have drawn more than 15,000 men in the last four years. We caught up with Brian to discuss the defining characteristics of a man, how his church is getting men engaged and how your church can equip men to be all that God created them to be.

So when did you get interested in the topic of men in the church?

I got interested when my son was born. I realized that there’s an incredible responsibility to bring up a son, because you’re raising a potentially lethal entity; an entity that can do more damage than a female can do damage. And we’re seeing men do damage all over the place.

I also realized at that time that I had done a lot of damage in my life when I was 15 to 16 years old—now I know that I was trying to prove that I was a man. And it’s a really bad thing when you have a male who tries to prove they’re a man—destructive things happen.

So that set me on a journey to try to get my son in a different place than I was. Concurrently, I was seeing how the church is increasingly ill-equipped to speak to men, to reach men and to develop men.

All that stuff just kind of came together and turned into a bit of a life message for me.

You touched on it a little bit. There’s an elephant in the room. How do you encourage men to be men in the age of “toxic masculinity”?

Well, there are five marks of what a man is. There are five things that separate the men from the boys. I’m not interested in the differentiation between men and women, but the differentiation between men and boys.

And one thing that sets men apart is holding a minority position. If you’re going to be a man in our culture, you’re going to be odd. You’re going to be in the minority. You’re going to believe things that the rest of culture doesn’t believe. You’re going to do things the rest of culture doesn’t do. You’re going to vote for people—I don’t remember the last person I voted for who won, because my values are just not in line with where popular culture is.

And this is part of why we don’t have a lot of men in our culture. We’re norming out becoming average instead of rising above it.

Walk me through those five marks, and why you believe those are the particular marks of men.

We see all five of the marks in every Bible hero, and if people think about a male that they respect, a man who’s had an impact on them, I promise you all five of these will be in that person’s life.

I’ve given this information to hundreds of thousands of people, and I’ve never had anyone come up to me and say, Hey you forgot this; you forgot that. And I’d also say that this is spiritually agnostic material. You can be a Christian and be a boy. You can be a 45-year-old male who attends church and memorizes Bible verses, and be a boy. You can be a 15-year-old atheist, and you can be a man. I wish that weren’t the case. That’s one of the things in my findings that was kind of surprising to me.

It’s a code that all ancient people and all tribal cultures, whatever their religious persuasion, understood and lived by.

So one (which I mentioned earlier) is a man takes a minority position (while a boy goes with the majority). You’re going to be a bit different.

Another mark is that a man has a vision, and a boy lives day-to-day. Boys wake up every day and they want to have a comfortable day. They want to have an easy day. They want life to be happy. A man wakes up every day and he’s got a larger thing he’s working toward that’s going to take time, and it’s going to take pain. There’s a distance between what we have right now and the vision of what we have in the future. And a man’s able to work toward that, whether that’s a larger church, a degree, getting out of debt, a marriage—whatever it is there’s a vision.

Another one is that a man is a team player, and a boy wants to be MVP. So boys just want everything to revolve around them. A man understands I’ve got to be with other people. This is why young males are getting married later and later or they’re not getting married at all, because we don’t see marriage as the ultimate team. Because we’re not team players. We’d rather just kind of play the field. So being a team player is a huge deal for being a man.

Another one is that a boy is a predator, and a man is a protector. So boys take, take, take. Whatever they see they want, especially when it comes to being gratified. And the #MeToo movement basically has come out of boys being predators, where men are protectors.

When a potential boyfriend comes over to date my daughter, I’ve got to protect her. I’ve got to sit down, and I’ve got to talk to the guy: “What do you plan on doing with my daughter?”

I want to have savings because I want to protect people in my life who might fall on hard times and I can backstop them. We should be tithing to our churches. Men tithe to their churches because they want to protect their church. We just think this way. It’s the way we are. We’re protectors.

And the last one is a man works and a boy plays. Boys wake up every day and they just want to have fun that day. The old band Loverboy had that song, everybody’s “Working for the Weekend.” That’s exactly what a boy thinks: I want the weekend. Right? Whereas a man works. I’m 54 years old and I’m ashamed that at one point I thought, Man, it’d be great to retire at 55. I can’t imagine retiring at 55 years old; that’d been a wasted life. Men add value no matter what age they’re at. So, there’s the five marks.

What role do you think women play in encouraging men to be men?

I think it’s great for women to understand that the guy in your life, whether it’s your son, or whether it’s your husband, or whoever, is going to be a little different. And that’s good. It’s OK. I tell my wife regularly:

“I’m sorry. I can’t be one of your girlfriends. I’m not going to empathize with you as well as they do. There’s a bunch of things you’re not going to be able to get from me that you can get from them. And I’ll try to improve in some of those areas—I need to—but I’m a different breed than you’re expecting.”

And if we can have women give a bit of empathy and patience to the men in their lives as they try to grow and nail these marks, I think it would be a good thing.

In Part 2 of the interview, Brian Tome talks about what his church has done to engage men, the role of one-on-one discipleship in the lives of men, and the fruit he’s seen from men embracing their identity in Christ.

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Jonathan Sprowl
Jonathan Sprowl

Jonathan Sprowl is co-editor of Outreach magazine.