Brian Tome: Challenging Men to Engage in Their Lives—Part 2

Don’t miss Part 1 of our interview, where Brian Tome discusses his passion for reaching men, the marks that set men apart from boys, and how women can help men become better men.

One of the marks of your church is that you’ve been able to attract and disciple and equip men to be whom God created them to be. What does Crossroads Church do to get men reengaged?

There’s a number of things you’ve got to be aware of. You’ve got to be aware with your stage presence. You’ve got to be aware of how masculine you are behaving on stage, or how many people are behaving masculine.

We’re in an age of diversity, which is great! We at Crossroads are very aware of how many people who aren’t white we have on stage. How many women are we having on stage? I think it’s a very, very necessary and healthy thing. I also think we need to be asking ourselves, how many people are we having on stage who are a classic man’s man? What does that look like? We’ve got to be aware of that. If we’re only having women or tender males, we’re not going to be able to speak the language of men, and men aren’t going to feel comfortable.

Another thing I would say is, Jesus was known as a great teacher, but he didn’t really spend a lot of time teaching. What he taught was amazing, but we don’t see him giving an exegetical sermon on Isaiah 6. We see him mobilizing men and women with a higher call. We see him being action-oriented. So I think with our churches, the more action-oriented we can be … we have to teach, we should teach. We’ve also gotta have things like mission trips or other things that we can mobilize people toward, that we can have people give to, that we can have people go to, that we can have people serve around.

Men want to be engaged. They don’t want to sit and just hear ideas, and they certainly don’t want to sit in a living room with a book on their lap. They want to be out engaging the world. They want to be out laughing with each other. They want to be exerting themselves. And so our churches have to be asking, What are we doing to get men actually engaged? I don’t mean engaged in our church, but I mean engaged in their life.

You’ve approached this from a couple different angles. You have your Man Camp, and then the book you just wrote called Move, which is a men’s devotional. How do you feel like those have been contributing to your vision?

Man Camp was a big, big thing—getting guys out. When someone goes to Man Camp they strip away some of their civilization. They strip away some of the patterns that they’ve adopted to cope with the stress of life. They work hard, setting up a camp. They are team players with each other. They’re getting a vision for their life. So, basically, in Man Camp, guys are tackling those five marks of a man. It’s something outside the ordinary for them.

And then I wrote that book, Move, because I realized there are a bunch of things I would say around the campfire to guys that when I would say them, their eyes would light up. There were a bunch of little one-off things I would say from the stage at Man Camp that people would go, Wow, I’ve not heard that before; I’ve not thought of it that way before. And so I tried to think through what are all those things that I’ve just sort of adopted as personal credos, that I’ve lived by for decades now, but maybe don’t make stage? Maybe they require a bit more saltiness that a campfire affords. And let’s put those out as one-off hits.

I’ve heard people say that if you can get the man of the family engaged, their family will follow. What are some of the keys to getting men not just to be attenders, but actually be engaged in the mission of your church?

Men want a challenge, and men want meaning.

If your church communicates challenge, like something that they’re going to get from you that they’re not going to get from anywhere else … I mean, these Tough Mudder things, they pop up all the time because there are men who want physical challenge and our life isn’t giving us physical challenge. Now not everybody’s going to do a Tough Mudder. I’ve never done a Tough Mudder. But we’re all wanting some sense of challenge, and most churches aren’t wired for challenge unless it’s challenging somebody to tithe. We’ve gotta ask ourselves how we’re doing that.

And then the second question we’ve got to ask is how are men feeling like they can change the world, like they can kick a dent in the problems of our culture? It’s really important for us to be able to give men those kinds of outlets, while also having models for what masculinity looks like.

That dovetails nicely with my next question. What role do you feel discipleship plays—an older man taking a younger man under his wing and showing him the ropes?

Discipleship is critical. But the discipleship that I’m seeing working is not the kind of discipleship I was taught in seminary. Discipleship that takes root with an average guy is not sitting around a breakfast table and filling in blanks to a Bible study booklet—there’s nothing wrong with that, and that can even be helpful—but the kind of discipleship that is lacking greatly is just being with another guy in relationship and while you’re in that relationship to let nuggets of wisdom drop off my mind into another guy’s mind.

It’s working on a car project together and you’re talking. It’s taking a camping trip or a hiking trip together and you’re talking. It’s having dinner together with him over at your house and he’s seeing how you interact with your wife. It’s seeing how you lead prayer. That’s what happened with the apostle Paul and Timothy and Titus. They were in his life. They were walking with him.

Knowledge is part of the discipleship process, but men need to be with other men. It’s back to the team player. Discipleship is a team thing. I’m with you engaging in my life in my world. I’m letting you know about my problems at work and how I’m not hitting my numbers. I’m letting you tell me how you hit your numbers. It’s a full-on relational thing instead of a here’s my hour and a half a week where I go and sit under this person’s teaching and we fill in the blanks to questions.

Our culture is so tired. Men are so weary. This is why discipleship isn’t happening. The average guy, when he gets laid off has no friends because his friends are only the people he works with. And they’re not even his friends. But they’re the only people he actually knows outside of his family, or outside of what he stares at with the television.

Males are relationally starved creatures who are behaving appropriately according to the starvation that we’re in. And so discipleship is simply, let’s get guys having a friendship with one another, a genuine friendship with one another. And that’s not happening.

So how do you get guys to embrace that vision, when it seems like we’re encouraged to be able to do it on our own, hide our emotions, be embarrassed to ask for help?

Well, a lot of it is modeling. So, when the pastor is up front, we need to think about not just accurately giving the truth that’s in the Scripture, but we need to think about accurately modeling how I do that with other guys. Not how I build into other guys, but how I allow other guys into my life. We’ve gotta have a deep well that we’re just living off of and we’re giving other people stories on so that they can see, Oh, this is the kind of life that that guy lives up there. That’s a big one.

Also, whenever we have a men’s event, whether it’s Man Camp or whatever, a huge thing coming out of that is we don’t want people to have a really cool 48-hour experience. We want people to have a 48-hour experience and then out of that to be linked in relationships that are going to transcend that weekend. We want to see that as a springboard to authentic male friendships and discipleship. And that’s a big thing that we have as a focus.

What kind of effect has men getting more engaged had on your church?

Actually, it’s been very polarizing. As we’ve tried to reach men and to have some of these things, we’ve had a lot of people who don’t like it. They feel like we’re playing too much to men. They feel left out for whatever reason, because they don’t fit a classic look of what a man looks like, or they’re a woman. They get really upset with it because they’re used to churches looking a specific way, and when it’s not looking that way, they feel that something’s wrong. So, we’ve had a good percentage of people who are like that that we’ve had to sort of talk off the ledge.

And then we have had a good output of men being engaged in the church. We had an ask for people in kids club, and it was great seeing the number of men who signed up to volunteer in our children’s ministry. They saw it as a manly thing to do. Boy, if you can have people in your children’s ministry who are being built into men as well as women that’s a beautiful thing. So we’re seeing some really healthy outcomes that are helping the church at large.

There was a guy, named Rick, who was just doing the classic American thing: going to craft breweries, buying all kinds of man toys, and God just gripped his life. He was married and had zero intention of having kids, and he got a vision for something beyond himself. He had a kid at 50 years old—his first kid at 50 years old! That’s manly.

There’s those kinds of stories that are happening all the time. Our culture is stealing from us. Our culture is numbing men out. Our culture is selling men goods that just don’t satisfy. And as guys see a different way, they’re taking steps to change their life. And it’s pretty cool.

Circling back to the story you started with, as you compare your life to your son’s, what fruit are you seeing in his life?

I’m incredibly proud of where my son is in his life and where he’s going. And I think that’s our goal, right? As dads we want to set up our kids to have them exceed us. And I’m pretty excited that he is exceeding me at age 27 by having a great marriage and a clear career path that he’s going down. So I couldn’t be happier about where he is, and I’m pretty proud of him.

And in line with what we’re talking about, my oldest daughter’s husband really came to know Christ—or at least walked with him for the first time as a man—in the very first Man Camp we had. He went to Man Camp and got his world rocked. He showed up the next day at a church event all ready to serve and do whatever, and that’s when they met each other. And now he’s an amazing son-in-law for me, and has fathered two grandkids for me.

What’s some advice you can give to pastors about how to build this kind of environment into their own churches?

The best thing I can say to pastors is the most important thing you can do is make sure you are taking care of your needs as a man. I think pastors need to have an identifiable way for us to rest and play. We need to have an identifiable group of people that we experience adventure with. We need to look at these five marks and ask ourselves, How am I filling up my well?

Because as a healthy man grows closer to Christ and becomes a healthier man, that stuff is going to naturally drip down and bring other people in the congregation along.

So take care of yourself. The greatest work God is doing is a work in you.

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Jonathan Sprowl
Jonathan Sprowl

Jonathan Sprowl is co-editor of Outreach magazine.