That Intangible Stuff Called "Maleness"

The Making of a Christian Man...

A Christian man is more than a born-again human being with male sex organs. One of the common complaints I hear from single women is that there are so few Christian men. As I question them further they seem to be saying that the concepts Christian and man do not fit together. I have asked these women—most of them very attractive, sharp people, and committed Christians—why they think there are no men (by their definition) who are Christians.

The women complain about males who are born again, but who don't act like men. They exert no leadership. They don't seem to know where they are going. They have difficulty fitting in with society and people in general. in fact, these women say, they don't even fit with themselves. They are Christians—but they're not really men.

Definition of Terms

For the record, let's briefly state our definitions. Being a Christian means that you have a personal faith relationship with Jesus Christ. You've asked him to forgive your sins, come into your life, and be the Lord of your life. You are serious about modeling your life and your thinking after that of Jesus. It's a little more difficult to define man. There are people who have been born with male sex organs, are heterosexual and yet do not have that intangible stuff called maleness. What is it? The quality of maleness is not an accident of birth. It requires a choice. A man must choose to be truly male.

Much of maleness comes from our socialization process. We learn it from the male role models in our life, especially our fathers. But sometimes a boy grows up without adequate male socialization. This is happening more and more today where single-parent families and absentee fathers mean boys are often exclusively raised by their mother. As the boy moves into his adolescent years, he needs to choose to change his social environment and to find significant men who will model the maleness qualities he wants to absorb. You can't leave your maleness development to chance.

man juggling lifeA Christian struggling to be a man—or a man struggling to be a Christian has a lot of identities to juggle. First there's what society expects of men.

The North American cultural definition of manhood continues to change. For example, in the early part of the 20th century, society's expectations for men and women were very clear-cut. Males were essentially viewed as the wage earners. They were supposed to be tough, the bosses in their homes, not involved in any of the "women's work."

During World War 2, millions of women went to work in factories and offices to fill vacancies left by men in military service. After the war our society had changed, and the women never really went back home. That started a subtle redefinition of maleness.

In the fifties and sixties the United States was heavily committed to education, but not only for unmarried students, now there were married couples on campus. It was impossible for a wife to work full time and support her husband in school unless he shared some of the workload. Thus, our society redefined maleness and allowed males to do dishes, laundry and cooking.

That move continued during the seventies, eighties, and nineties, and we expanded the concept of male so that it not only includes doing tasks formerly done by females but also included expressing feelings and attitudes that were formerly thought to be exclusively female. These include nurturing children, being sympathetic and understanding, and crying.

Today, maleness is a mixture of actions and attitudes. The man who is caught on the macho side of maleness is not going to be fully accepted, nor is the man who is caught on the wimp side of maleness. Our society, and women, demand and need men who are secure enough to be both tough and tender.

A Christian struggling to be a man--or a man struggling to be a Christian has a lot of identities to juggle. First there's what society expects of men.


What Women Want

Men need to consider the things women appreciate in a man. When I pose that question to women, their answers seem to fall intoMan Confident Black Headshot several general areas: the man's external appearance, his self-image, his inner qualities, his behavior toward other people, and his leadership.


Outward appearance, the first area mentioned, means more than just who is "handsome" and who isn't. Women seem to be interested in men of all shapes and sizes. There isn't any right man for all women. But there are some things about appearance that women definitely don't like. Women don't like a guy who is overdressed—who looks as if he stepped off the pages of some magazine. But they do like his clothes to be put together right. They like him also to be concerned about his complexion and cleanliness. They don't think a guy is more masculine if he is dirty and sweaty. So part of women's definition of maleness includes men who are good stewards of their bodies.

Healthy Self-Image

The second area women talk about is the man’s self image. Women feel that men who like themselves communicate maleness. Some of the women think that everything stems from a man's concept of himself. That is, the reason a guy doesn't take care of his body, or is in a "nowhere" job, or can’t commit, or can’t lead, or that he comes across as a social misfit—he doesn't like himself. He is not sure whether he is a man or a child.

Women suggest that the attitudes of the "wimps" and of the "macho" men both tend to spring from a low self-image. So if men are going to be masculine, they need strong self-images. This is another area where you can't simply coast along, but instead a man must make decisions to grow and develop.

Of course, it's easy enough to talk about developing and maintaining a strong self-image—it's quite another thing to do so, especially for a guy who is crippled by a lack of quality male models to look to for guidance.

Real self-confidence comes from a strong connection with God. I would urge men who are struggling in this area to read practical books about being a man in the 21st century. Character doesn't develop overnight, and there are no simple formulas for developing a healthy self-image. But you can decide to start taking positive steps toward one.

Man Depressed Holding GlassesMan Enough to Cry

How a man perceives himself affects how honest he is able to be with others. This third area of maleness is important to women because a real man is able to be tough—that is to take leadership and assume responsibility—and, at the same time, be tender to care about hurting people, to feel the anguish of a world in need. They like a man who can express his emotions and who knows how to relate to people. In these areas, men again can look to Jesus as the model of sensitive masculinity. No matter how much society changes, Jesus Christ is the unchanging person after whom we should pattern our lives.

Jesus was a composite of a number of strengths. We see him repeatedly ministering very personally and tenderly to the needs of individual people, even when that sensitivity brought him into conflict with established law, tradition, or religious rulers. We see him stop to help a woman in a crowd who reached out to touch him (Mt. 9:20-22). He spends time with Nicodemus, helping him understand the mystery of redemption (Jn. 3:1-21). Jesus reaches out and touches a leper (Lk. 5:12-13). He urges children to come to him in spite of the rejection of his disciples (Mk. 10:13-16).

Look at Jesus working with a woman caught in the act of adultery, with Peter during the time of denial, and even with Judas the traitor. Again and again we see sensitivity expressed in kindness, tenderness and patience. Being sensitive to the needs of people, and expressing that sensitivity through caring is not unmanly. It is very much like Jesus.

Unfortunately some men feel that to be a real man they must be served—rather than serve. Perhaps the most important lesson Jesus taught in the upper room at the last supper with the disciples was that they needed to serve each other and the world.

In the upper room as, as the disciples prepared for the Last Supper, the disciples disputed as to who would have the place of prominence. They had neglected to wash each other's dusty feet, but the Bible paints a beautiful picture of Jesus rising from the table and humbly going about the servant's task of washing the feet of the disciples. In serving them, he taught them his role in the world. He had said earlier that the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve (Mt. 20:28). But they didn't understand that. Now he had washed their feet, and with great embarrassment they began to see that to be a real Christian man means to serve.

Neither Meek nor Macho

Besides being a gentle servant, Christ was also extremely firm and assertive, illustrated by the time when he drove the moneychangers and merchandisers out of the temple. Again and again he disputed with the religious leaders and legal minds of the day. He called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites to their faces.

Jesus fit into society. He was able to be a man "in the world" but not "of the world." He fit with his society in the way he dressed, in the illustrations he used as he spoke, and in his interpersonal contacts. Yet he was able to stand against the society, to be a corrective, and to challenge people to something better.

As Jesus moved through his life he clearly knew who he was and what he wanted to accomplish. He had a strong self-image and a strong sense of purpose. Because of this internal confidence and direction, he was able to wash the feet of the disciples as a "servant" and in his next words say to them, "I am Master and Lord."


Jesus' work with the disciples demonstrates his leadership ability, which brings us to the fourth important quality women seek in a man. Women aren't looking for bullies, but for males who know how to lead when it is appropriate. Women want men who know where they're going and, at the same time, are able to let a woman also lead, encouraging them to grow in their God-given abilities. In other words, women are looking for a men whom the women don't have to carry—or fear.

In the past we've assumed that Christian men would naturally take on leadership. All they needed was to commit to Christ. But now the situation with many young adult men is different, in both romantic and nonromantic areas. Let me illustrate by describing a typical date:
Couple arguing in a car
A guy says to a girl, "Let's go out."

"Okay," she says. "Where?"

He shrugs his shoulders. "I don't know. What would you like to do?"

Right away she's put on the spot by this wimp who doesn't know enough about her to know what she'd like to do. He hasn't thought far enough ahead to have a few plans available. By default, the girl is put in the awkward situation of having to take the lead. She suggests something, and the guy says, "Okay."

Leadership means that you understand the needs and wants of the people you are seeking to lead—and you help them to arrive at the fulfillment of their goals. Leadership means being a facilitator. The good news is that you can learn to develop leadership qualities.

Some guys refrain from leading because they are afraid they will make a mistake and more deeply damage their self-image. Others take on leadership, but become bossy, or domineering. Deep inside they are unsure of themselves. What they are really saying is, "When I finally figure out what to do, I am afraid to be flexible or listen to other opinions."

In contrast to the hesitant young adult men, I see more and more assertive women who are eager to lead in administrative areas and want to get things going. In many of the formerly male-dominated organizations, this strong female leader is often put down as being odd and out of order.

These two contrasting types—the hesitant male and the assertive female present a strange picture. It looks as if the junior-high years are being repeated. In those days it was a physical difference: the girls were filled out, looked like women, and were a head taller than their scrawny boyfriends, who appeared to be four years younger. In young adulthood the difference is emotional. Women seem to be ahead of men in emotional development and seem to be more ready to take on leadership.

Leadership means that you understand the needs and wants of the people you are seeking to lead--and you help them to arrive at the fulfillment of their goals.

Jesus Built Leaders

Man praying in shortsSince the quality of leadership is so important for men, and so often lacking, let's examine how Jesus taught his disciples to be leaders.

From the first, Jesus promised to make them leaders. "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt. 4:19). He didn't expect them to be accomplished leaders in the beginning. He understood their need for training and promised to supply the help they needed.

This can be a real encouragement for those men who are struggling with poor leadership skills and may have the added burden of unnecessary guilt because they aren’t accomplished leaders yet. God understands where we are and he wants to help us get where we need to go.

Jesus began his leadership training by building confidence into his disciples. A good leader is a confident leader, and Jesus set out to make his men that way.

When they returned from one of their door-to-door ministries, he rejoiced with them in the spiritual victories that had been accomplished (Lk. 10). Jesus also shared responsibility with his disciples. They did not simply listen to his lectures, they shared his ministry with people by actively participating in decision making and the implementation of those decisions.

The area of confidence-building is one where Christian women can be an invaluable ministry to Christian men. A budding leader can be easily deflated, especially by insensitive criticism coming from a woman.

For example, let's say a guy asks a girl out for a miniature golf. She may hate miniature golf with a passion. But how she brings this up to the guy can make all the difference in his confidence as a leader, and the future of their relationship! If she, upon hearing his suggestion, retorts, "Miniature golf! I can’t stand miniature golfing! It's so boring," he'll most likely take that as a personal rejection and withdraw. But if she replies with something like, "Well, I'm not crazy about miniature golf, but I'd love to do something else with you." Now he can distinguish between the activity and himself. He can gather up the courage to suggest an alternative date that may be more mutually enjoyable.

The Serving Leader

Throughout his time with the disciples, Jesus taught and modeled the basic principle of Christian leadership: the leader as a servant. Jesus told them that to be great leaders they must learn to serve people (Jn. 13). To serve people means to understand their needs, understand them, and seek to meet those needs. An effective leader is people-oriented, not program-oriented.

This can be a difficult concept for men to grasp, if they have been taught from childhood that their value lies in what they produce or accomplish, not in how they relate to people. Often a guy exercising leadership for the first time will appear hard, aloof and insensitive to the needs of the people he is leading. He's usually struggling with his new-found responsibility combined with a self-imposed pressure to produce results. Left on his own, this kind of leader will usually collapse under the strain, often taking his group down with him.

All of us, but especially men, must focus on Jesus who "came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). It's encouraging to know that God himself was a servant when he came to earth. This truth gives us the freedom to exercise the same servant qualities.

A Few Questions

Finally, let's consider some important questions. People ask, "Is it possible to be a Christian and be truly male, or is the gospel only for women?" Look at Jesus Christ who is clearly not an emaciated, spineless, sallow-faced, cringing shadow of a man. Jesus is a man whose strength and leadership were seen by everyone. Christ's life should forever put to rest the issue of integrating faith and maleness.

A second question is, "Why, then, aren't there more male Christians, who are really men, ready to take on leadership and responsibility?" Many men lack models, do not think about what it means to be male, and do not consciously make the choice to demonstrate masculine characteristics. Men do have a great deal of choice about their own growth—but some men coast along with a can of beer in one hand and a remote control in the other.

Third, "What can a Christian man do to develop his manhood?" He can understand what society and women expect of him. He can learn what it means to be a leader by absorbing the qualities the disciples developed in the New Testament. But perhaps the most effective thing a young man can do regarding the concept of his own maleness is to think about what maleness means and then make deliberate choices to pattern his life after men who follow the example of Christ—who was the ultimate example of a strong leader and a gentle man.

Conway / Farrel Articles ~ Reprint by permission only,  ©2011

Midlife Dimensions ~


The Conways and Farrels are international speakers and popular authors.

Midlife Dimensions is a ministry founded by the Conways and continued by the Farrels.