Almost every culture in the world has something to mark the difference between a boy and a man. A boy goes through a "rite of passage," after which he becomes officially a man. The rite of passage may involve an ordeal, a test, or a training period of some kind. The boy who has reached a certain age must kill a crocodile, or train with a bow and arrow, or go on a long journey alone, or join in a dangerous hunt with the men.
When does a boy become a man in white American culture? When he gets a driver's license? When he graduates from high school? When he moves away from his parents? When he can vote? When he gets his first full-time job? When he is 21? When he gets married? When he owns his own home?
No one can say. There is no clear point of transition. There is no one "rite of passage." One of the unfortunate effects can be that boys are insecure. They don't know when they are men. Again and again they may try to prove that they are "grown up." Sometimes they may choose destructive ways-join a gang, go hotrodding, learn to smoke, get drunk, take a girl to bed.
What do we do to give proper guidance? I know and you know that there is no magic formula. God must be at work in teaching us and our boys, and he must be the one who causes them to grow (1 Cor. 3:7). But you and I can plant and water.
I decided that one way I could help my sons was by showing them what it was to be a man. What is a man? What marks maturity? In the Bible, true maturity does not consist in being able to kill a crocodile! The true maturity is spiritual. It is wisdom in knowing God and his will, and being able to carry it out in your life (Prov. 1:1-7).
I must set an example by my manhood. I must be like Paul, who said, "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). That is an awesome challenge. I fail to live up to the biblical standard. But part of being a man is being able to admit it when I fail and then to ask forgiveness...
In what does the training consist? Christian manhood is the goal. The training must match the goal. So we set for them projects. They acquire and demonstrate skill in each of several overlapping areas.
1. Knowledge of the contents of the Bible.
Know the names of books of the Bible in order.
Know Bible history.
Read the Bible all the way through.
Know main themes of biblical books.
Understand how Biblical teaching centers on Christ.
Know Greek and Hebrew (amount of knowledge tailored to the child's ability)
2. Memorization of selected verses and passages of the Bible.
3. Knowledge of the major teachings of the Bible (doctrine).
Memorize a children's catechism as a summary of doctrine.
Be able to explain doctrines and respond to questions using one's own words.
4. Personal piety.
Using devotional materials
Day-long personal retreat for prayer and fasting with Daddy
Growth in understanding of means for overcoming sin
5. Projects of service and mercy.
Serving the church; serving the needy.
6. Wisdom in dealing with various spheres of life.
Finances: tithing, drawing up a year-long budget; checkbook balancing; investing.
Etiquette: table etiquette, greeting etiquette, letter etiquette, conversational etiquette, sexual etiquette.
Apologetics: answering questions and objections about Christian faith; understanding the Christian world view and the main competing worldviews and ideas in the United States.
Sexuality: knowing Christian teaching and standards for thoughts and actions. Understanding how God designed male and female bodies.
They work on these areas over a period of years. Many times we just integrate the work into our family devotional times. At other points we have periods where they have concentrated study in one area. When the boy is 11 years old, we assess progress. If our boy is honestly far from ready, we are willing in principle to put things off for another year. But if he is showing more maturity, we have a time of more concentrated preparation.
In the two or three months before the Bar Jeshua celebration, we enlist our pastors, young people's leaders, and (in my case) my seminary professor friends to test the boy privately in each of the areas (1)-(4). I am present at these tests to provide moral support, but not to coach my boy on the answers. We also reserve the fellowship hall at our church as a site for the coming celebration. We send out invitations. We draw up a program sheet and buy decorations and food.
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