"How do you expect me to be a man when I have never had a f^&@ing man in my life?!"
These words pounded my heart like a heavy weight descending through a bucket of water. I heard these words in a group of African-American young men I gathered with on Monday afternoons. This group, called B.O.S.S. (Brotherhood of Successful Scholars), had graciously taken me in and allowed this 30-something white guy from the cornfields of Indiana to be a part of their fellowship five years prior.
On this particular night, we were exploring what it means to be a man and to hold your head high. The thoughts that flowed in discussion ranged from making money to showing the world that you should be respected to keeping your options open in your love life. The discussion began to pick up when someone interjected, "real men need to live with integrity." One of the young men in our group, who through his self-confession was attempting to leave behind a period of dealing drugs on campus, was troubled by this statement. He grew up in a home where there was no father, no husband and no male image-bearer of Christ. All he had known was his mom and grandmother. All he had known of being a man was to man up and make your way through; keep living and surviving, do what you need to do to stay alive. Now, he is being told to be a man with integrity. What exactly is that?
This discussion got me to thinking: I believe we assume to much. We assume that if we tell people to do something that they will already know what that something is. We assume people have a mutual baseline of common sense (thus revealing our naivete). We even assume that varying people groups in this nation will all see things from the same point of view (yikes!). In this case, this young man got me to thinking about my assumptions. Do I assume young men know what it will look like to be a man? Do I assume that even from one people group to another there will be common streams of thought and standards for manhood? I make too many assumptions...
However, here is where the good news comes in: just like Paul told the Colossians (1:24b) "...in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." (NASB), I also had the same opportunity. We have the same opportunity. What the believers in Colossae lacked was not hearing what Jesus had done for them, or believing what Jesus had done for them. No, what they lacked was flesh and blood; seeing what Jesus had done for them. Thus, through Paul's suffering for proclaiming Jesus' Name, these believers were able to see and experience in flesh and blood what that looked like.
Similarly, young students (esp. young men) on our campuses throughout the country have heard about men...fathers, husbands, men of integrity...but until they see these men they may not truly believe they exist. Until they can experience them in flesh and blood, there will be something pivotal missing in their lives, freeing them to change the trajectory of their lives to in fact become these men of integrity. Until they can rub elbows with, ask questions to and do life with these men, they will not be able to become one of them.
Here is where we come in: we can do this. What I realized was that my ministry amongst this group of African-American young men was me. I needed to live out what a quality husband looked like, what a father who cared about his children was, and what a man of integrity looked like in flesh and blood. I need not focus on being super relatable or even pretend to understand all that they go through as a minority. Just love them where they were for whom they were, and then show out what a man of God looks like. No performance needed, only truth, integrity and care. Already we have seen some young men's lives dramatically changed by the Gospel because of this.
We can do this. Can we take some time to look about us and see what assumptions we have that we may need to reconsider? Can we take a few moments to consider who has lack around us (like the Colossians) that we may be able to fill up with our flesh and blood? If so, the Spirit will make you aware of opportunities around you that need Gospel, that need flesh and blood. May you become good news to those lacking around you.