A Game Plan for Discipling Men in the Church

A Game Plan for Discipling Men in the Church

A discussion with Jonathan Leeman, John Onwuchekwa, and Juan Sánchez


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Jonathan Leeman: Brothers, a contested topic these days is, “What does it mean to be a man?” Just recently, in media and the news, there have been a lot of conversations about “toxic masculinity,” and people’s reactions to overly aggressive forms, say, of what it means to be a man, and commercials talking about that, and so forth. And there have been reactions, and counter-reactions to what manliness is, or even contesting the very category itself.

Christians have also been addressing this topic. For example, we see the debate on complementarianism versus egalitarianism. And even more closely, you think about churches addressing men’s ministry. How do we do men’s ministry? Why does it differ from one church to another? You’re both full-time, lead pastors. So how do you think about drawing men to your church and teaching what it means to be a man?

John Onwuchekwa: So at our church right now we have lots of young men who are younger than I am, at least. Our church has been really impacted by Paul’s words to Titus, when he says, “Encourage the young men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6). And as I grew up, lots of talks about manhood start with discouragement.  And I’ve just found that you never discourage anybody to faithfulness. You can’t shame them into being self-controlled. And so it starts with us just trying to praise what we want to see more in young men. How do we start with the men at our church just getting with two or three younger men and just starting with them and walk with them for a time?

And what we found is, when it’s really modeled and done well, that comes really an attractive crop, that you don’t have to go out and recruit men to come in, people start to just catch a whiff of it. And there’s no real place in our context, at least, that you see men going to get trained, and developed, and built up.

Leeman: Are you intentionally thinking like, okay, I want to get men?

Onwuchekwa: Yes.

Leeman: Do you intentionally think that or are you thinking, “I’m trying to get Christians and non-Christians to come?” Are you thinking men?

Onwuchekwa: We focus on men especially. So, you think of the church historically, in our context, and it’s largely been built and run and supported off of the backs of our sisters. And we’re grateful for that. But we have in mind the need to raise up a crop of strong young men. So we do a lot to intentionally raise them up.

Leeman: And there you’re looking to Scripture?

Onwuchekwa: Absolutely.

Juan Sánchez: I think in many ways, we do what we’re called to do, which is to preach the Word, to build up the church. One of the things that I ran into when I came to the church where I am, 13.5 years ago, is I noticed that there actually was not a clear understanding of biblical manhood and womanhood. And so we just set to begin with preaching the Word, but also intentionally trying to develop a culture of biblical manhood and womanhood, and to reorient people into biblical roles.

I live in Texas, and so there’s a stereotypical way to think about manhood. One of the things that I thought was really helpful was when Matt Chandler said, “In our biblical view of manhood, we have to have a place for that man who is artistic, who is creative.” My undergraduate degree is in music, and so that really resonated with me. Instead of thinking manhood in stereotypical fashion, or even womanhood in stereotypical fashion, we need to really dig in.

We have a Sunday school class on biblical manhood and womanhood. Even in our preaching we are making application in that way. And now people have started capturing the language of biblical manhood and womanhood.

Leeman: How long is that Sunday school class?

Sánchez: It’s a semester-long, 45-minute-long class on Sunday mornings.

Leeman: Just on manhood and womanhood?

Sánchez: Yeah, yeah. And what we find, especially with the younger folks that are imbibing the culture or just being influenced by the culture don’t necessarily know how to think straight. They think emotionally. They’re asking questions like, “My friend is a girl now wants to identify as a boy. What’s wrong with that?” And if we don’t help people know how to think and establish, biblically, God’s design, and the goodness of it, and the blessings of it, then I think we leave our children and our younger folks up to confusion, and to let the world inform their view of manhood and womanhood.

Leeman: Amidst cultural controversies and the back and forth, the reactions and the counter-reactions, I think one of the ways we avoid imbalances is doing the best we can do to align ourselves with Scripture. I’m not looking to import a certain cultural conception of masculinity, or femininity, or manhood, or womanhood. Instead, I want to emphasize what the Bible says in terms of what manhood and womanhood is.

I would also say that we need to be raising up godly men who lead. And in that way I want to look at developing elders. What does the Bible say about elders? What can we do to cultivate a culture of discipling and disciple-making in our church that helps men to desire to be elders?

So often in conversations, I’ll say to a guy who is a member of my church, “So, John, what’s the difference between you and an elder? What steps of maturity do you have to take to become an elder?” You might be a young punk at this point, but hopefully, that plants a seed where you start to think, “Okay, well, why am I not an elder?” In that conversation, I’m just trying to lay the foundation for what the Bible says about what godly men should be: men who are leading their homes, above reproach, not drunkards, not self-controlled, husbands of one wife, those who manage their household well. That’s a godly man. Right? In that way, Scripture defines masculinity for us. Any other thoughts on this, brothers?

Onwuchekwa: A last thought, we adopted our daughter about two years ago. At the time, I was in a group of three guys who, for three years, would meet once a week in my house to eat and study God’s Word. We adopted my daughter just right smack dab in the middle of that, and they kept on coming over to my house.

And so it’s been crazy the past two years for them. It’s the first time in their lives that they’ve seen a child grow up. They get to know her, and they see the joy that she brings in our house. It feels like it gives them a vision for the joy that can come in a simple life of being at home with your one wife and your one family.

Leeman: And they’re watching you be a dad? They’re watching you be a godly man.

Onwuchekwa: There’s no substitute for healthy models that create this compelling vision for the joys that God gives and the simple, ordinary things that are often taken for granted.

Leeman: So sorry, the last question here. Do you have men’s ministries, or are you trying more just to cultivate a culture?

Onwuchekwa: Both. We’re trying to build a culture, and we’re just now starting. We’re three-and-a-half years in, so we’re just now starting to try to see if there is something a little more organized that we can do maybe to catch some of those men that are on the fringes.

Sánchez: Back to your point, I think it’s really helpful to help men understand who God made them to be. So we should ask the question about eldership. But even before that, because in a lot of contexts, it’s the women who have been serving in the churches, we have to create spaces for men to serve. Something as simple as Scripture reading in the gathered service was fascinating for us.

We thought, let’s just visually show men being engaged, reading Scripture.

Jonathan Leeman: Because that can be passive.

Juan Sánchez: That’s right. So we have our men reading Scripture and praying before I get up to preach. And we just literally go through the directory. They have the freedom to say no, but we just want to go through the directory and encourage men to get up and do this. And that’s been really encouraging for us to see these men. We have been encouraged by the way some of the quieter men in the church pray.

We also create training spaces to encourage men to challenge them theologically, to think biblically. We invite the men of the church to join us for a book study or theology study, and challenge men theologically and intellectually. And that has really been encouraging. And one of the things that has happened is that a couple of men approached me not too long ago, and they said, “We want to see a little more structure. What do you think?” I said, “Well, if the Lord is putting this on your heart, then let me encourage you to do this.” It started out with them getting fathers and boys together. And then I think they decided to think about expanding more just to the men of the church.

Leeman: Let me just draw two principles that I heard you say that I think are transferable to most situations.

  1. Look for ways to give other men opportunities and make them visible in leadership.
  2. Don’t micromanage everything in the church. Instead, give other men chances to lead things they initiate and that you don’t necessarily lead.

When pastors do these things, I think you’re making your church an inviting place for men to come in and discover how to be a leader and how to take responsibility in the church. That’s wonderful. Thanks for your time, guys.

In the United States, more women than men go to church. The reasons are varied, of course, but churches need to think deeply and purposefully about how to raise up male leaders.

Jonathan Leeman asked two TGC Council members, John Onwuchekwa and Juan Sánchez, how their churches go about discipling and training men in the faith. They discussed the need to give certain men (besides the pastor) opportunities for teaching and leadership. Pastors must avoid the temptation to micromanage everything in the church—instead giving other men chances to lead things they initiate.

Onwuchekwa says, “Our church has been really impacted by Paul’s words to Titus: ‘Encourage the young men to be self-controlled’ (Titus 2:6). And as I grew up, lots of talks about manhood start with discouragement. And I’ve just found that you never discourage anybody to faithfulness. You can’t shame them into being self-controlled. And so it starts with us just trying to praise what we want to see more of in young men.”

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast or watch a video.