Despite constant calls within the broader Evangelical church towards needing “safe” men, I believe the opposite is actually true. We don’t need more safe men. What the church needs are strong men with backbone and conviction. The church needs men who are unabashedly masculine and have no problems defining what that actually looks like, both in theory and in practice. Safe men are men who inevitably do unsafe and unsound things; men of virtue—true men of virtue—are not safe, but they are good, and this is what the church actually needs. Good men are those who stand in the face of false teaching and practice, yet ultimately, build up the flock. To put it as Calvin does, “The pastor ought to have two voices; one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for driving away wolves.” Part and parcel to that work is the expectation that they will be bitten and slashed by the wolves, and yet they will ultimately kill the wolf. Safe men don’t kill wolves. Safe men are not shepherds, but hired hands who flee when they see the wolf coming (Jn. 10:12).
Safe men catalogue the works of good men because they live to tell the story, yet safe men are those who often cannot do the necessary work of good men. The distinction I am drawing here is that safe men tend to gravitate towards safe activities. Everything is methodically planned out. Everything is hedged with simple “matters of discernment” or “principles of wisdom” in all they do. There are no risks and therefore, they reap no large rewards. Safe men “play the game” well, seldom making waves because they are malleable to the people around them when it suits them best. Christianity doesn’t need safe men. Christianity needs bold men, no, good men, who on account of their goodness are intrinsically bold. Yet this goodness must permeate every aspect of a man’s life if we are to be looking for good men as opposed to safe men.
We need men willing to work hard and put away laziness. We need men who are not as the proverbial sluggard who buries his hand in the dish but is too lazy to retrieve it in order to feed himself (Pro. 26:15). In other words: we need men who recognize that life is hard, cursed even, and their call is to be found faithful to the creation mandate in spite of the toil promised as a result of sin (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). They joyfully and eagerly express dominion over creation; they cultivate growth and foster an environment of flourishing wherever they put their hand to the plow. Rather than grumble, they give thanks. Rather than complain, they voice contentment. He will rise to work with all his might, swallowing his pride for the cause of necessity.
These men don’t seek to make their wives bear the brunt of both curses, but instead, take it upon themselves to provide for their own (1 Tim. 5:8). The fruit of their labors testifies to their diligence and tenacity long after they are gone; it takes more than one man to replace them. Their hands are not soft and delicate, but calloused; their bodies worn and tired; their minds exhausted. Whatever profession they hold, their energy is exerted in full each day and they do it all again the next because they discipline themselves to do the hard thing, day after day. As fathers, they work hard at whatever task they put their minds to, knowing that their children will see their habits and desire to emulate them when they become men. They know that it is a fundamentally good expression of manhood to work hard even if the task itself is thankless, because this is what men are called to.
We need men willing to lead their wives—who aren’t afraid to use that “dirty” six-letter word that the majority of the Evangelical church is afraid to use: submit. At the same exact time, we need men who realize that leading by authority within the home is fundamentally a self-sacrificing role of love, rather than one in which you seek to subdue and manipulate your wife through cowardice so you can get your way. Theirs is a gentleness mixed with firmness—a tender hand that guides, corrects, instructs, rebukes—or otherwise said, shepherds. It knows what this requires then is a man who is not ruled by brute force and animalistic tendencies, but a humble, servile, strength under control, known as meekness.
Meekness is not found in a weak man who lets his wife lead inasmuch as it is not found in an overbearing man who squashes his wife under his thumb. Meekness is found in the man who is not afraid of exercising the God-given role he has been gifted, yet does so in a manner that ultimately keeps a keen eye on the flourishing of his wife and children. In other words, meekness controls a man and ensures that he leads by example of a calculated godliness rather than an impulsive godlessness, and does so for the ultimate benefit of others (and often to his own detriment). Without complaints. Without bitterness. He doesn’t shirk his responsibilities on his wife, but gladly takes up the mantle of what it means to be a man simply because it is the right and proper thing to do. He willingly and joyfully lays down his life for his wife because he loves her, and he loves his Master, who did the same for the church.
We need men willing to stand and defend the Word of God rather than whatever political, relational, or social agenda is best-suited to keep them in the good graces of others. To put that more clearly: we need men who don’t care about the short-term ramifications of slander because they know the long-term benefits of their godly character will be proven in the results of a life well-lived and suited for imitation. These are men who are not moved to act with an eye on others, but an eye on how they might best stand for truth. These are men who will contend for the faith—not their favorite theological hobby-horse—but that historic body of truth handed down once and for all by the saints, from Genesis to Revelation.
They are not given to squabbles, fables, and tales fit for old women (1 Tim. 4:7). They are not interested in mere speculation for the sake of speculation (1 Tim. 1:4). Rather, they are known as men who are intrinsically motivated by the stewardship of God’s work, training and instruction in godliness, and the edification of the church. Nothing about them is an exercise in mere intellectualism. Their lives are marked by a fidelity to the truth and a willingness to die for those essential matters of the faith. They are men of a learned conviction, not squishy men who are dominated by the whims and sensibilities of others. Ultimately, they are men who innately recognize which hills are worth dying on because they are the proverbial wise man. They have attained wisdom, not through willful neglect and vain hope of a mastery of the Scriptures, but by prayerfully pouring themselves into understanding what God would have of them, day and night.
We need older men to teach young men to be sensible (Tit. 2:6). We need older men able to model what it looks like to be a faithful follower of Christ, and able to disciple other young men to maturity. This older man is temperate, dignified, self-controlled, and sound in faith, love, and perseverance (Tit. 2:2). He’s not a brawler, a fornicator, given to much wine, inhospitable, nor a lover of money. Instead, he is one who has managed his household well, kept his children under control with all dignity, and even has a good reputation among those who are not in the faith. He seeks to be an exemplary Christian—and is one—because his love is for God and His church. In other words, he’s an older man who can meet the qualifications of an elder and even thinks like one, even if he may never serve in that capacity.
Why? He’s a man who has given his all to seeing the glory of God made manifest in his little corner of the earth. He is mastered by a loyalty to God and His Word. No earthly comforts can dissuade him; he cannot be bought off, placated, or tamed. He believes life is better spent pursuing this end rather than the fleeting comforts of this life. The toys, games, luxury, and lifestyle of the perpetually adolescent man doesn’t appeal to him, nor is his nature one that desperately seeks the approval of men. Instead, he is ruled by sacrifice, courage, determination, but most of all, an abiding affection for God. He isn’t content playing things safe. He isn’t okay with simply floating along and existing because he realizes and is ruled by a fundamental truth:
Christianity doesn’t need safe men. Christianity needs men on guard; men who stand firm in the faith; men who are strong; men who act like men (1 Cor. 16:13). Christianity doesn’t need safe men. Christianity needs good men