The Six Stages of The Masculine Journey
‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
Ask for the ancient paths,
Ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
And you will find rest for your souls…’
Jeremiah 6:16 NIV
A boy has a lot to learn in his journey to become a man, and he becomes a man only through the active intervention of his father and the fellowship of men.
It cannot happen any other way.
This we must understand:- masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who he is and what he’s made of from a man (or company of men).
Like a ship at sea, every man will be tested, and the storms will reveal the weak places in us as a man. And so, our basic approach to life comes down to this: we stay in what we can handle and steer clear of everything else. We engage only where we feel comfortable and capable – in the workplace, perhaps – and we hold back where we feel sure to fail… as in the deep waters of relating to our wife or our children; and in dealing with our inner world.
If we look closely, what we have now is a world full of men who are unfinished in their development towards maturity. Partial men. If we are really honest, many of us just feel like boys, mostly, walking around in men’s bodies with men’s responsibilities like families and finances to juggle. We often feel overwhelmed – but unable to admit it.
The rising suicide count amongst males is a telling sign.
The passing on of true masculinity was never completed in most of our lives, if it was ever begun at all. The boy was never taken through an appropriate masculine journey to maturity. That’s why most of us are unfinished men. And therefore, unable to truly live as men in whatever life throws at us… and unable to pass on to our sons and daughters what they need to become whole and holy men and women themselves.
Likewise, we also see boys and younger men (and even men our own age) all around us who are very much in need – desperate need – of someone to show them the way towards an ancient path.
It can be a very beautiful and powerful event to experience a blessing or a ritual such as a rite of passage and to hear words of blessing spoken to us in a ceremony of some sort. I have provided such rites of passage for each of my sons – but such one-off investments are not the whole answer.
Those moments can certainly be turning points in our lives. But they remain only moments, and moments, as you well know, pass quickly and are swallowed in the river of time. We need more than a moment, or a one-off event. We need a process, a journey, an epic story of many experiences woven together, building upon one another in a progression. The Masculine Journey is supposed to be a process, a quest that unfolds over many years. And that process requires more than the intervention of just one man. That process requires a special Guide.
We aren’t meant to figure life out on our own. God wants to father us. The truth is, he has probably been trying to father us for a long time – we just haven’t had the eyes to see it. But He does want to father us much more intimately, and for our part we have to be in a certain posture of heart to receive it. What that involves is a new way of looking out for God’s interaction with us, a fundamental reorientation of how we look at life and Father God’s pursuit of us.
First, we must agree that we are unfinished men; wounded men; and we need a process that requires other men at our side to help restore our hearts.
The reframing begins when we see that a man’s life is a process of stages that develops us into masculinity. It is a series of stages we are meant to actually soak in and eventually progress through. And as for God, I believe that what He is primarily up to at any point in a boy’s or a man’s life is trying to come alongside him and guide us through that process.
So much of what we misinterpret as hassles or trials or screw-ups on our part, are in fact God trying to father us! He is often attempting to walk us through something to strengthen us, or heal us, or dismantle some unholy thing in us. In other words, initiate us – a distinctly masculine venture.
John Eldredge in his book Fathered By God speaks at length about the Masculine Journey which he describes as involving six distinct (but often overlapping) stages:-
2. Adventurer (Cowboy)
If a child is robbed of his boyhood, or any of those first four stages – there will be a cost. No boy can be expected to leap over any stage of the masculine journey and think that there will be no consequences later in life.
No, there is a path that must be taken. There is a Way. Not a formula. A Way. An Ancient Way.
Each stage has its lessons to be learned, and each stage can be wounded, or cut short, leaving the growing man undeveloped in his heart – in the inner most place. Then we wonder why he folds suddenly when he is forty-five; or fifty-five… like a tree we find toppled over in the yard after a night of storms and strong winds. We go over to have a look and find that the tree’s roots hadn’t sunk down deep into the earth, or perhaps it was eaten-out by termites on the inside, perhaps weakened by disease or drought. Such are the insides of unfinished men when today’s storms are faced.
To begin with, there is Boyhood, a time of wonder and exploration. Above all else, it is the time of being the Beloved Son. A time of affirmation. A man’s search for validation. To know that he is prized and delighted in by his earthly dad. One of the father’s key roles is to ensure his boy knows in his heart that he is the beloved son. For that is the key question of this foundational stage: “Am I the beloved son?”. Without assurance of this, a man will forever question the truth of God’s love for him.
The Adventurer stage comes next. John Eldredge calls this the ‘Cowboy’ Stage, but I have his permission to call it ‘Adventurer’ (as this translates better to my predominantly Australian audience). This stage begins around adolescence (13/14yrs) and seems to be a time of significant transition running into the mid-twenties. It is the time of learning the lessons of the field, a time of great adventures and testing. It is also a time for work – getting a part time job and a little income. The young man learns to fish, or play footy, or sharpen a knife, or change the oil in the car. He perhaps gets his first car and with it an open horizon. He takes off on adventures, perhaps alone or maybe with a few friends. He may explore interstate or travel overseas. It is a time of daring and danger, a time of learning that he does, indeed, have what it takes. Yet this stage still requires the active intervention of his father and the fellowship of men. Without that active presence of other good older men investing alongside him – the question may remain unanswered – “Do I have what it takes?”.
Sometime in his late teens there emerges the young Warrior, and this phase lasts well into his thirties and beyond. Again, the stages overlap remember, and there is some aspect of every stage that is in operation within a man’s life. Whether seven or seventy, a man will always be a Warrior, for he bears the image of a warrior God (Exod. 15:3). But there is also a time in a man’s life when this stage becomes prominent. He encounters evil face to face and learns to overcome it through spiritual authority in Christ. The young warrior is meant to learn the rigors of discipline – especially that inner discipline and resolution of spirit you see in Jesus who “set his face like flint” (Isaiah 50:7) where He could not be deterred from his mission. A young man needs a mission – a crucial mission, and in that mission he must learn to battle the kingdom of darkness and defeat it. It is crucial to know that a Holy God backs you! Passivity and masculinity are mutually exclusive, fundamentally at odds with one another. To become a man, he must learn to live with courage, take action, go into battle. This world needs a Warrior who can battle for all he loves and wants to protect.
Then typically, what follows is a time where he also becomes a Lover… though it would be best for him (and for her) if he lived as a Warrior for some time first. Too many young men do not get their question answered - “do I have what it takes?”- during the Adventurer Stage. Then, as an uncertain warrior, the woman can sadly become the “mission”! Consequently, a young man can end up taking his question of “do I have what it takes?” to the woman, in the hope that she will answer it for him… believing maybe she will validate his reason for living. However, a Lover should come to offer his strength to a woman, not to get it from her. More importantly, the time of the Lover is not foremost even about the woman. It is meant to primarily be the time when a young man should be discovering things of the heart such as learning to appreciate poetry, discovering music and literature. He needs to learn that passion is far closer to the Truth than is reason and planning. The stage of the ‘Lover’ should be about awakening to the beauty of this world and to the God who created it. This stage should help a young man learn that service for God must be overshadowed by intimacy with God.
It is upon these first four stages that the masculine heart is either forged or wounded. What has been invested, or neglected, in these first four stages will determine what kind of kings we will become as men.
Assuming a man has received all that is essential for his heart in those first four stages of Boyhood, Adventurer, Warrior and Lover – then, and only then – is he ready to become a King: - ready to rule a kingdom. The crisis of leadership in our churches, businesses, and governments is largely due to this one dilemma:- men have been given power, but they are unprepared to handle it. The time of ruling is a tremendous test of character, for the ‘King’ will be sorely tested to use his influence to benefit himself, as opposed to using his power and influence for the benefit of others. What we call the midlife crisis is often a man coming into a little money and influence and using it to go back and recover what he missed as the ‘Beloved Son’ (he buys himself toys) or the ‘Adventurer’ (he goes off chasing adventures). Often this is revealing an undeveloped and unfinished man. However, for a true ‘King’, he knows this is the time to rule as Father God would want him to rule. Hopefully, he draws around him a company of young men, for he is now a father to younger men. (Sadly, the number of key church leaders whose integrity has been found wanting over recent decades across the Body of Christ is evidence that there are not enough good ‘Kings’).
Finally, we have the Sage, the grey-haired (or no-haired) father with a wealth of knowledge and experience, whose mission now is to counsel others. A Sage’s kingdom may shrink. He may even step down from his key role. But his influence ought to increase. The kingdom needs him now as an elder father at the city gates. His time should be spent mentoring younger men, especially Kings who have just stepped into that crucial stage. Just as the Apostle Paul lamented “we have many guardians, but very few fathers in the faith” – we sadly today have few ‘Sages’ available.
On the 23 October we are running an online event for men only where we will examine and unpack “The Masculine Journey” – and what it looks like to become whole-hearted men. Come and join me and other men associated with Ellel Ministries as we discuss honestly and vulnerably our own mixed journeys. More importantly, we will share where we were unfathered – and what it cost us - and more importantly how Jesus has been bringing His restoration to those broken places in our lives.