Play the Man

Somewhere along the way, our culture lost its definition of manhood, leaving generations of men and men-to-be confused about their roles, responsibilities, relationships, and the reason God made them men. It's into this "no man's land" that I want to declare a mantra for manhood: play the man.

I think those of us who practice Christianity in 21st century America don’t really appreciate the bravado of our spiritual ancestors.

How many Christians have never even heard of Polycarp?

Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna in the second century. Tradition has it he was discipled by the apostle John. When Polycarp was eighty-six years old, he was arrested because of his faith in Christ and told to recant Christ. Polycarp said, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

The proconsul then ordered him burned at the stake.

According to ear witnesses, as Polycarp walked into the stadium in Smyrna, there was a voice from heaven that said: “Be strong, Polycarp, play the man.”

That is precisely what Polycarp did. He counted it a privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ. Then something miraculous happened. According to eye witnesses, when they lit the fire, the flames engulfed him but didn’t burn him–almost like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In fact, instead of the smell of burning flesh there was a sweet aroma that filled the stadium.

Play the man!

Ecologists recently coined a wonderful new word. Invented in 2011, rewilding has a multiplicity of meanings. It’s resisting the urge to control nature. It’s the restoration of wilderness. It’s the reintroduction of animals back into their natural habitat. It’s an ecological term, but rewilding has spiritual implications.

As I look at the Gospels, rewilding seems to be a subplot. The Pharisees were so civilized—too civilized. Their religion was nothing more than a stage play. But Jesus taught a very different brand of spirituality.

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests,” said Jesus, “but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” So Jesus spent the better part of three years camping, fishing, and hiking with His disciples. It seems to me Jesus was rewilding them.

Jesus didn’t just teach them how to be fishers of men.

Jesus taught them how to play the man!

My book, “Play the Man,” released earlier this week, includes an outline of the Year of Discipleship I completed with each of my sons. Each of them signed a discipleship covenant on their twelfth birthday. They each committed to three challenges–intellectual, spiritual, and physical. To celebrate the completion of the covenant at the end of the year, I took each of my sons on a Rite of Passage trip. Parker’s trip was hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. That 23.2-mile hike still ranks as one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, in part because of the July temperatures that hit 110 degrees—and that was in the shade! But I gained some life lessons that couldn’t be learned any other way.

A man discovers who he is in the wild.

He also discovers who God is.

Even Jesus went off the grid for forty days. You have to put yourself in situations where everything is stripped away, where nothing is scripted. You have to put yourself at the mercy of the elements and test your limits. That’s how you discover what you’re capable of and, more important, what God is capable of. That’s how boys become men and men become men of God.

Play the Man,” seeks to help men understand what it means to be a man of God by unveiling seven virtues of manhood. I share practical ideas about how to disciple the next generation of men to settle for nothing less than fulfilling their highest calling to be the man and the father God has destined them to be. Play the man. Make the man.

The Seven Virtues from "Play the Man":
1. Tough Love: “loving others when they least expect it and least deserve it”
2. Childlike Wonder: “true knowledge” combined with “profound humility”
3. Will Power: “making the most of any and every situation you find yourself in”
4. Raw Passion: “a lust for life that doesn’t settle for status or status quo”
5. True Grit: “resilience in the face of rejection, fortitude in the face of fear”
6. Clear Vision: “something to fight for, something to fight against”
7. Moral Courage: “putting yourself in harm’s way to protect someone else”

Mark Batterson is the New York Times bestselling author of The Circle Maker, The Grave Robber, A Trip around the Sun, and If. He is the lead pastor of National Community Church, one church with eight campuses in Washington, DC. Mark has a doctor of ministry degree from Regent University and lives on Capitol Hill with his wife, Lora. Mark and Lora have three children, Parker, Summer, and Josiah.