Samuel James, working with research from Erik Hurst, gives a bleak picture of manhood in the 21st century in his article on America’s Lost Boys. The article is worth your time.
Young men, significantly more so than young women, are stuck in life. Research released in May from the Pew Center documented a historic demographic shift: American men aged 18-30 are now statistically more likely to be living with their parents than with a romantic partner. This trend is significant, for one simple reason: Twenty- and thirtysomething men who are living at home, working part-time or not at all, are unlikely to be preparing for marriage. Hurst’s research says that these men are single, unoccupied, and fine with that—because their happiness doesn’t depend on whether they are growing up and living life.
Several thoughts occurred to me as I read the article.
First, there are numerous reasons why we are in the predicament this article describes. But one of the key reasons is sex divorced from marriage and procreation. We need to return to marriage as a public good and something to be desired and children as one of the goals of marriage. Churches and politicians need to teach and model the glory of marriage, not as a idol that will provide you with personal fulfillment, but as a way to create a productive family unit that will benefit the home, the church, and society at large. There are few things as dangerous, exciting, and ultimately productive as starting a family. Of course, this is hard when Dad has been divorced twice and his children are scattered all over. But here is where the gospel comes in. Christ restores, heals, and strengthens relationships. In world filled with lies and cheap substitutes, the church must lead in helping young people who have lost faith that marriage can be done well and be good to understand and see the good in getting married, having sex with one woman for your whole life, raising kids, and showing up at work every day.
Second, we need to get young men involved in the trades. We have been taught a four year degree or more is the goal for all men. Thus many men who do not finish college or high school believe they are failures. If success looks like four years in a lecture hall followed by low job prospects and tens of thousands in debt many young men decide to forego college all together. They used have an honorable option: get a good trade skill and serve your fellow man. But now they are viewed as failures by our society. When is the last time a politician pushed the trades to a high school audience? They push college. That is a shame.
“Hurst says that his research indicates that young men with less than a four-year degree (according to virtually all data, that’s an increasing number) are spending their days unemployed and unmarried, but not un-amused.”
More young men need to be taught to fix cars, weld, build houses, plumb, fix electrical, and drive trucks. They should be given a trade-school education and be taught that this is not a step down from the really important work such as law, engineering, and medicine. It is really important work because it serves your fellow man. Part of this goes back to my first point. If the goal of our vocation is to make money, have a certain reputation, and be self-fulfilled then fixing cars would be down the list of desirable vocations. But if the goal of work is to serve others and provide for a wife and children then trade-school vocations should be just a popular as four year degrees. They often earn more, they earn more quicker, and those who learn trades usually come out of school with less debt.
Finally, the last paragraph has this sentence in it,
“Rather than try to attract these millennials by reshaping faith in the image of entertainment, we as Christians should offer a gospel that saves not only from hell but also from meaninglessness.”
James is talking about our faith in general, but my mind went directly to worship. Do we try to reshape worship in the image of our entertainment driven culture? Is our worship baptized pop-culture? And just as important does church life and the worship promote passivity? Do we call the worshiper to engage their heart, mind, and body or do we allow them to spectate? Does the fellowship in our churches allow members to drift in on Sunday and leave one hour later with little commitment, little push to serve? All Christians suffer when our worship reflects the world instead of the Lord’s priorities. But men especially suffer in our current worship environment that is driven by emotionalism, theologically shallow, low commitment (just like porn), and often led by men who act like women. Does our worship feed the adolescent fantasy described by James or does it offer an alternative?
Boys are lost in this world. Truth be told most men are as well. The good news is that the Scriptures, creation order, and our fathers in the past provide a way forward. It will not be easy. The devastation of the sexual revolution and the abdication or abuse of so many biological fathers, church fathers, and political fathers has left a parched landscape with little sign of water. But our job is not to count the obstacles, but to do the job. We must help these boys find their way again.