Leaders' Notes: What makes a man?

Introduction

The session outline provided serves as a guide for discovering what makes us unique as men, what traits we admire in other men and seek to emulate and the ways in which our faith can help us develop a positive ‘male’ identity.

The purpose of the session is to get the guys talking about the kind of people they look up to and why and how to take up the challenge of being young men of faith.

As a leader, you might want to take a little time ahead of the session to look at what the Bible has to say about being a man of God:

Scriptures

• 1 Peter 4: 1-2 – Jesus lived life as a man, so we have him as an example.
• Galatians 3: 26 – We’re all sons of God, marked by our relationship with Him.
• Galatians 4: 6 – Because we’re His sons, we’ve been given His Spirit to help teach us how to follow in our Father’s footsteps.
• Romans 8: 14-17 – The reverse is true, if we follow the leading of the Spirit that shows we’re sons of God. As sons we are to live like Jesus, enduring trials and sharing in his suffering.
• John 10: 10 – Life is meant to be full and fulfilling – that’s what Jesus came to give.
• Hebrews 12: 1-2 – God’s given us role-models to encourage us and He sent His son for us to follow. Perhaps in the context of these verses we might recognise Jesus not only as our end-goal (as in Philippians 3: 12-13) but as our pace-maker, the one who sets us on course and establishes the pattern for the race we’re running.

Quran

‘And the believing slaves of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth with calmness and humility.’ (Qur’an 25:63)

‘And whoever places his reliance and trust in Allah then He will suffice him.’ (Quran 65:3)

‘None of you believes perfectly until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’ (The Prophet Muhammad )

‘Hand over your affairs to the One who knows best, for He is the Knower of every heart and every desire.’ (Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib)

Imam al-Qushayri (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) summaries the nature of positive masculinity. In Arabic this is called muru’a or manliness. Conceptually, manliness is closely related to futuwwa or chivalry. Imam al-Qushayri says in his famous Risala, “The root of chivalry is that the servant strives constantly for the sake of others. Chivalry is that you do not see yourself as superior to others. The one who has chivalry is the one who has no enemies. Chivalry is that you be an enemy of your own soul for the sake of your Lord. Chivalry is that you act justly without demanding justice for yourself. Chivalry is [having]… beautiful character.”

Practical Points

There are parts of the session that may require more time and preparation in advance, here’s a list of ideas and resources that you might find useful to get things planned ahead of time, helping things to run more smoothly on the day:

Activity
Aim
Suggested Resources
Superhero sorter

A light-hearted way to introduce the idea of what makes a ‘hero’, in particular thinking about strengths and qualities that might be considered ‘masculine’

Here’s where you get to be creative! If you’ve always wanted to have a superhero alter-ego, now’s your time to unleash your inner-hero… on paper, at least! Feel free to use some of the more well-known superheroes, the likes of Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Wolverine etc. but throw in a few of the more obscure characters from the comic-book archives as well as some you’ve created out of thin air! Be sure to come up with super-powers for your Marvel-esque creations!
Unless you’ve got some serious comic-book fans in your midst, they’re not likely to know all of the characters, so when they think they’ve got their characters sorted, check their answers and tell them how many superheroes they’ve correctly identified and how many super-powers they’ve matched.

Who do you think you are?

Whilst we’re not about stereotyping here, studies show that certain traits and mental competencies that are more common to men than women and vice versa. The idea here is to show that the way we think and process information can have a lot to do with our gender and that there are ‘strengths’, patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking that can be described as ‘masculine’.

The BBC aired a series in 2005 called ‘Secrets of the Sexes’ which explored the relationship between gender and thought processes, amongst other things. On the programme’s website there’s a ‘brain sex’ test which takes the participant through a series of activities that determine whether you display more male or female traits in the way you process information. If possible, get everyone to do the test online and compare results. If internet access is an issue, you can search online for downloadable tests, although you may find the questions are a bit more subjective so results might not be as clear.

Taking a risk

Shared activities are often a great way of guys getting to know one another, especially if there’s an element of challenge and/or competition! This activity is mostly about letting the guys be guys.

In terms of making this activity feasible, you might want to consider where you choose to hold the session as a whole! A climbing wall, for example, would be a great tool for this activity. But to keep things more practical and cost effective, a good alternative might be to bring along some gym equipment or a Wii® (or something similar) and set the guys a physical challenge.

It takes one to know one

Everyone has screen icons. Flawed or not, the characters portrayed in movies tell us a lot about the kind of men we identify with and even idolise, so they provide us with a helpful insight into the kind of characteristics that we think of as masculine.

Choose clips from a range of movies – action, comedy, drama, perhaps even a chick-flick to give a flavour of the different ‘roles’ men play e.g. protector, role model, provider, teacher, leader, lover etc. You’ll probably be able to find individual clips on websites such as YouTube which you can cut together if you have access to video editing software or you can drop them into a PowerPoint presentation.

Genuine masculinity

Following on from the previous activity, having outlined masculine traits, now we move on to consider how these traits find either positive or negative expressions and how our faith can help us find or cultivate those positive expressions.

You might find it helpful to put together a series of images on PowerPoint that help depict masculinity in its various expressions – both positive and negative and intersperse them with Scriptures from the Bible and Qu’ran. Play this on a loop for the guys to refer to and draw ideas from. Provide copies of the quotes from the Bible and Qu’ran for the groups to read, share and discuss.

Role-models

This activity is meant to hep the guys draw together their thoughts and ideas about the masculine traits they’ve identified and how they’ve seen them expressed positively in the lives of real men.

A lot of people learn more through doing than through talking, especially boys, so this should be a really helpful, tactile experience. Try to source a range of materials including some that convey masculine traits: strong, sturdy, rough etc. You can get a lot of materials from local recycling centres – see if your local council has an arts project that uses recycled materials.

Rites of passage

Much as physical displays of strength and agility are common features in male circles, proving oneself by fulfilling certain tasks is also a familiar trait. The purpose of this activity is to have fun setting challenges, whilst exploring the purpose that ‘rites of passage’ serve in helping a young man ‘prove himself’ i.e. learning self-reliance, responsibility, self-control etc.

Collect together a range of articles that explore rites of passage – encyclopaedia entries, excerpts from historical sources, information about cultural groups, articles from sources such as National Geographic. Give the guys time to enjoy reading through these! Help them to draw out some of the features of these rites posing questions like, ‘what is this meant to prove,’ ‘how does it demonstrate the characteristics of a man’?

He who dares…

To conclude the day, encourage the guys to set themselves personal challenges and consider how they might achieve them.

There’ll no doubt be some mad ideas that come out of the previous activity, but if possible, let the boys have a go at trying some of them out!
Draw things to a close by setting personal challenges. Give them each three strips of paper to write their challenges on and a piece of card to stick the challenges to, face down (Blue Tac is best for this). Give groups pieces of paper with Scriptures from the Qu’ran and Bible printed on them. Encourage the boys to read through the Scriptures and take a copy of any that they find encouraging or even challenging. Get them to lay these Scriptures face-up on their sheet over the challenges they’ve just set themselves.
They’ll have this to take with them as a reminder of the day, an challenge to face and overcome tests & trials in life and an encouragement that God will be with them in all that they do.

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