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Discovering What it Means to be a Man (Part 1 of 2)

Discovering What it Means to be a Man (Part 1 of 2)

Pastor and best-selling author Mark Batterson offers his insights on biblical masculinity and what it takes – particularly for a father – to raise a boy to become a good man. (Part 1 of 2)



Mark Batterson: A tough guy is not someone that can bloody a nose or blacken an eye. It’s someone who’s willing to hang on a cross for someone else’s sin.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: That’s Pastor Mark Batterson talking about the importance of godly manhood, and he’s our guest today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. Thanks for listening in. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, a man’s role is so important. But there’s so much confusion today on what it means to be a man. And as dads, we play a significant role in giving our children that identity. And one way we do that is by being a man of integrity ourselves and then teaching this to our children. And, you know, your kids are going to find you out probably faster than most people, ‘cause they’re living with you. They can see, “Is he consistent? Is he the man he thinks he is?” And that’s always proof in the pudding. That’s one of the things I do with my boys. You know, whenever they get a report card, I have them do a report card on me.

John: I’ve heard you say that before…

Jim: Yeah.

John: …and I’ve never tried to do that.

Jim: Yeah. I just…

John: I’m kind of avoiding doing it.

Jim: Yeah. What I’ve done is just…

John: But it’s a good idea.

Jim: It’s kind of like, six or seven measures. Am I spending enough time with you? Do we have fun together? Am I teaching you spiritual things? And it’s just – you can come up with whatever you want to. But I think for them to see that you’re also looking at how you’re doing is a good thing. And I need to probably write more on that. But it’ll be good. Here at Focus, we want to strengthen you. That is our goal. I know there’s many, many wives that are listening, saying, “I wish my husband would hear this.” Get the download. Make sure he does some way. Put it on the pillow. “Here’s a Focus on the Family program you may want to listen to.” Do it lovingly.


John: Yes. Yes.

Jim: Don’t do it in a way that’s – that’s shaming. But that is our goal – to help you be the best parent you can be. It’s as simple as that.

John: Yeah. And so listen in and as you do, just know that we’ve got a great book that our guest has written called, Play the Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be. We’ve got that and the download Jim mentioned, and other resources at or call 1-800-A FAMILY. And Mark is the senior pastor of National Community Church, and that’s in Washington, D.C.


Jim: Hey Mark, welcome to the program.

Mark: Thanks so much, guys.

Jim: You’ve written this great book, Play the Man. I resonate with it. I so appreciate what you’re expressing there. I mentioned there is confusion today on what it means to be a man. What do you think defines masculinity? Let’s get right to it.

Mark: In a word – Jesus.


Jim: No, that’s good.

Mark: I mean, I think the compass needle of masculinity is spinning. And things are being redefined. And there is a lot of confusion. And so, I think we’ve got to go back to the original source. What you do is, you reverse-engineer. I think you go back to first Adam, look at some of the mistakes that he made. And then I think in Second Adam, the person of Jesus Christ, we’ve got true north. He exemplifies what it means to be a man.

Jim: Yeah, that is so good. To ”play the man”, the title of the book, what are you expressing there? It’s a catchy phrase, but what is the meaning of it?

Mark: Yeah. Well you guys know I love history. And this title comes out of a true story. Polycarp was a martyr in 155 A.D. But something really interesting happened when they brought him into the colosseum at Smyrna. They told him to recant his faith, and he would not do it. He said, “86 years have I served Him. How can I blaspheme my King now?” And he hears a voice from Heaven. Now, you’ll find this in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. He hears a voice from heaven that says, “Be strong, Polycarp. Play the man.” It gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it?

Jim: Yeah.

John: Mmm.

Mark: And he played the man – by the way, was personally discipled by the Apostle John.

John: Wow.

Mark: And so when you read those words to the church in Smyrna in the book of Revelation, Polycarp would’ve heard John’s voice. And it said, “Be faithful unto death.” And he was. And so he played the man by dying for his faith. And I just want to flip the coin and say, let’s play the man by living for our faith. And so the title of the book kinda comes from that little piece of history.

Jim: Yeah. And it does grab you. That’s a wonderful story. What does God desire for us as men?

Mark: Well, I think that’s a big question with many dimensions to it. But I might capture the issue that I think we face with just this simple example: I’m in a room with 500 guys a year or two ago, and I asked them how many of them were discipled by their father. And three hands went up.

Jim: Three out of 500?

Mark: Three out of 500.

John: Oh my.

Jim: Wow.

Mark: Houston, we have a problem. And so I think what we have is men who don’t really know what it means to be a man of God, and fathers who don’t really know what it means to be a spiritual father. And there’s this tremendous void. And in that void, you can hear that last verse of the Old Testament, this kind of plea that God would turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. And I think that’s really the heartbeat of this book and the reason behind me writing it.

Jim: Well, that’s why we resonate with the message. That’s certainly the mission here at Focus on the Family for parents, but for men, for dads to really be engaged with their families. And that’s critically important to helping your children grow into the spiritual people they can be and should be. You’re a pastor. Do you think the church is teaching us how to be godly men?

John: Mmm.

Jim: Or is this – you know, so often now when I’m on the road speaking like you do, men will say, “I just – it doesn’t fit me. My wife loves it, but church for me is not meeting a need in me.”

Mark: Mmm.

Jim: What are they expressing when they say that? And what are we doing perhaps wrong when it comes to men being engaged with church?

Mark: Yeah. Well, let’s be honest. Many churches are answering questions that people aren’t asking.

Jim: Oh, man.

Mark: And so what we have is this culture that is having lots of conversation about gender, about sexuality. And if we don’t let our voice be heard and speak the truth in love, then, in a sense, we lose our voice. We lose our standing in culture. And so I think what we’ve got to do is find a way to speak that message of truth, to do it in love, and you know, the second that you bring up male and female – and here we are with, you know, #MeToo…

Jim: Yep.

Mark: …and everything else that’s happening in our culture. It’s almost like we’re tentative – we’re afraid to kinda speak into this. But it’s God who said, “Male and female. I have made them.” And it’s something that we oughta be celebrating. It’s something that we oughta be cultivating. And in many ways, if we aren’t defining what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, I think that culture steps in and begins to define it – often ways that are at odds with what we believe based on Scripture.

Jim: Yeah. And it’s really true. I was going to ask you about that before we got to the content of the book. You know, just the role of masculinity today. And you know, there’s that term that’s been created now: “toxic masculinity”. It’s almost like men’s backs are up against a wall. And there certainly are bad men that have done horrific things. But I appreciate in the news media when they say, “This doesn’t apply to every man.” I mean, not all men behave badly. And it’s almost like there’s a cultural acceptance that if you’re a man, you’re going to be doing things you shouldn’t do. And that’s not the case.

Mark: It’s not the case. And I go right back to the Gospels. And I look at Jesus. And I look at who He befriended and who He championed, and the way that He would reach across these divides and touch a leper and eat with sinners and…

Jim: Right, people that He shouldn’t have eaten with.

Mark: Yes.


And everybody’s ready to cast a stone. And He steps into the situation. And I just – I think we’ve got to go back to not just understanding who Jesus is, but look at the way that He interacted with the culture that He was in.

Jim: Yeah.

Mark: And I think in the person of Jesus we have this incredible, you know, Son of Man, Son of God, Lamb of God, Lion of the tribe of Judah. Which one is it? Yes, it’s both.

Jim: Yeah.

Mark: It’s – “Jesus wept” – every kid’s favorite Bible verse, right? To memorize. And then you have…

Jim: The shortest of all.

Mark: You know, He’s man enough to cry. But He also walks into the temple, and He turns tables over. So which one is He? He’s both. He’s this complex personality who is the incarnation of God Himself. And when we really look at Him, what we have is that prototype of who I want to be as a man, as a husband, as a father. And that’s why it says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.” And so, there it is. We have the picture.

Jim: Yeah. Unfortunately for men, I think when we hear that specific scripture, we already feel like we’re getting a D-minus.


You know, and men don’t do well…

John: Who can do this?

Mark: Yes.

Jim: We’re so performance-oriented that if – in our competitive spirit – we don’t feel like we can measure up, we just kind of slip away. And I wonder sometimes, you know, how do we measure up to Jesus? I mean, the perfect person, the sinless one…

Mark: Yeah.

Jim: …I mean, that’s a tall order. And I think so many men feel like, “I can’t do that. I don’t even understand how to love my wife in that way.”

Mark: Yeah.

Jim: What is the Lord wanting us to do in that relationship with our wives?

Mark: Yeah. Can I just speak a word of encouragement?

Jim: Absolutely.

Mark: Because we beat ourselves up. And you know, the enemy is the accuser of the brethren. So he’s the one who wants to remind us of what we’ve done wrong, over and over and over again. And I think what we’ve got to realize is that yes, we’re imperfect. But here’s some good news: His grace is sufficient…

Jim: That’s right.

Mark: …And He makes up the difference. And so the way I think about it – let’s take parenting for example. I am an imperfect father. You know, I wrote this book, Play the Man, and I’m about as flawed as they come. And so – but here’s what I believe – whether you’re a single parent listening to this or – or you know, a husband and a wife, the reality is we’re gonna fall short. But the good news is there is a Heavenly Father, who I believe makes up the difference. And so where we fall short, He steps in…

Jim: That’s exactly right.

Mark: …And that grace is sufficient. And by the way, parents, I want you to know the mistakes you make are some of the greatest opportunities you have, because – here’s my parenting philosophy in three words: please, sorry, thanks.

Jim: That’s good.

Mark: If our kids can learn please, sorry, thanks – but I’ll tell you what, the hardest is sorry. Well how are kids going to learn how to say sorry unless their parents learn to apologize for their shortcomings? So let’s not pretend to be perfect. Jim, I love that report card idea.


Mark: I want to ask you your grade-point average, but I won’t.

Jim: It’s a strong B-plus, room to grow.

Mark: Okay, yes. I love it. And then the heavenly Father steps in and kind of takes that all the way to 100 percent.

Jim: You know, it’s fun, though, when I do that. My youngest, Troy, he’s into it. He like, becomes the grader. He’s like, “Well, dad, in that one, yeah, you definitely got an A.” And then the next will be, “I think you’re hitting about a C on that one.”

Mark: I love it.

Jim: “A ‘C’? Are you serious?” I mean, it totally is the role reversal.

Mark: That’s so great. You might have a teacher on your hands.


Jim: I know. He’s good – he does take it seriously though. The other one’s like, “Yeah, you’re mostly A’s and B’s Dad, let’s go play ball or something.” Let’s get to the content of the book. You highlight seven virtues of manhood. You’ve talked about Jesus, who is one of those archetypes in the book, one of the characters you highlight. Give us a brief overview of the characters in the book, and then we’ll dig into a handful of them.

Mark: Yeah. Well I love history, so I read a lot of biographies. And there are some men that I look up to in terms of their manliness, shall we say, people like Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir and John Wesley Powell and Louis Zamperini. And so I love sharing their stories. And then I talk about these seven dimensions, seven character traits of what it means to be a man of God, all the way from tough love to moral courage and some true grit and willpower in between.

Jim: Well let’s grab a couple. Tough love – I think you went to Charles Lindbergh for that. Describe that virtue and who Charles Lindbergh is, because not everyone will remember.

Mark: Yeah. First solo transatlantic flight. And you know, pretty amazing accomplishment. That’s got to be a lonely experience, taking off New York State and then making it to Paris…

John: How long did that take him, do you know?

Mark: Oh, I think – I think it was maybe 33 – 36 hours. So I mean, you’re the only one at the helm, and it was so cloudy at points that he was flying about 10 feet above the water. By the way, my favorite moment was he’s getting close to the coast of Ireland, I believe, and he sees a fisherman. And so he circles the boat and asks him a question. And the poor fisherman is so dumbfounded, he doesn’t even know what to think of a guy flying a plane around his boat…

Jim: In 1920 something.

Mark: In 1927.

John: And hollering down there.

Jim: He’s probably thinking you’re scaring the fish away. Get out of here.

Mark: Yeah, right.

Jim: But that’s an interesting concept. But the tough love connection – give me a more concrete insight.

Mark: Yes. So you know, I asked the question, how does someone have that kind of endurance to pull off that kind of accomplishment? And I point back to his grandfather, August Lindbergh, who had a little sawmill in I think Sauk Centre, Minnesota. And I want to be careful here because this is not a pretty picture, but he had an accident with that sawmill. And he lost a limb. And the story is told that he didn’t make a sound, didn’t cry, didn’t say, “Ouch,” didn’t – and the doctor didn’t show up for three days. And so my point in the book is, you know, to Charles, flying across the Atlantic, no big deal, compared to his grandfather. You want to talk about tough! It’s someone who endured what he did. But then I want to take that idea of tough, because here’s the key: a tough guy is not someone that can bloody a nose, or blacken an eye. It’s someone who’s willing to hang on a cross for someone else’s sin.

Jim: Well, that’s – the interesting point you’re making, it’s not the external use of force. It’s the internal absorption of pain.

Mark: Yes.

John: That’s a good way to put it.

Jim: There’s a big difference.

Mark: Yes. And it’s things like sacrifice. And we celebrate it in movies, right? But it doesn’t seem like we celebrate it in real life. We want success without sacrifice. We want everything to be wonderful without, you know, the hard work behind it. And I’ll tell you why I call it tough love – because it’s tough, because it’s hard, because it takes tremendous effort to make that kind of sacrifice and loving another person.

Jim: Mark, you’re a pastor. And I want – I want to elaborate on this for a minute, because one of the concerns I have in the culture today – and I’m in it. I go to Washington. I meet with the people that help shape policy. It’s something we’ve done at Focus for years. But there is a difference, I think, in the way Christians should approach that area – the public policy arena. And I want you to apply this kind of tough love to it. You can go in and play a zero-sum game. You can shake the stick. You can be the tough guy, the mean guy. It doesn’t seem to me like that is the heart of the New Testament – where the Lord is, where Paul was at. When you’re asked to pray for those over authority, you have to come with a contriteness, a humility, the fruit of the spirit. That’s not a good mesh in Washington D.C., which plays this game of power.

And I think the question I want to ask you is – and I struggle with this personally, because I want to win. I want to be Peter in the garden. I want to strap on the sword and make sure my side comes out ahead. Then there’s this whole other side of me, which I think is the Holy Spirit in me, saying, “Act like Stephen. Be willing to lay your life down. It’s not that kind of game. I don’t play that game. If you’re gonna swing that sword, you’re gonna die by the sword,” just what Jesus did in rebuking Peter in the garden. Help me – just speak to me as a person who’s in the cultural battle. How do I maintain the character of Christ in an environment that acts so un-Christ like?

Mark: Well, I think you have to go back to the foot of the cross on a daily basis, right? You have to go back to that place where that kind of love is modeled for us. You know, Jim, I think we would rather be right than righteous. And I think there’s an issue there. Now, let me say this. John 1 says that Jesus was full of grace and truth. Truth means I’ll be honest with you no matter what. Grace means I’ll love you no matter what. I’ve found that most people kind of have a tendency towards one or the other. You know, that truthful person that maybe needs a little more grace, or that graceful person that needs a little bit more truth. I think what Jesus modeled is the perfect combination of these two things. And the way it expressed itself was – and this is my definition of tough love – it’s loving people, when they least expect it and least deserve it. And so there’s such a lack of civility, just old-fashioned niceness. And when I read the Gos – this isn’t going to sound super theological, but it’s Romans 2:10. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. He doesn’t threaten us. He shows us kindness. If that doesn’t work, I’m gonna try more kindness. Oh, if that doesn’t work, I’m gonna try even more kindness. I think that’s the heart of God. And we’ve got to operate in that same kind of spirit.

Jim: I agree. But – and I think here’s where we’re missing it as the church, is we don’t – A, I don’t think we have a lot of teaching in that regard. And it’s like in Luke 6, where it says, “If you love those who love you, what is that? Sinners do that. I’m telling you love those who hate you.”

Mark: Yes.

Jim: Okay. Wow. And I think I’m applying it here with what you’re saying, that tough love, it’s that man who can absorb the blows like Jesus did on the cross for the greater good. That is living it, as opposed to the man who’s the bully in the arena. And I just – I want to be cautious that we don’t become the bully in the arena, because I don’t think that’s the attitude of God’s heart.

Mark: Yeah.

Jim: All right. Let’s keep moving. Let’s move on to willpower. And who did you choose to exemplify willpower? And why is willpower important? What does it mean to the man?

Mark: Well there’s this wonderful book about Louis Zamperini and a movie about his life shot down in World War II, survived on the ocean in a little raft. And then things went from bad to worse – ends up as a prisoner of war, just cruelly treated because he was an Olympian. And when his captors found out who he was, he was treated pretty poorly. I forget the weight that he ended up at, but I want to say something like 70 pounds. I mean, he was skin and bones. He was a dead man breathing. But somehow he survived that and actually found a way to forgive – it was actually at a Billy Graham crusade that his life turned around. There’s this moment in the movie and in the book, and he’s holding up this beam. And it just takes all the strength he has to just hold this beam up. And I think there are moments in life where willpower is gonna be the thing that makes the difference. Now, two kinds of power – dunamis, kind of this physical power. But exousia, it’s this willpower, the ability to do the right thing, even when everybody else is doing the wrong thing. I think we need more of that in our manhood.

Jim: How have you done that as a man?

Mark: Oh, well, you know, it’s the tough circumstances, it’s the difficult times that I think forge us. And so I think of a near-death experience where I spent two days on a respirator, my intestines ruptured. I should have died. But you come out the other side of something like that, and now, every day is a gift. You live your life a little differently after that. I think I probably learned some of it playing basketball in college. You know, coach is gonna tell you “Hey, it’s another wind sprint.” Last thing I wanted to do. But you run that wind sprint. It’s – I think life teaches you that you’ve got to rise to that challenge and keep on keeping on.

Jim: Yeah. And that’s a great example. I think all of us, hopefully, can look to a point in our lives where we had to demonstrate that kind of willpower. And I would say a lot of pastors I talk to, Mark, talk about, you know, men are missing. We talk about orthopraxy, the doing of the word. It’s a lot of the womenfolk in church who are stepping up and doing that. So I guess – this isn’t a shame or a guilt thing – but I guess the compounding question is: why is that typical? And then why are men so easily distracted from what they should be doing, which is that hard work and those things that God calls us to – taking care of the widow and the orphan? I’m sure a lot of men would say, “That’s what a woman would do.”

Mark: Yes.

Jim: You know what I’m saying?

Mark: Yep.

Jim: I’m not trying to be degrading, but I’m saying something is not attracting us men to core things that we should do.

Mark: Yes. You know, I’m in the Galapagos Islands on a mission trip years ago. And it’s this incredible wildlife. You know, we’re swimming with sea lions. And there are pelicans that look like prehistoric Pterodactyls circling our boat and dive bombing for fish. And then there are these iguanas. And long story short, I go home, and I go to the National Zoo a couple of weeks later. And I’m walking through the ape house. And I’m thinking to myself, one, much more exciting being out in nature and experiencing kinda this wildlife in its natural habitat. And this crazy thought crosses my mind: “I wonder if churches do to people what zoos do to animals?”

Jim: Huh.

Mark: We cage them. And we want to tame them in the name of Christ. And we want to remove the danger and remove the risk. And then I juxtapose that, again, with the Gospels, and the fact that 11 out of the 12 disciples were martyred for their faith. Listen, Jesus didn’t die just to keep us safe, died to make us dangerous. And I think what happens is when we kinda remove this element of danger, this element of adventure, we lose the men in our midst. Listen, testosterone is a gift from God, but like anything else, it’s got to be sanctified and channeled in a way that glorifies God. And I think that happens, when we begin to, in a sense, “rewild.” And I talk about that a little bit in the book. We don’t have time to go into it. But I think there’s a “rewilding” that God wants to do in our hearts.


Jim: Well, that’ll be good to come back next time, if you can stick with us. And we’ll talk about that and how manhood in – in the family needs to be expressed in your marriage and your parenting – kinda get down to some even more practical things. But I have loved this. I’ve really enjoyed seeing kinda God, through John Muir and Lindbergh and other characters of history that you don’t normally associate with a deep connection with Christ. So Mark, this has been terrific. Let’s do that. Let’s come back next time and continue the discussion about Play the Man, this wonderful book that you’ve written.

Let me turn to the listener, also, and say today’s program highlights, I think, the very reason we exist here at Focus – to help you think differently about your relationship with Christ, to help deepen your commitment to Him, to help move you along that journey of spiritual development as a man, as a woman, as a husband, father, those are the things that we’re trying to equip you with to make you a stronger believer. And I think that’s worthy of all of our support. And if you can help us financially, I’d want to send you a copy of Mark’s great book, Play the Man, as our way of saying thank you for joining the team and touching, literally, hundreds of thousands of people who are looking for more in this life with Christ.

John: And if you can make a pledge of support on a monthly basis to Focus on the Family, we would be really grateful. And we’ll say thank you by sending a copy of Mark’s book, Play the Man. If you’re not able to commit to a monthly pledge right now, we’ll still be happy to send you the book for a donation of any amount. When you’re online, donate at, or call 1-800-232-6459 – 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Mark, I can’t let this one go before I say “Goodbye,” and that is, there’s a lot of women listening, and they’re going, “I wish my husband would be more like that” – what have you. What’s something they can do to encourage their husbands to be the man – to kind of “up” their game?

Mark: Yeah. Well, I mean, there’s a couple of first steps that could be taken. There’s a – a fun little Play the Man devotional and some resources at And then I might just say this: some guys are reading this book, but I recorded the audiobook myself. And a lot of guys, you know, there’s a commute to work and back, and you gotta fill that time, and so the audiobook might be an interesting way to…

Jim: It’s more guy-friendly.

Mark: Yes, yes.

Jim: That’s good. Thanks for being with us.

Mark: Thank you so much. 

John: And again, our website – we’ll have details about Mark and his ministry and these resources – is On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow as we wrap up the week and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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