Six Things a Man Must Do to Get What Every Man Needs, But Few Get

“I was appointed as my denomination’s pastoral counselor,” the clergy conference speaker said. “My job is to counsel pastors. The job is demanding, filling my schedule several weeks ahead. I have been doing this for over three years and I have yet to counsel a single pastor of my own denomination. They are all from other denominations.”

I looked at the pastors around me. No surprised looks. A few wry grins. Most quietly nodded their heads in silent understanding. The speaker went on to review what his audience already knew: no pastor dares to bare his soul with a representative from his denomination for fear it gets back to the administration.

Lack of Trust

Several pastors commented on my column What Every Man Needs, But Few Get, saying they have made good deep-level friendships with other pastors, though not from their denomination. That’s why some pastors form good friendships with retired non-denominational missionaries.

Lack of trust blocks men from making deep friendships. One non-Wycliffe correspondent put it well, “The competition for promotion, for power, for funding, all work against men forming deep relationships. These traits and behaviors were part of my team experience in every assignment. I found it very unwise to ever let my hair down, to express my deeper thoughts and emotions, because the superficial things I did share I found used against me. I learned to keep quiet.”

He concluded, “Perfect love has yet to be realized in the local church (1 John 4:18), so the fear of what we share with another being used against us remains. Vulnerability is thus sacrificed on the altar of self-preservation, and loneliness becomes our way of life.”

Three Relationship Circles

Every man has three concentric circles of relationships. The large Fellowship circle is made up of the dozens of men he knows. The much smaller Friends circle is comprised of people he knows well, his colleagues, his neighbours, etc. Then there is a very small Freedom circle in which are the trusted men from whom he does not need to hide anything. For most men the Freedom circle is empty.

One friend commented on my admission “I cried my heart out with longing” when I heard about the deep friendships of the Billy Graham team at the Amsterdam conference. He and I were both at that conference and often talked with each other. He wrote, “Jack, the sad irony of your story is that I . . . had no idea of what was going on in your heart. I wonder how often this happens with men?” True, I hurt terribly inside, but didn’t share it with this brother. Loneliness had become my way of life.

Pastors making special friendships with men in their congregation run the risk of being accused of favoritism. Nor can he discuss pastoral issues with a member of the congregation. Missionaries too struggle with conflict of interest issues. They are life-long fundraisers for their ministries, their projects and, in the case of “faith missionaries”, their salaries. I have felt it myself. As I tried to develop a deep level friendship on furlough, I also had the thought, “I wonder if he might like to support us financially?” Maybe the potential friend was thinking something similar, “I wonder if Jack is developing this friendship with the hope of getting me to support him?”

Several leaders wrote to say they felt isolated in their leadership position. Yes! I was the CEO of Wycliffe Canada for six years and of Wycliffe Caribbean for three years. Leadership is a lonely calling. Even my wife, Jo, disliked the role of CEO’s wife. Although she oozes friendliness and is the soul of discretion, she felt that her friends were not as close as they had been before.

(By the way, although my focus is on men, from the growing number of emails from women I gather they too find it hard to develop Freedom circle friendships.) So what’s a man to do?

Friends Out for a Walk

Six Things We Men Must Do

  1. Recognize that God created us and other human beings to be relational. God is relational: He is a Community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God made us “in His image” which includes the need for relating to others on an intimate level.
  2. We need to be absolutely convinced that having an intimate, deep-level Freedom circle friendship with another man is God’s will for us.
  3. Knowing that God wants us to have a close, deep level friend, we set developing one as a top priority in our life, asking for God’s help daily.
  4. We must always stay within our gender. Men develop friendships with men, women with women.
  5. To avoid conflicts of interests, or competition, we may need to make intimate friends with someone outside of our workplace or workgroup. Pastors may need to go outside the church, and leaders outside their organization to find and develop a mutually satisfying friendship.
  6. We must continue the relationship even while we are apart by using the phone, email, Skype, or other technology to keep in touch. This may not grow the friendship, but at least will maintain it.

Those of you who already have trusted Freedom circle friends with whom you are mutually accountable tell me, “It’s worth the time and effort. Just do it!” Please pray for the rest of us so we will persevere in asking, seeking and knocking, trusting that we will receive, find, and see an open door. Luke 11:9.

Comments on “What Every Man Needs But Few Get”

Last week’s blog post, What Every Man Needs But Few Get, sparked a greater number of responses than usual. Nearly all were private direct emails to me, a few were in the public comments section. I have excerpted and summarized some of their questions, insights and ideas.

Missionary Men & Friendship

From Dan via the public comments: For those of us in missions, and for those that will live a similar sort of lifestyle, what is your advice? What would you do differently? My answer: Knowing what I know now, I would definitely put “Develop a deep level friendship with at least one other man,” on my Ten Things I Really Want list. I thought it would just happen, like it did for my wife and her friends, it seemed so easy for her. I never made making a deep level friendship a priority, I should have.

From a missionary who worked in an isolated location, now retired and living in Canada: Sure enough. I have been more of a loner all through life. It seems to me that I was the only one who …..(I can list a dozen areas I had to break through alone). Just now I have one definite male colleague in the faith and a few nearby.

A Bible translator from Papua New Guinea finally, at age 59, developed a way to make a deep level friend. I’ve been there, done that. But technology can help! Now, thanks to weekly Skype video chats, I have a ‘iron-sharpening-soul-brother-mate’. We challenge, mentor, befriend, encourage, and pray for each other. We spur each other on in our walk with the Lord.

From an adult missionary kid whose parents worked in isolation: I wish my dad could have had the kind of deep level relationships with men that I enjoy.

Church Going Men & Friendship

RF’s insight and book recommendation: This emotional isolation does not only happen to cross-cultural missionaries. It is pervasive in church life, I would go as far as saying that it is the standard way of living for modern men. A good book on the subject is “The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives” by Peter Scazzero.

Thinking Private Thoughts

From a retired man: You have me brooding over this one, Jack. David in Psalm 141:5 invited confrontation. But we tend to be to self-oriented, too self-sufficient, Lone Rangers.

From a fellow columnist: Another good one, Jack. About men bonding, have you had much contact with Promise Keepers or Covenant Keepers? The answer is, No. But I do know that Promise Keepers focuses specifically on men and their needs, and has an excellent reputation. Covenant Keepers focuses on restoring marriages.


From a fellow Albertan: I’ve had many friendly acquaintances but few friends that I can name. Close friends? My best man friend on the planet is a man I used to minister the Gospel with thousands of miles from here. I sometimes have a deep longing to talk to someone I can really actually open-up and talk to, but have no-one here, so I reach for the telephone and call long-distance. Why is it that we men, though some of us are social and do make ‘friends’, so few of us have a really close friend?

From a retired teacher. When I look back over the years I have seen how certain men have regularly spoken into my life because we had this type of relationship. Thanks for touching on a very relevant topic. An article that I received this week has some”how to” ideas.

Elderly & Friendship

From an old friend. An especially good one, Jack. But you don’t have to be a missionary in a Canela village to feel isolated and lacking friends at a deep level. Try being 81, in a village of fewer than 700 which is highly inter-related — with one’s long-time friends dropping away from age, infirmity and death. The hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus” takes on new meaning.

Women & Friendship

Quite a number of the respondents were women, some of them concerned for their husbands, others for themselves. One lady encouraged me and gave her perspective. This is a great piece, Jack. You are vulnerable and speak an important truth. (Supposedly) REAL Christian men get so busy in “ministry” that this aspect (deep level friendship with other men) is often overlooked.

From a single woman, veteran missionary. It is not just men who are lacking close friendships, some women are, too, including me.  It has been the same all my life.  I start to develop a friendship and then something intervenes. The very first and growing friendship that I had was with an older colleague after serving on the field for 25 years. I felt we were becoming quite close in spite of our age difference. She died some years later while I was on furlough.

A wife wrote from a Muslim nation where she and her husband work to encourage the Christian minority population. I have had several western women ask what my support system is in terms of having English-speaking women to talk to. I don’t feel the need as I’m well integrated and have good relationships with local ladies; and I have many ladies at the end of an email that understand me. No one, however, ever asks my husband that question. I hadn’t thought of it before.  He has, however, formed a close relationship with a local elder of the church we are part of. It is one of the very few close relationships with a man that he’s had in his life.

My Final Question

Since men submerged in their careers often don’trealize they need a deep level friendship, how does the local church help them to make connections and develop friendships?

What Every Man Needs, But Few Get

It was the last day of a great Bible translation conference. Over three-hundred leaders from home country and field organizations had praised God for the victories, and been driven to prayer by the defeats shared by speakers from all over the world.

A fellow mission leader from Brazil and I sat near the back that afternoon and were paying close attention to the current presenter, a vivacious woman in her mid-thirties, slim, fit, and good looking, who put smiles on our faces as she told stories of the happy results in her country’s programs. She was all over the platform during her highly animated and enthusiastic presentation. It was a pleasure to listen to her report and . . . to watch her perform.

Well over half the conference delegates were men, and with board meetings, seminars and workshops tacked onto the conference, nearly all of us had been away from home for six weeks. We were weary. I missed my wife, and I wondered if others missed their spouses too.

Suddenly my colleague turned to me and whispered, “What if there was a hologram above each one of our heads showing exactly what we are thinking right now?

Yikes! It was all I could do to keep from glancing up to see if my thoughts were publicly visible above my head!

I glanced at my friend, and grinned ruefully. At the same time, I also felt a strong bond with him. It was so good to know I was not the only one whose thoughts were far more focused on the lovely presenter than on her report. Here is another man like me, I thought, someone who understands me.

I thought of that incident many years later when I participated in the Billy Graham, Amsterdam 2000 Conference of Evangelists. I listened enraptured as Cliff Barrows talked about the importance of men forming deep level friendships with other trusted Christian men. He described how he and Billy Graham, Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson and Tedd Smith had not only traveled and ministered together for over fifty years, but lived near one another and were one another’s closest friends. As he spoke about these men praying together, holding one another accountable, and being honest, open and transparent towards one another, my heart broke. I put my face in my hands, leaned forward in my seat in that international audience of 10,000 men and cried my heart out with longing.

Who are my close male friends? I asked myself in the months that followed. What is a “close friend” anyway? Have I ever had one? Some of the people who consulted with me on linguistic and translation problems had been men. Another man taught me a lot about operating a computer. During several workshops on the centre a couple of guys and I played tennis. For another few months, two other men and I got together for Bible studies and prayer. But these were all short term, relatively shallow relationships. Why? I wondered. I thought of several reasons.

I was pretty close to one man, but our travels kept us apart. One year he was on furlough, another year I was. I would be working in the Canela village for three or four months, when I returned, as often as not he had just left for a month’s trip.

Jack Teaching

And the Canela men in the village? I was learning language and culture from them. They were learning Bible and general knowledge from me. Our relationships were either student-teacher or teacher-student. I simply had no peers.

Our family lived in different cities each furlough. We went to a different church nearly every Sunday during furlough to speak about missions and Bible translation and raise some more financial and prayer support.

On the missions centre, in the village, or on furlough, I had no man around to consistently connect with on a deep level. On the centre only two men were willing to invest the time to build a deep relationship with each other. (Women did seem to have better relationships with one another.) I, and the rest of us men, sought to meet our emotional needs through our ministry work. I wish now that I had tried harder to develop deeper friendships.

We who are cross-cultural missionaries are prepared to make sacrifices. We know we won’t get the job done otherwise. But I never realized that my isolated work conditions, my frequent travel, and shattered lifestyle would make deep level friendships so difficult to develop. Yet we need them, and even now some of us long for them.

Hey, you that are thinking of becoming cross-cultural missionaries . . . are you ready to learn from my mistakes?

How to Panic Satan and Get Him Angry

The good news squawked from our short wave radio on Monday morning, “Paul is flying the plane from Belem to Brasilia for a major overhaul and could stop at the Canela village on Saturday night.”

Alright! Paul would stop to refuel in town. That meant, I could ride my motorbike the 70 kilometres into town, buy 400 kilos (880 pounds) of salt, kerosene for lamps and other heavy stuff the village needed, and arrange to have it loaded on the plane to haul in. I would be back on Tuesday night.

The Trip

So on Monday I rode off on my old Tote Gote, a limited edition off-road motorcycle. Powered with only lawnmower engine it was slow going, but I got to town in five hours, instead of in two days on foot.

By Tuesday noon, I had finished buying the supplies and left them with friends to take to the airstrip when the plane landed to refuel. As I rode back to the village I felt pleased with the way I was able to help bring in needed goods in this way which are so difficult to haul in on foot. But my happiness was short lived.

The Breakdown

An hour into the trip my Tote Gote suddenly quit. Nothing I tried would start it again, so I pushed it into the bush to hide it from passersby, and walked the 15 kilometres back to town, arriving well after dark. On Wednesday morning, a friend and I drove a jeep out to pick up the defunct bike and hauled it back to town where it was diagnosed as irreparable.

The Praying

Jo in Village House Kitchen

It was a long week of waiting for the plane. It was an even longer week for Jo since with no phone or short wave radio in town, there was no way for me to get a message out to her. She had expected me on Tuesday night. On Wednesday’s brief short-wave radio schedule with the mission centre in Belem at 6:00 a.m., she asked our friends to pray for me. And again on Thursday morning, and Friday, and Saturday.

Finally, at noon Saturday, the plane arrived. When the pilot saw me on the airstrip he called the centre saying, “I see Jack: he is okay.” This was good news for Jo who was by her radio monitoring the conversation. An hour later, the plane arrived in the village, with me and all but 70 kilos of supplies.

The Worry

On Sunday, after the plane left and the goods were distributed, Jo and I finally sat down to talk about how her week had been. “I was pretty worried. I imagined you lying out on the trail somewhere with a broken leg or worse.”

She went on to tell me that as soon as I left she had started to feel sick, nauseous and feverish with a lot of pain in her abdomen. “I thought it was just another case of diarrhea,” she said. But because of the fever, she treated herself for an infection with massive doses of tetracycline, a broad spectrum antibiotic. “By Friday I was feeling better, but will continue with the tetracycline treatment for a full week.”

The Rest of the Story

All this happened in mid-August. Fast forward to the week of November 7, Leanne’s tenth birthday. We were now on the mission centre, the girls were in school, and Jo wanted to bake and decorate a birthday cake, and plan a party for Saturday. But by mid-afternoon she felt a pain starting in her belly button and moving to her lower right abdomen. Soon she was feverish and feeling nauseous. I ran to get one of our missionary friends, a registered nurse to come and see her. “This is appendicitis!” she exclaimed, “We’ve got to get her to the hospital right now!”

Jo protested, worrying about Leanne’s cake and party, but within an hour she lay on the operating table undergoing an emergency appendectomy.

“The appendix was swollen and had started to leak,” the surgeon told me afterwards, “but I got it out just in time. By the way, I also saw evidence of a previous infection.”

The Plot

Then I remembered that week in August when Jo had treated herself aggressively with tetracycline. Satan’s plan was to kill Jo, and without the antibiotic treatment, he would have succeeded—a massive infection of the appendix can kill within 24 hours. I would have arrived on Saturday afternoon to find crowds of upset Canelas, three distraught little girls, and one fresh grave.

God had foiled Satan’s plot to stop the Canela Bible translation project. (I could not have continued without Jo!) It was neither his first evil attempt, nor the last. The experience, though painful and dangerous, confirmed to Jo and me that the translation work we were doing as a team was a major threat to Satan. His centuries-long unhindered control over the Canelas would end when the Truth of the Good News was translated into Canela. And it did, a few years later, when the first Canelas chose to leave Satan’s kingdom and enter God’s Kingdom.

The Anger

Satan will soon be in an anger filled panic mode. Every week two or three new Bible translation programs are starting in people groups that are still under his control.

“He (Satan) is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” Revelation 12:12 (NIV).