Rites of Passage Can Help Boys Become Men

Jesus’ initiation in Jerusalem can guide American churches in raising Christian men.

Twin crises afflict contemporary America: The Great Dechurching and The End of Men, as the titles of recent books label them. Put briefly: Many churches fail to lead young people into Christian maturity, while contemporary culture fails to bring boys into mature manhood.

We cannot solve either crisis without solving both, together. And we have resources for addressing these crises together—time-honored, transcultural resources attested in Scripture, manifested in the church, and affirmed by contemporary research into adolescent formation.

While “the great dechurching” is a crisis for girls as much as for boys, the overall challenges they face differ. As Richard Reeves shows, girls are outpacing boys in schools and, increasingly, in the workplace and in general health. American girls face challenges no less severe, but they are different.

In asking how all of us, especially our boys, can grow into Christian maturity, we should start by considering how our Lord left his boyhood behind in order to be about his Father’s business.

When Jesus was 12 years old, Luke’s gospel tells us, his family went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover, as they did every year. “After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:41–43).

This is the sixth time Luke describes Jesus as either “the baby” or “the child”—he never calls him just plain “Jesus” up to this point. But then, at the end of the story, we read, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (2:52, emphasis added).

Over the course of three days, Jesus leaves his boyhood behind. He does …

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