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Why do I need to be initiated?

Almost every ancient culture understood that boys, especially, needed help if they were ever to become warriors capable of protecting and leading the tribe into an uncertain future.  They needed to be initiated. The growth of the Mormon faith is a direct result of their emphasis on initiat…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Almost every ancient culture understood that boys, especially, needed help if they were ever to become warriors capable of protecting and leading the tribe into an uncertain future.  They needed to be initiated.

The growth of the Mormon faith is a direct result of their emphasis on initiation. When their boys come of age, Mormon families send them out into the world for two years. They leave as boys and come back as men.
By way of contrast, we have nothing. We ship them off to college still callow and self-absorbed, with little or no world view, ill-prepared to lay down their lives for a cause or to be a champion for the weak.  I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that our failure in evangelical America to initiate our young men is a tragic result of a flaw in our culture (and parenting) that leaves our young men mired in their narcissistic/hedonistic state. They spend their free time playing Nintendo and Wii when the world desperately needs their courage. 
The bottom line is that without initiation, they may have the vernacular and even have the right answers, but they are ill-equipped to navigate as a life source toward the kingdom of God in a world which relentlessly announces more bad news through the media every day.

Initiation is about absorbing pain in order to move from the self-focus of adolescence to the responsibility of adulthood.  Because women go through the discomfort and pain of their monthly cycle, pregnancy, and childbirth, they are naturally initiated. Young men, however, need the help of others to get to a place where they naturally put the needs of others first. What’s more, as Jesus-followers, we need to see for ourselves the reality of our faith. A good initiation process will expose us to a world much bigger than ourselves.

So, what specific changes can we expect when our young people are initiated?  I’ve isolated five changes that occur through the initiation process:
From                                         To
My needs                                  Needs of others
Independence/low trust           Community/high trust
My cultural fishbowl                  Kingdom world view
Comfort-motivated                    Ministry-motivated

Risk-avoidance                          Faith

At present, only a small percentage of our young men get the kind of initiation experience that helps them make these five changes. As they transitioned to adulthood, those in authority over them never gave them the gift of initiation. You probably know young men who really need this kind of experience.

As adults, these uninitiated people sail through life with a huge gap in their past. It’s natural without the help of others for young men to become self-referential comfort seekers. Their world view stays narrow and they don’t really learn how to live a life of faith and risk in a culture that places a premium on safety. Instead of building the kingdom, their focus becomes building their 401K.

What is sad or maybe just poignant is that as our men have abdicated their responsibility, a generation of mothers has stepped into the breach with an overprotective response to the pain life inflicts on their children. You can’t blame them for this response, but the result is a feminization of our churches and the creation of a group of men who feel like strangers to themselves. 
In many parts of the world, young people take a year to travel the world. That’s not a bad place to start, especially if they engage in ministry along the way.  One reason the World Race has become so popular is that it is a fantastic initiation experience, focusing on challenging young people to abandon their ego props and comforts to discover that life is not all about them. 
At present, this is a broken piece of our culture.  We need to rediscover the practice of initiation and give our young people the gift they may resist, but which they inwardly crave. Do you know someone who could use an initiation experience? Ask yourself, what is it in them that needs to die? How can they get the life experience they need before they get on the on-ramp of a world that hurls them along without ever telling them where they’re going?

Comments (9)

  • Not to sound like a crazy endorsement but…….. as a mother the greatest intiation into life as a God centered male for my son was me laying my fears aside and letting my then 19 y/o son put off college and head to Africa for 9 months as a FYM.

    He left a boy and returned a man! This is only possible because of people who have laid aside their own plans to love and mentor these kids. Kudos to you all!!!

  • Seth, at New Wilderness Adventures, we deal with uninitiated men all the time. Men that do not understand what it means to be the man that God designed them to be. A man that is fierce, full of courage, wise and has God’s heart toward others. It is as if most men are sleepwalking through life. Taken out, unsure of what to do next.

    I was that man for a long time even though I had a good family and some initiation. I was that man as a pastor for 4 years. Then I got woke up. I had real Godly men, who were bearing God’s image well speak into my life, help me through the self-centeredness, selfishness, addictions and lying that I was doing to cover it all up. They disrupted my life, the cozy little hell hole that I had made for myself. The environment around me was leading me to death. God, through these men, rescued me and continued my initiation (that my father began) into the man I am today.

    They helped me turn to my Heavenly Father to seek my affirmation, and helped learn to hear from Him. Once that happened, God kept inviting me into initiation after initiation. First it was getting over pornography and lust.. then it was learning how to be a husband. All of this was extremely painful and so on and so forth….

    As I stepped through each initiation, weather it was emotional/mental/heart or it was physical… each time I began to feel an authentic strength that only God can bring.

    I was becoming a man..

    I could go on and on about this.. God has been so great in my life… and in my family!

    Thanks Seth..

    If you want to know more about how we initiated men and boys, or if you want to just call me and talk go to http://www.thesailorsfamily.com or http://www.newwildernessadventures.com for more information on how to contact us!

  • I find it more and more noticable in my job that Dads are abdicating from their Role as “Father”. I have lost count the amount of times I have rang a students home and when the Dad answers I get this response “hang on a minute, let me get the wife, thats her department!” Since when did God give the role of “Father” to the mother?

  • Seth, what’s the difference between being initiated and just growing up? Are they part of the same process, the exact same thing, or entirely different?

  • great questions, Jeff. probably questions we need to address in another blog.

    everybody gets old and “grows up” in one way or another. growing up is a low threshold. Kind of a lowest common denominator of maturity. it can mean something as insignificant as “taking responsibility for yourself.” Hardly much of an accomplishment.

    by way of contrast, going thru an initiation process may lead to, but does not guarantee a higher standard of maturity. if you’ve gone thru a good initiation process and have internalized its lessons well, not only will you become more responsible for yourself, but you’ll become a life-source for others. you’ll become responsible for stewarding God’s kingdom. you’ll start fighting for justice and righteousness. you’ll start caring about the poor in spirit and will start acting in their behalf.

    But initiation just puts you on that path – it doesn’t do the walking for you.

  • I love it! As one feeling the responsibility of helping to initiate young men, what steps ought to be taken? Once they’re outside their comfort zone, placed among the poorest of the poor, what next?

  • answering my son (who is a great example of what initiation can accomplish)

    1. the experience needs to be long and hard enough that habits and presuppositions get challenged.

    2. it helps to have someone as a coach or mentor who helps them to process their experiences and challenge them to new ways of thinking and living.

    3. the initiate needs encouragement to live out his or her commitments – to erase old ways of living and start fresh.

  • Wow, Eric and I were just talking about this in regards to our son! Granted, he is only 8 but…he won’t be forever! Having had the distinct joy of “rubbing shoulders” with World Racers on two seperate occasions in the past 6 months I can see how it turns their life upside down! Still though one asks…where are all the boys?? Come on guys…get in the game (or the race)The Kingdom needs you!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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