By Jeff Medders
Do you remember Geoffrey the giraffe? What about the painfully catchy tune, their retail battle cry and hymn?
I don’t wanna grow up; I’m a Toys-R-Us kid.
If you learn one thing from this post: Never trust a giraffe.
Theology from a giraffe is never a good thing. From my limited experience, most talking animals are bad theologians: Barney, Chuck E. Cheese, Chester Cheetah, Geoffrey the Giraffe, and The Serpent in Eden. This theology from the 80s is, sadly, a still small voice echoing in the lives of professing adults. While the slinky has gone the way of the perm, refusing to grow up is still in stock.
As a pastor, and former college minister, I see the leprous effects of the Peter Pan Syndrome in young men. They are men biologically but boys theologically and practically. They graduate from high school, kite around for a few years, wish they had a girlfriend, wish they had a job, wish they had a wife, wish they didn’t eat dinner with mommy every night—but do nothing about it. You can blowout birthday candles all you want—wish, wish, wish upon a star—but it’s time to act. “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed”(Prov. 26:14). Stop wishing. Start working. Neverland is never somewhere you want to live. The post-Edenic lure of perpetual boyishness, fun, frivolity, and zero responsibility is the ultimate space for “lost” boys —not for men who have been found and are relocated “in Christ.”
In the book, The Demise of Guys, they highlight a survey where 20,000 men were asked what they consider to be the cause behind the motivational failures we see in men today. The overwhelming answer was, “Conflicting messages from media, institutions, parents, and peers about acceptable male behavior.” I understand why the world is confused, but men in the church ought to find robust clarity from God’s word. The Christian man, ultimately, is a disciple of One: Jesus of Nazareth. While media, sitcoms, movies, and peers vomit their views of manhood (or lack there of), it’s the Christian man who is not transformed by the world but is “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:2).
God’s call on the growing-up-ness of men is unavoidable. Paul instructs us, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). And King David’s deathbed words to Solomon are gold, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Kings 2:2–3). Manhood is distinct. King David is calling his son to be a man, not a boyish, and not womanly. Seems clear. Or is it?
The potential problem here is the misfire on what a man really is. In short, to “act like men”, means, to act like the Man. We must see that we are being transformed into the very image of the God-Man, of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). The Spirit shows us from David and Paul that true manliness is found in the soil of Bible-rooted faithfulness to God. Ray Romano isn’t our model, nor is George Costanza; the proliferation of profound idiocy is paralyzing men in our nation and our churches. In the what’s-down-is-up nature of the Kingdom, to grow up is to be infant-like in our desire for God, his word, and his glory. Childlike but not childish. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2–3). The eradication of the Peter Pan Syndrome will only come as swiftly as a man exults in Jesus. Knowing the awesomeness of Jesus is napalm to Neverland. Light it up.
Jesus is the true pattern of masculinity. Manhood is Christ-centered, rugged cross-bearing, and vacant tomb-empowering. There isn’t a whiff of Peter Panism in Christ. What we see from Jesus in the Gospels is radical servanthood, utter sacrifice, a love for God and neighbor that drives to action, and an unflinching commitment to the glory of God and the salvation of sinners. And this, the pattern of Jesus, is where God, by the Spirit, is growing us. Jesus, even as a little boy, was already about his Father’s business. It’s a sad state when a twenty-five year old, born again man, is still wondering about God’s will for his life. It’s all in the Book, friend. God won’t tell you which cereal to eat, but he will tell you to get up and get going—to get about the Kingdom’s business. And the good news of the gospel is that we have been crucified with Christ, we don’t live alone anymore; he’s taken up residence in us. His life is now our life. We’ve got more hope than we realize. We are growing up into the image of our Galilean and Galactic Emperor. We do want to grow up because we are children of God.
Before you leave this section of the World Wide Web, here’s a couple theological and practical elements to help knock out the Peter Pan Syndrome.
Get a Job Already
Stop waiting for your dream job and learn to make a latte. Don’t let those britches that mama bought you get too big to flip burgers, collect shopping carts, sell shoes, or stack lumber while you are waiting for the job you really want. You don’t have the luxury—or the biblical freedom—to sit around, lick the cheeto dust off of your fingers, and wait for that company to call you back. No, no, no. You must, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15–17). By all means, have fun—God is pro-fun!—take a Sabbath. But when you need a Sabbath from all of your sabbathing during the week—you don’t have a good theology of Sabbath. In my experience, pride keeps young men from jobs. Who cares if it only pays minimum wage for the time being? I’m no mathematician, but some dollars coming in is better than zero dollars.
Part of God’s will for you is to learn the discipline of sacrifice in the daily grind. Working a job that isn’t your dream gig is a wonderful training ground for the rest of your life where, God willing, for you to love a wife and children. And you must lovingly provide for them. Emotionally, spiritually, economically. And this love is a nail-pierced, putting others before yourself, kind of love. What does this have to do with a job you don’t want? Learning to be faithful at Target—when everything is going against the grain of your life plan—is helping you be faithful in the future. Rest assured, many things will not go the way you’ve planned, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Prov. 19:21). God is at work in you—in everything. When little boys get upset, they take their toys and go home, but biblical men keep their hands to the plow; they plod faithfully, trusting the sovereign God. And it might be that bussing tables will teach you more about life than Netflix.
Whether Marriage or Singleness—Get After It.
Peter Panning about life, habitual binge video gaming, and cashing the allowance from your parents after you’ve hung your degree above your elementary school shuttle run ribbon isn’t helping you with the ladies. It’s just not. God created us to tend and till (Genesis 2), not to just chill. Yes, there are seasons of transition, but don’t let it drift into a five year whiner winter. You ought to be preparing for maturity, for a gospel mirroring marriage, or for a radically Christ-exalting singleness.
If you want to be married, living like a lost boy will keep you from being the, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Prov. 18:22) kind of guy. And it may be that you feel called to a life of singleness like Paul shows us 1 Corinthians 7—praise the Lord. It’s an error to automatically link singleness with boyishness—but you know it’s not unheard of.
If you feel God’s call on your life as one of singleness, are you readying yourself for counter-cultural service to Lord Jesus like Paul speaks of? Do you have a weighty concern for the glory of Jesus? “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:32). Are your thoughts occupied with the fame of Jesus? Are you expending an abnormal amount of mental sweat for the Kingdom of God? This is the gift of singleness. Are you there? Are you serving at your local church? Are you a committed churchman? How will your singleness triangulate with the fame of Jesus? Start prepping now. Speak to your local church leaders, meet with your pastors, share this vision with them. See what the Lord has for you.
If you desire the gift of a wife—and brother, she is a gift!—though you may not be ready to care for, lead, serve, and love a wife right this second, are you trending in that direction? You only need the fruits of the Spirit, a passion for Jesus, a zeal for the local church, a humble disposition of sacrificial service and care, and the guts to approach a woman. What about knowing how to change the oil? While that may be helpful, it’s not essential. Godliness is essential. A gospel-formed pursuit of holiness is the way to get prepared for marriage. The Lord knows what tomorrow has for you.
Act like men. Act like Barnabas. Show yourself to be Pauline. And above all, be Christian. Repent where needed, and live the atomic truth of Romans 8:1. Repentance turns lost boys into godly men. Walk in a manner worthy of the new and abundant life you have in Christ the Lord. “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). And believe it or not, even Geoffrey the Giraffe settled down, got married and had two kids of his own—with God, all things are possible.
J.A. Medders is the Lead Pastor of Redeemer Church in Tomball, Texas. He is chasing a M.Div. at Southern Seminary. He and Natalie have two precious kids, Ivy and Oliver. Jeff is also an uncertified grill master. He blogs at www.jamedders.com and tweets from @mrmedders.