FamilyLife Today® Podcast

From Adolescence to Manhood

with Ben Rainey, Dennis Rainey | June 8, 2011
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What distinguishes a boy from a man? Ben Rainey, son of FamilyLife President Dennis Rainey, talks about his experience moving from adolescence to manhood.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What distinguishes a boy from a man? Ben Rainey, son of FamilyLife President Dennis Rainey, talks about his experience moving from adolescence to manhood.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

What distinguishes a boy from a man?

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From Adolescence to Manhood

With Ben Rainey, Dennis Rainey
June 08, 2011
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Bob:   For many years Dennis Rainey has been challenging men to step up to embrace their responsibilities as men.  That hasn’t just happened in public speaking settings.  His son, Ben, remembers it happening at home, too.

Ben:  I always had the sense that he was calling me to step up onto greater responsibility.  One of my dad’s favorite sayings—we always get a good kick out of this is—he would always come to me when I was facing something tough or a decision, he would say, “Son, you have the least amount of responsibility today than you will ever have for the rest of your life.  You are going to be moving on, you are going to be moving up.  That is what a man does.”

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 8th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey; and I'm Bob Lepine.  One of Dennis’ sons, Ben, joins us today to talk about men moving up, stepping up, and becoming God’s man. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  You know there are some shows, or some commercials on TV for that matter, that you watch them and you feel like a man—with the Marines, all dressed in the uniforms, twirling their guns.  They (deepens voice) talk like this, too.  You feel like a man!

Dennis:  Or the sweaty body climbing the rock cliff, going up the sheer rock face...

Bob:  Fighting off the dragon and then he becomes a Marine—that one?

Dennis:  Yes. Yes.

Bob:  (Deepened voice)  Yes.  You feel like a man, don’t you?!

Dennis:  The question is, “When does a man become a man?”  Does it take joining the service to do that?

Bob:  Do you have to climb the rocks in order to get there, right?

Dennis:  Exactly.  I love what Burt Reynolds once said.  He was once asked, “When does a man become a man?”  He said, “When his daddy tells him he is.”  I think there is a lot of wisdom in Burt Reynolds statement for this generation because I think there needs to be a fresh definition of manhood. 

I think we need a fresh vision of what it looks like to be a man today because these are new days, with new challenges facing young men.  If young men are going to step on up to manhood, they need older men in their lives to help them do that.

Bob:  You think manhood is a part of the process, but it is not the end of the line.  You have five steps that you think a man needs to go through in his life.  Right?

Dennis:  Right.  I think young men today need to see these five steps before them to give them a vision of where they are headed.  The first step is boyhood.  That is that magical time of innocence that young boys go through, but then they have to transition through a phase called adolescence.  That is as time when they are part boy, part man.  The man is emerging, and the boy—he is slowly being put away. 

Bob:  Or he ought to be put away.  For some guys, he hangs around longer than he should.  Doesn’t he? 

Dennis:  Exactly.  Adolescence should give way to a man stepping up, fully on the third step of manhood, where a man knows he is a man and he has a vision for the rest of his days. 

The last two steps are the step of being a mentor and the final step is, I think, the ultimate call of a man.  That is to be a patriarch—a generational protector, a generational guardian—one who is nearing the end of his life but has a vision for future generations. 

Bob:  Take me back to that third step, though.  If we are talking about a man emerging from adolescence and fully embracing manhood, is there a way to define that so that the guy can get his arms around it?

Dennis:  I think the closest the Bible comes to defining manhood is found in

1 Corinthians 16:13-14.  It says, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.” 

In that passage, Bob, if you had to boil that passage down to a single word, which I think would be dangerous; nonetheless, I think it is good to have some sense of essence of what masculinity, biblical masculinity, is.  I think it is initiative.  I don’t think a man is ever a man when he is being lazy, when he is being passive. 

You look at this passage, and the command is to be on guard—to guard your heart; to stand firm in the faith.

Bob:  Have a backbone.  Right? 

Dennis:  Yes.  To be men of courage, to act like a man, to be strong.  Not only the tough side of a man, but the tender side of a man—do everything in love.  There is a relational side to being a real man that I think gets overlooked today; we dare not minimize. 

Bob:  That command to let all that you do be done in love is really also a call to sacrifice, to commitment, to preferring others over yourself.  If a man doesn’t have that as a context for all the rest, then being strong, standing firm, and having courage—that can get out of control and can veer a man off in the wrong direction. 

Dennis:  Real manhood is never dictatorial.  It is never taking advantage of those that you are assigned to lead, whether in a corporation, an organization, or with your family.  I think true biblical manhood has as its heart, even as a man initiates, that of preferring others, as you said.  It is letting all that you do be done in love.  If a man misses relationships—if he is not a great lover—I don’t think he will ever become a great man. 

Bob:  Let me take you back to that concept of initiative.  Unpack that a little bit more for us.  When you talk about the essence of manhood being initiative, what are you talking about?

Dennis:  I think God made man to step up, to step out, and to lead out.  We are commanded in Scripture to be still and know that he is God.  Those are moments of reflection and meditation; but if you look at a man, nothing ever comes to a man who is passive, who is lazy.  In fact, if you look at the Proverbs, the Proverbs tell us that ruin comes to the man who is lazy. 

What I think God is calling men to do is to live by faith.  Faith is never a passive verb; faith is an active verb that calls us to believe the truth about God and then step out based upon the truth about Him—to love our wives, lead our families, to be men of integrity in our businesses, in our corporate life, as well as our church our neighborhood, and our community.  All of that, Bob, takes initiative.

Bob:  Dr. Robert Lewis, who has been a guest with us on FamilyLife Today came up with a definition of manhood, which is one I know one you like.  In fact, you added a little bit to it.  I think it was helpful, what you added. 

Robert said that real manhood involves rejecting passivity and accepting responsibility—that is the initiative you are talking about—right?

Dennis:  Right.

Bob:  He said that a real man will lead courageously.  You added that he should also love sacrificially; and ultimately, he is to expect God’s greater reward.

Those five elements of real masculinity can give a guy a North Star that he can align his compass with and move out in the right direction.  In fact, with my boys, about the time they have been 10 or 11, we have done a little manhood training.  The very first thing we talk about is defining what manhood looks like.

Dennis:  Every young man, I think, needs a working definition.  I regret when I was raising my sons that Robert Lewis’ Men’s Fraternity had not existed at that point.  Even I, as a man, as I was working my way through becoming a man myself, didn’t have a working definition.  That is why a definition of what you are trying to achieve in your sons is extremely important.  

Bob:  Al Mohler, who is the president of Southern Seminary, said that most guys will find that marriage is a key place where they wind up taking that step.  They are thrust into the responsibilities of manhood and they either embrace them fully or they flail.  That doesn’t mean that a single guy can’t step up to manhood, but there is something about taking on the responsibility of caring for a wife that does force the manhood decision on you a little bit.  Doesn’t it?

Dennis:  At the age of 24 I took a wife.  There is no question that assuming responsibility for another person slams the door on adolescence.  You move into another room that is filled with all kinds of responsibilities that perhaps you didn’t bargain for. 

There is no question in my mind when I got married, that sealed the deal; but if you asked me when I became a man, I can’t tell you whether it was the time my dad gave me a pocket watch when I graduated from college or when I got married.  I am not sure, but there is no question that marriage finished the process.

Bob:  You do look at a lot of guys today, though, and you wonder if marriage has finished the process for them.  Maybe one of the problems they are experiencing in their marriage is that they haven’t fully stepped up.  Right?

Dennis:  Exactly.  

Bob:  How about your sons?  Have you watched them step from adolescence into manhood? 

Dennis:  Oh, sure.  They have gone through the adolescent years.  You have watched the turbulent roller coaster of dealing with the emotions, the self-absorption of the teenage years; but I have watched both of my sons move on to adulthood and make some great choices with their lives. 

Bob:  One of your sons happens to be with us today.  Do you want to introduce him to our listeners?

Dennis:  Yes.  My son, Benjamin, lives in Erie, Colorado, just north of Denver, just off the interstate.  Denver is just sprawling everywhere, and they live out there.  Anyway, Benjamin listens to FamilyLife Today occasionally.  We decided we would invite him into the broadcast. 

Bob:  There are days when you don’t listen; but your friends do, and they will hear stories that your dad tells.  Right?

Ben:  Indeed.  It is good to be on this side of the radio, to be able to tell my story. 


Bob:  Anything you want to correct as we get started here?

Ben:  No, no, no.  All the guys I work with—they come in during the mornings, “Hey, I heard the story about you—the time you lied, cheated, or stole something.”  Again, it is good to be here, let’s hope with a real positive example.


Bob:  Set the record straight. 

Dennis:  There have been a lot of positive examples we have used.  You know that.

Ben:  I just happen to be the one that had the most number of poor examples, let’s just say—put it that way. 

Dennis:  I don’t even know that that is true, but anyway. 

Bob:  You have heard your dad talk about these five steps to manhood.  Do you remember when he first talked about that with you?

Ben:  I always had the sense that he was calling me to step up.  I know that sounds funny.  Maybe it is easy to recollect that, but it really was.  It was leaving something behind, on to greater responsibility. 

One of my dad’s favorite sayings, and we always get a good kick out of this.  He would always come to me when I was facing something tough or for a decision—he would say, “Son, you have the least amount of responsibility today than you will ever have for the rest of your life.”  I would do my “Dennis voice” if I could, but I can’t make it sound nearly as imposing.  It really was.  It was, “You are going to be moving on, you are going to be moving up, and that is what a man does.”  I saw that modeled in his life.  He always was taking on new things.

Bob:  Did you sense this calling to move to the next step as early as elementary school, junior high, high school?  Do you have a conscious memory of thinking, “I am supposed to be moving on”?

Ben:  I think the first memory I have of the next step or something I was being called to—actually it was the end of my seventh-grade year, moving into the eighth grade.  I was kind of going through some rough times, being a teenager.  I remember him, at the end of my seventh year, saying, “Son, you really ought to try to do something at school.  Why don’t you run for Student Council President?”

Thinking that was a good idea, maybe it was something I ought to do, I went to the principal and said, “I’d like to run for Student Council President.”  He said, “We don’t allow eighth graders to be president.”  I said, “What do you allow us to be?”  He said, “Vice-president.”  I said, “Okay.  I’ll run for that.”  I signed up.  As the events unfolded, I ended up being elected vice-president; but I never would have done that had my dad not looked at my life and said, “Hey, you need to step up and move out.” 

It was a big confidence booster for me.  Again, I am looking back at that time, thinking, “Gosh, apart from my dad’s suggestion, didn’t have any ideas as to what I would campaign on or the promises I would make or anything like that.”  It turned out to be a few simple things and a few simple improvements; but I defeated a very, very popular, very pretty girl at the school. 


It still rings as one of my best victories;


but it was such a confidence booster to a young man, as I look back at my life, and go, “Gosh, I can do this.  I can be the leader that my dad sees in me.”  From that time, I have seen my life continue to be marked by similar decisions of leadership that I have continued to be successful in.

Bob:  You know what I have heard you saying as we have talked about how a dad can help his son move into manhood:  having a vision; having a specific target; painting a picture of what the goal is; and then some nudges along the way where you say, “Try this,” where you express belief as a father in your son.  Those are the kinds of helpful things that can dislodge a boy from his adolescence and move him along the path. 

Ben:  One of the things my dad did very well was he helped me create that vision.  Early on, he told me and my sister, Ashley, when we went off to elementary school—he said, “Son, you are going to be either a missionary or a mission field.  Let me challenge you to go out and be the missionary.  Let me challenge you to go out and be the influencer to your friends that you are going to come in contact with.”

Early on, I realized, again, “It is either me initiating or someone initiating with me.”  Again, part of being a man, I learned early on through that cultivation of that spiritual vision was, “Hey, I need to initiate spiritually.”  That was one of the visions that carried me on throughout junior high, high school, and then to college, and even now, outside of college. 

I think he also helped me create a vision for my life that was even beyond the ministry or the spiritual piece, which was, “Son, there is going to be more to your life than ministry you are going to be involved in, most likely, unless you choose full-time vocational work.  Let’s help you create that as you go through college and as you understand how God has wired you and created you.  What are you living for?  Where are you going?  What are you going to be doing?”  He was very instrumental helping me think through those things. 

Bob:  Your dad has characterized adolescence as a time in life when there is not a whole lot of responsibility, when your body takes on the characteristics of manhood, but you are still kind of built around self and what you want.  Would you say that you could mark the beginning of that, and do you know when that seemed to be fading or ending for you?  I mean, all of us deal with self as adults; but there does come a point where you kind of turn away from indulging yourself and say, “I have work to do.”

Ben:  I think the beginning of the step was the end of my seventh-grade year, as I see it, and the end of when I kind of left the adolescent step behind was when I left college my senior year to go overseas to go to Estonia.  That would have been my senior year.  I would have graduated that year, but I felt God’s call on my life at that time to go overseas and be a missionary over there and work with college kids and high school kids to tell them about Jesus. 

There was something very powerful about leaving home, leaving your family, your friends.  I had what I thought was a really good ministry at the University of Arkansas, a lot of friendships.  Again, the typical college experience was suddenly gone because I was going overseas to a real developing country.  It was a significant decision for me.

Bob:  Would you concur?  Was that a stepping point for him?

Dennis:  Yes.  I am glad he used the word selflessness because that is what we saw in the decision to go serve a group of people he had never met, with a language he didn’t understand, and a culture that was hard to experience.  I mean, he lived in communist-bloc housing with a buddy over there and sought to introduce these students to Jesus Christ. 

It wasn’t that I would say that Benjamin had been living his life for himself because he hadn’t.  He did have a ministry outreach to his fraternity brothers at the University of Arkansas, and he was involved in other people’s lives; but when he took that step to go invest his life and be separate from his family, his friends, from all the relationships he had grown up with, all the familiarity of American life.  All of a sudden, you are taking a step of faith.  For a young man, stepping away from adolescence and stepping up on the manhood step, I think that is a defining moment.

Bob:  Dennis, we are back to what 1 Corinthians 13 says when Paul acknowledges that there comes a time when you turn away from the childish and you turn toward adulthood.

Dennis:  Yes, and Paul said, “When I was a child, I thought like one, I lived like one; but when I became a man, I put it away.”  I stepped up on the manhood step and stepped away from childish things. 

It was not easy to let our son go to Estonia.  I was hard on a mom, and a dad, and family members to watch him go so far away; but in giving your children up at those moments, you don’t realize what God may have in store for them in terms of growing them up and helping them finish the process of becoming who God called them to be.

Bob:  Were you thinking when you put Benjamin on that plane, “He is going to come back a different young man, and he is going to come back more of a man than when he left”?

Dennis:  You know, I don’t remember thinking about him specifically around the manhood piece; but I did think, “He is going to see a ton.  He is going to experience a slice of life like he has never seen in America.  He is going to come back a different man.” 

I think, at that point, I was viewing Benjamin as a young man and wasn’t thinking of him stepping up to manhood.  I think at that point, just watching him in his faith, and watching him step out to go invest his life overseas, and go raise the money he had to raise to go do that—all of those were steps of faith that were all marks of real men.

Bob:  Once again, I think what you pictured for us, and what we have been trying to illustrate today, is that that step up to manhood involves initiative, taking responsibility, being courageous, stepping away from self and gratifying your own selfish desires, and instead, looking around and taking responsibility for others and helping to lead others in a godly direction.  That is at the core of how a man is supposed to live his life.

Dennis:  Right.  It goes back to, I think, that biblical mandate that Paul gave to the church at Corinth, “Be on guard.”  I think Benjamin was thinking about guarding the souls of other people.  You know, there are a lot of people who live a lifetime in church pews and never step out and do anything that is of faith. 

Bob:  Yes.  That year in Estonia really called you away from living for yourself and called you up to embracing what it means to be a man and to live according to God’s agenda.  Didn’t it?

Ben:  Absolutely. 

Bob:  That really is what is at the heart of the new book that you have written, Dennis, which is called Stepping Up:  A Call to Courageous Manhood.  I have to tell you, I heard from a friend of mine who has ordered, not just one copy of this book, but he ordered a case to pass out to guys in his business because as he read through the book, he said, “This is a book I want my sons to read; it is a book that I want the folks who work for me to read; this is a book that men need to read and understand and embrace.” 

It is called Stepping Up:  A Call to Courageous Manhood.  We have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  Go online at for more information about how to get a copy of the book.  Again, our website is  There is more information about Dennis’ book available there. 

I want to let our listeners know that in conjunction with our friends at Sherwood Pictures—who are making a new movie called Courageous, that will come out in September, that is about what we have been talking about here today—we have a special FamilyLife edition of a new Bible study that Michael Catt and Stephen and Alex Kendrick have put together that is a study for men on how to live a courageous life. 

If our listeners are interested, go to  The Bible study includes some scenes from the upcoming film.  It is a great four-week study that guys can go through this summer in your church or in your small group.  Find out more online: is our website, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Ask about Dennis’ new book and about the new Courageous Bible study that is just now being released and available for guys to start going through. 

You know, one of the assignments God gives us as men is to be men who are prayerful, who pray for our wives, for our kids.  Our friend, John Yates, wrote a book a few years ago called How a Man Prays for His Family.  We had a conversation with him about that book. 

This month, for those listeners who are able to help FamilyLife Today by making a donation to support the ministry, we are sending them, upon their request, a copy of John’s book, the audio CD of our conversation with him, and a couple of prayer cards that a man can use to help direct his praying for his children.  If you are able to help with a donation to FamilyLife Today this month, all you have to do is request that package of resources.  We will be happy to send it out to you.

You can make your donation online at  If you do, just type the word, “PRAY” in the key code box that you find in the donation form.  We will make sure to get the resources to you; or if you call to make a donation:  1-800-FLTODAY.  Make your donation over the phone.  Just ask for the resources on men and prayer, and we will get those out to you as well.

Let me just say how much we appreciate those of you who help support us.  We are listener-supported.  More than 65 percent of the revenue we need to support the ministry comes from people like you who make donations to help support us.  We could not do all that we are doing without your financial partnership.  We really do appreciate it.  We just want to say, “Thanks,” for standing with us. 

We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we are going to continue talking about men stepping up and being God’s men.  I hope you can be here.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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