by Michael Warden

I vividly remember the day I stumbled upon the personal blog of author and life-coach Michael Warden. As I read his writing, something began to stir deep inside of me. I made contact with Michael and immediately signed up for his 8-week course for men called The Braveheart Intensive. It was during this course that I began to learn to speak the language of the heart and to connect genuinely and authentically with other men. Since Michael has taught me much about living in a larger story and why connecting at the heart-level with other men is so vitally important, I asked him to write a guest post as a follow up to my earlier post on accountability.

Most men I know were taught growing up that they had permission to express only two emotions in life—anger, and sexual desire. That, we were told, is what defines men as men. Real men can get angry and still be men, after all. And of course, all “real men” lust. But we can’t feel weak, or afraid, or sensitive, or compassionate, or a hundred other emotions that are common to the rest of the human race (who happen to be women). Given such a narrow bandwidth of “permissible” emotional expression, we’ve done our best to cram every other feeling we have into those two categories. So when we’re really sad or afraid, we get angry. And when we’re lonely or feel powerless, we express it as lust. It’s no wonder that our entire gender struggles with anger and lust so much. We’re trying to pour the entire breadth of our human experience through two woefully inadequate slots.

So in order to create authentic community with men—that is, to inspire men to connect with other men at the heart level, fully present and honest, holding nothing back—you first have to understand why it’s so hard for us. It’s not because men are emotional dunces or inadequately equipped to feel. It’s because we’ve never been given permission to feel most of what we’re actually feeling. And we’ve never been trained how to express the full range of our human experience as men.

That said, true authentic community with men is actually easier to achieve than you might think. You just need to follow a few key steps right from the beginning:

1. Make safety Job #1. The problem with most men’s groups is not that men don’t want to share their feelings—deep down, we all do. The problem is that the men in group don’t feel safe. For that reason, creating safety in your men’s group is Job #1 for any leader. Your men need to know that what they share in your group will never be shamed or judged by you or other group members, that nothing will be repeated outside the group (not even to spouses), and that other men won’t try to “fix” them or prescribe to them what they should do.

To create a truly safe environment, you need to design a shared alliance with your men. You need to create this alliance together, out loud, right from the start. In fact, this needs to be the sole focus of your first meeting, probably your first several. Talk openly with your men about what would really make the group safe for them. What agreements would have to be in place for each man to truly, honestly feel free to share what’s really going on in his heart? Write the agreements down, have each man verbally agree to them, then make them sacred. If a man breaks the alliance, confront him immediately. If he doesn’t reconcile, ask him to leave the group. This is not to be harsh; it’s to protect the integrity of the group. Without safety, you can’t move forward.

2. Teach men how to share from the heart. Most men have limited experience connecting to their heart, so you’ll probably have to help men learn how to express their feelings in a healthy way. Don’t worry if you’re unsure how to do this yourself. You can learn together. Agree to make your men’s group a learning community—a place where you can explore together how to express what’s going on in your hearts. In my men’s groups, we help each other do this by starting each gathering with a check in where each man shares what he’s feeling right in that moment, without all the story and analytical justification we often hide behind. It’s simply, “I’m feeling sad right now, and lonely,” or “I feel powerful today, like I could take on the world.” This simple practice helps men learn how to notice and name what they’re feeling without any shame or need to justify it.

3. Call each other forth—regularly. As much as your group needs to be safe, it also needs to be courageous, a place where men know they cannot hide or live smaller lives than they were made for. As men, we long to be challenged and called forth to be the best version of ourselves. Men need other men to see them both as they are (in full acceptance) and as they could be, and to boldly—and regularly—call them forth to live out of that larger vision.

This isn’t about “should-ing” people to death: i.e. “you should do X,” or “you should try harder to stop doing Y.” Calling one another forth is about training men to see the God-inspired potential in one another, and to not let each other live beneath it. Such courageous calling forth can only happen in an atmosphere of safety. But when men know they are loved and fully accepted as they are, it frees them up to listen when you speak to areas of their lives that are not yet free or are less surrendered to God than He intended.

Here’s the bottom line: Men need men. We weren’t designed by God to be Lone Rangers. Not one of us will become all that God intended for us to be without intentional community with other men. There is no shortcut to this.

What about you? Have you been able to find authentic community with other men? If so, what’s made that possible for you? And if not, what’s gotten in the way?


Michael Warden, CPCC, is a certified leadership coach who works with groups of men to help them recover their hearts so that they can pursue with boldness and authenticity the specific life mission God has created them to fulfill. For more, check out his course, The BraveHeart Intensive.