Note to Men: It’s About Being Intentional

I’m not sure why I wanted to write about this topic now. Because in reality, I have been thinking about it for a long time.

Maybe it’s because I work with a lot of men. And maybe because a lot of the men I work with (both in counseling and in ministry) struggle between two opposites. They often wrestle with being passive or being aggressive (angry).

It’s hard to not notice that there has been lots of talk about passive men over the last two decades. I’m not sure where it all began. But in the early 90’s up till now there have been movements and cultural icons of what being a man is about.

Perhaps the more recent images of manliness began with the Promise Keepers’ Movement and Robert Bly’s book, Iron John: A Book about Men –both appearing in 1990.

It really seemed to pick up steam in 2001 with the publication of Wild at Heart.

One thing I do know for sure, lots of men were left with the idea that they needed to head out into the wilderness, brandish their swords, and go to battle. Anything but living out the image of Braveheart (1996) or Gladiator (2000) resulted in not being a man.

I’m obviously overstating the case, but if you attended any Christian conferences, retreats, speaking engagements in the 1990’s and 2000’s it was hard to avoid references to both of those iconic images of men portrayed in those movies. I probably made some of the references myself.

It often felt like pastors, writers, bloggers, and just about everyone else piled on the topic, encouraging men to be more, well, more like men.

And honestly, there is lots of analysis, and lots of direction I could go, but I want to keep it simple.

I have found that being a man is about being intentional (characterized by conscious design or purpose). Too many think that the opposite of being a “passive” or “nice” guy means becoming aggressive or angry.

It’s not. It’s about living a life with intention.

Being intentional in your marriage.

Being intentional with your kids.

Being intentional in your vocation.

Being intentional with your friendships.

Being intentional about your faith.

Men who are intentional seem to be men in other people’s eyes. In the eyes of their wives, kids, friends, c0-workers, etc.

By the way. I have been to two Promise Keepers. I have read Wild at Heart. I love both Braveheart and Gladiator. And they have all been super influential and helpful in my life. But thankfully I don’t have to brandish a sword to be a man, but instead can be a man by living a life of intentionality.


  1. by Raf on January 17, 2011  2:30 pm Reply

    Hi Rhett,

    It took me a few minutes to understand what you were saying here but I think it clicked. I definitely have seen the "braveheart" or "gladiator" references used to define what a man should be, and I have also seen the other side of the spectrum which features terms like "metrosexuality" and such. In Latino communities, for the most part, there has always been a sense of hyper-masculinity (machismo) that has been an underdone through the generations.

    I find it interesting that we turn to intentionality to characterize manhood. But I see why. Manhood has little if anything to do with how we behave, talk, or grunt, but rather a (somewhat) clear sense of direction in regards to our ministry, family, friends, work, etc.

    There are still some scenarios that might require further scrutiny, but I think that this is in general can help a lot of us men focus on what is truly important.

    As aways, thanks for sharing. Great Post.


    • by Rhett Smith on January 18, 2011  11:09 am Reply


      Totally agree that there are "some scenarios that might require further scrutiny", and I for sure kept this post pretty simplistic. There is at the root of this (men's movement; the passive male, etc.) lots of sociological/theological/philosophical analysis that I could have waded in to. But in the end, I just see men who lives intentional lives as embodying a certain form of masculinity that many admire.

      Culturally you are spot on as well. Different cultures will have different ideas of what a "man" is. I lived in Central America for 3 and half months in my mid-20's and the concept of man was very different there than when I lived in Los Angeles, or even Phoenix, or even now Dallas.

      "Clear sense of direction" -- I like that.


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  3. by jeremy zach on January 18, 2011  9:21 am Reply

    I absolutely love this post.... I have been struggling with this notion of "men" and "masculinity" for a while. I have a few questions for you:

    1. How would you define intentional in the context you are using it?
    2. How is being deliberative and intentional the same or different?
    Is there a middle ground between passivity and aggressiveness? I found that many men are either too passive or too agressive and very very rarely have found men to be right in the middle.

    3. What men (who are high profile) would you recommend demonstrate the idea of intentionality really well? It seems like we can point the finger at many hollywood and christian male celebrities, but in reality who is doing this intentionality thing well?

    • by Rhett Smith on January 18, 2011  11:19 am Reply


      Thanks man. Up front...I consider you a manly man :-)

      1. In the context I am using it, I see it simply as being purposeful. I think many people just sort of let life happen to them. We all do that in various stages of life, but others walk through an entire life letting it just sort of happen around them. So I see being intentional as not letting life happen to you, but being purposeful in the relationships one has and the activities one pursues.

      2. I see them as different. Deliberative seems to characterize more of an idea of discussion/debate in a gathered setting. It's intentional, but is characterized by conversation and debate. Intentional is just about being purposeful -- doesn't need to have debate or conversation. Actually I see intentionality as that middle ground between passivity and aggressiveness. That's the error I think many, and especially Christians who are afraid to be slapped with the "nice guy" make. They assume that they are passive, then to correct that they must become aggressive, or show strength through some way that connotates aggression.

      3. That's a great question...automatically I go to guys like Bonhoeffer, Nouwen, etc. But I know there are people doing this well right now who are high profile, I guess I just don't tend to think of them in that light. I think of a friend of mine who is real intentional about setting healthy boundaries in his life, in order to be intentional with his wife (from things like date nights, to helping her dream about her passions); I think about another friend of mine who is very purposeful in her vocation. She has designed it in such a way to allow for the freedom to pursue hobbies, serve God and others, etc. I think about another friend of mine who is intentional about dropping off and picking his kids up everyday from school, in order to feed into their lives.

      I would bet that most of the people who live very intentional lives, are some of the people we admire around us...

      Great thoughts Jeremy.


  4. by John on January 18, 2011  12:40 pm Reply

    Rhett, As someone who has led men through many events over the last 6 years in the search for their masculine heart, I think you have touched on the one thing that matters the most. God is intentional with us as men (and Women). He intends for us to be healed of our wounds and to walk with him in strength and light. It is a shame that so much has been taken as macho overdrive from these wonderful resources. The images of warrior and such are truly I believe one of the images God bestowed on man, but it cannot be isolated from gentleness and all the other characteristics of God. God is intentional with me and therefore I am called to be intentional with others.

  5. by Mark Reed on January 19, 2011  11:29 am Reply

    Thanks for the post. In the circles I frequent I've heard the word "intentional" used more and more, so that to some Christian men it's become a buzzword. I've asked several what they mean by it and some have a hard time putting hands and feet on it. Thanks for your clarification in one of your replies. I see more men talking this up: being purpose-minded, purpose-driven, living with purpose instead of drifting, e.g. planning how I will love instead of spontaneously loving when it feels right.

  6. by Kalman on March 5, 2011  11:21 am Reply

    This is something I think you may find interesting. Sarah White who is the Naked Therapist also happens to think that her treatment helps men with those exact problems when it comes to ones masculinity and "intentionality". Her methods are definitely unorthodox but do you think that they can truly be helpful?

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