“Iron sharpens iron,” the saying goes—but there needs a way to bring the iron together. That’s where Men of Iron comes in. Founded in 2006, the ministry offers guidance and resources for a variety of mentorships, all designed to help men build more meaningful ties with God and each other.
“Our heartbeat is really one-to-one mentorship,” says Garret Barbush, Men of Iron’s president and CEO. “But we also realize that not every man is ready for the level of accountability and time commitment that comes with mentorship. So, through the midst of COVID, we diversified a bit and made some more product and service offerings where we now provide men tools, resources, and training that can equip and resource individuals and small group leaders.”
Those include an app, the Equilibrium men’s retreat, and the Anchoredman Bootcamp Series. All of them are centered on what Men of Iron call the “Five F Framework”—faith, family, friends, fitness, and finances—essential to a fulfilling life.
“Most of us are walking around and doing a really good job in one or two, maybe even three of those areas, but the bottom line is we are not giving attention to the others,” Barbush says. “I can be spiritually sound, but if I’m not taking care of myself physically, will I be around long enough to share that faith journey with others? All it takes is for one of those areas not paying attention to sink our ship.”
Tell us about Men of Iron, what its mission is, what makes it a little different from other ministries.
Our founder and chairman had a vision he felt like God gave him to put men face to face in mentorships. It really kind of came from this discontent, if you will, of looking around and seeing men not really living the lives God intended them to live. Throughout his own life, he realized that whether it was athletics, business, or spiritual life, he had always had these one-to-one relationships with coaches and mentors who had really held him accountable and encouraged him and kicked him in the butt a little bit. He was looking at his church and saying, guys are attending for a pancake breakfast or Sunday service, but that’s all they’re doing. How are they taking it in, how are they growing?
Essentially we feel like our purpose, our cause, is to be an organization that’s helping men and equipping men to know God and to know their purpose. We do that by procuring for men the tools and the training for growth in their “five Fs”: faith, family, friends, fitness, and finances. Our desire is to see men embrace leadership, seek accountability, and pursue mentorship.
These kinds of mentorships can be difficult to set up and maintain even in the best of times, and then COVID came along and made us all stay at home and isolate ourselves for months on end. But it sounds like you guys managed to find ways around that.
From 2012 up until the beginning of 2020, our organizational model was really more business to business, because we were focused on going around and establishing our church partnerships. Now bring in COVID, and what happened is every church in America shut down. We had to pivot, because church partnerships just weren’t on the table.
Through COVID we realized we did some of this other stuff that didn’t really line up with one-to-one mentorship, but it invited men into God’s family, which is more important than just being invited into the Men of Iron family. It showed us we could diversify our mentorship offerings and our services. We could’ve experienced mission shift pretty quickly, but we knew this is what we had to do in this season—we couldn’t just sit idle until this thing ended.
So we used a digital strategy to do things we never did before. We created a video series called “Man’s Game Plan,” and another called “Fruit of the Spirit.” Anchoredman is something that isn’t as big of a time commitment, and maybe the degree of accountability isn’t quite as high as what it is in one-to-one mentorship. We just wanted to make that available to our men and make it accessible to them. We created Equilibrium, designed to take five or six guys on a men’s retreat and then follow up with that group once a month for five or six months.
Is it more difficult to find guys willing to be mentors, or guys willing to be mentored?
This is not a knock on the church—I love the local church just as much as the next guy—but I really do believe men, particularly millennials, are more interested in finding a mentor, and they will put more time and energy into it than they do a Sunday service. And to a certain degree the church has made this more complicated than it needs to be. Because they say the path to discipleship is a step-by-step thing, when in reality a lot of really amazing things happen for men if they just make a commitment to get together every other week for a year and meet at a Starbucks and start to spiritually grow with one another.
It’s more difficult to find the kind of man who says “I want to be the mentor.” They think they’re not qualified, they think they don’t know what it takes. A lot of times it has nothing to do with finances or even the accountability piece, it’s just “I don’t have the time.” That’s the culture we live in, but men make time for things that are important to them, regardless of how busy they are. I don’t know if people understand this is a commitment given to us by God—this is just what we’re supposed to be doing as believers. And there is a great return that comes to us even as mentors. Sometimes we learn just as much as the protégé.
I was going to say, guys love talking about how much they know and sharing their expertise on something—if they’re reluctant to become mentors, it’s got to be something else.
There was a recent study in which they found that the true issue when it comes to men and men’s ministry in the local church, essentially, is there’s a lack of intergenerational relationships. Our experience is that the guys who are just getting married and starting lives and careers, they crave knowledge from that man who’s been there, done that. They crave the experience of a man who’s a season or two ahead of them—they just don’t know how to ask for it. Then you’ve got guys in their 50s or 60s who would love to mentor younger men, but they don’t think they’re qualified and they don’t think young men want to hang out with them.
That’s where the enemy is doing his work—they’re just not asking each other for what they need. The reality of it is there’s just this stalemate that’s happening in God’s kingdom right now, and it’s that men just aren’t asking for it.
I like that you talked about the mentors learning just as much as the mentees, because in surveying the differences between Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Gen Z, et cetera, one thing you hear a lot from the younger generations is that they’re willing to accept teaching from people who are older and more experienced, but they want their own knowledge and experience to be valued and respected as well.
We’ve defined mentorship as a protege-driven process—the mentor is there as guardrails, and the mentor’s job is to ask questions, but it’s ultimately the protégé who’s got to say, “Hey, mentor, this is what my life looks right now, here’s an assessment.” We tell the protégés, “You need to take a week to just assess these areas and what the Lord is asking you to do, not what you want to do. You need to bring some goals back to this mentorship process, and then you have to take ownership of that. It’s not your mentor’s job to save your life.”
So we always lay out the standards and expectations up front, and that means you’re scheduling your meetings, you create an agenda for each meeting, and you send it to your mentor ahead of time so you’re intentional and you’re not just talking about Monday Night Football for 45 minutes. If a protégé’s not willing to lead it, rarely does a mentorship work.
And some guys are scared of that—scared to lead, scared to take ownership, nervous about opening up and asking for what they really want.
One of the best things I ever did as a protégé was opening up to my mentor about being sexually abused as a child. I never really opened up to anyone about that, and I’ll never forget, I felt his compassion and his hurt and his pain for me. He looked at me and said, “Garret, I can’t help you with this—I think there’s a degree of some counseling that you need. But guess what, I’m gonna be here to help move you forward, and I’m going to support you the best way I know how. And how God strengthens me to do that, I don’t know, but that’s what I’m going to do.” Counseling is sometimes needed in a man’s life, but there are professionals for that. Counseling takes you back, mentorship moves you forward.
Sometimes the best thing a mentor can say to a protégé when they begin the process is, “I may not have all the answers, but I can go seek out some of my colleagues and friends when I don’t have all the answers—I’ll do that for you.” It doesn’t mean we have all the answers, it just means we’re not going to walk away. We can provide the accountability, the encouragement, and some spiritual growth.
What does restoration mean to you?
Restoration is finding a man who might not be living his life under God’s authority and helping him understand that that’s our role as believers in Christ, to say, “I’m going to fall back under God’s authority.” When a man makes that decision and pursues mentorship and pursues accountability, restoration happens in that process.
That looks different for everybody. It might mean picking up the Bible daily, it might mean slowing down and taking some time for solitude. But restoration for men is when we decide, “Hey, I’m doing some things that are causing me not to live under God’s authority, and I need to change that.” When we make those small decisions, restoration can take place.
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