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The New Christian Man

Written by: Rabey, Steve    Posted on: 04/10/2003

Category: Ministries

Source: CCN

TREND WATCH: The Christian Men's Movement

By Steve Rabey, reporter Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph

The New Christian Man

Nearly 200,000 men gathered in stadiums in six states where they yelled and screamed, whooped and hollered, and made human waves of arms and hands.

But they weren't gathered for a baseball game.

These men--who sang, prayed, held hands, and heard inspirational talks by leaders like Charles Swindoll and E. V. Hill--were attending Christian men's conferences organized by the nonprofit organization Promise Keepers.

This was the first year Promise Keepers offered conferences outside Boulder, Colorado, where Colorado University football coach Bill McCartney started the gatherings in July 1990, with 71 men.

Maybe none of the men in your church attended this summer's conferences, held in Anaheim; Boise, Idaho; Denton, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Indianapolis; and Boulder. But they and your church will probably be influenced by this growing organization or the broad Christian men's movement it represents.

In 1995, Promise Keepers hopes to produce daily radio broadcasts and occasional TV programs. The organization also plans to publish materials for small groups and develop a network of men's groups in as many as 10,000 churches nationwide.

On July 29, 2000, McCartney aims to gather a million men throughout all 50 states to concentrate on issues such as integrity, sexual purity, racial reconciliation, and spiritual leadership.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Promise Keepers is just a small part of a much larger Christian men's movement, which is a response to the secular men's movement. It is, in part, an attempt to come to grips with the wrenching social changes and questions about gender roles inspired by the women's movement of the sixties and seventies.

The secular men's movement has its spokesmen, like Iron John author Robert Bly, and its ceremonies, like "Wildman Weekends" in which men gather, bang drums, exorcise their emotional demons, and cry. An estimated 250,000 men have experienced one of these weekend retreats.

In the Christian counterpart, men seek definition of masculinity through a new look at an old source: the Bible. Author Robert Hicks observes that the Christian men's movement provides answers to the deeper questions raised by the men's movement. "The mainstream men's movement," he says, "has been a movement in search of a spirituality."

While there have been Christian businessmen's groups for decades, this movement tackles a much broader range of issues. Picking up steam, it is spreading the message that men must get serious about their spiritual development and their roles as husbands, fathers, and sons of God.

Here's how Focus on the Family magazine described it: "The Christian men's movement takes several guises. Some are 'men-only' Bible studies, with time set aside at the end for prayer. Others are less structured: guys eating out together, chatting over food, discussing their relationships with their families or the progress of their spiritual growth.

"Some men attend once-a-year retreats; others prefer a large-group setting at weekly breakfast meetings. Another trend is three or four men meeting in an 'accountability group.'"

The movement has spawned dozens of highly focused organizations and ministries, including THE FATHERS Ministry Team, Ministry to Men Foundation, Inc., Career IMPACT Ministries, the National Center for Fathering, The Gathering, Dads University, High Ground Associates, and Dad, the Family Shepherd.

The publishing industry has been busy putting out magazines (the bi-monthly New Man, published by Orlando-based Strang Communications), music ("Promise Keepers -A Life That Shows," from Sparrow Records, featuring songs by and about men), and books (officially sanctioned Promise Keepers books, distributed at the annual conferences, have been published by Focus on the Family and NavPress).

Meanwhile, most major Christian publishers are producing titles for this burgeoning new market, including Multnomah, which published Stu Weber's Tender Warrior, and Word, which published Archibald Hart's The Sexual Man.

LOCAL CHURCH IMPACT

What does this movement mean for ministry in the local church? As pastors program to reach men, they will want to consider three areas affected by the men's movement.

* Worship. Dozens of men I have interviewed said the Promise Keepers conference's singing and worship were powerful and memorable. Picture a professional-sounding male gospel group or a men's chorale performing portions of Handel's Messiah. Now, multiply that by hundreds, even thousands, of voices coming from men who may be dressed in shorts and baseball caps but whose hearts and hands are reaching toward heaven.

"Just the thought of being in one place with 50,000 guys praising God," said an ecstatic Bear Waggoner, 38, who rode from Las Vegas to Boulder on his motorcycle to attend the 1993 conference, "was enough to draw me here."

Many men feel uncomfortable in church, and women seem inherently more sensitive to spiritual matters than men. But at men's-movement conferences, guys can hang out with the guys, sing with the guys, pray with the guys, and cry with the guys. For many men, it's a mountaintop experience that makes them feel less alone and spiritually isolated.

Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, says Promise Keepers conferences have helped jump-start the church's monthly men's meetings. "When there are no women and children present," says Haggard, "the men feel uninhibited and free to worship because they're not concerned about having to be masculine. Now, some of the best worship we have is in our men's meetings."

The Christian men's movement is fostering a desire for worship among men.

* Small Groups. The Christian men's movement has promoted small groups, where men can study the Bible, apply it to their lives, and foster openness and accountability with other men. As Howard Hendricks, professor emeritus at Dallas Seminary, put it, "A man who is not in a group with other men is an accident waiting to happen."

Jerry Rutledge, who owns a men's clothing store in Colorado Springs, organized a men's group that meets at 7 A. M. Tuesdays, around a sewing table in the store's back room. "Our weekly group is the most enriching deal I've ever been involved in," he says. "We've shared everything--family difficulties, financial difficulties, and relationship problems. We've had some incredibly emotional times."

That kind of intimacy, however, is not automatic. Men don't seem to gravitate naturally toward small groups.

"Men just can't be assigned to a small group," says Stu Weber, pastor of Good Shepherd Community Church in Boring, Oregon. "Men don't assign well; they tend not to be joiners."

Good Shepherd started by sponsoring an event that allowed men to be part of a large, anonymous group. Stu then invited them to a gathering each Tuesday at 6 A.M. that provides several options: a plenary session, groups of from 10 to 15 men, and smaller, more intimate groups.

"The goal is to move toward building a close-knit circle of friends," Weber says, "but we let men do that at their own pace."

* Family Roles. Some leaders in the movement have emphasized a hierarchical view of male-female relationships, a view that worries some Christians who espouse a more egalitarian family model.

Gary Gulbranson, senior pastor at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue, Washington, is upbeat about the results of the men's movement. "Promise Keepers and the Christian men's movement," he says, "are calling men back to responsibility. But let's just make sure they know what their responsibility is." Some men, Gulbranson says, interpret their responsibility as going back to the home in a controlling manner. "The commitment to the family," Gulbranson says, "should look less like control and more like research and development. The husband's job is to draw out all of the giftedness that God has placed in the family."

Because of the movement, pastors may need to define more clearly their understanding of male and female roles, both in marriage counseling and in preaching.

The church has often focused more on the spiritual development of women and children. Today's Christian men's movement signals a shift in that emphasis and an opportunity for pastoral ministry.

Copyright (c) 1994 Christianity Today, Inc./LEADERSHIP Journal

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