Real Men Keep Promises

By Miller, Holly G. | The Saturday Evening Post, July/August 1996 | Go to article overview
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Real Men Keep Promises

Miller, Holly G., The Saturday Evening Post

Promise Keepers is striking a chord with today's men, who are seeking to reclaim and strengthen their roles as husbands, fathers, and community leaders.

Call it a movement, an awakening, a revival, or a phenomenon. Whatever the handle, "We've got a tiger by the tail, and it's pulling us... we're not pulling it," says Randy Phillips, president of Promise Keepers, the burgeoning men's ministry based in Denver, Colorado.

Last year the "tiger" drew 727,000 men to 20 cavernous sports stadiums to sing, pray, and hear what Newsweek calls "the gospel of guyhood." It also nudged evangelical men-many of them affiliated with organizations other than Promise Keepers-to form mentoring groups in support of "brothers" bent on reclaiming leadership roles in the family, church, and community. Spin-offs of the massive movement include national magazines such as New Man, as well as books with macho titles: Strong Men in Tough Times; Standing Tall; Strong Men, Weak Men; and Reclaiming Manhood.

"America is fatherless," says Dr. Ken Canfield, founder and president of the National Center for Fathering at Shawnee Mission, Kansas. He cites Malachi 4:6 ("And He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers...") as explanation for the current revival. "God is at the core of this awakening," he affirms. "He's doing the work."

Others agree with him. "We've got to turn back toward God," says Greg Darby, founder and president of the Christian Interactive Network, an international on-line ministry that is growing at a clip of 400 members a week and is accessible through the Internet and CompuServe. "As men, we've abandoned our responsibilities. For too long we've let Madison Avenue dictate what we do and who we are. Accountability is the key, and we start becoming accountable when we realize that, hey, we don't have to do this and we don't have to be that." What we have to do, Darby says, is "take back our homes and our lives."

Attempts to mobilize men are nothing new, but timing and technology have amplified the current male call. Promise Keepers, a relative newcomer to the ranks of parachurch organizations, is credited with igniting the phenomenon. The group was launched on March 20, 1990, when Bill McCartney, former head football coach at the University of Colorado, and his friend Dave Wardell were on a three-hour car ride to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting at Pueblo. One of the men floated an idea: Wouldn't it be great to fill a football stadium with thousands of men coming together for Christian discipleship? Later, 72 colleagues began to pray and fast about the concept. Success came quickly, and the first standing-room-only rally occurred in 1993 when more than 50,000 men filed into Colorado University's Folsom Field.

"We didn't have a clue about the potential," says Phillips, a pastor. "In the beginning we only wanted to provide a platform for Colorado men to come together and make a commitment to the Lord and to each other."

Unprepared for the explosive response to their ministry, members of the volunteer staff scrambled to meet the challenge. They saw Promise Keepers as an instrument of God designed to help men sort out their identities, reestablish their values, and strengthen their relationships with family, church, and community. They recognized the direction that Promise Keepers should take, and also knew the direction it should avoid. "If we were to turn this movement into a monument and focus on our needs, our budget, our programs... then I believe we would repeat history, be another flash in the pan, and have no long-term effect," says Phillips. Instead, they positioned the ministry in a supportive role. Although a Promise Keepers conference pumps up participants with hype, humor, exhortation, and music, it sends them home with a somber charge: Get involved in your congregation, serve your church, and honor your pastor.

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