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