The Mettle of a Man
It’s in churches from Arkansas to Barcelona and Beijing—but sure doesn’t feel like “church.” You can also find it in auto dealerships, military platoons, homes, and prisons. Sometimes things kick off with sports bloopers; other times, a John Wayne cutout or muscle car onstage might set the tone. And of course, there’s often “guy music” and free eats of the coffee-and-donut variety. But what’s involved is far more than comfortable ambiance for men both inside and outside the community of faith. Men’s Fraternity offers trustworthy direction on a topic too seldom tackled by parents, the church, or society: What is it that makes a man a man?
The meteoric response shows that the program has tapped into a universal male need: understanding authentic manhood. In just over two decades, Men’s Fraternity (www.mensfraternity.com) has grown from a single study to more than 20,000 groups worldwide. Emphasizing that men desperately need other men in their lives, the curriculum consists of three courses, which can be taken in any sequence. Though not a Bible study per se, the series is rooted in 1 Corinthians 15:45; it presents a scriptural perspective on manhood by contrasting the Adam of Genesis with the “Adam of the Gospels”—Jesus Christ.
Men need other men
Back in 1990, several 30-year-olds approached Little Rock pastor Robert Lewis about meeting as a group of men. To help them deal with the pace and responsibilities of that life “season,” Lewis started a weekly Bible study. Thirty came but soon realized they had something different in mind: a group where they could be honest, talk like guys, and develop deeper friendships.
The pastor devised a new curriculum, announcing it in church as a manhood study instead of a Bible study. “This time,” Lewis recalls, “300 showed up. I knew I’d stuck my finger into an electrical socket of need.”
That course, “The Quest for Authentic Manhood,” eventually became the first of three nine-month “journeys.” Presenting a biblical model of the male’s core identity, “Quest” takes a look at the lingering damage caused by certain growing-up experiences. Five common wounds—such as the absent father wound—are described as a packed suitcase that can weigh men down unless they look honestly at the past. Subsequent studies deal with male responsibilities in the home and workplace, and developing a satisfying long-term focus.
Mentors are not a luxury
As important as male friendships are, mentoring—a major element of Men’s Fraternity—is even more critical for success. Lewis illustrates with a story about his hospital visit to a retiree in deteriorating health. “I just don’t have anything to live for,” Harry lamented. Aware of the businessman’s strong career and marriage, the pastor suggested Harry’s experience and wisdom could benefit others grappling with relationship or work issues. “I’ve failed a lot,” countered the patient. “That’s the point!” Lewis said. “You’ve failed in some things, and from those experiences, you can tell young men what not to do, as well as what to do.”
Harry began attending Men’s Fraternity, where he heard Lewis challenge older attendees “to reclaim the second half of their life by investing down in younger men—as mentors.” When the pastor asked who would like a personal mentor, about 150 stood. It didn’t matter to them who filled that role; they simply wanted an older man to talk to. Harry chose to give it a try.
Four years later, Lewis was at the athletic club working out early one morning, when Harry, looking “healthy as a horse,” climbed on the treadmill beside his. “How’s the mentoring going?” Lewis asked. “I’m mentoring seven guys right now, and I have five . . . waiting. Is that not incredible?” Harry said. “Robert, it is the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I still don’t know anything, but these guys just want to talk. It’s given me a whole new ministry, and those young men are loving it.”
Rick Caldwell, Director of Men’s Fraternity, compares mentoring to mountain climbing: “You need an older man who could guide and help. You need to belay—connect that rope from him to you, and allow his wisdom and experiences to keep you on the trail. Likewise, you need to connect with a peer or someone a little younger that you can invest down in.”
Citing 7,000 Texas inmates who are recent “grads,” Caldwell says Men’s Fraternity is now the number one tool used in prisons for men’s studies. Peter Riefler, a volunteer who’s led more than a dozen groups at Rhode Island’s maximum security facility, understands why. “These guys are genuinely turned on by the program,” he says. “For me, the greatest reward is seeing paroled prisoners [who have completed all three courses] that want to run the DVD series and mentor other men themselves.”
Riefler also notes a significant bonus: preparation is almost effortless. “It’s not like some guy’s preparing a lesson, poring over it and getting just the right inflexion in his voice. You just put this DVD on, then stand up at the end and say, ‘Gentlemen, what did you think?’ And off they go.”
The curriculum likewise has impact elsewhere. Caldwell mentions car mechanics and salesmen running Men’s Fraternity in their showroom; a businessman offering it at his company’s three locations; the program expanding to all four local YMCAs after two young men introduced it in their branch. And recently, a U.S. Army major told Caldwell: “I’m about to be deployed, and I’m bringing 150 men with me. I want to take them through Men’s Fraternity while we’re away so that when they return to their marriages and their sons and daughters, they will not have wasted a year; they will be better husbands and dads.”
And who better to judge results than family members? Caldwell and Lewis often hear rave reviews from wives—like the woman who approached them at a restaurant to say, “I don’t know what you guys are doing at those 6 a.m. meetings, but whatever it is, keep doing it. My husband is a different man!”
The article was selected from In Touch magazine.
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