American Revivalism Reaches Britain as Promise Keepers
UK Holds Its First Training Day
There were no tears and no hugs – just a Church of England curate and about 30 other "guys" squinting at a projector screen and discussing questions like, "What is a 'vital relationship'?"
Promise Keepers UK: Men of Integrity, the British affiliate of a Christian revivalist organisation for men in the United States, held its first training day at the New Life Christian Centre in Croydon on November 1.
The US movement, founded by Bill McCartney, made news recently when men wept openly at a rally in Washington DC. It has been much criticised in secular circles as an alleged attempt to turn back the clock to a patriarchal society.
But the only burly Americans to be overcome with emotion at the event in Surrey were in a short promotional video. This was topped and tailed with footage of the curate, the Revd Peter Howell-Jones, from St Matthew's, Walsall, in Birmingham, inviting viewers to "begin to imagine what an effective men's ministry could do in your own church".
The day started shortly after ten with hymn- and chorus-singing, and the three leaders – Mr Howell-Jones, Deepak Mahtani and Pradip Sudra – were keen to keep their promise that the day would be finished, after more worship, at four o'clock.
The men who attended came from a variety of church backgrounds, including the Vineyard Fellowship and other house churches; Elim, Baptist, Presbyterian and Anglican churches, and an ecumenical community in west London.
Judging by the first of the day's group discussions, most, if not all, were already familiar with church work targeted at men – men's-breakfast events came up several times – but no one was claiming that previous efforts had been a runaway success.
Martin Bailey, a member of the congregation at St Paul's, Dorking, had come to satisfy his own interest: he was already a member of men's Bible-study groups at St Paul's, which use the Menmeet resources published by Maranatha Ministries. Rod Redhead of Maranatha is one of the men behind the introduction of Promise Keepers to the UK.
Equipped with a workbook, Becoming a Key Man in Men's Ministry – other Promise Keepers (PK) resources were apparently still stuck in crates at a port – we were taken in stages from "Why Men's Ministry?" through "Six Characteristics of Men" and "A Confused Environment" ("the male context") to the PK promises, principles and method.
It was described as a "Christ-centred ministry, dedicated to uniting men through vital relationships, to become godly influences in their world". But local churches are asked not to call their groups Promise Keepers – for legal reasons, Mr Howell-Jones thought.
Lindsay Smith, a retired Kiwi businessman, described the setting up of a Promise Keepers movement in New Zealand, where there were now "a lot of happy women", he said, thanks to the changes it had wrought in their husbands. With a group of other businessmen, he is giving the UK movement his financial, as well as his personal, support.
The PK method operates at several levels: big "motivational" men's gatherings, special "non-threatening" events to draw men in – barbecues, sports events, father-daughter banquets, father-son camps – equipping sessions (for training and teaching), congregational gatherings, and small groups.
It is the small-group level which embodies the most distinctive aspect of the theory: in groups of between three and eight, it was said, men could develop relationships of trust and intimacy and become "accountable" to each other; in that context, they would be able to confess their sins and rebuke one another when they fell short of their promises. "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another," we were told – Proverbs 27.17.
The promises deal with commitment to Jesus and to the practice of spirituality; to "pursuing vital relationships with a few other men"; to "practising spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity"; to "building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values"; to supporting the local church and its pastor (who must authorise a local group and its "key man"); to "biblical unity" across the denominations; and to obedience to Mark 12.30-31 and Matthew 28.19-20.
We were told about six male characteristics: for men, distance equals safety, it was said, and communication is through questions; they are goal-orientated, have tunnel vision, need rules and principles, and "express emotion as anger or sexual response".
The last point drew a request for elucidation: it was only a "generalisation", said Mr Howell-Jones; but men were inclined to bottle up feelings, which would later find expression only in lost temper or through sexual intercourse.
Dry-eyed as they were, the participants in the day's session seemed neither distanced from each other nor emotionally constipated.
As the day went on, it became harder for the leaders to extract them from their small discussion groups. As the talking-points became progressively more personal, and the men got to know each other better, the reserve of those "sharing" started to weaken. By four o'clock, it was possible, just, to imagine how it might end in tears.
© 1997 Church Times