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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Man up Illustration - Photo by Nikki Dawes

Last month, around 50 men listened in a Little Rock conference room as author and public speaker Robert Lewis talked about what he said were some of the challenges men face in today's culture.

"Manhood is in a state of confusion," said Lewis, 68, the former lead pastor and directional leader of Little Rock's Fellowship Bible Church. "We have lived for basically the last 30 years in what I call high-octane times, and a lot of that change has kind of swept men off their feet."

Those listening were not only there to hear Lewis speak but to gather tips on how to lead, because each of them will head a group of up to 10 men for the 10-week series Man To Man, which Lewis described as a "journey into modern manhood."

Presented to the public in the fall of 2016, Man To Man is an outgrowth of Men's Fraternity, an international video series curriculum Lewis designed and first presented in 1990 at Fellowship that "teaches [men] how to live lives of authentic manhood as modeled by Jesus Christ and directed by the [w]ord of God," according to the Men's Fraternity website.

While men of all ages can attend and participate, the second Man To Man event -- which will be held for the next 10 Tuesdays at Embassy Suites in Little Rock -- is focused on addressing millennials, whom Lewis defined as men ages 20-40. Although a portion of the series will focus on men in terms of their "spiritual journey," most of the curriculum will be presented as a secular program.

Lewis drew on 1 Corinthians 13:11 with regard to millennials: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish [ways]."

Without a form of transition, Lewis said, millennial men are carrying over "childish kinds of things" into an adult body -- a "less-than-life manhood" that Lewis said "doesn't work well for them or for society."

It's not their fault, according to Lewis, who reflected on his assumptions about how to be a man when he was establishing his life as an adult.

"I ... thought, 'I'm just supposed to know?'" Lewis said. "Who told you you were supposed to know? How ridiculous that you're supposed to know. ... That's like a guy walking out onto a basketball court for the first time and he's assuming, 'I'm supposed to be a great basketball player,' and no one's ever coached him a day in his life."

Manhood is hard to define, Lewis said, in part because many men have adhered to popular culture's representation as the only version.

"The man of my generation was John Wayne, but the man [of] the next generation was Lil Wayne," said Lewis, who spoke of the men as representations of "cultural wisdom" in opposition to the "enduring wisdom" found in the Bible.

Lewis said part of the Man To Man curriculum will delve deeper into men's backgrounds, but one of the topics it will touch upon is their fathers.

It's a subject that can be touchy for many men, he said.

"However many guys are in here, you can pretty much bank on it that one out of every two guys has some pain there -- either a broken relationship with Dad, a painful relationship with Dad or a wound because there was no dad," Lewis said. "And [men] never [think] about how it's [affecting] their life in the day to day."

Lewis said he and his two brothers were raised in a home with an alcoholic father.

"We grew up with a kind of a shadow dad," he said. "He was in the home, but not in the home. He was there, but you just didn't feel it."

It was a relief to Lewis when he left in 1967 to attend the University of Arkansas on a football scholarship, because it meant he didn't have to manage the turmoil his father created in his family. But he said he left with an emptiness that he wouldn't realize had been there until years later.

"I left [home] with very little manhood modeling instruction or direction," he said. "I filled all of that vacuum with sports, [and] after sports went away you're left alone to say 'Who am I?' 'Where am I going?' I didn't have the answers."

Finding Christianity while in college opened a new perspective on life for him, he said and from his faith grew the research that would become Men's Fraternity. The program would expand to other men's ministries and was picked up by Lifeway Christian Resources before he transitioned away from Fellowship in 2005 to focus on men's ministries.

"It starts to get a little rocky," Lewis said of the sessions that will focus on fathers and other below-the-surface issues. "We're popping lids on their souls."

Russell Rainey, 56, began teaming with Lewis in 2000 and eventually paired his love of the outdoors with Lewis' biblical teachings for programs such as "Christ In the Tetons" and later found and led the Christian-based nonprofit Adventures For Life.

Rainey, who will host each week's installment, called for the need for men to better themselves by living simply and honestly, which includes being honest with oneself.

"We're not asking anybody to live a lesser life," Rainey said. "We're saying, 'Look, there's a life that's better.' Life's too complicated -- especially now. There's just too much noise out there trying to pull you in one direction or the other.

"If you get just three or four principles and say no matter what else I do, I'm going to stay true to these, it's amazing how the other stuff just kind of falls into place."

Eric Evans, 60, of Lonoke, said he benefited from Men's Fraternity as a younger man and wants to help other men through Man To Man. He and Jason Bates, 45, lead what Evans called "old-style" Men's Fraternity programs -- the original 24-week version -- for inmates through the Arkansas Department of Correction.

"I have a responsibility to Christ to be involved at a place where I can just plug in," he said. "I don't have to go out and plow new territory myself."

Bates experienced the Men's Fraternity program in the 1990s and has been involved with the program for nearly 20 years.

He noted that although a number of men who will be at his table at Man To Man are in their 40s, they plan to pass on the information to their sons, who are all in high school.

"What was attractive to me in my late 20s and early 30s when I went to it was that for the first time in my life, I had really heard older men talk about real-life issues with somebody my age where it wasn't preached to me," Bates said. "I didn't particularly enjoy going to church as a kid, and all of a sudden I had authentic, grown men asking me to step up. And to me that was very attractive."

Daniel Hines, 29, of Little Rock said what drew him to attend the first Man To Man meeting in 2016 was the suggestion of some men at his church and his admiration of "older gentlemen" who had become successful in life. What kept him there was the fact that he wanted to share the experience with his brothers, who live out of state, and it's now his goal to do that as one of the younger table leaders.

Hines, who married in April and said his wife, Anna, is "all about" the program, said talking with other men "just opens up that gate, and once you finally talk about [the harder issues] it's just a load lifted off your chest. It really is."

Lewis said table leaders are those who "are all further down the trail and can say to these men, 'Listen to what he was talking about today -- I've seen it bear fruit in a good way. He's not just giving encouragement that's just for [the] moment ... these are things that are going to stand the test of time.' That's the point of reference, that enduring wisdom works for men.

"We're just trying to create a generation of guys who, by investing in them, [won't be] perfect, but a little bit better. Men who are just a little bit better do a whole lot of good."

The registration cost for Man To Man is $120 to cover the cost of breakfast. Register online at adventures.life.

Religion on 01/06/2018

Print Headline: Man up: Starting Tuesday, a 10-week series of meetings will map out a ‘journey into modern manhood’

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