Interview With Promise Keepers President, Dr. Tom Fortson

Promise Keepers announced The Awakening, a conference which seeks to bring men to realize their full potential in their home, work, and community. From May 20 through October 28, 2005, the tour will reach twenty stadiums in different cities across America, up from eighteen last year. The first conference will be May 20-21 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 215,000 American men will attend this year.

President of Promise Keepers, Dr. Tom Fortson, the President and CEO of Promise Keepers, shares his vision for PK, the "all-out assault" on men today, and how PK will talk to men about being a "godly man," who keeps his promises.

What is the vision of PK?

PK started in 1991. Our vision has remained the same - 'Men Transformed, Worldwide.' That middle term, 'transformation' means men coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Who we teach is Jesus Christ, and our scope is worldwide.

In John 3:3, Jesus taught Nicodemus that men must be born again to the Kingdom of God. So, we want to be clear about where we're taking men. Our mission is to ignite and unite men to passionately follow Jesus Christ - effective promises. We don't want men to just follow Christ, but to passionately follow Christ as a central figure of their life.

What is the PK strategy?

The '7 promises' are our central message, and it deals with seven areas of a man's life: worship (relationship with God) and a vital relationship with other men (a man older than him, a man the same age as him, and mentoring a man).

Promise three deals with integrity in relationship, business, and marriage. Sexual purity is a big issue. We hold men to that high standard.

Promise four has to do with his family. We encourage a man to keep his promise to his family. That means "I do until death do we part." It has to do with being a godly husband and father.

Promise five has to do with the local church, understanding that men do need to support and follow the church.

Promise six is unity - reaching beyond racial and denominational barriers to reach unity.

Promise seven has to do with influence in the community and globally. A man should be a positive life in his community and around the world. That's the Great Commission.

How do you deliver that message to the 215,000 men?

Our primary method of delivery are 'the event.' In an event are 6 sessions, 2 on Friday night and 4 on Saturday. And through the platform, worship, singing, skit, drama, and speakers, we get the messages of the 7 promises across.

What is special about this year?

This year, the theme is the Awakening. The whole idea in the Awakening is that there is this epic battle for a man's heart, and he needs to be alert and sober to what's going on around him. There is also a theme speaker, in addition to the thirty speakers total.

Now behind that we have some assumptions of men today. Number one, men are friendless. You don't find too many guys who have solid friends.

Number two, they're emotionally isolated. You don't have guys really expressing their feelings. How do they feel? Women talk to other women, but men don't talk about their feelings. A lot of times a man is upset, but they'll express anger rather than talk to someone.

Number three, guys are confused over masculinity. What's a godly man look like today? What's the model? We address the issue of masculinity.

Number four, men today are success driven. We find that guys are more likely to be successful in work than at home.

Number five, like anyone else, men are spiritually searching. The question is not is there a God, but who is he and how can I find him?

PK tries to address this issue, and we try to do it in a masculine context. That's why we try to have our event in a basketball arena or a football stadium.

Is there really an epic battle for a man's heart?

Look at your newspaper, your sitcoms on TV. When they write about men, they're doing something stupid, silly, being criticized by the women in the show. It seems like there's an all out assault on men. On TV, where do you have a movie or sitcom in which you see a strong godly man, a man of integrity and nobility, whose honored by those he's in the group with?

What is the problem with the Church today, and why are men not as responsive as in the past?

I think many men perceive the Church as feminine. It's not a real place men go to be men - where masculinity can be expressed. What makes PK so successful is that men are worshipping. Men are worshipping, singing, and crying and laughing together. He can go to another man and say, "I have problems." When a woman is inserted into the group, the dynamic is different. One of the secrets of PK is that a man can worship freely in a masculine context with other men, but if you go to most churches around the world, you'll find that there's more women in churches than men because a guy may not perceive following Christ as being masculine.

What does a "godly" man look like?

I think that real men sing. When they go to an event and see ten thousand guys singing together, that may be a new experience for a lot of men. Just looking around and seeing men sing, they realize, it's okay to sing out loud, and it's okay to sing out of tune.

You find men at a PK event, who feel free to cry. They're choked up. But at church, they may feel it's not masculine to cry. Well, it's okay for men to cry. A lot of times it's stuffed down and they don't have a chance to release it.

Another reason why PK is successful is that guys have a lot of things they need to confess. They've done a lot of things wrong and they haven't told anybody about it. Many times they're not going to go to a pastor and tell the church that he's done it because they may be women around.

But at a PK event, a guy will turn to another man and say, 'Hey man you want me to go with you,' because he needs encouragement from anther man, not his wife.

We're trying to show men that in order to lead, you have to serve. We encourage men to go back to their home and learn how to serve their wives. If that means washing the dishes and vacuuming, then that's what it means. A real leader serves. He finds the needs of his family, and he meets it. Work does not end when he comes from his outside job, but his work starts when he comes home.

'How can I meet the needs of my wife, and what are the needs of my home?' and initiative it.

How do men react to the conferences?

A guy may come in on Friday and be a little surprised with the high octane, the excitement in the arena. I'ts not like a church. Immediately, we capture men.

By the second session, you will find a guy grappling with his purpose in life. Is he living the kind of life that God has called him to live? Is he leading in his home? Is he serving his wife? Is he being the father that God has called him to be?

A lot of men have never seen models of real men. You find men from broken homes. There the idea of going the distance may be new. They may feel if this marriage doesn't work out, it may be okay to get a divorce. It's not okay. So we tell guys don't go in with the attitude of "it's okay." If you made a promise, you got to keep it. That's why you need vital relationships with other men.

What is PK looking to for the next 5 years as you round off the decade?

Two things - we'll be moving globally and moving into the marketplace. We want to build a strong worldwide network, and maximize emerging technology and communication with men on the Internet.

We're going to be pursuing next generation leadership. Not only do we want to impact the leaders, but future leaders in terms of what it means to be men of integrity.

PK wants to become the resource for ministry leaders, like one-stop shopping. You have a question about men, we've got it all, like resources, or books, or addressing men's issues - one stop shopping. Call PK and we've got it, or we can refer you to someone who does.

We want to engage pastors to develop pastors to engage men. We're going to do that by having pastors conferences, raise their consciences and interest in men of their church.

We already have PK in India, Australia, and New Zealand.

This was over about 2 year period, so we're really just beginning this phase of developing a presence in other nations. What you find is that the issues that men deal with in the US is the same globally. The issues of homosexuality and pornography are global.

Thomas S. Fortson, Jr. was named President and CEO of Promise Keepers in 2003 and had served as Chief Operating Officer. He spent many years in corporate America, serving as an administrator at General Motors Corporation in Detroit and as the Vice President of Human Resources at Edwards Baking Company in Atlanta, Georgia.

With a Ph.D. in Administration and Higher Education, and an honorary doctorate in Christian Ministries from Belhaven College, Fortson was Dean at the Atlanta Center for Theological Studies and President of Next Step Consultants, a Christian consulting group. Fortson also sits on the Board of Trustees for Moody Bible Institute and is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Religious Broadcasters.