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A Band of Brothers: NJ Conference Exhorts Men to Stand Courageous   

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Photo: Lt. General William G. “Jerry” Boykin at Stand Courageous (courtesy of Liquid Church)

By Matthew Becker

On March 23, 2024, nearly 1,000 men gathered on a stormy Saturday morning at Liquid Church in Parsippany, New Jersey. Normally, on a weekend day like this, the average man would probably not be interested in venturing out in the relentless rain and wind. But not these guys. They decided to attend a men’s conference that challenged them to “Stand Courageous.”

Stand Courageous, a ministry of the Family Research Council, seeks to help men develop strong biblical character, cultivate positive habits, build and rebuild relationships, and make commitments that will move them closer to God’s good purpose and design.

The Stand Courageous Conference in New Jersey started with worship led by Rev. Tim Mercaldo (WorshipPlus.org) and an ensemble of musicians from local churches. The group, known as “Surrounded,” led the men in classic hymns and contemporary worship songs that set the stage for the keynote speakers. Each speaker spoke about one of the values in the book, Man to Man: Rediscovering Masculinity in a Challenging World, by Lieutenant General William G. “Jerry” Boykin.

General Boykin, the executive VP of Family Research Council, had a long, distinguished career in the United States Army. At the conference, he spoke about his resilient, steadfast faith during his military career. He talked about walking through the mountains of Fort Bragg during his training and how it pushed him physically as well as mentally. He recounted his experience in Panama on a mission to take out a ruthless warlord in 1989, getting hit with shrapnel and bullet fragments in the process. Most notably, he recounted his experience in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, which was chronicled in the book Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, and adapted into the film of the same name by director Ridley Scott.

In addition to being challenged as a soldier, Boykin was also challenged as a Christian. His faith was constantly tested whether through his fellow soldiers and sergeants being dismissive of it, or witnessing and experiencing the relentless, unmerciful horrors of war. As a believer, you may not have gone through military training or combat like General Boykin has, but having your faith and hope tested is still something you either have experienced, or will experience at some point in your life. Boykin’s solution, and by extension, our solution, rests on the promises of Isaiah 40:30-31: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” We will all grow tired and weary. We will all stumble and fall, but don’t believe God is done with you, because you still have strength in him. You just need to trust in it and never surrender.

Scott Spages, Family Research Council’s local coordinator for Stand Courageous, said the recent conference more than met expectations in terms of attendance and vigor.

“It was stunning to see the level of enthusiasm and emotion displayed at the conference,” he said.

“Men were clearly moved in heart and spirit to be the men of God they are called to be. At most conferences there is a noticeable drop-off in attendance and attentiveness as the day wears on, and especially after lunch. Not at this conference. The men were tuned in and fully engaged right through the father’s blessing at the end. Tears of joy flowed with conviction and love.”

MAN AS PROVIDER

The first principle of the conference, “Man as Provider,” was presented by Pastor Art Reyes (Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel Downey, California), who spoke about how Joshua led his people across the Jordan River. Just as Joshua was called to be the leader and provider of Israel, men are called to do likewise for the people in our lives. The Christian walk isn’t easy; it’s a battleground. But it’s precisely in those moments of difficulty that God tends to do his best work in us. Reyes quoted C.S. Lewis, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts to us in our pain.”

MAN AS BATTLE BUDDY

The second principle was “Man as a Battle Buddy,” by Bishop Charles Flowers (Senior Pastor, Faith Outreach Center International, Texas). The Christian walk is difficult enough, but imagine trying to walk it all by yourself without any guidance, accountability, or even encouragement. Thankfully, Bishop Flowers drove home the point that we were never meant to walk alone. He describes the battle buddy as a necessity, not a luxury. According to Flowers, there are four key factors found in a strong, masculine friendship: Acceptance (A powerful force), Affirmation (A smoothing lubricant), Accountability (A healthy friction), and Authority (A skillful angle). If you find yourself struggling to find that kind of friendship, Flowers recommends four steps: pray, write down a list of candidates, take the initiative, and develop regular contact.

MAN AS INSTRUCTOR

“Man as Instructor,” by Kelvin Cochran (Senior Fellow and Vice President, Alliance Defending Freedom) was the third principle. While most instructors certainly come in the form of teachers, coaches, and mentors, Cochran explains that neither of these official titles are required to be an effective biblical teacher. According to Cochran, the role of an instructor is meant to cause permanent damage to ignorance. This comes in the form of offering practical advice, sharing wisdom, being a source of information, and providing insight that you’ve accumulated over the course of your life.

MAN AS DEFENDER

The fourth principle was “Man as Defender.” Bill Paige (Associate Pastor, Christian International Church, Montclair), who has served as a police officer and detective in the Metro New York region, was certainly qualified to speak on this subject. In addition to recounting some of his escapades as an officer that tie into the theme of his sermon, Paige also included some audience participation by having the men turn to their “neighbor” to ask and tell each other various rhetorical questions and statements that were either humorous, introspective, or both. One of Paige’s most notable points focused on how John 15 compares us to branches connected to a vine and God as the gardener. God cuts off every branch that doesn’t bear fruit and prunes every branch that does, as long as we remain in him. We, as men, are called to act the same way with the people in our lives, protecting them from branches that don’t bear fruit for them, and nurturing the ones that do.

MAN AS CHAPLAIN

To close out the Courageous Man Conference, Tony Perkins, President of Family Research Council, took the stage to talk about “Man as Chaplain.” You don’t need an official clergy title to as a chaplain, Perkins said. He described a chaplain as a spiritual leader of the home who educates, exhorts, and provides an earnest example of how to study courageously for the Lord in every situation. Perkins cited Joshua 24: 2-15. Joshua educated his people on the history of their ancestors, and encouraged them to fear and serve the Lord. He declares it in verse 15: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

In between the keynote speakers, attendees split up into smaller breakout rooms of their choosing to hear about how they can live out biblical manhood on a more specific, personal level. The conference concluded with men receiving the father’s blessing and/or praying that blessing over other men.

At the Stand Courageous Conference, everything came together for an event that inspired many men to strive to be the provider, battle buddy, instructor, defender, and chaplain that God has called them to be.

Photo courtesy of Liquid Church

CONFERENCE NOTES: On the Friday evening before the Courageous Man Conference, a team of 108 volunteers gathered for dinner and training. For the last 10 months, a team of local ministry and business leaders has hosted meetings in preparation for the Stand Courageous Conference. The leadership team includes Scott Spages (local coordinator), Jerry Palmieri (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), George McGovern (Athletes in Action), Len Deo, President Emeritus of NJ Family Policy Center and Founder of the NJ Family Foundation, and Tom Grieco, a marketplace leader in Bergen County and Chair of Deeper Life Foundation. Conference follow-up: Stand Courageous offers a free six-week small group program based on Gen. Boykin’s book, Man to Man.