Preach for the Stars

From their sanctuary high on a hill in Gunbarrel, members of the Boulder Valley Vineyard Christian Fellowship can gaze at the Rocky Mountains through a huge wall of glass.

On October 4, however, all eyes turn upward to twelve huge TV screens hanging from the church ceiling. At high noon, the Boulder Vineyard takes over Washington, D.C. Now, that is a religious experience.

Fellow church member Bill McCartney, their beloved "Coach Mac," has packed the Capitol Mall with nearly a million men at the Promise Keepers' "Stand in the Gap" rally.

The scores of speakers at the PK rally come from churches all over the country. But who warns the crowd to "stand righteous in a sea of apostasy"? PK president Randy Phillips, a Vineyard member. Who leads the nation's largest-ever religious gathering in song? The church's worship director, Milton Carroll. What do they sing? The church's favorite song, "Holy Is the Lord." Of course, Coach Mac himself gives the main speech. And the man who delivers the all-important main evangelistic message--"Jesus is the only way to God!"--is the church's pastor, James Ryle.

Pastor James steps up to the mike and declares, "Joshua in his nation's capital said he would serve the Lord!" The rest of the story, the part Ryle neglects to mention, is that Joshua and his men called upon God to make the walls of the "cursed" Jericho crumble, and then they rushed into the capital and killed every living thing--men, women, cattle, sheep and donkeys--except for one prostitute.

As Ryle appears on the TV screens, the hundreds of people gathered at the Vineyard--most of them women, since so many of their men have gone off to war--whoop and holler.

And these Vineyardites seemed like such nice people.

James Ryle, born in October 1950 to a convict and an overburdened mom, was placed in a huge Southern Baptist orphanage in Dallas when he was seven and didn't emerge until he was eighteen--except for the times he says he escaped, got caught and was beaten. According to a "personal testimony" tape on sale for $5 at his church (Ryle refused to talk to Westword), he promised God he wouldn't run away, but he did anyway, and God said to him, "You promised!" It was the start of a lifelong dialogue between the two.

At seventeen, as Ryle told it, "I'm really kicking into the hippie scene, sniffing my tennis shoes to get high and doing every other thing I can get my hands on." Then, upon release from the orphanage, he went to Grand Prairie, Texas, for his senior year of high school.

Just another stoner. Once, on the way to a rock concert in Lewisville, Texas, Ryle fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a bridge embankment. He survived, but his passenger, a pal, was killed. So the cops in Fort Worth County charged Ryle with negligent homicide.

Trying to raise money to pay for a lawyer, he started selling dope and got busted for that, too. He now faced serious drug charges in Texas, where they were locking people up for possession of a joint. And he got evicted from his apartment. Some friends found him a place to stay, with a guy named Mike.

Oh, woe was James Ryle. The lawyer he hired with the dope money bailed out on him, and he wound up jailed. He cried out to God, "Why are you doing this to me?" But while he was in jail, the cops raided Mike's place and busted him for major dope-dealing. If Ryle hadn't been in jail, he would have been busted at Mike's. And God again spoke to James Ryle: "That's why!"

Things started looking up. His new, state-appointed attorney got him a deal: two years in prison on the drug charges, and the negligent-homicide charge was dropped. "I've seen God work phenomenal wonders in my life through his faithfulness," Ryle said. Of course, the parents of the boy who was killed may not have agreed.

Ryle was paroled from prison after eleven months of reading the Bible. He got out on December 22, 1970, bursting with the Good News of Christ--and burst right into the Jesus Movement, which was filled with hippies turning from drugs to religion. "I stepped out with a big Bible," he recalled, "and all my friends are wearing crosses and carrying Bibles and saying, 'Jesus is Lord,' and I'm thinking, 'This is too much.'"

Burning with zeal, Ryle became a Bible teacher. "I just had a knack for knowin' stuff," he said on his tape. "I'd look at something, and it would just make sense to me. And it made enough sense to me that I could make it make sense to someone else."

He wandered up to Denver, tried to start a street ministry on East Colfax, got "burned out" and returned to Texas. In the meantime he'd met Belinda, and they married and started having babies. In the mid-Seventies they returned to the Denver area, where Ryle became associate pastor of Windemere Baptist Church in Littleton. When he started, the church had a hundred members. When he left about five years later, he said, there were fifteen. He was a fire-breathing, holier-than-thou preacher, he recalled, and was not very good at it. After taking a year off from preaching, in December 1982 Ryle took over as pastor of the Boulder Valley Vineyard.

In the type of coincidence that Ryle loves to point out, that was the same month Bill McCartney took over as the University of Colorado football coach.

McCartney's early years at CU were rugged. By the late Eighties he'd turned the football program around, but his players were getting a reputation as outlaws. It seemed they were always getting into trouble. And so was his daughter, Kristyn, who was impregnated by star quarterback Sal Aunese before the athlete was struck down by cancer in 1989.

That was the year McCartney joined Ryle's church. Coach Mac had already been exposed to evangelical Christianity, Catholic style, through the Word of God sect, which emphasized mentoring and accountability with small groups of men. And Ryle was not only a golfing buddy and confidant of Coach Mac, he was the team chaplain as well. "Pastor Ryle was touching my heart in a special way," McCartney later wrote.

In 1990 McCartney founded Promise Keepers. By now Coach Mac had become a combination of Knute Rockne and turn-of-the-century evangelist Billy Sunday, mixing sports jargon with Jesus talk in stadium rallies. And Ryle was in on the ground floor; the Vineyard "spawned" the PK movement, he acknowledged in a 1996 GQ article.

As Promise Keepers grew, Ryle would explain to out-of-town reporters that God was responsible for the success of both the Buffs and the religious movement. "God looks for a man like that, and he will bless his socks off," Ryle said of McCartney to the Washington Post. "If you live your life for the glory of God, God will bless what you do. That's the theological grid for how this thing played out."

But God's squad faced hostility from the heathens right from the start. Every time McCartney spoke out on religious matters on university property, demonstrators protested and the American Civil Liberties Union sought to muzzle him on grounds of separation of church and state.

Gays picketed the 1991 Promise Keepers rally at Folsom Field, and Ryle later told the Sporting News that protesters stood at the stadium's front gates, kissing one another and reaching for PK crotches. "It was disgusting," Ryle said at the time. "But TV didn't show that part."

In early 1992 the skirmishes broke into full-fledged war. McCartney called a press conference in a university building to explain his involvement with Colorado for Family Values, which was pushing the anti-gay-rights Amendment 2.

McCartney denounced homosexuality as "an abomination of almighty God." Two days later, at an anti-abortion rally, the coach declared, "I did nothing more than call a sin a sin," adding that gays have "internal upheavals that literally drive a person stark raving mad. That torment makes them the most miserable of all people."

Kristyn McCartney, single mother of a toddler, was feeling pretty miserable herself. Once again, Ryle to the rescue. In September 1992, she later recalled for a reporter, on the way home from Colorado's game with Baylor, Ryle counseled her, unveiling a four-step plan: Win, woo, wow and wed. He took Kristyn through the steps of winning back her self-esteem, realizing that she was attractive to men, feeling that "wow" when she met the right guy, and then getting married. (In 1993 Kristyn had a child out of wedlock fathered by player Shannon Clavelle.)

After Amendment 2 passed in November 1992, reporters flocked to Colorado. There to defend Coach Mac was his pastor.

"The people of [Boulder] are tolerant so long as you agree with their viewpoint," Ryle told a Kansas City Star reporter. "If it's okay for a guy to stand up and promote gay behavior, why is it wrong for Bill McCartney to say a man's man is a Godly man? He's attacked, and the others aren't. It's an absurd imbalance."

In January 1993 Ryle himself spoke out on homosexuality in a series of sermons to his flock.

"It is with great deliberation and much forethought," he said, "that I raise the trumpet to my lips this day, at the sight of seeming dramatic, to sound an alarm on God's holy hill. And I pray that the sustaining note will pierce through the fog of confusion and cause the troops of the Lord to rally as one man, clothed in the armour of light, prepared for spiritual warfare in a day of increasing darkness.

"And I emphasize spiritual warfare, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood. Our animosity is not against human beings. But we do have animosity, and it is deep-seated and intense. We are engaged in a spiritual war of grand proportions...America is in the midst of a cultural revolution which has poised us precariously on the brink of moral chaos. And this is caused by the current crisis of homosexuality."

Talking about it in mixed company made him uncomfortable, he said, but "a pastor must hold the rod of God against the tide of evil."

While upset about the "repulsive nature" of homosexual acts, he described them for his hushed crowd, focusing on man-to-man action. His heart, he said, "is firmly set on mercy and compassion for those who are engaged in those practices."

Graciously, he added, "May they hear the Lord through us: 'I do not condemn you. Go thy way and sin no more.'"

In addition to their obsession with homosexuality, Ryle and Coach Mac shared--and still share--something deeper: a small group of guys with whom they worship and pray and confess. Ryle and McCartney are part of a five-man group they call Face to Face that goes on retreats and meets for confessional reasons, according to the Washington Post. The other members are Gary Oliver (a psychologist, author and radio host), Dale Schlafer (who was in charge of the D.C. rally), and PK's president, Randy Phillips.

PK's dense network of "ambassadors" and "key men" is based on the idea of small groups networking into giant groups. It's a multi-level marketing technique common in such huge entrepreneurial organizations as Amway--itself an organization that's heavy with evangelical Christians, top to bottom. The goal is to recruit, and each recruit seeks out others, and those seek out still others. Those below submit to the authority of those above them. PK has "key men" in evangelical churches across the country to spread its word. A chain of command has formed.

"We have these orders given to us," Ryle exhorted in his "Sons of Thunder" sermons in the early Nineties, "and here's what they are, because our commander, unto whom all power and all authority has been given, said to us, with that backing him up, 'Go into all the world!' We now know what we are to do! We're to go into all the world! And when we get there, we know what we're to do! Preach the Gospel! And we know the reason we're to preach the Gospel is so that we can make disciples! And we know that once they've turned to Christ and commit to being disciples, we're to teach them to do all the things that he taught us!...They're to join the army. They're to put on the uniform, too, so that they can stand under this order and join us as we turn back around and go again!"

That's how stadiums get filled with men and churches get planted. Of course, early Christians built their religion this way, too.

No longer a wimpy hippie, Ryle has developed considerable personal presence and become a polished speaker.

Ryle's eyes slope disarmingly at the outside corners, like a hound dog's, and his voice is a charming Texas twang. As a true evangelist, he talks a lot about loving Jesus. As a manly man of the Nineties, he's sensitive and humble enough to freely confess his own sins and frailties. He says he often hears God's voice and, to hear him tell it, he experiences prophetic dreams about as often as he brushes his teeth. He believes in coincidences and has a thing about numbers. There are always seven ways to do this, five ways to do that. The number eleven has an almost mystical significance to him. (Check out all the 11.11 Bible verses.) So does the number forty.

A Beatles wannabe as a rebel youth, Ryle now believes that the four musicians' talent was a gift from God but that they misused it by Satan's design. In his numerous dreams and visions about electric guitars, power amps and other things (give him a break--the guy did smoke a lot of dope when he was young), Biblical times come alive. But there's no mistaking what Ryle thinks of contemporary America. Men should lead; they should be loving and kind, and gentle but firm with their women.

The rest of society requires an even firmer hand. "The desperate conditions created by the increasing chaos of moral, political and social failures," Ryle noted in a survey of pastors conducted a few years ago by Ministries Today magazine, "have provided the church in America with the greatest opportunity to shine as a light amid a perverse generation, holding forth the word of life."

The solution is a loving relationship with the greatest guy of all time, the Son of God. Ryle has expressed an almost romantic longing for God and Jesus. He once used one of the most sensual Bible passages to illustrate how God quickened his dreaming: "There were nights," he told his congregation in 1991, "when I would awaken four, five, six, seven, eight different times and write down a dream and go back to sleep and get another one." Then he quoted Chapter 5 of the Song of Solomon: "I sleep, but my heart is awake, listening for the voice of my beloved." The rest of the chapter goes on to describe the "beloved" as a man who's "radiant and ruddy," with black wavy hair, eyes like "doves," lips like "lilies," a body like "polished ivory," legs that are "pillars of marble" and a mouth that is "sweetness itself."

Not that Ryle approves of homosexuality. On that subject, he makes Jerry Falwell sound like Barney Frank. "Homosexuality is a festering boil on the hide of the hideous beast of atheistic humanism," Ryle barked during a 1993 sermon.

For Ryle, the only acceptable beast is Ralphie, the buffalo mascot of CU's football team. While Ryle was team chaplain, Ralphie provided him with prophetic visions of the Buffs' success.

The pastor describes his relationship with Ralphie in his book Hippo in the Garden: On August 22, 1989, Ryle had a dream from God that there was "something like an energy field" surrounding CU's football team, and a voice told him, "This will be their golden season!" He told McCartney about the dream. Sure enough, CU had a great season and was playing Notre Dame for the national championship. But before the game, Ryle noticed that one of Ralphie's horns was broken. This meant that God's spirit had left the team. Sure enough, the Buffs lost 21-6 to Notre Dame. Before the next season, God revealed to Ryle in Isaiah 11:11 that the Lord "would reach out His hand a second time." Sure enough, the Buffs had a great season and matched up against Notre Dame a second time. This time Ralphie's horns were intact and the Buffs won. Their season record? 11-1-1, matching the Biblical passage. Go, Buffs!

No one at the Boulder Valley Vineyard wears a tie. The preachers don't don fancy robes; they wear sweater vests. There's no stained glass, no statuary of Jesus and Mary, no big church bureaucracy, no hymnal, no prayerbook, no silver chalice. Everybody's encouraged to be a minister. The men, that is.

People put their hands on one another and pray. Sometimes they speak in tongues. They believe that the healing power of Jesus works in today's world. On Wednesdays they meet in scores of small groups for prayer, fellowship and meditation about Jesus. (For many Vineyardites, that's the most important religious work they do.) There is no confessional at this church. The preacher confesses his sins to you.

Vineyard preachers have a lot to tell. One-quarter of them--and their members--were frequent flyers on marijuana before Jesus intervened, according to a survey conducted by one scholar. Among Ryle's flock, there's plenty of touchy-feely talk about how Jesus continues to intervene in your life, if you submit to him. Services are simple. Ritualistic religion? Not here, man. Only Jesus.

And a bunch of white Republicans. Whatever they were before they found Jesus--and some of them were liberal Protestants--Vineyardites are a homogenous bunch, say scholars who have surveyed the movement. While they strongly disavow racism, they are extremely conservative regarding homosexuality, abortion and obscenity laws. They are taught to be that way.

At the Boulder Vineyard, the atmosphere is like that of a support group. People are genuinely friendly and reflective. Everyone carries a different Bible on the way to services, and men with ponytails embrace men wearing Dockers. Church membership is between 700 and 900 people, and most members are in their thirties, but who's counting? You don't have to "join." You just go.

A week after the Promise Keepers rally in D.C., hundreds of people go to the Boulder Vineyard for Sunday services. Milton Carroll is on one stage, on the far left, near the blue-and-white flag of Israel on the wall (Ryle believes that blue is a blessed color); he strums a guitar and leads the congregation in "Holy Is the Lord." The music is sweet and soft, Christian pop at its most mellow and simple. The words scroll by on the TV monitors--and some of those words aren't so mellow. The congregants swing and sway as they gently croon, "We live for the day when every knee will bow."

At the Vineyard, half the service is music, starting with a solid half-hour of songs praising Jesus. People stand or sit or kneel--whatever turns you on. Some stretch their arms out to God. It's time to get in touch personally with Jesus. People straggle to the front of the sanctuary for a do-it-yourself communion; no one is there to hand the wafers to them. One person is being baptized in a pool right in front of the big windows. As the baptism flashes on the TV monitors, cheers erupt.

As the music ends, Pastor James Ryle mounts a small stage on the far right. But before he can speak, someone walks up and grabs the microphone. It's time to honor the heroes who have returned triumphant from Jericho. "As the body of Christ here and your church family," the member says to Ryle, "we love you." The crowd lets loose with a standing ovation. Coach Mac, sitting inconspicuously halfway up the spacious sanctuary, is introduced and gets an even bigger standing O.

On the TV monitors, a homemade parody of Final Jeopardy airs, hosted by Vineyard member Stu, a converted Jew from Brooklyn. It's a promotional spot for "Vessels of Honor," the Vineyard's women-only fall retreat, scheduled for early next month in Colorado Springs and led by Ryle's wife, Belinda. Although the congregation is heavy with nuclear families, Stu points out that single moms aren't excluded from potential "vessel" status.

Then a staff member of Promise Keepers walks up and grabs the mike. "God has used our pastor in an incredible way," he says, adding as he turns to Ryle, "We want to submit to you as our spiritual leader."

Graciously accepting the mantle, Ryle has his own announcement: The Vineyard's men-only "Chapel of Champions" is the next Friday. The purpose, says Ryle, is to "lay out our vision."

He follows this with a pitch for money. Most offshoots of the Vineyard movement don't push the hard sell, and some churches don't even pass the basket, but Boulder Valley is not one of them.

"God knows every one of us personally," the pitch continues. "He knows our needs, knows our church, knows the necessary provisions. It's when someone holds back--when one member holds back--that the whole body suffers."

The week's featured speaker, an elderly, old-time evangelist named Dick Mills, leads a shouted prayer for more money: "Thank you, Lord, for meeting my financial needs so I can give more to the kingdom of God to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ! Hallelujah!"

Mills's sermon is standard evangelical fare, but it closes with a joke that features a classic PK/Vineyard twist. He imagines a conversation between Adam and God in which Adam says, "God, Eve is really attractive and I'm thankful. But why is she so dumb?" God replies, "So she'd be attracted to you."

No one yet knows what impact--if any--this month's massive Promise Keepers rally will have on the country or even on the men who attended it. But scholars of America's religious scene are well aware of the movement behind the Promise Keepers and of its momentum. From its beginnings in the counterculture of the Sixties, today it is changing the way Americans pray--and the way they respond to social issues.

In the religious marketplace, mainline denominations of Presbyterians and Methodists are ailing, having failed to hang on to the baby boomers they once held as children. The Catholic Church is scrambling to find enough priests and nuns to run things. That doesn't mean fewer people are attending services in the Nineties, though. The conservative Southern Baptist Convention is thriving. And while congregations of liberal Protestants committed to social justice and a pluralistic society struggle to keep members, congregations of evangelical, conservative Christians who are taught to disdain tolerance of others' beliefs and behaviors grow rapidly.

Mega-churches--huge, nondenominational bodies like Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Heritage Christian Center in southeast Denver and Cherry Hills Community Church in tony Highlands Ranch--are booming. Calvary Chapel, a loose association of evangelistic Protestant churches begun in Orange County, California, as a ministry to hippies during the Jesus movement of the Sixties and Seventies, has planted fifteen churches in Colorado. The Vineyard, an offshoot of Calvary, has sprouted eighteen congregations in the state. Both clusters of churches--you can't really call them denominations--have made inroads not only nationwide, but also overseas.

Even in the big new churches, people are prodded into forming small home-study prayer groups--much as the communists used to form little cells. Sometimes these groups grow into churches of their own. The Calvary and Vineyard groups encourage this kind of decentralized, non-bureaucratic religious intimacy. Baby boomers respond well to the entrepreneurial spirit of the spirit.

"It's the rejection by baby boomers of established religion," says Donald E. Miller, a religion professor at the University of Southern California. He has just published a book, Reinventing American Protestantism, that sympathetically analyzes the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel movements and considers their impact, along with that of the mega-churches, on society.

Miller and other scholars call members of this revival, including Promise Keepers, "new paradigm Christians" or "New Protestants." Whatever they're called, they are aggressive about their religion and ardent about fulfilling "the Great Commission": converting people to their way of thinking whether they want to be converted or not.

Miller's research, which compares the new Christian pastors to mainline Presbyterian clergy, reveals the rigidity of the movement: Over 90 percent of the Vineyard pastors he surveyed strongly believe that those who haven't accepted Christ will be punished; only 19 percent of Presbyterian clergy feel that way.

But that kind of black-and-white thinking gives the new paradigm pastors a clearly defined--and marketable--product to sell, Miller writes.

And even women, who are clearly subordinate to men in these churches, are embracing it. Miller notes that such an arrangement has been called a "patriarchal bargain," in which women hope to get a more caring and responsible spouse in return for acknowledging him as leader.

Conversion to new paradigm Christianity--and its emphasis on "traditional family values"--has political implications.

Brenda Brasher, now an assistant professor of religion and philosophy at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, was a researcher for Miller's book on the new paradigm Christians while she worked on her Ph.D. "The absence of explicitly political speech at the PK rally simply made the event a blank political token that anyone could inscribe with meaning," Brasher says in a recent Internet essay. "And which group will most readily be able to inscribe this token as representing its agenda? Might it obviously be the Christian Coalition? Until Promise Keepers leaders not only insist they are not political but overtly disavow any connection with the Christian Coalition, their activities will be construed as lending support to the New Christian Right.

"A Washington, D.C., rally by this or any organization is a political event, something PK's leaders should--to borrow their own terminology--confess."

In an interview, Brasher adds, "At the D.C. event, a national identity was forged for Promise Keepers. It gave them a sense of being a national group. Were the economy worse, it might be the seed of a troubling political movement."

Publicly, PK denies that it's political. Biblical truth is the group's message, officials say. "All [McCartney] is doing is calling for men to be men," Ryle said in one public defense of his comrade. "He's been stretched into something he's not like at all. He's honestly aghast at the offense people have against the Bible. Bill has said to me that is the thing that most amazes him."

But the PK movement has come in for increasing criticism from other Bible-thumpers. Some say the group strays too far from Scripture, other fundamentalists claim it relies too much on secular psychology. They deride Ryle for being so presumptuous as to claim visions and prophecies, and they recoil in horror from the idea of seeking Christ together with, God forbid, Catholics, Mormons and other Christians.

Hank Hanegraaff, head of the Christian Research Institute, calls such evangelizing by PK and movements like the Vineyard a "counterfeit revival" based on delusions. In the latest issue of the Christian Research Journal, Hanegraaff flays Ryle for the Ralphie visions, a continuing controversy in Christian circles.

Hanegraaff calls this series of visions "fool's gold" and "unbiblical," a criticism echoed by fundamentalists in magazine articles and on the Internet.

In February 1995 Ryle answered his critics on a Christian talk-radio show from Denver, likening them to those "who crucified Jesus Christ."

Ryle added, "What motivates them to tear down another church? The answer is pride, jealousy, fear, hatred or ignorance. Take your pick. You can be sure one of these factors is at the heart of this present contention."

On October 17 the Chapel of Champions convenes at the Boulder Vineyard. Eighty men file into the church sanctuary. They sit at tables, four or five at each one. Instant small groups.

Pastor James has cooked up a skit, a quiz show called "Manly Feud" hosted by Stu the Brooklyn Jew and featuring the pastor's most trusted hands, split into two teams of three each. They've been coached beforehand on how to answer. Yes, it is silly, and it's about as spontaneous as pro wrestling, but as Ryle knows, the most profound truths emerge from the unlikeliest sources.

The grand-prize last question, the point of the skit, emerges when Stu cuts through the jocularity to read a long prayer and ask the teams: Who wrote this? "This is serious," he says. Everyone's ears perk up.

"Heavenly father," Stu reads, "we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance...We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.

"We confess that:
"We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word and called it moral pluralism.

"We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.
"We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.
"We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
"We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.
"We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
"We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
"We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
"We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.
"We have abused power and called it political savvy.
"We have coveted our neighbors' possessions and called it ambition.

"We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

"We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment."

The prayer ends with a request that God "cleanse us from every sin and set us free" and that he "guide and bless" these people "who have been sent here by the people of Kansas." All this in Christ's name.

This was the prayer that Wichita pastor Joe Wright recited at the Kansas Legislature in January 1996, provoking an uproar. In May 1996 Arvada Republican lawmaker Mark Paschall read a version of Wright's prayer to the Colorado House. It caused a row there, too.

While Joe Wright's prayer reverberates in the Chapel of Champions, a few men come forward to testify to the wonderful male bonding at the Promise Keepers D.C. rally.

Then Ryle tells everyone to turn to Judges 5:2. That book of the Old Testament is a history of who slew whom and who ruled in ancient Israel. The "judges" were actually guerrilla leaders, and all of the leaders were men except for Deborah, the subject of Chapters 4 and 5. In Chapter 4, the ancient Israelis win a war (they take no prisoners), but a woman is hero. In Chapter 5, Deborah sings about it. Verse 2: "When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves--praise the Lord!"

"Not the princesses," Ryle says, "but the princes! What else can you do but say 'Hallelujah'?"

A woman asking for men to take over. Praise the Lord.
Inspired, Stu the Brooklyn Jew stands to make his own "impromptu" revelation. After he converted to Christ six and a half years ago, he says, he decided to call his rabbi to ask which part of the Old Testament he had read at his bar mitzvah. It was Judges 4:4 through 5:31. A holy coincidence. "The Lord gave me a sign tonight," Stu says.

And Ryle feels inspired, too.
"The Lord has shown me how to build great men," he says. "I am undertaking the responsibility of leading the men of this church. Our motto: Building great men to build great people who will love the great savior and fulfill the Great Commission. If this doesn't happen, we're just blowing smoke. We need to exemplify for our wives and children. We will be the princes who will take the lead."

Forming small groups of men to bond with is the answer, he instructs. Five values are the key: Worship, discipleship, community, ministry and evangelism.

Ryle drills his men on the characteristics of those five values, making them write their thoughts on color-coded cards that have been distributed to each table.

Uh-oh--is that a pink card? "I don't want to say 'pink' in a group of men," says Ryle, "so I'll call it a 'salmon-colored' card."

His goal for the Chapel of Champions is the creation of eighty small groups of five men each. "That's the target," he says, "and I won't rest until I'm surrounded by people who do those five things, sharing Christ with unbelievers.

"You fill a place with people like that, and we'll kick some butt and take some names. Right? Right!

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy