Playing Hurt: An Interview with Bill McCartney

Bill McCartney founded Promise Keepers in 1990 while still head coach of the CU Buffs. During the 1990’s, Promise Keepers mushroomed to become the largest men’s ministry organization in America, holding packed stadium events all over the country. On August 1, 2016, Coach McCartney’s family issued a statement that Bill McCartney has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Please keep him and the family in your prayers.

Herb: First of all, Coach, I want to congratulate you for being selected for the College Football Hall of Fame. We just found that out today and we’re excited for you and for the testimony that you have nationally. And praise the Lord for that.

Secondly, I want to thank you because New Commandment Men’s Ministries owes its beginning to Promise Keepers. About seventeen years ago I was at a Promise Keepers stadium event and I had been praying about how to minister to widows and single parents and I picked up a pamphlet called Focusing Your Men’s Ministry and in the back was an appendix of churches with successful men’s ministries. One of them was a church in Lincoln, Nebraska that used teams of men to adopt widows and single parents. When I read it, I thought, this is exactly what I need to do.

Coach: Imagine that!

Herb: So I went back to my church and started the ministry there. And now there are over 700 churches doing men’s team ministry to the widowed and single parents, and15,000 men serving 5,000 widows and single parents.

Coach: Just the fact that it happened like that is Divine design.

Herb: Yes, it certainly was. So thank you. I know there are hundreds of mens ministries that owe their beginning to Promise Keepers and it’s just such an honor to be able to be here with you.

First of all, I just want to give you my condolences. I know your wife, Lyndi, just passed away. How are you dealing with that and how has that impacted your life right now?

Coach: Yes, it’s been really up and down. We were married 50 years and the Bible says that two become one. Well, half of me left and it was the best half. And so, it’s sad. I reach for her at night. And I had no idea that it would be the way it is. Getting this coaching honor today has distracted me, kept me from being sad. It’s God’s mercy and grace that this honor comes at this time because it distracts me and helps me think about something other than her. I know she’s in a better place. I’m confident she’s with the Lord. But it’s hard to let go. It’s much harder than anybody ever told me it would be.

Herb: Right. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this ministry to the widowed and single parents because we know that it’s hard. It’s tough to make that adjustment.

Coach: You know, daily I’m before the Lord. I get searched and fed. And so I’m confident that I’ll learn the lessons I need to learn and that the Lord will bring me through this. I’m confident of that. There’s no question in my mind.

But this happened to me this week. On Sunday night, about one or two in the morning, I woke up, went to the bathroom, got back in bed, and shear terror overtook me. I’m talking about stark raving fear over me. But I knew what to do. So I immediately prayed the Lord’s Prayer. And as soon as I did, I invoked the presence of the Holy Spirit and the enemy left.

But what jumped in my mind was what if I didn’t know to do that? What if I was not trained and equipped? I can only imagine what happens to people who come under attack like that. My heart goes out to those widows or widowers who don’t turn to the Lord and don’t know to. Because I’m telling you, I was under attack and it was scary. But as soon as I invoked the power of the Holy Spirit, a tremendous peace came over me. But I couldn’t help but think about those who don’t know how to cope at a time like this.

Herb: And what about people who don’t have the network of friendships that you have?

Coach: People say, “Coach, how you doing?” I say, “I need your prayers.” I just ask for prayer. Prayer is powerful. So I know to do that. I say, “You’d do me a great service if you just ask the Lord to get me through this.” But what about people who don’t know to do that? It doesn’t help someone to ask someone who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t provide any power or value. You have to have the Holy Spirit to have benefit.

Herb: On the topic of men’s ministry, how would you define a godly man?

Coach: A real man, a man’s man is a godly man. He’s a man of the Word. It is a contradiction to say you love the Lord and you don’t love His Word. You can’t get away with that. The only guy that really is God’s man is a man of the Word. Those that spend time in the Word and submit to the Word and let the Word nurture their souls, that’s the guy that can grow in Christ. Anyone who is doing it any other way is living a deceptive thing.

If they wonder why it’s not working, I’ll tell you why it’s not working… See Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that God speaks.” In other words, our physical bodies need physical food. Correspondingly, our souls need to be fed the Word of God. Show me somebody that’s not in the Word every day and I’ll show you somebody that’s weak and compromised and at risk.

Herb: What do you feel is the legacy that Promise Keepers is creating for men’s ministry?

Coach: That’s a good question. Isaiah 40:31 says “Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.” What does that mean? Waiting is when you position yourself before the Lord and you don’t move until He moves. And if He doesn’t move right away, you’re content to wait and stay in that ready position.

I’ve been in that position for many years now as it relates to that question. Is God through with Promise Keepers? Has Promise Keepers seen its best day? What is it that God is calling Promise Keepers to do? And in answering that question, like I said, this has been years and years, I believe God has shown me the answer to it. And it has to do with the local church. It has to do with empowering the local church.

Now, this will be offensive to some, but it’s not intended to be because this is all positive. But I maintain, based on what I observe, that the overwhelming majority of the local churches are not hitting on all cylinders. And so, what is it that would get them so that they do? I believe if you could convince- in other words, you can’t Daffy Duck on this one. Pastor, you can’t preach around this one – you have got to insist that every person starts every day on their knees. It doesn’t matter what job they have, what business they have, how busy they are, there’s an extra hour in every day, all you have to do is get up earlier.

If you want to find the Lord, you can find Him. But He said, “You shall seek me and you shall find me when you seek me with all your heart.” In other words, God is looking for the one who is whole hearted. Now the person who is whole hearted realizes we’re all sinners. So they get up and they get searched. And then they get fed. They partake of the Word of God. And if anybody is not doing that, they’re at risk. If anyone is doing that, they’re a mighty weapon in the hand of Almighty God. That’s the solution.

Herb: What do you think it means to love like Jesus Christ?

Coach: Well, He loved sacrificially. He loved the unlovely. We’re unlovely. The best one’s among us are sinners. We’re wretched compared to a holy and righteous God. So we have to come to grips with the fact that all of us left to ourselves would self destruct. And so, because we understand the culture and we understand our nature and we understand the battle… And not only that, scripture tells us it’s going to get more and more difficult. And you can see it right now if you’re paying attention. If you understand the times and know what to do about it, you’ll see that the great majority are Daffy Ducking. They’re not all in. All in or not in at all! You gotta be all in.

What does that mean? It means every day, there are no exceptions. You get searched and you get fed. Now the enemy can’t get at that person. Now what if you had a church like that where everybody agreed to those two non-negotiables. To me, that’s what the church is.

The church is bringing the believing community together and sharing your gifts, sharing your resources. Remember the early church, nobody had too much, nobody had too little. Where did that come from? That came under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit at Pentecost fell so profoundly that people didn’t live tight fisted. They didn’t say “That’s my money. I earned that money.” But they lived open handedly. And so, to me, that’s what I believe has to happen now. I don;t believe God’s mad. I believe God wants to empower. But he can;t empower you if you don’t agree to the non-negotiables.

Herb: Promise Keepers has been a champion of racial reconciliation. How do you feel the church is progressing on this issue?

Coach: Not at all. There’s no progress for all practical purposes. In other words, people of color don’t trust white folk. They really don’t trust them. They say, “You can’t be reading the same Bible I’m reading. Because you don’t seem to notice my plight. You got everything going on and you’re judging me?”

And the reality is that I believe that what we’re doing here is going to heal that divide. I believe that as we unpack the Word of God, we’re going to see where the responsibility lies and we’re going to move in that direction and we’re going to see that people of color are going to say, “Wow! That’s the Lord. That;s the Holy Spirit that’s leading that.”

And that’s going to bring us together. But right now we’re not together. We’re apart. Anybody that thinks that Christ is coming back for this church, the way it’s divided I just think is not a student of the Word, or has an accurate interpretation of the Word. I believe we’ve got to move forward, we’ve got to make progress, and I think it’s the local church. When the local church truly is led by the Spirit, then everyone is going to feel welcomed there.

Herb: Well, Coach, thank you so much for getting together with me. I really appreciate you and Promise Keepers. Praise God for everything that you’re doing.

Coach: Thank you so much.


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