SPRING LAKE — Like most parent-child relationships, the years a father and son spend together can bring both joy and heartache. Real 3 Ministries exists to help ensure that the relationship is a good one by providing "real men" with "real challenges" and "real answers."
Using a verse from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 16:13, men and boys who attend the ministry's conferences and retreats are taught to "Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong."
The idea for the ministry came to its founder, Mark Cravens of Lutz, in July after he had prayed and asked God: "What do real men need, Lord?"
"God poured out six pages over the next six hours (outlining) a conference addressing 'The Wake Up Call,' 'The Battle Cry,' 'Learn to Discern' and 'Iron Sharpens Iron,' " Cravens said. "One page was those four key areas, another the movie clips and music, another the roundtable discussion questions, another our skits, another our accountability and another the Scripture verses."
The ministry is a family affair, with Cravens' wife, Jill, writing the skits and their three sons acting in them.
Next weekend at Lakewood Retreat, fathers, grandfathers, uncles and mentors will have the opportunity to attend one of the retreats and share a bonding experience with their boys, ages 8 to 16.
Cravens, who has led men's ministries since 2004 and is certified by Living Free Ministries in counseling, hopes the event will help men and boys grow closer in their relationship with each other and in their calling to serve God, as was the case during a retreat there in February.
"Fourteen fathers and sons gathered together and disconnected from the outside world for the entire weekend to develop communication, trust and openness with each other," he said.
Everyone participated in an open teaching forum with questions and then broke into pairs to discuss what they had learned and how they would apply it to their lives.
"Each one developed a customized 'battle plan' so they could go home and start walking in victory — true victory," Cravens explained. "Not up and down victory-defeat, but true progression in their walk with the Lord and in his grace."
Jon VanVliet said he and his son, Brennen, benefited from the experience.
"My youngest son is 14, and I went to the retreat to improve our relationship and our spiritual walk together," said the Land O'Lakes resident. "God used the retreat to break down walls and improve our relationship."
During the weekend, the fathers and sons had quiet time to devote to prayer, as well as activities where they learned about traps the boys face in the areas of technology, purity, anger, rebellion and lies they have believed since childhood.
"Then they received the truth, and it set them free," Cravens said.
Object lessons, such as climbing through a "web" together and taking a "purity walk," helped everyone understand the need to communicate effectively.
VanVliet, who says he wishes he had handled the teenage years better with his adult sons, appreciated being able to accomplish so much in a camp setting.
"The ministry used various resources and fun activities available at Lakewood, which were appropriate for all ages and backgrounds," he said.
Peter Buczynsky and his 14-year-old son, Benjamin, also benefited from the experience.
"The blend of fireside chats, conference facilities, campfire breakfasts, archery and woods make it a perfect setting for adult men to be boys and boys to turn into men," Buczynsky said.
Finding time to spend with his son was important to Buczynsky.
"I have been working so much, and it seems no matter how I try to balance family and work, it seems my middle son gets the least amount of time," he said, noting that he also has a younger daughter with special needs. "Mark's teachings and the visual presentations spurred in-depth discussion between my son and I as we would take time and walk through the woods together."
Buczynsky, president of PharmaWorks Inc. in Odessa, spent time discussing sensitive subjects with his son, referring back to his youth and what he would have done differently.
"It was an opportunity to let our guard down and allow our hearts to speak," he said.
While Benjamin wasn't enthusiastic when his father first told him they were going to a retreat, afterward, he kept saying how great it was, Buczynsky said.
"We have both committed to certain things and have grown closer together," he said.
Buczynsky has some advice for other fathers.
"In 20 years, you would pay anything to come back to this moment of time to invest and spend more quality time with your sons, strengthening their foundation, teaching them how to be a man of God," he said. "Do it now. There is so little time, and you compete with so many distractions and influences already."