F3 Nation: Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith

Frank Schwartz from F3 Nation joins The Redeemed to discuss men getting together for fitness, fellowship, and faith.

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About The Podcast

This month’s speaker is Frank Schwartz, president of F3 Nation, with the Fs standing for “Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith.” F3 started in Charlotte, N.C., a decade ago simply as a way to provide fellowship opportunities for adult men through free, organized outdoor workouts. As the workout sessions grew and friendships strengthened, the participants felt more at ease sharing their thoughts, issues, and frustrations. Today, not only do they support each other through difficult times, they combine their leadership talents for philanthropy and community projects. “By putting men on a mission again, the vast majority I believe will find it,” Schwartz says, “and will begin to ask those tough questions: OK, why am I here? What is it that I’m here to do so that I live out the best life I possibly can?” The F3 network currently includes nearly 3,000 separate groups in 40 U.S. states and several countries around the world.

Show Notes

Welcome and Guest Introduction

Good afternoon and welcome. I’m Paul Amos, founder of The Redeemed, and I’d like to thank you for coming here today to listen to our webinar. The Redeemed is a group of men who’ve come together to discuss life’s challenges as well as the ways that we overcome those challenges. Today, we’re blessed to have a wonderful speaker, Frank Schwartz, who’s the President of F3 Nation. Frank, we welcome you to the show.

What does Redemption mean to you?

Paul: We are going start this the way we start all of our interviews. What does redemption mean to you?

Frank: I guess naturally being a Christian man, we tend to think of the word Redeemed in the biblical sense. I guess dictionary-wise, I suppose, redemption or redeem probably means something along the lines of to buy back something or to bring it out of debt. For example,  your car was impounded and you redeem your car. You trade something and you get it back, in a way it means getting it back to a state where it’s usable again.

Another worldly example is if you go to the grocery store and you redeem a coupon. I bring something, whatever I have to the table and I use that to make a trade.

When we get down to it, redeemed to me, means that I gave the little I had, Jesus Christ gave the rest and we get to finish together.

Paul: Yeah, I think when I started this ministry, one of the things that was most amazing to me was to know that God had already redeemed us ahead of all of the things that we did in this life.

I made plenty of mistakes along the way, and have been through a tough journey myself, and so I would tell you that finding out that God had viewed me as someone who was worthy of redemption was something that I truly was overwhelmed by and wanted to help other men begin to know about and help them hear about how not only is what they’ve done okay, but God has redeemed them.

Frank:  The idea that I was worthy of redemption, that I even made a blip on God’s radar was something that I struggled with for a very, very long time.


Frank’s Story

Paul: We’d love for you to just talk for a few minutes about your story, what brought you here to this place, and how did you become someone who had a heart for men and a heart to delve into a ministry like F3 Nation.

Frank: And so we’ll dive in a little more into F3 Nation and what it is and where it falls on the ministry scale in a bit, but my personal story is… (And you have to always be careful what you share, because my dad is still alive and you might meet him one day, and I don’t want to sound like a jerk).

We grew up in a tough home, with a very exacting father figure. So I think I had a misunderstanding of what fatherly love was and what that looked like and what that was supposed to be. Up until my college years, I just sort of had a view of dads are very punitive, they kind of sit off in the distance, and it doesn’t really matter what you do, you’re going to get what you get, and that’s just the way it works. They might be in a good mood, might be in bad moods, but it’s very capricious and immaterial.  You just never really know, and so you just don’t really engage with them much and you don’t worry about it much, and you just kind of live your life to do your thing.

So I lived that way for a good long time, and then found I just wasn’t happy and I couldn’t figure out how to get happy and around my junior year of college I just made a decision that I had to know…absolutely…if there was a plan for me, if I mattered and if there was something that I was supposed to bother with on this planet. Or if it really was just eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die?

And so, without getting too deep or too verbose, I remember having a very, … It’s almost impossible to describe Paul, It’s almost like asking a man, what salt tastes like? I can tell you what it wasn’t, but it’s tough to tell you exactly how I experienced it.  But I had a very powerful experience with prayer that led me to a place where I knew in my heart that there was a plan. I knew that God had a plan for me, and that was enough to get me started.

It took another 20 years, up to now, and we are still working on it, right?! But many, many years later, and just really a few years ago, there was still something I struggle with because its just how we’re programed. And so I got to go point where I was like, I get that there’s a God, I get that He’s all the things that we believe about him, but I don’t know that I ever believe him. I believed in Him, but I didn’t believe him for myself.  

There was a scripture in Matthew that just… I don’t know why, but it just jerked me out of that place of, I’m not worthy, or God is there and He’s benevolent and He’s kind and loving, and He tried really hard with you, Frank, but gosh, you just weren’t quite getting it. And so you’re just destined to struggle, and that’s just the way it is.  It’s not that He doesn’t love you, it’s just that it doesn’t really care one way or the other to do whatever you’re going to do to really matter.

The scripture is in Matthew 6, and you may remember the story where Christ is talking about, consider the lilies of the field, they don’t clothe themselves, but God minds them. And so, if he cares about the grass of the field, which today is, and I’m a King James guy, so forgive me for the archaic language, but if he cares about the grass of the field that today is and then tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more does he care about you?

And I think I finally just decided, You know what, what if I pretend that was real, what if I just actually believed that took that as real instead of just giving it the intellectual exercise that I normally give it. Things began to change again in my adult years.

I recognized that happiness cannot be found through the things that we find in this world.  It just isn’t there, there’s no possibility in it. We can find joy, if we understand the eternal things. That’s what I’m and I think other men are working on every day.

Paul: I think for some of our listeners, they understand your story and hear it, and it speaks directly to them. I think for others who are new to this, it speaks to the heart of what they’re trying to find. I think that for so many men out there, understanding that you do have a place, that you are worthy of God’s love and His redemption, and worthy of Him being the true father to you.  Despite your home life you know, God was always there to love you and to be with you.  Thank you for sharing a little bit about your testimony and what it means and how you ultimately came to make the decision that Christ was there for you.

Frank: You’re welcome, man. Yeah, thank you for asking.

F3 Nation

Paul: Tell me a little bit about F3. Tell me a little bit about your Ministry, what brought you there, and what you’re trying to accomplish through it?

Frank: To call F3 and ministry is maybe a little generous.  The three Fs are: Fitness, Fellowship and Faith, but we define faith within F3 as simply a belief in something bigger than yourself. We try to leave that pretty broad and undefined, because there’s a lot of men who run around undefined, that as soon as you say something like, ‘This is a Christian group.’,  you automatically you cut out a lot of guys, and this can do a lot of good for men, no matter what they believe.

And really, we don’t care what you believe, if you come to us as a Buddhist or a Muslim or whatever, great, if you’re willing to workout and be friendly and not be a jerk, you’re welcome to join us.

F3 is a men’s fitness group, essentially, and that’s the clever disguise that it’s really a mens leadership group.

It started 10 years ago here in Charlotte, North Carolina, by a guy named Dave Redding and another guy named Tim Whitmire. Dave was former Special Forces and Green Breret, and those guys just started working out together. They started thinking, we could describe this and make it a little bigger.

And they started doing just that. What happened is, as soon as they realized that while the intent was just to not be fat anymore and to get themselves in a more consistent shape, they realized once they started getting men together, that they started getting friends, and some of us haven’t had friends, close friends since maybe college or maybe even before.

You sort of hit that early 40s mark and you kind of find yourself asking, Is this it? I got a decent job. I’ve gotten a couple of promotions. I’ve got a couple of kids. So this is my life now? I just make some dollars and then I don’t really get to have deep relationships, I just exist and bring home money and never really find a purpose in all that.

I go to church and maybe I have a couple of church friends, but most of my friends are friends of my wife’s friend’s husbands or guys that I meet at the soccer games for my kids or something, but I don’t have this deep personal male relationship in my life, and that’s what started happening when these guys started working out together. Then from there, it was like, now that we’ve got some friends and we’ve gotten ourselves a little more fit, what if we did something in the community, what if we built something, what if we made something better?

And that’s sort of how it started from 40 guys on January 1st in 2011 to now, somewhere around we estimate about 50,000 guys and almost all 48 lower states and six different countries.

It’s kind of a crazy thing, how it’s sort of spread, but the reason I think that it’s spread, Paul, is because we accidentally discovered something that men needed, that there was a hole that was not getting filled.  I wasn’t getting filled anywhere else, and part of that whole is that need to be a man to be masculine. And I mean that not in the traditional, the way that society teaches us now where it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re bros, we go to the gym and we are bad to women, and we drink a lot, and all that kind of stuff.’

The way that we define masculinity is, we say that masculinity is courageous love.  It’s truly living as a servant. It is putting yourself third.  We say live third, and we mean you put God first, you put everybody else second, and then you live for yourself, after everything else is done. And so truly living as a servant is what we define as real masculinity, and we found that men really desire that, we want that. The reason we desire it is because that’s what we were created for.

But our society, they want us to be less than that. They want us to be soft and to be nice and to be kind and never to disrupt anything, never cause problems.  They want us to essentially to just get in line and suck our thumbs and live the things that they’ve told us we’re supposed to live. Society tells us were supposed to buy bigger houses, and then eventually we’re supposed to get bigger cars and then we’re supposed to get boats, and then we’re supposed to get us vacation houses somewhere  We’re posed to chase, chase, chase chase, chase.

When really all that stuff ends up empty because it goes away.  The world teaches us to stay away from the things that are eternal, which are the relationships. Particularly the relationship that we have with our Savior and with our God.

And so that’s essentially what we say is, we don’t care what it is you believe about who that God might be, we’re not going to parse over that right now, we can talk about that later, once we know each other a little better, so we’re not going to get real deep on that yet.  

But what we are going to do is we’re going to say bring everything you have. And let’s see if we can’t through a little bit of fitness and a little bit of fellowship, if we can’t make that faith that you have stronger.  Let’s see if we can’t take all the good that you have and then add to that in some way to make you more than you were on your own.

F3 Purpose

Paul: Fascinating. First of all, being 50,000 people in six countries, that is a truly amazing growth from the beginnings of where you all started. I love the idea of courageous love. I think that is a truly great mantra. The in third mantras one that I’ve heard from around different charities and different groups that I’ve worked with include camps, and I love that placement of the self-third.

You mentioned the workouts, but I know there’s a component at the end that’s special that talks a little bit about how you draw in together. Maybe you could talk us through a little bit about if men have the courage to come to your workout, which they can look up on your F3 website. I know we have three right here in Columbus, Georgia, so they are available to anybody, everywhere.

What is it that the workouts look like, and then what brings that kind of band of brothers tribe component that you’re talking about with the fellowship together?

Frank: The long story short on the workout is this, and again, I think I mentioned the mission that we have really is to invigorate male community leaders, because we found that most of the problems in the world that we have are not necessarily problems of poverty or problems of hunger, they are problems of leadership. If someone cared enough to lead enough men, enough women in the right direction, these problems that we think we have would solve themselves, and so that’s the way we look at it, and so we think we’re going to step one back and say the problem isn’t poverty problem is we don’t have people leading us to get out of poverty.  We can throw money at problems all day long, but until we start leading people out, then we’re not going to get any good done.

That’s why I think our mission to plant, grow and serve small men’s workout groups in order to invigorate male community leadership is part of what really resonates with men.

The other thing that makes us special, I think, is that we don’t have rules. We think rules are for men with no creativity. We have five core principles that we expect everyone to adhere to, and then from there, it’s up to you. You got to figure out what your walk looks like within all that.

5 core principles 

  1. Always Free
    You will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever be charged to attend an F3-workout. You’ll show up, it’s 100% free and always be 100% free. Guys joke about the fact that we sell your expensive t-shirts later. So there’s plenty of gear to buy and we’re happy to do that. It funds the mission, right. But you will never be expected to pay or charged any kind of fee to attend any kind of workout.
  2. F3 workouts are open to all men
    Now for us, and for this world that we live in right now, that’s a tough one for some guys.  That’s a hard statement to make, but we 100% stand by it. We will always accept all men no matter what. We don’t care what you look like. We don’t care anything else about you, we will accept you as one of ours.
  3. Always outside
    An F3 workout cannot be performed indoors. If you perform it indoors, it wasn’t an F3 workout. So no matter if it is rain, shine, heat or cold, we don’t care, we always do the workout outside.
  4. Always Peer Led
    There are no professionals here, there is no paid position. My position as president of F3 for the entirety of the whole organization as a volunteer position. I received no salary for any of that.

    It’s just not one of the principles that we live by, and so in that sense, it really is kind of a ministry, because it’s a calling and a thing that we feel compelled and led to do. But nobody from the guys here in the “central office”, all the way down to the guys who lead the workouts, no one receives any compensation in terms of salary.  It is peer led always led by men who participate in the workouts. We rotate through.

  5. End in a circle of trust
    And this is where it gets a little weird.  This wasn’t something that was right out of the gate. It wasn’t like, ‘You know what we ought to do is we don’t have a circle of trust at the end.’, The end of the workout would come and guys were just sort of kind of drift off and it was like, We need something to end this, need some way to bring this to closure and say the workout is done.

    I think it was Tim Whitmer came up with this idea that maybe we’re should to do something where we have a share or a message or a moment at the end.  What it kind of evolved into is a place where you stand in a circle and you share the things that are on your heart. 

    We’ve heard everything in the circles from my kid killed himself to I’m an alcoholic, to my marriages is in shamble. You name it, and we’ve heard it.

    And I can remember very specifically, he was a recovering alcoholic, and I remember him standing in that circle one day and saying, ‘Guys, I’m feeling all messed up, and I’m having weird thoughts about brown liquor and fast women.’ And he wasn’t joking and somebody went up to him after the workout and said, ‘Hey man, we’re not going to let you fight this alone, we know that you have meetings you go to and things like that. But we’re going to put some other things in place with you.

    These guys rallied around him. I remember one guy ask, ‘what time of day is the toughest for you?’ and he’s like, ‘Well, right around that lunch time, noon time hour is the worst.’ And so this guy is like, ‘Ok, at 11:59 every day on the mark, I’m going to text you and I’m going to ask you where you are, what you’re doing, and how you’re feeling.

    That’s the kind of thing that happens.

    Just a couple of weeks ago, a guy says, ‘Hey look, I don’t know how to say this, but I’m going through a divorce.’ Then three other guys, a couple who have been through it, and one that’s going through says ‘Hey man, if there’s a way to save it, let us try and help. If not, let’s help you walk you through it.’

Power of Masculinity

We come into a community with one another. Part of the reason that bond and that trust happens so easily and so quickly, and they’ve never met until that workout is because we’ve tapped into something, again, accidentally, something primal that happens during that workout.  That shared suffering, that difficulty, that common experience of a hard thing that we went through together. I’ll just go ahead and tell you the workouts in the morning are no joke.

An unfit man is not fit to lead. If we cannot discipline ourselves and our bodies, the things that we take into our bodies and that we use our bodies and help them discipline our minds, that we’re not really fit to lead for very long. And we’ve seen that play out in men’s lives, and so when they get there and they start getting a little fit, it trickles into these other places. We say every other aspect of your life needs to be fit as well. Sharing that difficult thing, sharing that hard, grueling work out makes it so you go, I trust this guy, I know what he’s made of, I know I can believe in Him because I watched what he did and the integrity that he showed during that workout, he went all the way. He didn’t cheat or halfway it. I know I can trust that guy.


Leadership principles in F3

Paul: I think it’s amazing that you have a circle of trust and that you have built so many great relationships that people feel passionately about helping each other. That’s a powerful thing to have in addition to your whole stance on leadership. I like the whole thought of, if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t be a leader, there’s some real truth in what I’m hearing from you.

I understand the leadership component has developed so much that you all have taken it and kind of put it out on its own, and so maybe you can talk for just a minute about how you’re taking the leadership principles in F3 and translating them into a broader context.

Frank: We have a couple of different ways that we’re doing that. And this is something that we as a national leadership team are very focused on and very concerned with and are working on developing all the time. The workouts are great, but they’re only going to get you so far.

 What we find now is guys get fit and they’re looking around and they start making an impact in their community. And then they’re kind of like, okay, what’s next?

And so our job is kind of always be figuring out what’s next. David and Tim kind figured out that if we do rucking together, that’s a dangerous, difficult thing, and there’s kind of a low barrier to entry, and so they started having these events where they would come and it’s a 12-hour overnight, usually covers roughly around 15-20 miles of carrying weight on your back and going through different kinds of team experiences together.

Then maybe three, four years ago now Dave said I’m going to write it all down, and I’m going to put it in a manual.  We call it the Q source and it is the F3 manual of virtuous leadership.

And so we put it out there. You can get on Amazon. It’s not too expensive, I don’t think. And you can read in the F3 leadership philosophy. And so now we actually teach those in conjunction with these rucking events, and what ends up being a very powerful leadership weekend.  

Now we’re looking at how do we expand this and how do we teach the classroom portion of this, how do we expand these leadership principles into other things that are worth trying for guys to get in there and kind of get their hands dirty and figure out How do we lead.

There is always the questions of how do we do more? Even though we’re 10 years old, we still feel like we’re a 10 year old startup, because we’re just continuing to try and innovate and figure out new ways to reach men and new ways to hit them with the different cycles of their life.

 I think guys find us a lot of times at what I would consider the early stages of their mid-life crisis. Where they’re thinking… I’ve got a decision to make. I can either stay how I am kind of overweight and sad in my marriage and sad in my job, and people start thinking ‘I know what I’ll do! I’ll go out and buy a sports car and I’ll get some tattoos and I’ll start cheating on my wife with a young woman.’ OR you could take that crisis time because God will never waste pain, you could take that crisis time and you can figure out who you’re really supposed to be, what you’re really putting here for. By putting you through some of these tough things, you start to develop a little bit more sense of you, and you start to develop a little bit more belief in your abilities and that you can go further and harder than you thought you could, and through some of those kinds of experiences.

Especially during some of these “Grow Ruck Weekends” when we study Q Source and then we go do this very difficult physical thing, we’re starting to really develop some excitement around leadership. Men go, I think I know what I can be now, and they don’t choose to try and substitute it with those worldly things, they try and find things that will bring them in enduring peace and joy.

Leave No Man Where You Found Him

Paul: That’s wonderful. So last question here for you, for those men who are already in great shape and who are not intimidated by you saying how hard the workout is, F3 seems like a natural thing to attend. For those guys out there who are saying to themselves, how in the world can I go do this? What is your pitch to the average guy to get them off the couch and say, You’re capable of doing this?!

Frank:  We usually tell them a couple of things.  One is our credo. The credo of  F3 is that we leave no man behind, but we leave no man where we found them. If you let that sink in for a second, you kind of go, Okay, I get it. So it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.

Some of these guys are saying, I’ve lost 100 pounds just by being consistent and staying at it with F3.  So number one is, Don’t you worry. That’s like saying, Oh, I’ve got to go to the doctor, because I’m sick. Well, you know what I should do, I should get well first before I go to that doctor.  Why would you get well before you go the doctor?!

Right, so why would you get in shape before you need to come out and get in shape. Everybody that’s in shape now, trust me, all of us, we were out of shape at one point as well, so that’s number one. Just understand, we are not going to leave you behind. Every man is out there. It’s supposed to be hard. Everybody started in the same place, everybody was miserable. Everybody wishes they hadn’t done it, and then somehow they get home after that circle of trust and they’re like, I feel like I got to go back, I got to do it again at all!

So don’t worry about it, just start.

The other thing I would say is this, I’d probably look that guy right in the face, and I would say, ‘Brother, aren’t you tired of living less than what you were creating for? Aren’t you sick of that?’ If you’re sick of that, like I was sick of that. I got something I think will work for you. That’s what I probably would say that.

Paul: I think at the end of the story, that is what’s so important, right? Part of this is the workout, but part of this is becoming the whole man, the leader, not just the fit man, but the true definition of a man, exhibiting that courageous love that you talked about, and doing it in a fashion that I think we’ve lost in a lot of places around this country.

Frank Schwartz, thank you so much for coming and sharing your powerful message. We’re honored to have you here on the show. It’s a great story, and I would encourage all of our listeners that F3 is an opportunity for you. It’s a resource for you, and I’d take the challenge with you to go out and I will find my place here in Columbus, Georgia. And to work out with you, I believe

Frank: You better, brother, because I’m expecting to hear a report back. F3nation.com is the website, and if you want to, you can ask me direct questions if you’d like to… Dark helmet, that’s my F3 name. DarkHelmet@f3nation.com. I’ll take an email from anybody.

Paul: Well, wonderful, thank you for all of our audience, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy. We’re thankful for you, we encourage you to continue to follow us on our website as well as on social media, and we look forward to bringing another powerful message to you next month, have a wonderful… You mean God bless

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