By Jessica Connor
MYRTLE BEACH—”God is calling us to do His work. Are we real enough, men enough, to step up and take the plunge?
That was the overriding theme of a three-day men s spiritual retreat Feb. 28 to March 2 designed to transform the S.C. Conference s United Methodist Men into full-on men in ministry for the Kingdom.
More than 500 from across the state gathered in Myrtle Beach for wisdom and straight-talk from key church leaders, including S.C. Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston and five pastors of some of the largest, most effective and most dynamic UMCs in this state: Dr. George Ashford Jr., the Rev. Darren Hook, the
Rev. Bob Howell Jr., the Rev. Jeff Kersey and the Rev. Mack McClam. With a theme of Taking the Plunge: Deeper Prayer, Passion, Purpose and Power, the retreat helped men deepen their walk with God and increase their level of discipleship, and ultimately sought to ignite a massive men s movement across S.C. ”all for the glory of Jesus.
Our work has just begun, said Herman Lightsey, chair of the S.C. UMM, at the close of the retreat. We don t want a great event. We want a great movement. And it s all going to work if we go out and do that one simple thing God asked us: make disciples.
Lightsey said the conference was a leap of faith, fully led by the Spirit, and was all about ministry and discipleship ”not about men simply eating and building ramps together.
That discipleship theme was reflected throughout the three-day event, which was chock-full of worship, huddle times with question-answer sessions (see below for nuggets of wisdom), prayer and more.
In fact, all four worship times encouraged men to be real, step out on faith, take the plunge and do God s will.
After all, as Holston reminded the crowd during the opening, The church is not built for our pleasure but for God s purpose.
Next year, he told them, he wants to see 750 people in attendance.
Reach the lost
Kersey, senior pastor of Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington, brought a message Friday evening about how we need to focus on the lost and the least if we are to truly be God s church in the world.
He reminded those gathered that tax collectors and sinners often came to listen to Jesus preach, and how scripture tells us there is more joy in heaven over one lost sheep returning to heaven than the 99 others already there.
My job is not done unless I m looking for the one that s lost, Kersey said. To a lost and hurting world, God seems unreachable. But God is the answer we all need.
Kersey said Jesus attracted tax collectors and notorious sinners because he didn t sugarcoat things, and he was persistent.
The great shepherd didn t hesitate to seek the lost, Kersey said, asking the men a hard question: If there s more praising in heaven over the one lost, then why is so much of the energy in our local church going to the security of the 99?
The lost and the least break the heart of God. The lost matter to God. But do the lost matter to the people of God? Kersey asked, challenging each man to take the plunge and put some skin in the game like Jesus did.
One very simple way to reach the lost is simply through prayer. Kersey leads a weekly men s prayer breakfast at Mount Horeb, plus several times a year they prayer walk the buildings and property. He said Mount Horeb has grown over the years because it is a prayer-driven church; when he first came there 19 years ago, they averaged 80 in worship, but now there are 1,600 today, with four worship services each weekend.
Also, he said, the church needs to start thinking about serving those it wants in the church and not just those already in the pews.
God didn t call us to save our denomination; He called us to seek and save the lost, Kersey said to resounding amens. If we seek and save the lost, then our denomination will be growing.
I believe if we re going to turn around this church to build bigger dreams ¦ then we re going to need pastors and United Methodist Men to put some skin in the game.
God will take care ”go for it
McClam, pastor of the Canaan-Sand Hill Charge, Ridgeville, brought a message Saturday morning about how God cleanses us and cares for us all, so we need not worry about what will happen when we take the plunge for Him.
He reminded the crowd that when Jesus called the first disciples down by the sea, He called Peter and said let s get in your boat ”he didn t say come get in mine. Jesus is with us always.
People strut around in church sometimes like peacocks, like we have never done anything wrong in our lives. But we need to be real, McClam said. We don t need someone telling us how we re wrong. We need somebody to help us get it right. The word of God teaches us we can have a cleansing from our past. Life can deal some harsh and crushing blows. ¦We need to have confidence in the present. We need to know when we take the plunge, when we get in that boat, that whatever comes our way, God is able to handle it.
Once we hear God s call, we must take the plunge, McClam implored the crowd.
I don t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future, McClam said. He s taken care of your past, is taking care of you right now and will take care of your future.
Get in the God line
Holston brought a message Saturday night about stepping out on faith and getting in the God line.
We are a people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, called by God to be something special, Holston preached, noting it s scary sometimes because God knows what we re capable of even when we don t know. But when you step out on faith my friends, God will do something with you.
Yet often we forget how to be the way God has called us to be, Holston said.
We live a life of blurred lines. You don t know whether you re in the club or in the church. The church is come as you are, but the club has a dress code! Holston said. People are looking for direction and they look to the church for direction, but the church is closed Monday through Saturday. And we expect them to blow down the doo
r Sunday morning?
Holston then recited the words to Cat s in the Cradle, by Harry Chapin, which is a commentary about being too busy for the important things, and realizing their importance too late in life.
We re so busy in the midst of our lives that we don t have time for God; our lives are full of busy-ness, Holston said to booming applause. But every now and then you ve got to step out of the main line and get in the God line. God is waiting for us to get up and get in the scene.
Just tell the story
Howell, pastor of Bethany UMC, Summerville, brought the closing message Sunday morning, emphasizing how critical it is that we all be real and not fear being vulnerable when it comes to revealing the power of God at work in our own lives.
All too often, we think we are in control of our own lives because we are affluent, have money, have education and are cosmopolitan in many ways, and are self-reliant. But as Paul told the Corinthians, God is in control.
And it s up to us to tell people, once the Spirit of God comes to abide in us, how we have been transformed.
In order to do that, we need to tell the story in a plain and vulnerable way that reveals God s power, not in a way designed to make ourselves look respectable.
The problem is when we feed people caviar when what they really want is some meat. Just tell the story. God s story, Howell said.
When we tell his story through our own lens, Howell said, it s called a testimony, a witness to what God has done in your life. It s about being vulnerable. Testimony is hard because it takes off the masks we often wear and makes us vulnerable. But we need to share our story, he said.
We are different because the Spirit of God is living in us. When He comes to inhabit us, He doesn t just come to visit, Howell said. But we are so afraid of being less than dignified. We d rather give platitudes than power.
Howell then told his own story, about how he gave his life to Christ when he was 8 years old, but then between the ages of 16-21, he rebelled. One night, in a moment of deep humility, he stood before God and said, God, I don t know why you want me. I ve made a mess of things. ¦ But Lord, if you want me, here s my life. Take it. Do with it what I can t do.
With tears in his eyes, Howell told the crowd of men gathered at the retreat, That night my world changed. Not because of me, but because God showed up. Tell them what God has done for you. Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.
Lightsey encouraged the men to go back home ignited with new Spirit and keep the wave of ministry flowing. Plans are already under way for next year s spiritual retreat. In the meantime, the UMM is encouraging men to move beyond clubs in favor of deeper disciple-making that encourages personal, life-affirming relationship with Jesus Christ.
Breaking the Huddle: Wisdom from five coaches
Saturday Breaking the Huddle sessions featured wisdom from five pastors of some of the largest, most effective and most dynamic UMCs in this state. In a roundtable setup, the pastors gathered to share their personal experiences and then tackle as a group a bevy of questions posed from the crowd. They discussed everything from why men are important in church to membership decline to how to reach the next generation.
Participating were Dr. George Ashford Jr., pastor of Journey UMC, Columbia; the Rev. Darren Hook, pastor of Covenant UMC, Greer; the Rev. Bob Howell Jr., pastor of Bethany UMC, Summerville; the Rev. Jeff Kersey, pastor of Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington; and the Rev. Mack McClam, pastor of the Canaan-Sand Hill Charge, Ridgeville.
It s all about taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Repackaging.
He was dragged to church as a kid, but over the years things change, he said: The church I m pastoring now is not the church of my grandmother. If you don t go out and reach people, they have no impetus or desire to come to you. There are other things they can do on Sunday mornings.
Men enjoy fixing things, being task-oriented. They embrace learning how to be better fathers, husbands, sons. ¦
Many have broken their mother s hearts in some way, and we celebrate them going back home and repairing that relationship. Every young man enjoys when their mother pats them on the head and says, ˜Good job. They embrace being affirmed. We bring them in and celebrate their presence, just for being there. If we don t give it to them, they ll get it elsewhere.
When men step up to the plate and fulfill God s command to God-given leadership, our churches are strong.
The most amens Hook gets at Covenant are from women when he preaches about the need for men to be Godly leaders: Women want men to step up in the church.
I think men want to be challenged, want to be asked to be leaders, want to serve, but in many of our churches, they don t hear that challenge so they don t step up.
Methodists as a group like their religion palatable, not uncomfortable. But we are living in a different world and a different time. ¦
God didn t create a service organization when he created the church but a servant organization.
Until the church harnesses the sort of excitement you find at a football game, we re going to erode. And that s everyone s responsibility: clergy and laity. ¦
We re not in the business of making Methodists. We re in the business of making disciples for Christ. ¦
I see the vacuum (of men) in the church, and I m here because it s a critical need. Men are not more or less important than women in the church; it s just a need ”a gaping, crying need. ¦
I don t go to men s club meetings, not cause I don t care but because they don t change. ¦ I m about men being in ministry; I m not about men going to eat a steak on Friday night. ¦
Men need to have something to do. Help your men have something to do, and we ll grow men as disciples of Jesus. Men need a task so they can go out and
win the battle. That s what they do.
Men are not looking to be religious. They re looking for a relationship. Sometimes we overthink and make it so complicated. Jesus just walked and talked with them and related to them. ¦
Prayer is one of the greatest things we can be doing. There s something powerful about the church seeing men on their knees praying. ¦
It s not about us. It s about those who don t know Christ.
How do we expect our church to remain the same while everything around us changes? It s impossible: everything stagnant dies, or it is dead already.
Connectionalism is key: I m discovering in order to be connected to the community beyond you must be connected to the community within. Sometimes we re so quick to fish in someone else s pond without bothering to check what s stocked in our own.
McClam told a story of how one Sunday he was nudged by the Spirit to call a spontaneous gathering of men right after church. Hundreds of men showed up. This revitalized the men s ministry at both the churches on his charge, and they ended up taking on a church-wide education project that has been making huge strides in the community.
Christ has to be the center. If He s not, it s not the church.
Hungry for more ways to be in ministry as men? Connect at www.ummsc.org .