By Jessica Brodie
United Methodist men across South Carolina gathered Feb. 27 for a virtual Men N Ministry retreat that featured two well-known author-speakers, Francis Chan and Jerrad Lopes, and three breakout discussions designed to get men thinking about resilience.
“I thought the event went great,” said Men N Ministry President Marvin Horton. “We had about 450 connecting and 200-plus from our 25 ‘Major Sponsor’ and ‘Local Sponsor’ churches.”
Horton also said several sponsor churches invited other churches, both within the UMC and from other denominations, to join them to watch and participate in the event.
Mount Horeb United Methodist Church, Lexington, served as the host church, and the two-hour event included song and worship opportunities as well as wisdom from the speakers.
The speakers brought their messages conversationally through interviews conducted by Mount Horeb pastors. L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the UMC, also participated in a question-answer style interview where he shared wisdom about resilience, sin and our connection to God.
The event also featured remarks from the Rev. Jeff Kersey, Dr. Stephen Love and others, plus a Prayer Room lead by the Rev. Chris Snelgrove and Men N Ministry Prayer Advocate Dennis Sullen.
Prior to the Sunday night virtual retreat, men gathered in-person Friday morning for a golf tournament, led by Kenny Bingham, and on Friday night participated in an oyster roast at Mount Horeb with the rest of the church’s men.
Keep your eyes up
Lopes, author, speaker and founder of Dad Tired, was interviewed by the Rev. Chad Myers, who asked him about adversity, exhaustion and staying on-course.
Responding to Myers’ question about what discourages men today, Lopes spoke on spiritual weariness as a huge issue.
“There’s a difference between a man who’s physically exhausted and a man who’s spiritually weary. Tiredness is OK—you can figure out your schedule better, get better sleep, but weariness is deeper,” Lopes said, noting it’s like an exhaustion of the soul.
For men experiencing this, Lopes said, the root is often unrepented sin. While men might have confessed sin to God, there is tremendous healing in confessing to one another. Another reason is that men have lost sight of eternity because they are so focused on their Twitter feed or Instagram feed.
“They’re bombarded by the world’s chaos, and their soul is getting crushed over and over and over again, and they’ve lost sight of the bigger story: God has something bigger for you.”
Lopes said the world has always been chaotic. It is nothing new for believers. This is why keeping our eyes up—on God—is so important.
And, he added, when adversity does come, don’t rush to get through it as quickly as possible.
“Jesus said a blessing is anything that gets you closer to me,” Lopes said—and sometimes, that is hardship. “So maybe don’t try to rush to get out of (hardship). Maybe the blessing is right where you are today.”
Lopes said he finds himself getting short-tempered with his wife and kids when he gets frustrated about daily concerns—finances, career, future—and he loses sight of “how the story ends.”
That end-story is something he’s learned much from his wife about; she serves as an oncology nurse and often has the privilege of walking people through their last days on earth.
“We are constantly reminded life is so, so short,” Lopes said. “As men we chase a lot of stuff, get excited about a lot of things—that new iPhone coming out, that boat I’m saving up for, a game. But at the end of the day I want to be really passionate about eternal things because real, real quickly we’re going to be gone.”
Lopes closed by emphasizing how important community with other men is in his personal Christian walk.
“If you leave me alone, I’m prone to wander, not prone to Jesus … so if you’re a man who thinks, ‘I got it, I can free-range this, go solo,’ you’ll probably drift in the wrong direction. In bowling we put bumpers up with young kids. Well, community for men is those bumpers.
“At the end of the day, if you’re serious about following Jesus there’s no way you can do it alone.”
The wholeness of community
Next, the Rev. Trevor Miller chatted with Bishop Holston about sin, soul weariness and staying in community with others when it comes to being resilient.
“Sin is our way of doing our own thing in our own way and our own time,” Holston said.
But we know deep within own souls when we are not right with God, he said. Yet sometimes we think we can do everything on our own.
“If you feel you have no resilience, think: When’s the last time you prayed? Prayed for someone with someone? Prayed with your wife with children?”
He echoed Lopes in reminding men to keep their faces up and live in the light of eternity. That is one important thing the pandemic taught this world: tomorrow isn’t assured. We don’t always know the outcome of a given day. For him personally, Holston said relying on other people makes a big difference in his life.
“I try not to be a lonely, lonesome person who tries to do it all myself,” he said. “Community makes me whole.”
Issues and pruning
Next, Chan, pastor and bestselling author of “Crazy Love” and other books, was interviewed by Miller.
Speaking from his base in Northern California, Chan talked about how resilience can feel fleeting today.
“Issues can divide us—masks, vaccines, Black Lives Matter—but nothing was supposed to divide us as the body of Christ,” Chan said. “Yet we’re not resilient in our love for each other.”
That love starts from within, and from deep and intentional time alone with the Lord.
“Our strength comes from being alone, you and God. You come out of those times invincible. Many of us lack faith, but (Jesus) calls us members of his own body. In a very real way, we are attached to that much power. That alone should cause me to be a resilient person,” Chan said.
Chan said there are a few key ways to develop faith resilience. It starts with hunger for Christ and for his word to dwell in our hearts.
“For most of us, Christ does not abide in our hearts,” Chan said. “He’s someone we visit, even every morning, but somehow we allow things to distract us so he doesn’t dwell there.”
Hunger will help with that.
Another important factor is carving out distraction-free time to be with God.
“You have to fight for silence and figure out a rhythm, figure out quiet, self-controlled, sober-minded prayer before the Lord,” he said.
Chan said there is a weak and shallow aspect to United States churches in the last decade, but he said believers don’t have to worry.
“It might be a pruning and a separating to reveal the real church,” Chan said. “People step up during times like this, or fall away, and Christ said in last days the hearts of many will grow cold because of the increase in lawlessness.
“The trials are supposed to create perseverance so we keep getting stronger and stronger.”
Pruning always looks horrible, Chan said, but it creates fruit.
“I’m seeing a younger generation that has a hunger I didn’t have in high school and college, a willingness to sacrifice anything, so I’m very hopeful. They’re having prayer gatherings til 2 a.m., a willingness to go anywhere for the kingdom.”
Truth over feelings
Finally, Miller spoke with Mount Horeb’s senior pastor, the Rev. Jeff Kersey, about his thoughts on Chan’s words, resilience and being a man of God today.
Kersey said men are often finding satisfaction in the wrong places, yet they wonder why they have no hunger for God.
“Outside of our faith in God, we men psyche ourselves up, think we can fix problems, medicate ourselves with alcohol or drugs,” Kersey said. “We keep ourselves so busy we don’t have time to think, or buy a bunch of stuff and get so overextended because we’re trying to find satisfaction, or becoming a victim and want people to feel sorry for us.
“All those things give us false hope and false resilience but will fade, creating emptiness inside us.”
Miller asked Kersey to pick a key way men can stay resilient, and Kersey offered what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount—if you want to be resilient and stay standing through the tough times, the troubled times, you’ve got to put his words into practice.
“There’s no question we’ll get knocked down but not destroyed. There will be confusing times but never despair.”
Kesey closed by noting that men need to stay in relationship with God and keep God’s word in their hearts.
“If we rely on our feelings, our feelings will betray us. But if we know, if we take seriously the word of God and we are in relationship with him, then if I feel like giving up I don’t. Faith is not what we can see but what we know to be true. Faith doesn’t take you out of the problem but through the problem. Faith won’t take away the pain but will give you the ability to handle the pain. Faith won’t take you out of the storm, but will take you through the storm.”
In short, he said, if I rely on my feelings, I’ll probably sink and give up. It’s far better to rely on what I know in the Word of God.
Next year’s Men N Ministry Retreat is set for Saturday, Feb. 25.
“I personally hope and pray next year will be an in-person event,” Horton said.
He and the rest of the Men N Ministry team thank Mount Horeb for hosting as well as the church sponsors.
Major Sponsoring Churches (those contributing $600 and more) included Mount Horeb (four-year sponsor); Windsor UMC, Columbia District (four-year sponsor); McBee Chapel, Greenville District (one-year sponsor); Aldersgate UMC, Sumter, Hartsville District (four-year sponsor); St. John’s UMC, Aiken, Orangeburg District (four-year sponsor); Good Samaritan UMC, Rock Hill District (four-year sponsor); New Beginnings UMC, Spartanburg District (three-year sponsor); Reidville Road UMC, Spartanburg District (four-year sponsor); Ashland UMC, Columbia District (four-year sponsor); Belin Memorial UMC, Marion District (four-year sponsor); and Bethesda UMC, Easley, Anderson District (one-year sponsor).
Local Sponsoring Churches (those contributing $100-$599) included Rehoboth UMC, Columbia District (four-year sponsor); Lee Road UMC, Greenville District (two-year sponsor); St. Luke UMC, Hartsville District (two-year sponsor); Lyttleton Street UMC, Hartsville District (three-year sponsor); Surfside UMC, Marion District (two-year sponsor); Silver Hill Memorial UMC, Spartanburg District (three-year sponsor); Platt Springs UMC, Columbia District (one-year sponsor); Centenary UMC, Hartsville District (two-year sponsor); Edgefield UMC, Greenwood District (two-year sponsor); St. Mark St Stephen UMC, Walterboro District (two-year sponsor); New Light UMC, Orangeburg District; St. Mark UMC, Greenwood District (three-year sponsor); Woodland UMC, Rock Hill District (four-year sponsor); and Journey UMC, Columbia District (one-year sponsor).
For more on the men’s conference: https://mennministrysc.org/