Man to man

Hartsville church working to launch men’s discipleship movement in S.C.

By Jessica Connor

HARTSVILLE–The new American dream: work as hard as you can to save as much as you can, so you can buy as big a house as you can, just so you can build a fence around it and live the rest of your life in splendid isolation.

But according to the Rev. Phil Thrailkill, when it comes to discipleship, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.

Discipleship is about fellowship, intimacy, breaking down the walls of isolation–all the things pastor and bestselling Christian author Dr. Greg Ogden advocates in his book, “Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time.”

Inspired by Ogden’s book and their own experiences, Thrailkill’s church, St. Luke United Methodist Church, Hartsville, is hosting a free seminar designed to help other men across the state embrace true discipleship and start adding to the Kingdom.

Ogden will come to St. Luke UMC on Saturday, March 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Titled “Discipleship Essentials,” the ecumenical seminar will teach men how to build spiritual muscle into their hearts and lives.

There is no cost, and all churches across South Carolina are encouraged to send groups of men who are ready to become better disciples.

“Discipleship is a lifelong thing–we join hand to hand, lock arms with one another through this journey, and we’re supposed to be picking up others along the way,” said Adam Mathews, a stockbroker who attends St. Luke UMC. “It’s a man-to-man, person-to-person sort of deal.”

Mathews and his pastor, Thrailkill, already know firsthand that it works.

The two were inspired about a new way of disciple-making after they read Ogden’s book. And after a life-changing mission trip to Istanbul in 2009, they decided to launch at St. Luke an intensive, 26-week “Discipleship Essentials” course based on Ogden’s book.

The cost was high, Thrailkill said–they handpicked 10 men for that first course, which met every Tuesday from 6:30-7:30 a.m. for half a year. The 10 men held each other accountable for weekly Scripture memory and preparation, plus set the standard that this was not just a learning course but a training course, and that they were expected to lead a new group when this one ended.

“At first they were hesitant, but as the trust built, so did the willingness to open their lives,” Thrailkill said. “At the end of the 26 weeks, the Holy Spirit had built us into a band of brothers.”

Every man involved in the first group (dubbed “Generation One,” or “the core”) has now paired up and is leading a new group in twos. Generation Two, which started in September 2010, comprised five groups that met in various places: a YMCA, a restaurant, at St. Luke, etc. Generation Three was just starting as of the Advocate’s press time, and Generation Four will begin in the fall.

“We really want it to go viral,” Thrailkill said.

That is why St. Luke is offering the free seminar March 19 – they want scores of men of all denominations and all races to “catch the bug” and focus on better, people-driven disciple-making.

“We’ve funded this ourselves, and we want to give it away as a gift,” Thrailkill said.

“It’s our way of trying to say to churches, ‘There is a way to build disciples.’”

‘A dirty business’

On their 11-day mission trip to Turkey, which involved traveling a third of the country, Mathews noticed people lived in big complexes by choice, not necessity – the culture was far more community-oriented than what he had experienced in America.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that man is not meant to live in this splendid isolation,” Mathews said.

Ogden’s book reinforced that notion and completely changed his thought process about the way Christians disciple nonbelievers–it’s not a one-hour-a-week Sunday school class, but rather a one-on-one, personal connection.

“Greg Ogden points out that discipleship is kind of a dirty business–you’ve got to get in there and get your hands dirty because you love them and want to disciple them,” Mathews said.

Thrailkill agrees.

“It boils down to making Scripture accessible to people so they can become followers of Christ,” he said. “Our church talks a lot about making disciples, but we get kind of thin on the operations side. Our Methodist mandate is to make disciples for the betterment of the world, and unless you’re in small groups, you’re not making disciples.”


While he knows women are just as integral to disciple-making, Thrailkill said his church is focusing on male groups because he feels men don’t have as many opportunities to connect intimately around Christ. He said women usually find all sorts of ways to connect, but many men are isolated from their brothers.

“This is like guys going to the gym together and building group muscle,” Thrailkill said about the training.

St. Luke cares so passionately about this new movement that they will do all they can to help other men get started. For them, it’s not just a training, but a commitment to helping other groups.

“We will coach them,” Thrailkill said. “It’s not just a workshop and we leave you to your own.”

To learn more about the free Ogden training March 19, or to talk with Thrailkill more about St. Luke’s own training experiences, call 843-861-2919. All are welcome to attend.

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