By Jessica Connor
Concerned that men's ministry groups in S.C. are becoming little more than meet-and-eat fellowship clubs, United Methodist Men across the state are launching a massive men's movement to re-ignite and re-invigorate discipleship—all for the glory of Jesus.
I want men s ministry to be about discipleship and less about a group of men who meet at the church and cut grass and barbecue chickens, but these men are also vital to the church, said Herman Lightsey, president of the conference UMM. It s about putting godly men back into the church and doing what God intended us to do.
Global news stories are citing what is termed the feminization of the church, where given that there are generally more women than men in church, and thus the church s music, dÃ©cor and ministries often appeal to women more than men, many Christian men are coming to view churches as women s clubs and don t go ”or go just to please their wives. Men s church attendance is declining rapidly.
But while what women and women s groups do is critically important to the church, Lightsey said Christianity cannot afford to lose its men, who are just as vital.
And it all boils down to discipleship, say men s ministry advocates.
God intended men to be leaders and in church, Lightsey said, noting that outreach to men must adapt to the times and meet men where they are, instead of appealing to the antiquated notion that men need an exclusive club.
To that end, Lightsey, S.C. Bishop Jonathan Holston and a handful of key pastors from the Upstate to the Lowcountry are embarking on a new discipleship thrust of the UMM movement, hoping that if men go deeper for God, they will transform their families, churches and communities.
I believe that a more excellent way involves the active pursuit of men in order to connect them to God, His Word and other men for the purposes of winning, growing and training God s men in Christ, Holston said.
But this will require change ”not in the message, but in the method and approach with which we do men s ministry.
One way to bring about that change is at the upcoming UMM spiritual retreat, set for Feb. 28 to March 2 in Myrtle Beach. With a theme of Taking the Plunge: Deeper Prayer, Passion, Purpose and Power, the retreat aims to help men deepen their walk with God and increase their level of discipleship. As organizers say, if men become stronger disciples, they will be transformed, and will thus transform their churches, families and the world beyond.
Pastors of the some of the biggest UMCs in the state are urging men in their churches to attend the retreat, committing to bringing five or 10 men with a goal of seeing 500 men there come February. Many of these pastors say that if we operate as usual, we will continue to lose men until there are none left.
Dr. Bob Howell, senior pastor of Bethany UMC, Summerville, is one of those urging his congregation to attend the retreat. Howell said the UMM and the church in general need to change their paradigm to ignite passionate disciples for Christ. While men s fellowship groups are good for some, today s men are often seeking something more meaningful.
Unfortunately, for generations below the age of 60, most men's groups are answering the questions that younger men are not asking, Howell said, noting the church must meet men where they are. Adding new dimensions to our ministry with men is absolutely essential to growing men in their walk with God in the 21st century.
The Rev. Darren Hook, senior pastor of Covenant UMC, Greer, is also encouraging his church s men to attend and intensify their discipleship.
In too many cases, men have determined that church is for women and kids, Hook said. When we connect our message from the pulpit and the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to men, our churches are stronger and healthier. I asked one of our members recently why he felt that God was bringing to Covenant so many men into active service for Jesus. He said, ˜It is because of leadership. ¦ Men want to be challenged, men want to hear a clear, concise message from the pulpit, and deep down, men want to be leaders.
Men are needed
Men in church is part of God s plan, said the Rev. James Friday, Cabinet representative for the UMM. But too often, we don t have men who really get into the Word, or have mixed messages about what a man is.
We are made in the very image of God, and oftentimes we are not even aware of what God has expected of us as men, and it is so important for us who have identified with God s call in our lives to help other men (do the same), Friday said. It s important for our families, for our communities, for our churches and for our world if we re to live out God s plan for humanity and all creation.
The Rev. Mack C. McClam, senior pastor of the Canaan-Sand Hill Charge, Ridgeville, said men are desperately needed in church.
It must become clear to the Christian church that the making of disciples for Christ is an urgent matter in today's world. Men are needed in every phase of ministry to help bring the food of the Gospel to a spiritually malnourished global community, McClam said, citing how other men helped ease Moses weary hands in Exodus 17:12. We are bound to become weary in this way of life, and we cannot make this journey by ourselves. ¦To miss the fact that men, even great leaders like Moses, needed the help of other men is a grievous tragedy.
Recently during worship, McClam spontaneously was called by God to invite all men to remain after the service to discuss the need for male mentors in homes where men are predominantly absent. To his surprise, 125 men at Sand Hill UMC and 75 men at Canaan UMC gathered after the service.
Seeing such a response was heartening for McClam, who is convinced that men given responsibility to serve God will step up and serve.
As the needs of our church, community and world change, the ministries of the men of the Canaan-Sand Hill Charge have changed, McClam said. They are involved in each church s after-school program (Canaan Academic Rural Endeavor and Sand Hill Academic Rural Endeavor). Two hundred men from Canaan and Sand Hill have also built a solid foundation for a mentoring program for high school males. It is our hope to provide our youth and the youth of the community their own place for ministry while also providing a safe haven for other activities.
A contagious ministry
L.W. Smith, part of the conference UMM and who attends Rehoboth UMC in Columbia, said men s ministry is contagious.
ss="contentpane"> When a man is growing spiritually and attending church regularly, his whole family will follow him to church 93 percent of the time, Smith said. Men communicate well with other men. When a man is growing in Christ, other men are more likely to know Christ. Our denomination is losing men and our young people. The above statistic alone should encourage pastors and laity to attend the men's retreat at Springmaid and learn about important ways to reach men and involving them into the ministry.
The men s retreat in February is designed to kick off a new wave of men s discipleship that organizers hope will fan out conference-wide. Bishop Holston and others will lead sessions on the why's and how's of growing men's ministry in local churches, sharing ideas and programs they have used to grow men's ministry and explaining what an intentional men's ministry means to their church.
It has been my experience that an overwhelming majority of women also want their husbands and sons to be actively engaged in the life of a church, Hook said.
And whether being engaged happens through retreats and personal invitations or through small group Bible studies, like the one Lightsey attends at a Lizard s Thicket restaurant, If you can get men connected, you can make big things happen, Lightsey said. I ve never been more excited about ministry to men as right now. Together as clergy and laity we can be change agents for the church.
Lightsey said that from the retreat, the newly impassioned disciples will come off their mountaintop experience directly to a next step that will keep them engaged and growing. The UMM is rolling out a three-year plan of teaching churches, which is how they plan to disciple men, families and churches as part of a progressive movement to discipleship, a God-sized dream.
˜Taking the plunge UMM retreat
Deepening discipleship is the focus of the 2014 United Methodist Men s spiritual retreat. Men s ministry advocates feel passionately that if men grow as disciples, they will be transformed, and that transformation will impact their churches, families, communities and the world.
For more on the retreat, visit www.ummsc.org .
For more information about the 2014 UMM Spiritual Retreat, visit www.ummsc.org .