Men ‘make their mark’ at 1,100-man ministry retreat
By Jessica Brodie
MYRTLE BEACH—This year’s Men N Ministry Weekend was the largest men’s event South Carolina has ever seen, and now, men’s ministry leaders are taking to their knees for next steps in Kingdom-building.
Nearly 1,100 men—eight times the number that came in 2013—headed to Myrtle Beach Feb. 19-21 for the annual United Methodist Men’s spiritual retreat. Held at Christ United Methodist Church, the “Make Your Mark” themed weekend included wisdom from a host of nationally acclaimed speakers, workshops designed to provide practical takeaways and Spirit-infused fellowship, prayer and worship to help men be all they can be for Christ.
“God continues to bless this ministry,” said Herman Lightsey, president of South Carolina UMMen. “It still does not seem real that in less than four years the men’s spiritual weekend has grown from 160 attendees to over 1,100, that this weekend has grown from an event to a movement that is not only changing how we disciple men in South Carolina, but is literally spreading across the United States.”
“God is blessing us in this very moment to make a difference, to make our mark,” Bishop Jonathan Holston said the opening night of the retreat, welcoming the 1,100 men to Myrtle Beach. “Can God count on you? Are you standing on sinking sand tonight, or are you on the solid rock of God? My friends, this is not a weekend of coming and sitting but about spiritual revival, about letting go of boundaries and letting God work within you.”
The speakers said much the same. The weekend opened with a lineup of speakers on everything from leadership to using our gifts to overcoming distractions.
Author and motivational speaker Jeremy Kingsley opened with a session on leadership, noting that just as Jesus made his mark on all our lives, so should we as Christ-followers make our mark on the world.
Kingsley invited the packed auditorium to join him in a two-word prayer: “Change me.” After all, he said, we don’t read the Bible to check it off our list; we read it to change.
To be a good leader and a good man of God, Kingsley said, we need to lead like Jesus: be approachable, inclusive and gracious. We must ask ourselves: am I judgmental or gracious? Exclusive or inclusive? Unapproachable or approachable?
“Look to Jesus for those examples as we become leaders, and we’ll leave a mark on their life,” Kingsley said.
On God and waffles
“Knights Code” author Robert Noland spoke next about taking God out of His “compartment” and allowing him to reign over all areas of our lives.
Noland, who has been in ministry for 35 years, talked about how he has done everything from being a pastor to being a church custodian to church planting to producing Christian music. But one day, he felt God nudging him into discomfort.
“God began to tap me on the shoulder: ‘Son, you’re coasting. At some point, you slipped out of drive into neutral,’” Noland said.
Noland answered the call, quit his job and embarked on what he said were some of the hardest but best years of his life, years that used him to advance the Kingdom in bold new ways discipling men’s ministry in Nashville and writing fulltime. Living entirely at God’s command taught him some critical lessons, he said.
“You’ve only got one life,” Noland said. “If God tells you to jump off the cliff, that’s the safest thing you can do.”
Then, he took a plate with a waffle on it, showing the crowd how so many times, we compartmentalize Jesus, thinking we can put him in a neat little waffle square just like we might put our marriage in a square, our job in a square and so on.
“We go around thinking we choose where we put Jesus in our compartments, but guys,” he said, brandishing a bottle of syrup, “Jesus is calling us to saturation.”
Noland squirted syrup all over the waffle to wild applause.
“When you stop telling God where you want him to go, just give up and say ‘I want you to take full control of my life,’ you don’t pay attention to the compartments anymore,” Noland said. “The syrup (that is Jesus) covers it all.”
Using our gifts
The Rev. James Friday led next on not being afraid to use our gifts for God. Drawing from Matthew 25, the parable of the talents, Friday talked about how God has gifted each of us in a unique way to share His goodness.
“Christ is counting on all of us,” Friday said, and we cannot let Him down by burying our gifts in the ground. “We are ambassadors of Christ Jesus called to represent Christ.”
Friday reminded the crowd that gifts are given to us not for our benefit but for the common good. He urged attendees to consider what dirt is burying our gifts—fear, gluttony, adultery, lust—and clear that dirt away for His sake.
“Fear paralyzes us, but faith sets us free,” Friday said. “When God woke us up this morning, he was basically saying, ‘I’ve got something for you to do.’ Can the Lord count on us to use the gifts of love, grace and mercy? When He returns, will He find us utilizing the very gifts He’s given us? … What will He say to us?”
He closed with an invitation to the altar for men to lay down their dirt and submit or rededicate their souls to Christ.
Depending on God
Saturday opened with a roundtable discussion including Holston, Lightsey, Christ UMC pastor the Rev. Jeff Dunn and Dr. Zan Holmes Jr., pastor emeritus of St. Luke Community UMC in Dallas and author who started the Disciple Bible Study program for the UMC. Each shared how they learned to depend on God.
Holston shared how he started going to church after his father changed and started bringing his family to church, and later, after Holston grew in his own faith, “I realized I had to stop depending on me and start depending on God.”
Lightsey shared how even though he never had what he calls a “burning bush moment,” God put him in the people business and surrounded him with Christian people who helped his walk. Until his 50s, he didn’t really understand.
“As I look in the rearview mirror of my life, God was in my life even when I did not necessarily want Him there,” Lightsey said. “I think He was preparing me for this time and this ministry.”
Holmes shared about learning to trust God to use us even when we are retired from our careers. After he retired and kept putting off going to the church membership class, one day he heard God ask, “Do you think because you’re retired I’ve finished with you?” It changed his perspective.
Dunn told attendees God will use them just as much as He is using Holston and Holmes and other high-profile leaders in the church.
“This may be your moment,” Dunn said. “God’s got a laser on you.”
Back to the basics
Next, Noland returned to the stage to remind men of what he called “the basics.” He said that so many times, men feel alone in their struggle to live a faithful life and often are “this close” to losing it. He did some research into the code of knights and realized their code—live pure, speak truth, right wrong and follow the king—is much like the code of the Christian man, which prompted his book.
Regarding “live pure,” Noland said the word of God is the only way to defeat evil in our lives. He reminded the crowd that every time Satan came to Jesus, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy at him.
Regarding “speak truth,” Noland lifted up the benefits of a small group, which can hold us accountable by calling out misbehavior. He said we all need someone in our corner who will “watch your back and kick your butt” when things go awry.
Regarding “right wrongs,” Noland said strong principles will help us keep our rights right and our wrongs wrong. And regarding “follow the king,” he said we have to practice the presence of God. He recommended we spend more time in prayer with God and adopt a new practice of five extra minutes of quiet “listening time” without asking for things.
Leave the distractions behind
Next, former professional football player Andres Davis took the stage to share about his journey.
“In the words of Elsa from ‘Frozen,’ it’s funny how some distance makes everything so small,” he said about his early life as a Christian, noting how he came to understand football was just a platform God was using for him to share Christ with others. Every time he was in a place of discomfort, whether from joining a new team to simply experiencing uncertainty, he felt God move within him in new ways.
“We need to break out of the rut of being comfortable,” Davis said, lifting up a quote by Celestine Chua on how fear, uncertainty and discomfort are our compasses toward growth.
He shared about a dark period of depression in his life when he pulled away from God, but after he gave everything over to God, his life did a complete turnaround.
But he warned men to be mindful of the power distractions have over our lives, sometimes keeping us from our Kingdom work.
“One of the devil’s tactics is to keep you distracted from spending time with God,” Davis said, then shared wisdom from Joshua Becker about how we can find significance in a world of distraction, and how this can help us do more for Christ.
Becker’s tips: Be mindful of the culture you’re in (and the competing messages we receive), pause and reflect, review and record (through journaling and other methods), get some outside perspective, find time alone, seek inspiration from others who are living out your goals, and try to live with fewer possessions, which sometimes end up owning us.
Believe and share
Adrian Despres, University of South Carolina football team head chaplain, followed Davis, sharing a powerful testimony about how, after last year’s Men N Ministry retreat, he went to the doctor and found his heart was coated in plaque and he was what his doctor called “a walking dead man.” A procedure saved his life—and caused him to reflect on why.
“What for?” he asked. “Why would God want to save my life?”
It eventually hit him that his life must have been spared so he could help someone else. In a rousing call to the crowd, he urged men to answer two invitations: believe, and then help others to believe by leaving a mark on them—the mark of Christ.
Despres said the nation has not had a great spiritual awakening since 1859, noting our society has a tendency to “get used to God.” When we truly believe, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, he said.
“But there’s a big difference between believing up here,” Despres said, pointing to his head, “and believing down here,” pointing to his heart.
Despres said John 3:14 (not 3:16) is one of the most important verses in the Bible because it defines belief and tells us what we must do. And to be saved, he said, we must realize that our sins hurt Jesus. That realization leads to repentance and, ultimately, salvation as we understand the difference between worldly sorrow (I got caught) and Godly sorrow (I hurt God).
Dissolving in tears about a close friend who has cancer, Despres talked about how we are all so desperate to find a cure for cancer. But if we stop a moment and apply that same desperation toward our afterlife, we realize we’re all seeking a cure for hell, too.
“The cure for hell is Jesus,” he said. “You need to be sharing it.”
Men called to be ‘mighty in prayer’
Saturday night opened with what Holston called “the two Jeffs”—the Revs. Jeff Dunn and Jeff Kersey—who spoke about the power of prayer. Both lead churches heavily committed to prayer (Dunn pastors Christ UMC and Kersey pastors Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington), and they implored men to model Jesus, come alongside each other and pray.
“You often find women are mighty in prayer, but there are not as many men mighty in prayer,” Dunn told the crowd.
Kersey reminded men that Jesus prayed often to battle temptation, yet in the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples fell asleep even after they were asked to stay awake and stay in prayer.
“We have a lot of men in The United Methodist Church who are sleeping, and Jesus is saying, ‘You need to pray,’” Kersey said, lifting up the power of prayer among men at his own church, which God has blessed and which his men are in constant prayer about. “He’s waiting for us to step out so He can do things with us. We don’t realize the spiritual warfare in the world. There’s a battle we’re fighting.”
Prayer, the “two Jeffs” said, can win the war.
Growth through challenge
Holmes took the stage next, asking men to think about whether they have learned the lesson of the loaves from Mark 6, recounting how Jesus fed 5,000 with two fish and five loaves, then walked on water and calmed the storm for His disciples.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe and hard to follow Christ they way we should. But, he said, when we understand His lessons and apply them when we are tested, that’s when we can grow as Christ-followers and do the most good for the Kingdom.
“Jesus was so intent on his disciples understanding the message that he engaged them in participatory action,” Holmes said—you give them something to eat, you get the loaves, you give out the food. “You’d think they’d learned!”
But, Holmes said, “A faith not tested is a faith not trusted.”
Jesus never promised us we’d be exempt from the storm, and in fact, even the darkest and most difficult challenges are the very ones that help us grow the most, he said.
“I think we fail to learn the lesson because we fail to grow through what we’re going through,” Holmes told the crowd, encouraging men to rise to their challenges. “I believe if we don’t grow through what we go through, the Holy Spirit will take our transcript and send us back to retake the course.”
Keep on running for God
The Rev. Stephen Love led a sunrise service Sunday that served as the final session for the men’s weekend. Love recalled how, shortly before his father died, Love asked for a word for his son, who could not join them that day. Love’s father’s advice: keep your head up and keep on running.
His father’s word is much like what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians, Love said, and men would do well to remember that as they leave the men’s weekend and head back home.
“We have a responsibility to take what God has poured into us and take it back with us,” Love said. “We’re to make our mark.”
But it’s not just about accomplishing one goal and being done, he said, for God has high expectations of us. Love urged men to stay on track and be steady in God.
“There are temptations all around us that’ll draw on us, pull us and knock us down, but we need to stay focused on this relationship with Jesus Christ,” Love said. “Sometimes we are devastated by life's circumstances and get stuff that comes from nowhere and surprises us.
“But God has already put in place everything that we need.”
Rounding it out
A variety of other experiences rounded out the Men N Ministry weekend, from music to workshop and fellowship opportunities. Nationally acclaimed Robert McMichael was song leader Friday and Saturday, with the Christ UMC Praise Team leading Saturday evening. Men gathered for F3 Nation (Fellowship, Faith and Fitness) early Saturday morning, then gathered for a 5K Run for Christ that afternoon.
Dennis Sullen led the Upper Room Prayer Line, and men also had the chance to take one of 12 workshops on a host of topics, from diversity to small groups to mentoring and more. Workshop leaders included Despres, Noland, McMichael, Jim Boesch, Trevor Miller, the Rev. Jeffery Salley, the Rev. Jason Everson and the Rev. Telley Gadson.
L.W. Smith was event coordinator.
Now, men’s ministry leaders are hard at work planning this year’s slate of Teaching Churches—daylong events at churches across the state designed to help men learn new ways of doing ministry from real-world churches. Dates, times and locations will be announced in the Advocate soon.
“Our teaching churches have provided the next steps to take this ministry into families, churches, communities and beyond,” Lightsey said. “Each year, we have challenged men to a deeper personal relationship with Christ. In 2014, we challenged men to ‘Take the Plunge,’ 2015 to ‘Put Skin in the Game’ and this year to ‘Make their Mark’ for Christ. This is what makes this weekend so amazing. Men are responding to God’s call to be men God can use.”
The 2017 Men N Ministry weekend will be Feb. 17-19, again at Christ UMC.
For those who missed the 2016 retreat, videos of the sermons are available on Christ UMC’s website: christislove.org/watch-online
To learn more about men’s ministry efforts: www.ummsc.org.