Leaders gear up for 1,000-man-strong retreat that reflects revitalized ministry
By Jessica Brodie
It started last year, when what had always been a much-loved but sparsely attended men’s retreat morphed into an event 264 percent bigger than it had ever been before.
Now, a year after what leaders call “a wild success,” they’re gearing up for more than 1,000 participants when they gather in Myrtle Beach Feb. 20-22—six times the attendees they had in 2013 and so big they’ve literally outgrown their venue. The 2015 retreat will now be held at Christ United Methodist Church, Myrtle Beach, which accommodates 1,900 with a huge stage and screens, high-end sound system and all the amenities needed to produce a first-rate lineup.
But for those leading the charge in men’s ministry, including Bishop Jonathan Holston, who has been a huge proponent of the revitalization, the event itself isn’t even the point. They’re all about a massive revitalization of men’s ministry in general, going so far as to tuck aside the name “United Methodist Men” in favor of “Men N Ministry” in an effort to rebrand, reignite and revision an all-out crusade to get men back in church—all for Christ.
“It’s not about an event but a movement,” said Herman Lightsey, president of the conference-wide group, noting how the days of the tiny little Monday night men’s clubs are shifting to a weekly and even daily investment in ministry. “It’s not just men coming to church and sitting in the back pew but Godly men stepping into their true role in the church.”
Lightsey and other men’s ministry leaders are convinced that if men across the conference take the first step and attend the retreat, it will be like a domino effect—their hearts will crack open and they’ll be more inclined to rush along with the wave headed toward the sort of Christian life God intends for his children. As with last year’s retreat, this year’s event will feature an array of dynamic Christian leaders—including Adrian Despres of the University of South Carolina Gamecock Football Team—plus workshops, ministry opportunities, a Run for Christ 5K, a corn hole tournament and more, all designed to fuel newfound passion for God.
But it’s what happens after the retreat that is the crux, Lightsey said.
“What we used to do was have an event, everybody got pumped up, we said ‘have a nice day’ and we saw them next year,” Lightsey said. “But this is just the beginning of what we do in ministry.”
Stepping out on faith
L.W. Smith, retreat coordinator and past president of the group, said he’s really excited about what is happening among men in the conference. He said turning it all over to Christ—the retreat, the decisions, the visioning—was the key, coupled with a willingness to move beyond the way things had always been done.
“In early years, men’s ministry was about trying to be connected and be affiliated through chartering and conferencing, which is still very important, but sometimes we have left out men because they weren’t in that monthly meeting,” Smith said. “Now we understand that men in ministry don’t necessarily have to be at that Monday night meeting. And we have to go to the spots not being nurtured and nurture them. We’ve got to be men of Christ and let them see Christ through us.”
It’s not that they are embarrassed about being called “United Methodist Men,” Lightsey said, but more that they want to embrace a new, more direct way of doing things. “Men N Ministry” specifically identifies the group’s goal of ministry, discipleship, bringing families to church and building those churches up, he said.
Indeed, the retreat merely sets the stage for a yearlong lineup of that sort of ministry, both at the local church level and in larger events held across the state. By the time the retreat happens in February, men will have had the opportunity to enjoy five “Teaching Churches” held in pockets of South Carolina. The first one, at Mount Horeb in Lexington in the spring, featured the Revs. Jeff Kersey, George Ashford and Jody Flowers, who led on the transformative power on prayer. In November, the Canaan-Sand Hill Charge in Ridgeville focused on how Christian men can build up their communities, such as how that charge directly partners with Dorchester Schools for mentoring and other long-term assistance. Also in November, Marion District men gathered in Aynor for a huge teaching time on the power of prayer. In January, both the Summerville and Greer communities will host Teaching Churches: Jan. 10 at Bethany UMC, Summerville, on men’s ministry renewal in a “traditional” church, and Jan. 17 at Covenant UMC, Greer, on how to grow your church through ministry to men. Events are held 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Register online at www.ummsc.org.
What happened in the Marion District is an example of how the new men’s ministry movement is working, leaders said.
When last year’s retreat ended, that district had only a few really active men in ministry on the district level, Lightsey said. But spurred by the charge to “take the plunge” (last year’s event theme), many men who’d been at the retreat decided to do just that. They began talking, praying, gathering and stepping out on faith. By the time their Teaching Churches event was held Nov. 16, they had more than 140 fully invested men ready to take the next step.
The Rev. Jeff Dunn, pastor of 2015 retreat host church Christ UMC, is one of those men.
“God is moving powerfully, and I mean in a way that will make the hair stand up on your neck, and we are seeing it all around,” Dunn said, noting Bishop Holston and other men’s ministry leaders set a “big hairy audacious goal” that is coming to fruition. “To have a very high goal and know that our bishop was behind setting a goal that was God-sized, and to see that surpassed, and then another that was even higher, and then to hear Herman and L.W. talk about that goal not as something they hope to reach but they know is going to happen… God is on the move. He was on the move last year, and he is carrying that forward.”
Dunn said it is exciting to watch churches move beyond mere men’s groups and into the fuller concept of growing prevailing churches for Christ.
“Churches are storming the gates and transforming communities and making the impact God wants us to make,” Dunn said.
He noted how at the Marion event, he experienced a surreally beautiful moment seeing men of all ages—older, who had once mentored him, and younger, who he realized he could mentor—all coming together with one purpose.
“I’ve been privileged to be in the Marion District for 25 years, and the most exciting thing I’ve seen happened in this district in 25 years is watching 140 men show up knowing that what we were talking about was the power of prayer. Men were showing up not for a wild game cook-off or ‘we’re gonna get together and go golfing,’ but no, this is about getting together and getting serious about our call as disciples,” Dunn said, calling the experience a phenomenal way of truly bonding with brothers.
And it’s one strong example about how the new men’s ministry movement ignited a flame that became a full-scale fire for Christ, Lightsey said.
About this year’s Men N Ministry Retreat
Leaders hope similar “fires for Christ” will ignite at this year’s retreat, which reflects the theme “Skin in the Game,” drawing from John 1:14 (the word became flesh).
“It’s all about going deeper, a true personal commitment to Christ,” Lightsey said. “Last year was about taking the plunge, and this is the next step.”
Smith said what is especially interesting is how God arranged the speakers: every one has some athletic edge, from USC’s Despres; to Albert Long, the only athlete in the history of the ACC to receive four letters in sports during the same year; to Rev. John Ed Mathison, who is a former basketball player and number-one-ranked tennis player; to Bishop Holston’s longtime basketball passion; to Greenwood District Superintendent Rev. James Friday and photographer Michael Belk. Retreat organizers had not planned the athletic bent nor the athletic-looking logo, which features a football player, but it all ended up being perfectly suited to the theme—definitely God at work, Smith said.
Six workshops are planned, plus three outreach ministry opportunities and the 5K. Men can also serve on the Upper Room Prayer Ministry prayer line, play in a corn hole tournament and take a boat ride down the intercoastal waterway (weather-permitting). Plenty of music from Claflin University Choir, Christ UMC’s Contemporary Worship Team and others will round out the weekend.
Group registrations are available (register five men and get the sixth free), plus discounted hotel rates. Registration fees increase after Dec. 31. For more information or to register, or for more information on how to get involved with men’s ministry, visit www.ummsc.org.