MYRTLE BEACH – The goal of getting a new generation of men involved in ministry in South Carolina is not simply to grow the ranks of the United Methodist Men – it’s about making more disciples of Jesus Christ.
That message was shared across the generations as about 1,000 men, and a few women, gathered at Christ United Methodist Church Feb. 16-18 for the United Methodist Men’s “Come to the Water” spiritual retreat.
“You know people we don’t know,” Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference, told about 100 men aged 40 and younger who attended the retreat. “We need you to step up and step out. You have got to make a difference when you leave this place.
“This is not about young men or old men – it’s about men coming together to make a difference. I want you to find a way to make a difference in your church, in your family, in your community. I want you to be what God is calling you to be.”
David Holcombe, president of the Greenville District United Methodist Men, is helping spearhead the push to get younger men involved in men’s ministry.
“It’s important that we move forward,” Holcombe told the assembled younger men, “taking the energy of youth into the next generation – but not abandoning the wisdom of the older generation.
“The time is now for younger men to be involved in the United Methodist Church.”
The mountain the group is trying to scale is both high and steep.
The United Methodist Men historically has attracted men in their later years – those in their late 50s and older. Holcombe cited statistics that indicate that fewer than one percent of church-going men participate in any kind of men’s ministry, and that less than 10 percent of churches are able to establish and maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.
But he and other United Methodist Men leaders are hopeful.
“Can you imagine what would happen if we could get that 10 percent number to 20 or 30 percent?” Holcombe said. “We’ve got to make progress, and let God do the rest.”
‘Time to step up’
Hank Dozier, president of the Southeastern Jurisdiction United Methodist Men, spoke of a paradigm shift in the leadership of local churches.
“Growing up, men were in the church, but men were not leaders in the church,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with women leading the church, but we need role models for male leadership in our churches, as well, if we expect future generations of men to lead.
“Men are leaders in other aspects of life, why not in the church?”
For the younger men who attended the retreat, Dozier said, the time has come to step up.
“God is calling you right now,” he said. “We are not here to get you engaged with us, but to be engaged with God’s kingdom.
“It’s not about us, it’s about God.”
Charlie Lyons, coordinator of a 16-member think tank formed by SEJ United Methodist Men to study the absence of men ages 18 to 40 in United Methodist churches, pointed out that even smaller churches have opportunities to attract younger men into their congregations – and into leadership.
“The most intimate of all initiatives is each one, reaching one,” he said. “Think about it this way: There are more than two billion Christians today, but it all started with Jesus reaching out to a couple of brothers who were fishing in a lake.
“Anyone can reach one other man.”
In addition to being dispatched back to their churches and communities to make a difference, the younger men were invited to an event all their own this fall. HOOKED: Fishers of Men, is a South Carolina UMMen event aimed at attracting and developing a younger demographic to men’s ministry. It will take place Sept. 29 at Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington.
HOOKED participants will spend the morning at Mt Horeb, and the afternoon along the banks of nearby Lake Murray.
‘Really good at hiding’
With the steady flow of the Intracoastal Waterway just a few steps from Christ UMC, “Come to the Water” was a fitting theme for the retreat – as well as many of the messages shared from the pulpit and in more than a dozen workshops.
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor of Grace United Methodist near Fort Myers, Florida, used John 4 – the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well – to explore the effect of guilt on our spiritual lives.
The woman had three strikes against her, Rev. Acevedo said: She was a woman during a time when women were treated like property; like all Samaritans, she was considered a second-class citizen by Jews; and she was morally imperfect with a checkered past.
“But something radical and transforming happened when this woman met Jesus,” Rev. Acevedo said. “This woman had had five husbands and was living with a man. She was out looking for love in all wrong places, looking for love in too many faces. Then she saw the face of Christ.
“Grace overcame her guilt when she met Jesus.”
Today, he said, guilt affects believers in three ways: It destroys our confidence, damages our relationships, and distorts our thinking.
The simple truth of the Gospel reveals how to overcome guilt, Rev. Acevedo said, and it’s really pretty simple: Admit our sin, accept God’s forgiveness, and then quit it.
“Self-deception leads to death, while confession leads to life,” he said. “Far too many of us – even in church, even preacher types – have gotten really good at hiding.
“Allowing God to forgive us, Corrie ten Boom said it best: ‘God takes our sins – the past, present and future – dumps them in the sea and puts up a sign that says: No Fishing Allowed.’”
As for quitting our sin, Rev. Acevedo said, the Samaritan woman showed us how to do that.
“John 4:28 tells us that she left her water jar at the well when she went to tell others she had met the Messiah,” he said. “That water jar represented everything in her life. It sustained her, but it also represented all of her shame and guilt.
“She left it at the foot of Jesus, and she left that waterhole transformed, because she had met Jesus.”
The Rev. Frederick Yebuah, superintendent of the Orangeburg District of the South Carolina Conference, also centered his message on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
Our response to God’s grace today should mirror the Samaritan woman’s, he said.
“When you relinquish your past, you think of the goodness of God in your life,” Rev. Yebuah said. “Your gesture of gratitude to God is to go sign other people up. Singing, preaching, volunteering, paying apportionments – it’s all secondary to one-on-one registration.
“Registration is not optional. The highest expression of gratitude is telling somebody else what God has done in your life. The only thing better than going to heaven is bringing somebody else with you.”