Transforming “normal Joes” is at the heart of church's efforts to equip men
By Myra Holmes
Eric Olinger, Tony Denesha and Ron Froehlich were “normal Joes”—regular guys going about their lives during the week and warming the pews on the weekends at The Bridge Bible Church, Bakersfield, Calif. Unless, of course, a ball game was on or the weather was nice enough for a round of golf.
“If football was on, that was my priority,” says Olinger.
All now claim the title “Man of God” and say their lives have been dramatically changed through men’s ministry at The Bridge.
And they’re not the only ones.
“We’ve seen men come to Jesus in flocks,” says Les Pearsey, men’s ministry director.
As men turn their hearts to Christ, their families, the congregation and the community are being transformed.
Pearsey calls the ministry “the M-stuff,” because as it has developed, each facet has been named with an M: M6, M24, M42 and M72.
It began some five or six years ago when church leaders began to ask what more could be done for men. They decided to ask men—not the typical leaders that might come to mind first—but the “normal Joes” like Olinger, Denesha and Froehlich. So each Bridge leader invited several men to a 24-hour retreat at a local ranch, and every invited man came—a total of 42.
Pearsey, charged with planning the event, asked a friend, Pete McKenzie, to speak. McKenzie, then on staff at an Evangelical Free church in Fullerton, Calif., and now head of Influencers, a ministry to men, simply challenged the retreat attendees to be men of God: “Are you willing to be the man God wants you to be?”
Without exception, 42 men stepped forward to answer, “Absolutely.”
Each then invited a few friends to a second 24-hour retreat. Again, each man present stepped up to declare his commitment to living for Christ. Over the course of seven or eight weeks, 112 men made a decision to live differently.
The retreat, now known as M24 (men for 24 hours), has become an annual tradition, with increasing attendance each year. The 2013 M24, held April 26-27, had just fewer than 800 men in attendance.
Each time the message is the same. And each time men respond.
“We serve a big God,” Pearsey says. “God shows up the same way every time.”
M6 and M42 were developed to provide regular discipleship for these men. M6 is a monthly Monday gathering at 6:00 p.m. Some 200-300 men enjoy a meal in the backyard of a home and then hear one man’s testimony.
“It’s amazing to see guys show up and bring new guys to experience the love of Jesus,” says Froehlich.
M42 is a weekly gathering named after those original 42 men. Men gather every Friday at 6:00 a.m. for 42 minutes for small group discipleship. “Journey Groups” use materials offered by Influencers, called “The Journey to the Inner Chamber.” Pearsey says there is usually a line to get in.
While the scope of the M-stuff is impressive, the real story is in the lives changed.
Denesha says his wake-up call came when he found out he was going to be a father.
“I felt this overwhelming feeling that I needed to make some changes in my life so that my son can grow up and be proud of his father as a man of God,” he says.
Through M24 and M42, Denesha says, “I finally gave my life to Christ and decided to fully commit to joining his team.”
He was baptized Dec. 23, 2012—the same day his son was dedicated.
Froehlich and his wife began attending The Bridge in 2010, although not regularly.
“I was pretty good at not getting involved,” he says. “But through the grace of God, that changed.”
Froehlich is now involved in every aspect of M-stuff and says that the relationships he’s made through M42 in particular have “truly saved my life.”
He says, “I have rededicated my life to live for Jesus and to learn what it takes to be the man he wants me to be. And I definitely do need my Journey brothers to keep me on track and growing in the Word.”
Olinger says an M24 retreat three years ago was where his life turned around.
“Jesus grabbed me there, and he entered my life,” he says.
Olinger describes a sunrise gathering at a cross, during which men were invited to leave their “junk” at the cross. He says he kneeled and surrendered his sinful and selfish ways to Christ.
“And he took it. Man, did he take it,” Olinger says. “I walked off that mountain 24 hours later, and I was changed forever.”
When the men experience such change, families are impacted as well. Olinger says his marriage had been rocky at best before that transformational M24, but when he came down that mountain, the change in his life was so evident that other women began to ask his wife about the change. He says his relationships with both his wife and children have been restored.
“Now my entire family has been completely and radically transformed,” he says.
Froehlich also says his marriage is being restored.
“Once I realized that it’s not about me, but about God, I have had a much better perspective of how I am supposed to be as a husband and the spiritual leader of our home.”
The Bridge as a congregation has been transformed as men step up to lead.
“It’s a men-driven church,” Pearsey says.
Before that first M24 retreat, The Bridge had one paid pastor and 500-600 attendees; now the church has half a dozen paid pastoral staff and some 3,000 attendees. And, notes Pearsey, the growth has come not from church transplants but from changed lives.
The impact ripples out to the local community and even across the border as these men reach out. Once a quarter, Journey Groups cooperate to serve the area’s homeless population in partnership with The Mission at Kern County.
In addition to this local service, Bridge men are serving through M72—yearly 72-hour mission trips, often to Mexico, often to build something.
“M72 mission trips to Mexico are unbelievable,” Froehlich says. “We go down to Mexico thinking we are going to bless our Mexican brothers and sisters, but each time we are the ones being blessed. They know what true faith looks like.”
The key to the success of M-stuff is ridiculously simple, says Pearsey:
“Get excited about Jesus and tell someone.”
For more on men’s ministry at The Bridge, visit http://www.thebridgebiblechurch.com/ministries/men.
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