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The Surrendered Life

On a Tuesday evening, I walk into the Fellowship Bible Church in Conway’s office and find the conference room. Eric Martin and Cain Newton have already arrived and are sitting there, waiting. Eric has been on the men’s ministry leadership team for over a decade, while Cain is the new kid on the block. He has been on the team for only a few months. 

Andy Chouinard, the men’s ministry team leader, is running a few minutes late. He later tells us things went, as he puts it, “ape doo” at work. Felix Maull, another team member, comes to the meeting but quickly exits to take a call. He doesn’t return. Why? I will never know. Andy eventually arrives, and after some banter and an explanation about the meeting, we start our conversation about the ins and outs of Fellowship’s men’s ministry.

What Exactly is Men’s Muster?

First of all, there will be a lot of references to Men’s Muster throughout this article. So, for clarity’s sake, let’s start with an explanation of what Men’s Muster is. These men in the room make it clear to me that it’s more than the church’s annual weekend retreat for men. “Men don’t retreat. They muster,” Eric tells me with a wry grin. Andy explains, “It’s like a retreat, but we’re not retreating because we’re mustering for the battle that happens every day. That’s what Men’s Muster is about.”

“It’s—recalibrate, recharge, and reconnect with God, and muster yourself. Be prepared for the battle that ensues every day. That happens in the context of a community of men because that community is important for helping you stay calibrated and focused on God. That group identity as men helps you maintain that balance and stay connected to God well.”

With that cleared up, let’s move forward.

Getting Engaged and Building Relationships

How does Andy get involved with the men’s ministry? His wife told him back in 2003, “You’re going to Men’s Muster.” He signed up and first got involved as the guy who organizes team games for Muster. He’s been part of the planning team ever since.

Eric has a similar story. “I got connected through John Lee, one of my first mentors when I first came to Fellowship. He got me to Muster. That must have been in 2012. I was on the sound team for a long time. Then, I got laid off, and because of stress, I had to resign from that position. When I got another job, I thought, ‘Now I’ve got time to devote somewhere, but I don’t know where to plug in.’ So, I just asked to join the team, even just to be a grunt and do whatever needs to be done. I don’t even remember when I joined the team. I’m guessing 2012 or 2013. It doesn’t seem like it’s been a decade.” To that, Andy quips, “When the days are long, the years are short.”

Cain, the newest member of the team, found his way into the ministry through barbeque. “The first men’s ministry thing I went to was the Smokeoff event they did two years ago at Beaverfork. The next year I went to Muster, and that was the time of my life,” he recalls. His enthusiasm and eagerness to get involved led him to ask Andy if he could help with Muster. Andy told him, “Yeah, come on with it,” and now Cain is helping oversee this year’s Smokeoff.

Challenges & Opportunities

It’s clear by the way these men interact with one another that there’s camaraderie. They laugh and aren’t afraid of ribbing one another, but they are also candid about the challenges of connecting with Fellowship’s men. “It’s difficult to get men to engage in men’s ministry,” Andy admits. “Take Men’s Muster, for example. We had 45-50 guys come this year. That’s maybe 10-15% of the men at Fellowship Bible Church. At the Smokeoff, we’re going to have similar numbers. We’ve had really good attendance at the father-daughter dance. Usually, we have 50% of the men for that. Generally speaking, it’s difficult to get men to engage in men’s ministry.”

Andy elaborates on another challenge: balancing men’s ministry activities and relationships with home church (Fellowship’s term for their small groups) activities and relationships. “On one hand, we have been intentionally limited in what we do because we don’t want to compete with home churches. Home church is where your really tight relationships form. On the other hand, when home churches always meet with men and women together, you’re missing an opportunity for men to have those iron-on-iron relationships.”

Eric agrees that there is a need for men to have dedicated time with other men, away from the mixed-gender dynamics of home churches. “We’re not a mega-church, but without home churches, we could not have the connections we have. Men’s ministry is another place for men to get together to provide more cohesiveness in a larger church.” 

He adds that the men’s ministry is a great entry point for a lot of men in the church to get engaged beyond attending the Sunday service. Andy wholeheartedly agrees. “Absolutely! Men’s Muster has done that for a number of people. They say that they came to Fellowship for a year, two years, or three years and had trouble feeling connected. They came to Men’s Muster, and all of a sudden, they’re connected to other people and feel like they belong.”

Learning to Be Fully Surrendered

The major theme in the men’s ministry currently is the Surrendered Life. Andy explains how this concept is integral to their team’s approach to ministry. “This year’s theme at Men’s Muster is the Surrendered Life. On the leadership team, that was also something we put into practice, surrendering to God in this ministry. Surrendered to Him in however He’s leading. Recognizing that you’re a brush stroke in this grand masterpiece and not trying to be the stroke that you want to be. But being the stroke that He’s designed you to be and being willing to flex to what He wants you to be right now.”

“Something else I would add to that is the team approach. We do lots of brainstorming. ‘How should we do this?’ ‘How should we do that?’ We put lots of ideas on the table, and we have lots of disagreements about whether this is good or that’s bad. What we find is that those are things we’ve been praying about, God will bring us to some common ground.”

“The confirmation of convergence is important. Mindy (Andy’s wife) and I do it. If someone asks us, ‘Can you support this ministry?’ We go pray separately and come back a week or so later with a number. ‘How much are we going to support it?’ It’s always the same number. If we’re diligent about praying and God’s leading us, we find that we’re in agreement on stuff like that. You can tell when you’re following God’s leading when everybody’s coming to the same place somewhat independently. We’re all getting there together. I’ve experienced that in my marriage and on the team level, for sure.”

Connecting with Men and Mentoring

Andy emphasizes the impact of mentoring for men and couples by recalling the story of one couple at Fellowship who mentored him and his wife. “That was seriously the most important thing that kept my wife Mindy and me out of a whole bunch of pitfalls in our early marriage and got us on a solid footing. There was a couple in our community group that was about ten years ahead of us, marriage-wise, and fifteen years ahead of us, age-wise. They took us under their wing and befriended us. It’s not like they said, ‘We’re going to be your mentors.’ They just became our friends and pursued us. Those relationships—Mindy and Sandy and me and Wayne—made all the difference in our marriage.”

He goes on. “It makes no sense for us to reinvent the wheel and for men to figure this out on their own. There’s a whole lot of wisdom to be gained for men who have been down that road before. Like Wayne and Sandy in our marriage. They’ve been in those ditches. It’s all about connecting, equipping, and setting people up for success. The Spirit is involved in all of it, but you can at least help people not to do stupid stuff.”

Andy then explains how this is part of how God made us. “God has designed us for relationships and so we will help each other out. So we’re not on an island by ourselves. He intends for us to pursue him together. When we are pursuing Him together, and we are connected together, we form a tighter connection to God. He avails us of those opportunities because it’s the design of His work and part of what we can do for His kingdom. We’re supposed to be doing that.”

At this point in the conversation, Cain has to leave, and Eric can only stay for a few more minutes. Before he leaves, I ask him who the most influential mentor in his life is. Without hesitating, Eric replies, “Andy and Felix. These guys rub off on me because they are ahead of me in their lives and marriages. I’m still learning how to live well with my wife because of these guys. They’re a little further down the road than me. I don’t know how to put it in any nice words, but that’s how it is for me. They’re role models for me.”

Both Andy and Eric mention another mentor, John Lee, whose soft approach made a big impact on them. “Looking back, I think he was intentional about availing himself to me for whatever conversation or prayer or hanging around in his shop or whatever I needed,” Andy tells me. Eric adds, “He did the same for me. It felt organic, but he was definitely intentional about it. He’s just really good at leading, so you don’t realize he’s really leaning into you.”

A Word of Advice & Encouragement

After Eric leaves, it’s just Andy and me. I ask him for any key learnings or advice he would give other men’s ministry leadership teams. He tells me, “Relationship orientation is important. What’s really important is getting guys connected with each other. I think that’s what’s important in terms of equipping guys to be godly men. The resources and the how-tos and biblical instruction, if that’s done as information transfer, it doesn’t work. The equipping has to be in the context of relationship and community in order for it to sink in.”

Then he offers a word of caution. “Don’t expect it to go smoothly. Relationships are a messy process. If God is leading you with a passion to step out in men’s ministry and get guys engaged, expect that Satan’s going to try and thwart it. I think Satan’s main approach is not to make us bad but to make us busy. If he can keep us distracted, he doesn’t have to make us bad. We’re completely ineffective if we’re totally distracted. So, that’s the struggle, the tough part of any ministry. Don’t let that discourage you. That’s the encouragement. Expect that’s going to be a challenge, and don’t be discouraged when it is. You’re not doing something wrong or not following God. It’s because you’re mustering for the battle against Satan.”

We end our conversation on a high note with some encouragement from Andy. “Think about the passions God has given you. Those passions are usually there for a reason. If He’s given you a passion for something, pray about it. Ask Him, ‘Is this something you’re calling me to engage in? If so, lead me to opportunities.’ And, by George, those pop up. 

“God is omniclever. I didn’t come up with that, but it’s true. I’ve seen that so many times where stuff just comes together. Mindy and I felt like we had a passion for what Wayne and Sandy were doing with us, but we didn’t know how. As we prayed about it, within a couple of weeks, one of the Fellowship pastors asked us if we’d lead a community group. ‘Can it be young married people so we can help them get on a good footing?’ ‘Yes, absolutely. That would be excellent.’ Right there, He was leading us toward something, and there it was.”

The Call to a Surrendered Life

For Andy, Eric, Cain, and the rest of the Fellowship men’s ministry leadership team, the Surrendered Life is more than a slogan. It’s a call to action for every man who wants to be the man of God, husband, and father that he was created to be. It’s about recognizing our need for God and our need to be connected to other men.

In a culture that is increasingly antagonistic toward men, we can be the men who show others what authentic biblical manhood looks like by putting words into action. Men, it’s time to step up and step out in our marriages, families, and churches. We are in a spiritual battle, and it is critical that we put on the full armor of God in this battle. 

Let’s embrace our God-given leadership role with bold faith and be true men of courage and influence. The battle ahead may be challenging and wrought with difficulties and setbacks, but we don’t have to walk it alone. We have each other, and we have God the Father guiding us. Together, let’s trust that He equips us for the battle ahead. And together, let’s leave a legacy of strong, faithful men who gave it all and were fully surrendered to God.

Chris Loux, Communications Director – CityChurch Network

Note: I (Chris) am a member of Fellowship Bible Church in Conway and know most of these men personally. I also participate in most of the men’s ministry events.

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