On a hot, humid August afternoon in coastal Georgia, 86 men from Harvest Church sweated, toiled and served at Grace House, a former funeral home turned recovery house in downtown Brunswick. As they removed bushes, sodded the yard, painted, and tore down walls, they built relationships with each other and with Christ.
The afternoon service project was part of the church’s annual Man Camp retreat, a three-day getaway to Epworth By The Sea.
Seven years ago, too few men were attending Harvest Church. In an attempt to engage more men and draw them closer to one another, the church and Christ, Man Camp was born.
“Many times, the ladies in our churches are faithful through thick and thin,” said Harvest Church founding pastor Rev. Jim Cowart. “We even see this in Jesus’ ministry. You see women around the cross in the darkest hour, but most of the dudes had split. But we need both men and women for a healthy balance in the church. This is actually a big problem in U.S. churches today.”
As a “youth director at heart,” retreats have always been an essential component of Rev. Cowart’s ministry.
“So ‘Man Camp’ was born,” he said. “It’s a three-day experience for men filled with fun, adventure, and manly stuff ...but mainly Jesus.”
Man Camp helps change the perception many men have of Jesus, Rev. Cowart said.
“The average guy is not against God; he just doesn't think God is relevant to his ‘real world’ life. We wanted to change that.”
Man Camp also helps encourage participants to be leaders in their homes and communities. There’s also a strong emphasis on developing a daily quiet time.
“I go to grow closer to the Lord, to build my relationship with Him, and to build relationships with the other men,” said Wayne Lenderman, who serves as Harvest Church’s facility and projects director. “Working hand in hand with these guys, telling stories, and being with them, was a great experience.”
Working at Grace House was one aspect of Man Camp that Rev. Jimmy Towson particularly enjoyed.
“(Attending Man Camp) caused me to leave my comfort zone, which means I had to lean on God more,” said Rev. Towson, a member of Harvest Church’s executive staff. “To see men from all stages of life and different backgrounds become one was absolutely amazing.”
The group partnered with Mtn2Sea Ministries, a Glynn County mission agency that facilitated and coordinated their efforts.
“The guys were able to give back to the community,” Rev. Cowart said. “There was time of prayer, fellowship and lots of sweat! During this mission project the men of Harvest were the hands and feet of Jesus as we prepared a safe and loving place for women who are dealing with addictions.”
In addition to the work done at Grace House, Man Camp was a time of worship, teaching, reflection and fun.
Rev. Towson was the event’s keynote speaker, and he and Rev. Cowart spoke about spiritual leadership, the importance of daily devotions, and the attributes of a “real” man. Participants also shared their testimonies and how Christ is working in their lives.
Friday was devoted to fun, relaxation and fellowship. Attendees went deep-sea fishing, golfing, kayaking, explored St. Simons Island, and enjoyed time together. That evening, after a time of worship and teaching, communion was served and the men gathered around a campfire to swap stories and for a time of deep fellowship and sharing.
The experiences Lenderman has had at Man Camp have changed his life and shaped and formed his faith.
“It changed my life more than five years ago,” he said. “It’s made me into a better father, a better husband; it’s made me into a better person. The Lord can take anybody, no matter their background and what they’ve done, and if they really seek the Lord, He’ll change your life.”
Life change is the goal of Man Camp, but transformation has to continue beyond the three-day retreat, Rev. Cowart said.
“Man Camp is successful only if it makes a difference back home,” he said. “My favorite parts of Man Camp are when guys make a new start, a new commitment, a new beginning…to be better husbands, dads and followers of Jesus Christ. We plant the seed at Man Camp then grow it up back home as the guys get into worship, community groups, and ministry teams.”