A Chattanooga men’s ministry is adding muscle to its program to encourage Christian men to shepherd other men in their walk in holiness in what it calls a “disciple-making” program. The Men’s Ministry Network has graduated 60 area men in 12 groupings, and has four more groups going through the process.
Men’s Ministry Network is an organization that grew out of the personal discipleship ministry of Bernie Ritterbush, who founded the network 16 years ago with a focus on supporting the local church. Mr. Ritterbush has devoted as many as 30 years to personal evangelism.
MMN sees a difference between discipleship and disciple-making, says MMN’s new executive director, Chris Ackerson, who runs a carpet cleaning business. Whereas the familiar term seems stale, static and generic, the coinage “disciple making” suggests motion and the “intentionality of one Christian man pouring into the life of another Christian man, helping him to grow to spiritual maturity,” Mr. Ackerson says, “but with the express purpose that that second man will do the same with another man. Until we see that generational growth of one man to another, we’ll truly [not] have disciple making.”
Perils of ‘parachurch’
The organization, perceiving the peril of a parachurch group, likes to consider itself pro-church — helping and aiding the church vs. substituting itself for her. The men directing it see a problem in American Christianity they can help solve. That is a lack of commitment to instilling the claims of Christ on others, a loss of militancy, a carelessness with the high doctrines of Christianity and a sort of paralysis. Where the church lacks in giving men a sense of mutuality in truth and purpose, the network seeks to supply and encourage, Mr. Ackerson says.
“So our goal with men is to give them a way to be equipped to take on that role that Christ gave us as disciple makers, to have men surrounding you with a support system, so that as you go out and connect with another man you’re not on your own.”
The Great Commission of Christ to the 11 apostles and the noted verse in 2 Timothy 2:2 are to be understood as applying to every individual, and not just the church proper, Mr. Ackerson says. Paul writes: “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
This verse envisions four generations of believers, Mr. Ackerson points out.
The lethargy Messrs. Ackerson and Ritterbush see is the lack of seriousness among men in taking up the task of transferrence to men who are their neighbors, coworkers, colleagues, fellow churchmen or friends. An American consumer mentality and diffidence are obstacles to the growth of Christianity one person at a time.
“We have been driven by information rather than transformation,” Mr. Ackerson says. “We’re very good at pouring knowledge in — good stuff, whether that be verse memorization, preaching and teaching in our churches, teaching in Sunday school, even the studies we might do in a small group. These are good things and we need to continue to do them. But what they aren’t going on to is that intentionality, that we’re going to take that information given to us, let it transform our hearts and very intentionally share it with others. We’re in America. We tend to be a consumer-driven society. We tend to take in stuff, but we don’t necessarily give it back out.”
Authenticity and spiritual maturity
Mr. Ackerson says the group prefers to work within any given church as opposed to invitees being scattered across a large area or crossing a denominational line. The study materials include use of a book by Christian Businessmen’s Committee that starts out with scripture basics. Another book upon which a seven-week course is based is Fruit that Won’t Spoil[;] the Intangibles of One-on-One Disciplemaking by Roger Erickson.
The fruit of the work is viewed largely in terms of discipleship. MMN wants men to be “authentic and spiritually mature” who exercise their Christianity in terms of evangelization to the lost and encouragement to less mature Christian men.
“We want men to understand that we are all called to answer Christ’s last commandment, the Great Commission, to go and make disciples. He didn’t call us to hold on to the information. His mission to us is to share it with others. So we want to equip men to be able to actually answer the call that Christ gave us. So, we’re not just giving knowledge, we’re providing a structure for men to engage in that activity.”
What about other fruit? Basing their lives on scripture, leadership roles in family and church, doing business in a godly way, obtaining the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, dealing with temptations such as workaholism. These fruits, Mr. Ackerson says, are perhaps best described as “seeing Timothys become Pauls.”
The network’s initiatory quarterly dinners are called “advancing the battle dinner conference” because MMN believes it is in a battle for the hearts of the men in the city. “We’re in the battle to capture these men’s hearts and souls to live for Christ. Around that, we’ve adopted the word mobilize. *** A short version of our mission statement is to mobilize spiritually mature men who are intentional disciple makers.” Assemble the troops for battle, equip them, engage them in the battle and the fourth is to support them in the field, in sum.
Father of 4
Mr. Ackerson as a family man has a heavy charge. He has three sons and a daughter, all teenagers. He quit the restaurant business in 2000 because its heavy demands interfered with the duties of family life. He and his wife, Clarissa, have been married 20 years. Mr. Ackerson is a Knoxville native but has lived in Chattanooga the past 14 years and has family in the area.
He runs Xtrax carpet cleaning with an office at the foot of Signal Mountain. The dry method is the “only EPA-registered carpet cleaning system” noted for its ability to remove allergens from the fiber. He runs the operation as a sole proprietor.