(EDITOR'S NOTE – In the July 21 issue we focus on discipleship. What does it look like? Why is it important? Most importantly, we look at how you, your family and your church can get involved in making disciples. We hope you find the information in these stories to be helpful in that journey.)
Don’t be fooled by Jim Gillespie’s appearance – that leather vest, braided goatee and all-around rugged biker look.
Gillespie, pastor of men’s ministry at Richland Creek Community Church in Wake Forest, admits he doesn’t quite fit the typical profile of your average Southern Baptist pastor.
But it doesn’t take long to figure out that for Gillespie, being a follower of Christ isn’t about being typical.
Talk to Gillespie long enough and you’ll also hear him gush about his mentor, Bill Bennett, the founder and CEO of a non-profit ministry called Mentoring Men for the Master. The ministry began in 2000.
Eight years ago the two met shortly after Gillespie had committed his life to Christ.
Gillespie admits before that decision his life had been a mess. Once a member of a motorcycle gang, he had embraced drugs, alcohol and life on the road.
His wife, Laurie, once dubbed him the “most hateful man” she’d ever met. She told Gillespie her Christian faith kept her from divorcing him.
But all of that began to change for the better after he realized Jesus was his only hope.
Baptist Press photo by Peter Field Peck
Still, he had a lot of questions about what it meant to be a follower of Christ. As he started attending church regularly, he wondered why people in the church weren’t being held accountable for what was being preached on Sundays.
“Nobody is seeing if anyone is doing it,” he said.
“I mentioned that to somebody and they said, ‘You need to go see Dr. Bill Bennett at Southeastern’ Baptist Theological Seminary.”
The two soon met when Gillespie walked up to him at the seminary in Wake Forest, where – in addition to his Mentoring Men ministry – Bennett is a chaplain and teaches.
Bennett soon began pouring his life into Gillespie.
“He told me that if I kept coming he’d take care of my materials and keep teaching me,” Gillespie said.
“He never let go of me. He has loved me and kept me accountable. He asked me if I was reading my Bible and praying and serving and loving my wife. … I spent years with him … [Bennett asked] hard questions. He didn’t take excuses.”
Gillespie eventually went on to teach others about discipleship.
For the past five years, he has led Mentoring Men for the Master curriculum at Richland Creek. Gillespie also works full time in the facilities department at Southeastern. About a month ago he was ordained as a pastor.
Gillespie said discipleship transformed his life, and it also has had a tremendous impact on Richland Creek.
In many churches today discipleship is not happening, and today’s Christians are paying the price.
“We’ve made some pretty large assumptions within our churches, and we have found ourselves with men in leadership positions – as deacons and ministry leaders, Sunday School teachers – that we assumed did the foundational stuff,” he said.
“And they actually aren’t doing those basic things they need to do to grow as Christians.”
Those “basic things” include studying the Bible, prayer, worship, spiritual gifts and evangelism.
Gillespie said everything they teach about marriage, family, finances and personal holiness is built off of the foundation of those basics.
“We see now that our deacons, our elder body, our Sunday School teachers … our go-to guys that serve in the church are all men [who] have come through this program.”
And men in the church are also becoming leaders at home.
“You know you’re doing good when the wives are coming to you saying, ‘Hey, this has changed my husband’s life. Thank you so much,’” he said.
Gillespie’s mentor, Bennett, explained that once a man begins to “internalize” God’s Word, everything else falls into place.
“If the Word of God gets on the inside of a born again believer the Holy Spirit will transform him,” he said.
“We really are an encouragement ministry,” he added. “The best way to describe it would be as the job of a football coach.
“The job of a football coach is to take men and make them do what they would not ordinarily want to do to be what they really want to be. … Men need encouragement. We all need it.”
For more information about the ministry at Richland Creek Community Church or Mentoring Men for the Master contact Bill Bennett at [email protected] or at (910) 470-5343. Check out the wetsite at www.mentoringmen.net.